Let us pause and recall on this, the 121st anniversary of the Philippine Declaration of Independence in Kawit, Cavite, in 1898.
I have recently been re-reading ancient history – about Alexander the Great, the building of Rome, the Renaissance. I can see how human the ancient politicians were, how they built institutions that survive to this very day. Motivated by power and glory, they built empires that lasted centuries, then decayed. The decay of these empires is just as interesting as their rise; it illustrates how the character of leaders decide as well the fate of their power, their imperial reach.
Looking back at Asia’s First Republic and the ilustrados who shaped it, I wonder if it would have been able to escape the American hegemony, or Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Even the Germans were in Manila Bay, waiting, when Admiral Dewey arrived.
But there are no ifs in history. We are what we have become because we have not really learned from our past, that we were easily subjugated first by foreign colonizers, then by our own elites because we are a weak and divided people, because we didn’t have the institutions that support a sovereign state.
The sneering, lying response of some readers to my recent column, “Why it is difficult to love this country,” informs me, alas, why we rot in this swamp. We refuse to learn from our history. There is even a conscious effort now to deny this past and revise it, and to denigrate those who remember. These revisionist efforts are the termite mounds we have to identify and demolish before they destroy our country.
WE CAN NEVER EVER alter history or rescue Marcos from the ignominy which he created. Did he do anything good? Sure, his first decree freeing the peasant from his ancient yoke. I commend him for abolishing tenancy in the rice and corn areas, and replacing it with leasehold. No Filipino leader, not even Magsaysay who championed agrarian reform, could have done that with a Congress dominated by landlords. Marcos as dictator did it and reaped political largesse.
I also applaud him for abrogating the 99-year US Bases lease. This could have led to perpetuity. And, finally, for opening our country to new diplomatic relationships as, for instance, with China and Russia.
But all that good is nullified by the massive corruption and the brutality of his martial law regime. This is known not only in our country but internationally, and no matter how much his champions strive to remove this stigma, they cannot because the whole world knows it.
We need not speculate if the United States was involved with his staying power or his ouster. The big powers, China included, always interfere with the destiny of other countries, particularly the weak. This to preserve their hegemony and to enlarge their markets and sources of raw materials. Always keep this in mind as the rationale for the origins of war. But the big powers can do little when countries are strong, their people unified.
How, for instance, did Cuba survive American overt incursions? The Cubans did because their leader, Fidel Castro, was credible. How did tiny Vietnam humble the United States, the world’s most powerful country, in the Vietnam War? Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese leader, too, was credible. More than anything he personified Vietnamese nationalism.
It was not communism that the United States fought against in Vietnam. It was nationalism – the strongest element that binds a people, the sturdiest bastion for survival that, alas, is woefully absent in this country.
How can we possess it? Imbibe it in our very blood, the air we breathe?
We must know our history, nurture our memory, and love this ravaged homeland.
OUR HISTORY DEFINES US, confirms us as a heroic people, but we have to look at ourselves and our past honestly, realize that we want a strong leader who is willing to make sacrifices, and this we should ask of ourselves as well. We must always beware, however, of leaders who claim kinship with the poor but whose actions deny that claim.
Looking back, Marcos had every good reason to declare martial law. But he failed to use that power to modernize this country. He was going to create a New Society and was surrounded by our finest technocrats. He grabbed power when we were next to Japan in prosperity; we were then in the take-off stage. His rhetoric was democratic even noble, but alas, he was crippled by his ego, by insatiable greed, and lust for power.
So now, we seem to be on the verge of the same old scenario. The emerging portents are ominous. I recall us welcoming Marcos who was then vastly popular with a landslide election victory. Will history repeat itself?
To conclude: The grievous problems that plague our people were already evident more than a hundred years ago and were described by the ilustrados, most of all by Rizal. How do we learn from history?
How do we create a just society and abolish poverty? We have arable land three times that of Japan. How can we use this to produce enough food for our people?
The vast wealth in this country – how do we use it to develop the economy? Our very rich must undergo tremendous change, transform themselves from landlords to producers and industrialists. We are now more than a hundred million – a mass market and at the same time a vast labor pool.
How do we bring back the thousands of talented Filipinos abroad?
At the bottom of all these and perhaps the most important question for us all -- how do we truly love this motherland sincerely enough to sacrifice for her?
First published in The Philippine Star, June 8, 2019