Filipino culture

[OPINION] Kontragahum, class compromise, and the nationalist question

Reyzeljan De Los Trinos
[OPINION] Kontragahum, class compromise, and the nationalist question
'There is no grander spectacle of nationalism than our practice of electoral exercises every three years'

Who among us would not remember falling in line every Monday morning, dressed in neatly pressed polos and blouses, leather shoes mint-shined, arms-width apart from our classmates, a grain of sweat crawling across our eyebrow as we squint our eyes towards the familiar red, white, and blue, reciting our promises to forever be loyal to our flag, our country, and to a mythical bayan that encompasses our national imagination?

I was thinking of this particular scene after I came across a line from a series that I was watching: nationalism is politics for basic bitches.

I realized that the line, in all its honesty and pragmatism, was essentially true. Nationalism as an ideology is inculcated as the basic building block of our political life. One of the first things taught in schools is our appreciation of our national identity. Filipino-ness is complemented by our textbook knowledge of history, our heroes, and of course, our roster of national symbols. All other political assertions, such as those pertaining to sexes and genders, local cultures and traditions, sectors and classes, are only secondary.

For this setup, you can blame the Americans and their obsession with patriotism, or the postcolonial requirement to create a sociopolitical delineation necessary for nation-building, the older Marcos and his Maharlika and Bagong Lipunan imagination, or even Cory and the anti-dictatorship movement for invoking a nationalist responsibility to fight the Marcosian behemoth. Nationalism has been historically architectured as not only the reason we pay taxes, but as far as our Panatang Makabayan goes, “dahil mahal ko ang Pilipinas” we must as well be good children, industrious students, loyal workers, caring towards the environment, and faithful in our prayers.

And there is nothing wrong here per se, for these are but simple formulas that shift the nationalist question towards the nation-building process.

But there is no grander spectacle of nationalism (besides our Monday morning routines, of course) than our practice of electoral exercises every three years.

Make no doubt, none of these candidates would say that they are not patriotic or nationalists. The mythical bayan gets cited again and again, as if invoking an ever-sleeping spirit that bestows victory to the brave and the bold. Various shades of red, white, and blue are displayed to the fullest extent, while some even redefine these hues to fit their own political narratives. And of course, especially in the national arena, all of them portray themselves as saviors of Inang Bayan after six years of deceit and pestilence. In one way or another, the mythical bayan is in need of a complementary mythical messiah.

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But what exactly is this bayan that we are talking about?

Postcolonial thinkers, led by Edward Said, agree that after the colonizers left and a semblance of political independence is granted, a major ethnolinguistic group emerges and is awarded with the regalian responsibility to continue the still unfinished civilizing efforts of colonizers. More often than not, these are the ones who benefited the most from doing commerce with the colonizers and birthed the core of the domestic bourgeoisie. With these phenomena, the newfound domestic forces possess the ability to localize the national/ist imaginations to tailor-fit their own narratological requirement.

In the Philippines’ case, the physical bayan is primarily defined as Metro Manila and its adjacent provinces, a national language and culture delegated to Tagalog, and all other imageries following suit – mangga, narra, carabao, bahay kubo, sampaguita, barong and baro’t saya, all being fragmentations of a Manila-based imagination.

This political configuration is not an output of demographic nor cultural design. It’s just that, almost ironically, the race most subjugated and most committed to colonial servitude were the ones handed the keys to the kingdom, because they were the ones who managed to expand their land, capital, and connections during the colonial period. The shift of forces from colonialism to newfound nationalism is designed based on political economy – with an emerging bourgeois class taking the reins of control from colonial masters so that they may exercise their own form of colonization inside their own territory.

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Led by their own version of germinal capitalists, the rest of the ethnological groups would follow suit. Power is allowed to be centralized in imperial Manila not only because of Manila’s desire, but this centralization of power would allow the germinal bourgeois and landlords in the peripheries to consolidate their power and control in the fringes. Provinces are turned into turfs and fiefdoms in the process.

With “bayan” wired under such configurations, it is no wonder why our country is still pitted beneath the dredges of underdevelopment. Bayan is reified time and time again as an output of negotiated politics between the elites of the centers and the elites of the fringes.

In these negotiations, local issues are swept under the rug in pursuit of national interests – for the bigger bayan. In one of the major cities, a presidential aspirant’s campaign manager is the supposed head of a local criminal syndicate. After all, votes are votes, and local issues are of no significance as compared to unities necessary to triumph over national concerns. But yes, in negotiated politics, syndicates and criminals can contribute to the nationalist project, too.

Meanwhile, the excluded – and perhaps the real bayan – is swept under the rugs, with the urban and rural poor, the marginalized indigenous peoples, and the peasants and workers, relegated as spectators in the sidelines as another narrative of national consciousness is slowly unraveled. The electoral exercise becomes nothing more but a reification of powers that be. A parade of colors, jingles, and slogans. Ideologies of political parties remain bankrupt. Platforms, nothing more but slogans to generate votes. And personalities could sing, budots, and curse their way to electoral victories. The only political role of the people is to choose which representation of the elite would be allowed to sit in Malacanang and occupy the halls of Congress.

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This electoral rhetoric of bayan and its misplaced nationalism have exposed the ruling faction’s misdiagnosis of our national problems. Of course there are the perennial issues of normalized corruption, political dynasties, government inefficiency, human rights abuse, and of course, power-grabbing scions of dictators. But echoing Walden Bello, these are but symptoms of more severe national sicknesses. No amount of anti-corruption crusading or good governance mechanisms could cure underdeveloped national industries, food insecurity, squandered natural resources, contractualization, and landlessness.

Solving these problems requires a political will that will transcend the nationalist formula of band-aid solutions and class compromise. It requires a politicized electorate that can look beyond colors, political parties, and regional aggrupation. No more negotiations between the oppressors and the oppressed. No billionaires, compradors, landlords, syndicates, and criminals masquerading as pro-people and pro-poor. Political lines will be drawn with only the interest of the Filipino people in mind.

And there is only one alternative to the nationalist dilemma: class solidarity. –

Reyzeljan De Los Trinos is an NGO worker, community volunteer, and reform advocate. He likes coffee and cats.