Being ‘Filipino’
Inspired & Blessed

Being ‘Filipino’

Jun 18, 2024, 7:22 AM
Bob Acebedo

Bob Acebedo


We’ve just celebrated our 126th Independence Day a few days back and, likely so, the euphoric spirit of patriotism and national identity lingers still to the fore.

For my part, I cared badgering myself once again with the thought: What does it take being ‘Filipino’?

My youngest son, my junior or namesake, who’s currently teaching and finishing his Doctoral studies in Netherlands, posed a similar query when he wrote in his FB post: “I grew up being taught that lack of punctuality is Filipino time, procrastinationhabit is Filipino habit, bahala na or fatalism is Filipino attitude, padrino system or favoritism is Filipino system, etc., and that we are to avoid these negative traits of being a Filipino. But who presumed that this is what it means to be Filipino? Why can’t it just be a lesson on getting rid of these awful traits because being a Filipino is being none of these?”

Hmnn, ‘tis undoubtedly a good point. But who’s the culprit indeed behind such linguistic degradation (read: hegemonic labeling) about “Filipino un-becoming”?

My son continues: “The colonial era played a big role on this linguistic scandal. Besides, the rhetoric of cultural degradation facilitates colonization. The Spaniards’ notion of Filipinos can be summed up in Gaspar de San Agustin’s letter in 1720 with the words: ‘The wretched beings (Filipinos) are of such a nature that they live a purely animal life, intent solely on its preservation and convenience, without the corrective of reason or respect or esteem for reputation.’ And over a period of time, like kids generally demeaned by their parents, Filipinos grew to dislike themselves unconfident and haunted by this glaring self-image.”

My son further ventures to postulate that because of such hegemony of inhuman labeling (or “cultural gaslighting”, in modern lingo), Filipinos thus have the impulse to practice the inhumanity embodied in such traits. “Inhuman labels to others allow the self to practice inhumanity. And if the word ‘Filipino’ really has a bad taste to Filipinos themselves, no wonder it is easy for them to escalate simple neighborly confrontation into murder, to allege crime against fellow Filipinos for the sake of ‘quota’, to steal public funds, or not to work for the best interest of the state. Horrible actions are sometimes desensitized by seeing the other as ‘parasite’, ‘lazy’, ‘morally unreliable’, ‘stupid’, etc..”

Whew! My stomach cringes in agreement with the hard truth propounded by my son. 

Inarguably, indeed, language is linked with issues of power and politics. It was English novelist and journalist, Angela Carter, who rightly said, “Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.”

On the same vein, the Italian thinker and political activist Antonio Gramsci suggested an interesting link between hegemony and language. In his seminal work “The Prison Notebooks”, Gramsci refers to civil and political society that make use of discursive and coercive approaches for purposes of hegemony. The impact of these approaches is so effective and subtle that the controlled populace welcome this control by consent. Similarly, thus, according to African novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the “cultural bomb annihilates a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves.”

Ahh, amid this wrestling conundrum of “what it means to be a Filipino”, I can only share a common aspiration with my son that indeed it’s high time for us to “organically disassociate our Filipino identity from such hegemonic linguistic-cultural labeling.”

For one, on a final note, I find relief in the words of Paolo Freire: “Man, who is an incomplete being, and yet conscious of his incompletion, has the inherent potential for completion.”

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