Glories of Philippines Past

The following is an article that embodies commendable but very naive patriotism and misplaced pride. A clear example of what Samuel P. Huntington was writing about when he said that "Progressive cultures emphasize the future. Static cultures emphasize the present or past" (one of ten).

Patriotic Ramblings
by wankultsik

I�m here to open your eyes to opinions not often heard but should be heard more often. Most of the time, all we Filipinos (and I�m assuming that you are a Filipino) hear is how bad we are. We take advantage of our fellowmen (panggagancho, panggogoyo, pandaraya� we have many words for it---this just means that it is a big thing in our society), we have corrupt government officials, and we are lazy� indolent. We have our own flaws, but we fail to remember that, �Hey, EVERYONE has flaws!� Germans have flaws, the Spanish have flaws, the Japanese have flaws, Americans have flaws, EVERYBODY! NOT JUST US! So let�s not beat ourselves up too much over them flaws. Because, really, some of the personality traits that we as a people have developed aren�t flaws. They�re something else. So Dr. Jose Rizal, our national hero, delved into the issue of our supposed �indolence� to discover what it really was.

In one of his writings entitled �The Indolence of the Filipinos,� he explains why we have become �indolent� (he asserts that we originally weren�t, mind you, even citing the writings of Pigafetta, Morga and other historians and travelers to prove his point). The gist of the whole thing, which ran in five installments of the La Solidaridad from July 15 to September 15, 1890, is that we Filipinos have a predisposition to not overwork ourselves, thus saving ourselves from heatstroke, given our tropical climate. But the hopelessness, discouragement, and twisted use of religion made a very distasteful recipe quelling the appetite of the Filipino for work. We can see that the Spaniards very systematically erased our sense of pride as a people, made us forget who we were before they came, and made us feel inferior to them. They insisted that they were superior to us and that we should not aspire to accomplishments of any significance but should just accept our lot in life. Instead of civilizing us, they brutalized us, hence making us out to be brutes. The truth is the colonizers feared that if we were to be educated, we�d get ideas of raising our standards of living. They were afraid we would turn against them because of their systematic efforts to destroy our spirit, thus keeping us from becoming an enlightened people.

But history shows that they weren�t entirely successful in keeping us in the dark. The revolution happened, and you know the rest. But still, some of those attitudes that were cultivated during the Spanish times plague us to this day. We are very familiar with the terms: �Colonial mentality,� �Foreign stuff is always better than Filipino stuff� and so on. Closely connected to it is this �insinuated inferiority�, as Rizal called it. But please take note that we didn�t think like this before the colonizers arrived. The following texts are from the historical records and travel journals that Rizal used in his article:

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Malayan Filipinos carried on an active trade, not only among themselves but also with all the neighboring countries. A Chinese manuscript of the 13th century, translated by Dr. Hirth (Globus, September, 1889)�speaks of China�s relations with the islands, relations purely commercial, which mention is made of the activity and honesty of the traders of Luzon, who took the Chinese products and distributed them throughout all the islands, for the merchandise that the Chinamen did not remember to have given them. The products, which they in exchange exported from the islands, were crude wax, cotton, pearls, tortoise shell, betel-nuts, dry goods, etc.

The first thing noticed by Pigafetta who came with Magellan in 1521, on arriving at the first island of the Philippines, Samar, was the courtesy and kindness of the inhabitants and their commerce. �To honor our captain,� he says, �they conducted him to their boats where they had their merchandise, which consisted of cloves, cinnamon, pepper, nutmegs, mace, gold, and other things; and they made us understand by gestures that such articles were to be found in the islands to which we were going.�

Further on he speaks of the vessels and utensils of solid gold that he found in Butuan where the people worked in mines. He describes the silk dresses, the daggers with long gold hilts, and scabbards of carved wood, the gold sets of teeth, etc. Among cereals and fruits he mentions rice, millet, oranges, lemons, panicum, etc.

That the islands maintained relations with neighboring countries and even with distant ones is proven by the ships from Siam, laden with gold and slaves, that Magellan found in Cebu. These ships paid certain duties to the king of the island.

At that time, that sea where float the islands like a set of emeralds on a paten of bright glass, that sea was everywhere traversed by junks, paraus, barangays, vintas, vessels swift as shuttles so large that they could maintain a hundred rowers on a side (Morga); that sea bore everywhere commerce, industry, agriculture, by the force of the oars moved to the sound of warlike songs of the genealogies and achievements of the Philippine divinities. (Colin, Chapter XV.)

The ancient writers, like Chirino, Morga, and Colin, take pleasure in describing them as �well-featured, with good aptitudes for any thing they take up, keen and susceptible and of resolute will, very clean and neat in their persons and clothing, and of good mien and bearing� (Morga). Others delight in minute accounts of their intelligence and pleasant manners, of their aptitude for music, the drama, dancing and singing, of the facility with which they learned, not only Spanish but also Latin, which they acquired almost by themselves (Colin); others of their exquisite politeness in their dealings and in their social life, others, like the first Augustinians, whose accounts Gaspar de San Agustin copies, found them more gallant and better mannered than the inhabitants of Moluccas. �All live off their husbandry,� adds Morga, �their farms, fisheries and enterprises, for they travel from island to island by sea and from province to province by land.�

Can you picture pre-colonial Philippines? How wealthy we were? I imagine a proud people with a distinct culture. A people who tilled their land and held much pride in their products, thus giving them confidence to trade with other lands. Can you believe that? We were swimming in gold back then! We weren�t primitive. We were very proficient in the arts even then. That explains why we are such good musicians, dancers and artists. Only a proud race would have warlike songs about Philippine divinities. And take note of how the Chinese manuscript of the 13th century described us. We were honest merchants and traders. From what Pigafetta relates, we can deduce that we had very good interpersonal skills that were useful in cultivating trade relations.

Imagine, if you were Magellan who had been sailing for you don�t remember how long, trying to find the spice islands where you were told there were not only spices but also other exotic treasures. Then you discover a group of small islands with friendly and VERY rich inhabitants who show you their stuff, making you understand that more of that could be found on the island (don�t forget that they showed you GOLD, so there must be more where you�re going). One of the MAJOR thoughts in your head would be, �I FOUND IT! I�VE STRUCK GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!� You tell yourself that you are sooooo lucky, and all those nights of seasickness have finally paid off, because now you�ll be rich beyond your wildest imaginings. Besides this, your king will be very pleased with you. Aside from the gold you will be bringing back home for yourself, the king might even reward you for claiming such rich lands for him. You won�t have to work for the rest of your life. You�ll be sitting in the lap of luxury. The problem now is how to put your plan into action. Now where is that manual on How to Conquer Islands for your King? Ah, here it is�first step, make them think you are friendly. Second step, the trap. Convert those pagans. Then, make them swear allegiance to the King of Spain. Hah! The �jaws of death� will have been triggered. Now to memorize those steps�OK! I�ve got them. Now to set the plan in motion.

Now imagine you are a citizen of Mactan. Remember how they burned our homes when Lapu-lapu resisted them? How they terrorized our mothers and the children, wreaking havoc and panic in our quiet town? And then how bravely our fathers and brothers protected us and fought the foreigners? But we did beat them. We kicked butt. The nerve! We even managed to kill that jerk they called their captain. What was his name? Magellan, I think.

Now imagine again that you are Magellan, falling, splashing face down into the shallow water a few feet from the shore, just a short distance from the escape boats. But there is no escape for you. The blow you received on the side of your head is hurting like crazy. You think you�re going to die. That blow was so hard you feel like your brains are seeping through the cracks in your skull. Your dying thought being, �All those plans! I was supposed to get filthy rich! Now, nothing� noth��

But as we all know, some of Magellan�s crew did manage to escape. Below is another excerpt from Rizal�s �Indolence� that tells us quite a bit.

Wealth abounded in the islands. Pigafetta tells us of the abundance of foodstuffs in Paragua and of its inhabitants, who nearly all tilled their own fields. At this island the survivors of Magellan�s expedition were well received and provisioned. A little later, these same survivors captured a vessel, plundered and sacked it and took prisoner in it the chief of the Island of Paragua with his son and brother.

In this same vessel they captured bronze lombards, and this is the first mention of artillery of the Filipino, for these lombards were useful to the chief of Paragua against the savages of the interior.

They let him ransom himself within seven days, demanding 400 measures (cavanes?) of rice, 20 pigs, 20 goats, and 450 chickens. This is the first act of piracy recorded in Philippine history. The chief of Paragua paid everything, and moreover, voluntarily added coconuts, bananas, and sugar-cane jars filled with palm wine. When Caesar was taken prisoner by the corsairs and required to pay twenty-five talents ransom, he replied �I�ll give you fifty, but later I�ll have you crucified!� The chief of Paragua was more generous: he forgot. His conduct, while it may reveal weakness, also demonstrates that the islands were abundantly provisioned. This chief was named Tuan Mahamud; his brother, Guantil, and his son, Tuan Mahamud. (Martin Mendez, Purser of the ship Victoria: Archivo de Indias.)

Okay, first, these supposedly civilized Spaniards acted more uncivilized than the presumably uncivilized islanders of Paragua did. It was a total reversal. Just one cotton-pickin� minute. Wouldn�t you agree that the term �civilized� is subjective? It�s simply a matter of perspective, since we could just as well call them savages since their ways and customs are different from ours. Who�s to say that we are uncivilized when it�s quite clear that we had our own civilization even at that time? From Rizal�s writings, we can deduce that we acted in a more refined way than those Westerners did. Would you believe that after they had been given food and supplies, they went and kidnapped the chief? How ungrateful could they get? If they had just asked for more, do you think the chief would have said no?

Second, the chief of Paragua was not only generous in the sense that he forgot the foreigners� trespasses, he was downright benevolent! He forgave. Though his actions could be read as being a weakness, it could also be perceived as the actions of a gentle ruler who knew how to pick his battles. Remember the saying �Nothing is as strong as gentleness or as gentle as strength�? But then again, maybe he was not wise enough to consider the possibility that these foreigners would come back to do more looting, and in a more widespread manner. He could have been more unforgiving, thus teaching the ungrateful foreigners a lesson not to come back if they were going to do the same thing.

But being unforgiving is not a Filipino personality trait. We are not a vindictive lot. We are a forgiving and patient people. These traits must have been very useful in creating and maintaining trade relations with other foreign peoples whose only purpose was to do business with us. Maybe that is why we had welcomed them with such warmth: because we had expected them to have trade as their only agenda for coming to our shores. But being too forgiving and patient has also put us in danger many times throughout history. Who can deny that these particular traits have given rise to this dangerous tendency of ours to forget the trespasses of persons and nations against our people and country, an affliction also known as a �short historical memory�? This chronic malady of ours has allowed these same transgressors to repeat their sins against us because we allow them to return to power. Take the Marcoses, Estrada, Honasan, etc. for example. Or if not the same perpetuators, then the same sins that have already been committed against us tend to be repeated because we fail to recognize the telltale events that should have warned us of �history repeating itself� (read: coming disaster).

Yeah, maybe it would have been better if the islanders of Paragua had killed all of Magellan�s surviving crew so that they couldn�t have told of our islands� vast riches. But we�re just not like that. You would think that their defeat at Lapu-lapu�s hands should have been enough of a deterrent against the Spaniards� return. But no, they had been too blinded by our islands� wealth for that to occur to them.

And so they returned. This is what happened when Legaspi came:

They arrived at the Island of Cebu, �abounding in provisions, with mines and washings of gold, and peopled with natives,� as Morga says: �very populous, and at a port frequented by many ships that came from the islands and kingdoms near India,� as Colin says: and even though they were peacefully received discord soon arose. The city was taken by force and burned. The first destroyed the food supplies and naturally famine broke out in that town of a hundred thousand people, as the historians say, and among the members of the expedition, but the neighboring islands quickly relieved the need, thanks to the abundance they enjoyed.

Here we AGAIN encounter the Westerners� barbaric deeds. �Nuff said. But I�d like for you to focus your attention on what the adjacent islands did for that city that had been thrown into famine: they �quickly relieved the need, thanks to the abundance they enjoyed.� First we see one of our best qualities in action here: bayanihan. Second, we note the reason why the foreigners ravaged the city: it was rich. That is why we have been colonized by one country after another.

And about that indolence thing, I hold the opinion that we stopped working during the colonial rule as a form of boycott. Why toil to death when you aren�t allowed to enjoy the fruits of your labor anyway? It was a boycott. We are not dumb. We realized that our efforts did nothing to raise our quality of life but only that of the friars and encomenderos.

In closing, all I�d like to leave you with is a better knowledge and appreciation of our people before the colonizers came. I think it�s important for us Filipinos to know how we were, the good qualities we had and the things we should be proud of as a people. Because we need this. We need to realize the good and noble qualities we have had even before we were colonized.

We were superb traders who had very good interpersonal skills needed to make and maintain good trade relations. We were industrious folks who cultivated our land to produce crops worthy of export to China, India, Siam, and other lands with which we held trade. We were hospitable, refined, intellectual, hygienic, artistic, cultured, benevolent, forgiving, patient, kind, and helpful, among many other praiseworthy traits. We are still all these and much more.

We are known worldwide for being diligent workers, creative, well educated, amiable, and good-looking, if I may say so myself ;^)! (Do you know where I hear that we are a beautiful people? From foreigners who have seen for themselves how gorgeous we are.) We need to stop putting ourselves down because that is colonial mentality at its worst. We have to celebrate who we are. We need to be proud of being a Filipino. (We need to row to the beat of warlike songs of the genealogies and achievements of the Philippine divinities!) Let us restore our sense of dignity and pride as a people. Then maybe we can move on and carve for ourselves a brighter future. Who knows? We may yet be richer than our ancestors who, shall I remind you, swam in gold.

We are Filipino. I, for one, am proud of it.

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