Leni vs. Poe: Anything beyond citizenship and nationalism?
Pitting Leni Robredo against Grace Poe may be a match any political analyst would love to see, or having one as president and another as vice president may be a dream to those for whom being “run by women” is enough.
It behooves me, however, to flag a sense of righteousness that might actually cover insidious shortsightedness, shared among many of us.
It is November 2015, past the filing of certificates of candidacy, past the announcement of candidacy and past political courting. Presidential candidate Grace Poe’s choice over her citizenship is still being interpreted as a matter of nationalism by no less than the Liberal Party’s (LP) vice-presidential candidate Leni Robredo.
The woman who once hoped that Grace would be LP’s VP candidate and who is actually LP’s “Plan B” for the post has been consistent in criticising Poe’s disloyalty to the flag the moment she turned her back to the country to live in the United States. It is an act that she considers a “moral issue.”
As the lawyers address the legal question, there seems to be a need to unpack nationalism in our in the election and why it only serves a particular class interest, another card that is woefully played out by those who pretend to had risen up from the gutters.
As we turn to Marxist intellectual Benedict Anderson’s definition of nation in Imagined Communities as an “artifact”, nationalism then becomes a ritualised idea and its perpetuation of a particular nation. In the context of the elections, the nation becomes far more than an imagined community as it becomes a commodity that is marketed aggressively.
The particularity thus comes with the territory, literally. As Robredo said, “The issue of renunciation (of her Filipino citizenship) is a bigger issue for me because … at one point in (Poe’s) life, (she) turned (her) back on us.”
Indeed Robredo makes a distinction on where this “moral issue” applies. It is for a certain class or that which consists of herself, Poe and others who are running for higher office to consider but not for overseas Filipino workers and Filipinos who have settled in foreign lands, because “they are not running for president.”
Of course the majority of them would not bother because, more than the moral and legal issues, they have financial issues, owing to the lack of more rewarding opportunities within the Philippines, among many others.
In an age when multiculturalism and internationalism beckon in light of fundamentalisms which are reflected in harassment of the Lumad and other indigenous peoples because of mainstream politics and development, bloodbaths in Syria, Iraq, Beirut, Paris and elsewhere in the name of religion, discriminatory border controls and merciless refoulment especially among the Rohingyas, Syrians and Afghans, not to mention honour killings and forced marriages for women and girls in South Asia, a cacique-laden notion of nationalism is being peddled.
It is bad enough that some media agencies almost automatically attribute the triumphant moments of individuals of Filipino descent to their Filipino-ness even when they grew up elsewhere. It is worse when a supposed progressive mind plays such nationalism card or agrees to play it, as part of a party’s media machinery.
Perhaps multiculturalism and internationalism may be far from the minds of political and media strategists. Still, it begs the question: how has nationalism been a duty and recourse to the majority, who have benefitted from or slaving as OFWs and immigrants? Or even women, whose bodies have often been an embodiment of a nation’s realities? More women, comparatively younger than men, still comprise much of the OFWs, usually in the service sector.
Their agenda is to earn money for their families and themselves because perhaps they dream of living like individuals with less wagons of obligations, or at least wagons of their choice.
How many of them are workhorses of families, share small spaces with so many siblings? How many are married to philandering and lazy spouses? How many are living for their children? How many experience displacement without necessarily migrating, but because of the countless negotiations one has to put up with in order to survive even at the expense of one’s dignity?
At this point, there is nothing transformative in the leadership that both women are promising, beyond the damage-control reactions to incidents like the skimpily clad dancers in a birthday party or the tanim-bala episodes at the airport or the photos of the low-key commuters of the MRT or long-haul buses.
Rather than belabouring over a few’s sense of nationalism, why not discuss the more substantive ideas, which many theories of nationalism have ignored? The dichotomy that nation-building processes have produced, particularly between the public and the private spheres, men and women, consists of contradictory tendencies, resulting in ruptures and silences around the woman question or, more inclusively, the gender question.
But these ruptures and silences must be surfaced in a politically defining period such as the elections. This is the time to exact substance and commitment on issues on bodies, gender, sexuality, human rights and well-being — divorce, abortion especially in cases of rape and incest, non-discrimination, adoption by LGBT persons, redefinition of households, same-sex marriage, medical marijuana and many others.
Confining ourselves to debates around nationalism is quite denigrating in light of the pressing and felt challenges — superficially conceived but powerfully practiced — from which our bodies, identities, desires and lives must be liberated. – Rappler.com
Nina Somera has been working for the development sector in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Her post graduate studies focused on re-thinking the ideas of home and nation in the immigrant fiction, produced by Philippine women writers in Australia.