By Milwida M. Guevara
My consciousness that I am a Filipino started when my mother dressed me up in a “baro at saya” for a picture taking at Brown’s studio. The long gown and butterfly sleeves were uncomfortable for a four-year old. But I was conscious that I looked regal and different. My mother told me that I should be proud wearing a Filipina dress.
I then became more familiar with many other practices that were uniquely Filipino. My Dad always wore a “barong tagalong.” I was amazed at how several men ferried a house made of nipa and bamboo and carried it on top of their shoulders. They moved in lockstep with the same rhythm. I watched other “bayanihan” initiatives when young ladies and men came to our house with “pakiling” leaves to scrub the walls clean. I started to imbibe what it is to be a true Filipino. Love transcended oneself and extends to the community.
This spirit was bolstered when my Mom, the school principal, led community projects. Every one participated in a weekly clean-up of the streets. Fences were planted with “gumamela” and sidewalks were lined with “bandera Espanola.” Community members gathered together to celebrate Independence Day, Christmas, and RIzal Day in the town plaza. There were parades, tableaus, plays, folk dancing, and camp fire. I was truly proud of being part our community.
My sense of community broadened when I worked for government. I was fortunate to join teams that did not only look at the effects of public policies on a community but on the entire country. I began to be mindful of the poor when an Irish friend took me to visit the informal settlers in San Andres Bukid. The sight of people sleeping on the embankment of Roxas Boulevard gnawed my heart. I thought of them as we fearlessly fought for the use of specific taxation to halt tax evasion in the cigarette and beer industry. The revenues that government could raise from improved tax administration could give the poor shelter, health care, and public schools.
But with the passing of years, our values and sense of community waned. Technology hastened changes on how community members communicate. We have lost the warmth and the heart. We have the great misfortune to have changes in governance. It is “us” versus the “you” and the promotion of self has gained greater premium over the common good. In place of trust, we have fear and uncertainty. There is no sense of community, and I am afraid, a sense of country. My grandnephew Matthew explains that it is not because the young are less nationalistic. It is because they consider themselves “global citizens”. I am thus afraid that very few of the young who have sought better opportunities abroad will ever come back to help their country, especially the poor.
And as we celebrate another Independence Day, we should try and regain hope that our country will be better. We need to turn to our small communities and start rebuilding institutions starting with our family and schools. We should tell our children that this moment is an aberration or a temporary blip in our history of decency and goodness. And that respect and love for others are eternal.
I am alarmed that our school children are less familiar with Rizal and Bonifacio that they are with Iron Man, Falcon, and Captain America. We should all work together to reawaken our understanding of how Filipinos, great and small, fought for our independence, not just from foreign invaders, but from local forces . They who have threatened our freedom through fear, autocratic rule, and intimidation will not be forever. They who weaken our moral fiber through disrespect for women and elders will also pass away. There will be justice on those who insult our institutions by considering them as rewards.
For many of us who love our country so, we must not just continue to try do what is good and decent. But we must not be indifferent to what is offensive and decadent. In our own little ways, we can model our lives after Rizal and our heroes. Speak for what is right, express outrage for what is clearly wrong, and help others who are in need.