Lakbayan and the Enigma of Filipino Nationalism

11:39 pm PHT

“Balang araw malilibot ko din ang lahat ng kapuluan sa Pilipinas! At least pasado pa rin ako ngayon.”jeideecee

It’s been a little over a year since I released Lakbayan, a simple web application that lets you see how much of the Philippines you have visited. By and large, I’ve been really heartened by the comments people have said about my app. But more than that, the reaction to Lakbayan has triggered my internal musings on the enigma that is the Filipinos’ sense of nationalism.

I grew up being taught that Filipinos hate the Philippines and that we have this stupid colonial mentality sickness. It’s been said that Filipinos prefer products made by industrialized companies over local products and that our countrymen prefer to migrate elsewhere to escape the hellhole that the Philippines had become. It’s also been said that Pinoy immigrants to the U.S. and Europe are afflicted with the so-called IMSCF syndrome ("I’m Spanish/Chinese-Filipino”), where they downplay their Filipino heritage and promote, possibly invented, foreign ancestors.

“Hopefully, my grade will increase once I go back home on September. For one, I have already booked flights to go to Camiguin for a family reunion.” —YaN Salvanera

Now that we are in the 21st century, things are looking brighter but there are still vestiges of colonial mentality that is apparent especially in this era of monumental globalization. For one thing, many of us still generally prefer to partake of foreign pop culture such as blockbuster Hollywood movies, Japanese manga and anime, American and European pop music, mushy Koreanovelas, and American TV series on Studio 23 and ETC. And that’s not counting the spate of “importation” of TV and movie plots and Endemol game shows into the local small and silver screens.

Filipino non-intellectual-property goods fare much better since we as a people have learned to recognize quality over simply whether a product was produced elsewhere. Jollibee trumps McDo (despite the “Love ko ’to” campaign); Bench, Human, and Penshoppe can hold their own against Collezione, Topman, and Levi’s; and brands from Splash Corporation (like SkinWhite, Biolink, and Extraderm) and Lamoiyan Corporation (such as Hapee and Gumtect) sell as well as those from P&G, Unilever, and Colgate-Palmolive. We can probably thank the Department of Trade and Industry’s 80s to 90s campaign of marking local products as “Proudly Philippine Made.”

While there is still a steady pace of emigration from the Philippines as Filipinos across all social levels try to live or work in greener pastures, I believe that their reasons have more to do with economic and political reasons than with any particular internalized hate against all things Filipino.

“There are so many wonderful beaches, towns & churches in Cebu that I haven’t even been to! Better start with that first before trying to go to other countries right?” —Vannie

I have probably seen over two thousand Lakbayan posts in the past year and a vast majority of them are generally positive about wanting to explore the Philippines. (Then again, Filipinos who don’t like the Philippines are unlikely to try out Lakbayan anyway.) The Rizal quote about being a stranger in one’s own land crop up in blog entries as often as the Department of Tourism’s slogan of “Tara na, biyahe tayo!” is mentioned. Many have stated that they wish to see more of our islands before visiting other countries. There’s even plenty of banter among friends as to who got a higher score. And there are a lot of people who are then encouraged by my Lakbayan app to see more of the Philippines and to increase their grade. In fact, I’ve already seen several people increase their grade and update their maps over the past year.

If Lakbayan is an indication of anything, I think it means that there is still hope for the Philippines because Filipinos are still proud of their country, warts and all.

“So how much of the Philippines have you traveled? Tara na, biyahe tayo!“ —Bittersweet Damsel

On the other hand, Pinoy Pride is quite a sensitive beast and smacks of a hidden inferiority complex. We romanticize every achievement Pinoys make in the international arena—from Lea Salonga, Charice Pempengco, and Jasmine Trias (and even Renaldo Lapuz of “You Are My Brother” fame) to Manny Pacquiao, Django Bustamante, and Efren “Bata” Reyes. This romanticization even extends to imagined Filipino inventions like a certain Agapito Flores’ fluorescent lamp.

Moreover, Filipinos massively become antagonistic at every perceived insult to the Filipino character. Remember the Desperate Housewives controversy last year and the ensuing drama? How about the brouhaha that occurred after actress Claire Danes’ described Manila as a “ghastly and weird city” that “smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over”? Can you still recall the hoax concerning Art Bell’s open letter saying that “Filipinos make me puke” and the positively vitriolic counter-insults hurled back at the hapless Art Bell? I’m sure you do.

A healthy sense of pride is a good thing but things do get out of hand quickly. But nevertheless, I’m heartened to see that the Filipino people as a whole have a healthy sense of pride nowadays.

I’ll leave you with this personal anecdote. In my company, there’s been some disgruntlement about the increasingly restrictive policies the top management had been imposing on the staff. During a recent sort-of campaign whose slogan stated “Proud to be an [ethical] XYZ employee,” the employees had group discussions as part of the campaign. Well, in my group, the topic veered towards the fundamental question of whether we were proud to be XYZ employees in the first place. While the answers were rather ambivalent, practically everyone in the group answered in the affirmative when I then asked whether they were proud to be Filipino. I think that says a lot about a lot of things, don’t you agree?

 Proudly Pinoy

This article is an entry to The Philippine Issues Writing Project of Filipino Voices.

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