Monday, June 11, 2012

Philippine Tribes and that Aquino Fellow


I remember as a kid going to my town's "Harvest Festival", generally held the last week of August, just before we packed off for a new school year, which in the U.S. starts in early September. The festival was great fun. They'd block off Main Street in town and the carnival people would come in with their game booths and portable Ferris wheels and merry go rounds. For a kid, it didn't get much better than that.

As the town got swallowed up by a rapidly growing city, Denver, Colorado, to be exact, the farmlands got swallowed up by housing developments, miles and miles of them, plastering the plains with wood and brick boxes all the way to the Rocky Mountains, and onward east toward Nebraska.

Somewhere along the way, the Harvest Festival lost its relevance. The name was changed and it became a street carnival, somehow detached from its origins of crops harvested and stored or shipped, and money in the bank. Then it just died.

The reason? The plowed fields were gone and the joy of the harvest was gone. The harvest meant a lot to the agricultural community. But agriculture was bought out, the farmers left or died, and the festival became a cheap, junky traveling carnival hosting gangs and druggies and drunks.

Yet fiestas remain big in the Philippines. Very big. There must be a reason. And the reason must still exist.

Perhaps it is found in the drums, pounding today on hypersonic amplifiers that bounce the thumps off the surrounding buildings. Hell, some nights the thumping bounces off the nearby mountains.

I once watched the fiesta parade in Gingoog City, in Mindanao. Area schools competed in a street-dancing competition judged during the parade. Winning prize, P30,000.There were six different groups the day I watched. It was fantastic. Amazing creativity went into the costuming and choreography, the same story told six times through six different creative visions. The winner featured a fantastic opening where about 50 dancers somehow crammed into a gigantic ball surrounded by huge feathers, colored nipa palm branches. The pounding music began and the dancers exploded out like the fast-motion photography of a flower in blossom. Golden bronze warriors with blond hair and loincloths pounced across the street, twirling and stomping, raising the energy so high that you could get lost in the moment.

The common story is of love, of course, and conquest. You know it better than me.

I imagine it was like that around a huge fire in the forest so many centuries ago. A small world, defined by darkness. The black night held at bay by the blazing yellow fire light. Dancers glistening in sweaty splendor as they pounded around the fire to the beat of tribal drums. The dancers told the same story as today, older than their grandparent's grandparents. Feathered spears jabbed upward, angry, defiant, victorious. The elders sat together babbling in toothless tuba-stoked joy, the women held babies in their arms and fretted over the cooking fires.

Well, it's baaaaack!

Fiesta time is here again here, in the big city. The bands are out rehearsing at odd hours of the morning or night. They use cut-off oil drums and big sticks of wood to work up a fine, loud, throbbing beat. And somewhere, for some reason, off over there, an electronic beat, amped to max, is throbbing another everlasting story of love, conquest, and victory. Thumping, thumping, thumping until four in the morning.

Somewhere creative people are once again putting together choreography for their dancers. Walking through the rehearsals. Soon, we will get the seasonal tents springing up all over town, selling mostly cheap things, tin ware, clothing, plastic goods.

Then on the final day, visitors from across the Philippines will flood in to partake of the main  event. Eating.

Every door in town is open wide to anybody. Every guest is served the fiesta meal as graciously as the mayor is served. Need is set aside for a mammoth day of kindness and spiritual unity and generosity. Those who have, share. Those who don't have, help out. Heh, or just stop by. And everybody eats big time.

Why is my Harvest Festival long dead, but the Philippine fiesta lives on, strong and loud?

Here's a guess.

Because the Philippines has yet to find a modern passion anywhere near the joy of a tribal dance. If the One Man Band or Lady Gaga do the music instead of a bunch of mostly naked drummers, so what? It is the spirit, the pounding, that matters, not the tune. In the Philippines, there is no wealth to aim for. No war to march off to. No grand patriotic vision.  But always trials and tribulations, the roots of soul and music around the world.

Pound them into oblivion with drums and bass.

In that regard, the Philippines is still a collection of tribes, not a nation. It is a nation still dancing in the firelight.

Most people don't live in the wilds any more, but a good many still cook over a fire. And they spend their days with their friends and neighbors, not worrying about impeachments or even Chinese gunboats. And they play their music loud.

The modern era of Philippine national history has largely been one of submission. To Spaniards, to Americans. To Japanese. Liberated with help from the Americans, at the cost of a destroyed Manila. Then a dictator, Marcos. Since Marcos, ruled by cheaters, the powerful and the corrupt.

The "free" and genuinely independent Philippines is still non-existent, a figment of people's imagination unfulfilled by patriotic bonds. The nation is not even born yet, if you think about it that way. It is trapped in the darkness by thieves and lackluster productivity. And leaders taking advantage of their power.

Patriotic spirit is hard to summon if your leaders command no deep respect.

Security and bonding here have always been found closer to home, in the family, and the tribe. Not the national government. Even today, with Ampatuan Senior in jail, his representatives are (allegedly) out murdering the witnesses who might testify against him. His tribe remains strong and lethal, defying the national government. Mayors of Davao City and Cebu run their cities as kingdoms. They are the law. Not those pantywaists in the Palace.

President Aquino bowed to the powerful locals who wanted to keep their private militias. The nation bowed to the tribal leaders.

Afghanesque.

Today the family names still dominate government offices, handed down, one to the other on fierce local loyalties. That's why the names Marcos and Estrada and Arroyo and Aquino live on, no matter the scandal or shame. It is why three senators once plotted coups, yet serve today, elected by those who value history and the comfort of whom they know above democratic valor and even competence.

Democratic purity pounds no drums, in the Philippines. Nor does getting things done productively. The Constitution is a document, not a passion. It lights no fires in the soul.

Tribal loyalty, close to home, is where the fires burn.

And yet. And yet, I sense something is changing. Modest perhaps. Found in the maturity of  an impeachment carried out in lieu of murder or a coup. Of a bill providing freedom of information based on the principle that government is owned by the people, not the other way around. Of the HR Bill beginning to move again through the Senate, perhaps on the profound realization by the old folks (Senator Enrile and his band) that people are watching carefully, and the senators' legacy rides on modernization. Not staying inept.

Will fiestas disappear? Ha ha. Not in my lifetime, nor yours. But the way things are going, I suspect more and more people will turn to the national leadership and say, "yes, I buy into this".

"This is a nation I don't have to apologize for, or make excuses for. I don't need to cheer a boxer or singer. I can cheer my country, the Philippines. MY country."

THAT may be Mr. Aquino's biggest contribution to the Philippines, if he continues constructive acts. The establishment of a national allegiance stronger than local loyalties. Perhaps one day the history books will record this simple achievement:

He molded a nation from a gathering of tribes.

15 comments:

  1. I certainly he hope that he doesn't apply the rules of Attila the Hun in uniting the tribes of the Philippines. If he does, he'll have all the tribes fighting him.

    In Machiavellian terms, what PNoy is doing is perfectly alright. Feared by enemies, loved by...some people. That's the beauty of per...prosecuting GMA and her minions. A lot of people hate her. It's easy to do a balimbing for the sake of "righteousness."

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    1. Strong guy or weak guy? I take strong, if his fundamentals are honorable. Now he is indeed somewhat of a puppet and a puppet master, favors owed and received, but not a scoundrel. And he is stubborn and hot tempered,in a macho way. Typical of his culture, as well. He pats his own back in a needy way. But he is no Marcos. If you step way back, he is opportunity for a revitalized Philippines . . . confidence and stability and transparency . . . (I hope); (I don't like eating my hats)(or crow)

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    2. He is both a puppet and a master of puppets. You shouldn't discount the fact that he comes from the oligarchic family Cojuangco/ Aquino. He represents their interests. The family is the tribe of the president. Do not forget that.

      Seriously, I don't see the man doing a Marcos. That's almost like killing the cow because it will eliminate the mass support the president is enjoying. Besides, establishing a new dictatorship at this day and age? Seriously? I've heard of dictators going down.

      100% Marcosian tactics won't pay in the long term. Any move that will destabilize the position won't be pushed. Notice that RH isn't moving anymore? I hope FOI won't suffer the same fate.

      If I was steering PNoy's family, I will position to have significant stakes on interests that have an impact at the long term. Those could be energy, food and probably some other basic items. Oh, and more real estate. If government is serious in bringing progress in the countryside, someone has to have a stake in the development there. If you're also out for dominance, passing key legislation to neutralize other big players in the country should also be on the table. Notice the current attitude of gov't leadership? They're 100 percenters. It's either you're in or out.

      I hope this made sense. Sorry for the long posting again. LOL.

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    3. Yes, he is an oligarchy kind of guy. But he was elected by a swarm of common people who are now finding him less than sterling. That is a pressure, too, and it will be interesting to see if it motivates him to do some important work for the commoners. Not just jail other oligarchy types. If he fails to do commoner deeds, he will end up a grand dud.

      I look forward to his state of the union talk. Substance or back patting?

      Long comments are welcome. They reflect an interest in the subject, which is a complement to the article writer in my book.

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    4. Thanks for welcoming the long comments. Some take it as a form of hijacking the discussion. =D

      I hope there will be some substance in the SONA. I predict that there will be back patting. It's impossible not to have that in any SONA. GMA did it before with her economic numbers. I don't see any reason why PNoy shouldn't be entitled to the same privilege. I just hope it isn't too much GMA this and GMA that.

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    5. Makes sense . . . must be your coffee . . .

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    6. LOL. I had little coffee today. :)

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    7. That is why I like a "stick and carrots leadership."

      Its Jack

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  2. the country joe, remains the fabled sphinx. no fire sure political philosophy and economic agenda, but people are happy every fiesta.

    we tried the fundamentals of strong cental govt. under marcos and failed.. and we have failed an existing decentralized govt. where the local mafias hold at bay the national govt's efforts at reforms.

    PNOY made small success at good governance, but everyone in the lunatic fringe lost no time in ganging up on him and reminisced the abuses of the marcos rebirthing in PNOY's time. Silly and childish. That much, you can describe the Pinoy psyche. No concept of a nation, only of a tribe where local overlords reign to terrorize their wards. Yes, fiesta like cocaine, drums out the harsh realities of life, and for fleeting days, soothed you to neverland of pastries, adobos, grilled beef/pork and wine!

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    1. jcc, "lunatic fringe", indeed. Like those who claim Pacquiao's loss illustrates that America wants to control the Philippines, or that having America as military backing against China is a threat to the Philippines. I must say, it is entertaining watching the goings on around here! Not since reading Kafka's "The Castle" have I observed such absurdities. Which is bizarre, considering all the good times and good people about . . .

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  3. Welcom back "joe"!
    From: Island jim-e (aka: the cricket)

    Question: How to stuff enough applied intellegence, knowledge,
    experience, action and effort to make a magic work! As I
    see the current situation it is to the benefit of the few to
    keep the massess from the acquisition of these elements!

    From my rocing chair I applaud your essay!

    From my survival experiences I have to observe that
    until our greedy folks start sharing the wealth,
    become part of the solution-- a wholesome
    and beneficial education for the masses, start
    finding ways and means to put the "wee-little-people"
    to gainful and productive employment, the "rainbow"
    islands have little chance to grow up and thrive!

    When the "average" residential citizen is forced to
    live in stone age communities the witch doctors,
    fudal lords, gangsters, crooked politians and
    "soap-opera-families"... will continue to dominate!

    I see some hope...(no faith or trust left) in the
    potential that the internet offers to promote a
    better future for community growth and improvement.

    I see some hope in what our Island President is doing
    for reform and infastructure improvement....but only
    if enough good people get behind him and provide a
    positive force for the needed changes required of a
    functioning society in this century!

    I hope to live long enough to see some real improvement,
    growth and revolution of the island infastructure....I
    hope!

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    1. Ah, good to get your commentary, too, to know I don't tread in isolation on some of these perspectives. Reflecting on what you have said, I think the improvement depends on developing a strong "middle class" of modern thinkers who are also willing to advocate for the Philippines, against the big powers. We see a little of this on advocacy for RH and FOI, and I hope it continues. It needs some attorneys to shore up the effort. Advocacy types.

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  4. manuelbuencaminoJune 12, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    Joe,

    Fiestas in this neck of the woods are birthday celebrations of the town's patron saint. It's roots are catholic.

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    1. There are certainly religious threads running through the fiestas I've been involved in, from mass to prayer before beauty contests or speeches, and before eating. But I did not know it was a birthday celebration. There must be a lot of saints because when I drive to Tacloban, there is invariably a fiesta going on somewhere along the trail.

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  5. Joe,

    I am not a very trooper this noon, I was the first one this morning who wrote a comment on this issue. It disappeared like magic. Computer glitz I guess because I saw the text had posted.

    Its Jack

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