Sunday, June 13, 2010

Soul, Brother

I enjoy learning of the history of the Philippines, although, as in college, I can take it only in small portions. Some characters certainly stand out, putting their personal stamp on the nation, for good or ill: Rizal, Aguinaldo, Marcos. I think history will dump Ms. Arroyo in the dust bin of largely smaller than life people who wasted an opportunity by putting out propaganda but achieving little. This is not unlike many cheaters in the Philippines who tell stories to rein in the suckers, of which I have been one more times than I care to admit. Truth has little bearing on the matters of these crooks, for their fundamental aim is deceitful, so why would they overlay the manipulation with truth? No, manipulation is overlaid with deceits, one after another to bury the truth in places where it can cause little damage.

But the aim of this blog is not my traditional picking away at the warts of Philippine society, but rather to express an observation recently gained.

Filipinos have more depth of soul than most Americans. I have no statistics to back this up, and am not going to spend any time defining “soul”. It is just my sense of things.

Americans grow shallower by the year as television and consumerism and reality-show relationships diminish the place where soul once resided. It is rather the difference between reading a romance novel and reading Charles Dickens. America is full of shallow romance with less meaning every passing day.

But Filipinos retain their soul, which I would describe as not exactly literate, but of the heart. It is poetic, not always in words, but in spirit. Read the writings of Rizal and others, the passions expressed in Edsa, the awareness of the way the empowered take what is not theirs and give struggle to so many impoverished families. Perhaps it is the ache that is so huge. The sending of sons and daughters overseas, the relentless awakening early to slog on the tricycle or whack roadside weeds or stoop again in the rice fields, and the belief in goodness in spite of what one must deal with daily. Ha. And the mysteries of all the superstitions that haunt the day and night and death and birth and even building a house.

I came to respect the white lady who inhabits the eerie roots of the huge trees on my jungle property in Mindanao. She, to me, gives glimpse of the Philippine soul. Deep, mysterious, complex, mystifying, hard to see, sometimes dark, often full of fun, sometimes a little scary, and arising with passion again and again, in search of the light, no matter the hurdles placed in the way by God and other jokesters.


  1. Enough years have passed; Pinoys of Pinas have repeatedly affirmed Rizal over Bonifacio or Lapulapu as the country choice for national hero.

    But maybe the country should revisit bestowing hero-status upon Aguinaldo despite him having pledged loyalty to Spain, to USA, to Japan.

  2. I have reservations about Aguinaldo, perhaps being influenced by Dewey's observation that he took wealth from Filipinos and lived ostentatiously. He represented the common man, eh? Like ERAP. Formed and led the military. But named himself king. He too much represents the style I would like to see abandoned, self over common good. The Designated Hero should put country first. I'll take the Magsaysay brothers, Jesus and Ramon, over Aguinaldo.

  3. Hey Joe, you should give Americans a bit more credit than you do here. Sit through a good hollywood movie, for example, and you just can't help but marvel at the immense well of cultural capital it draws from and brings to bear. America may be only 230+ years old, but the culture, philosophies, and civilisation from which it is derived from count their age in the thousands. It's been said that America is the most awesome single achievement of Western civilisation. Arguable of course. But it is something not easily debunked.

    If the Philippines were to be swallowed up by the sea tomorrow, what about it will be missed in the overall scheme of human civilisation? What has the Philippines contributed to the intellectual, cultural, and economic capital of humanity whose sudden absence will be immediately felt?

    Think hard enough and you will probably come up with something.

    But if you ask similar questions in the context of the same hypothetical scenario applied to America, and the answers flow out naturally off the top of most people's heads.

    I wrote this in my book: "true artistic beauty is a product of depth in structure and meaning and not just of chaotic expression"

    Compare the achievements of the best of American artists and those crown jewels of the Pinoy artistry, say, Regine Velasquez. Between those of America and those of Da Pinoys, which one would you say generally exhibit a wondrous architectural depth and originality in the way sounds are put together in their music?

    There's your answer. Goes beyond music and movies of course, but music and movies are things Pinoys can readily relate with. And in using those alone to compare the smallness of our culture with the majesty of America's, its fatherlands in the Continent, as well as many others in the Subcontinent and Northeast Asia, the evidence is unsavory to the average Pinoy mind even as it jumps out in starkness.

    Perhaps there is something in that concept of "spirit" you defer to in your loss of any words to bring to bear to findin meaning in the banal injustice that is entrenched into the very fibres that make up the fabric of Pinoy society. Perhaps that substance we imagine Pinoy society to possess is "hard to see", simply because there is none to be found.

  4. benigno,

    Yes, you are right about the cultural depth of the US at the extremes of fine artistry and creativity and science, but I fear that the Americans under the bell-curve norm are becoming shallower and shallower, and the politics is becoming downright unpatriotic. As for the Philippines, I suppose it depends on if you are talking about achievements or the complexities of the spirit, where ghosts can be quite ephemeral yet somehow meaningful when the come tap tap tapping on the bedroom door in the middle of the night. I am currently drafting a blog where I have synthesized the Filipino archetype character into four words: closed, haphazard, good, vengeful. "Empty" is not one of the words.


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