Reexamining the Philippines' place in the world

For sure, a truly “independent foreign policy” is a step in the right direction – for as long as it is grounded in respect. Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial’s warm reception in Havana speaks of the possibilities that lie when we go beyond our usual engagements.

But diplomacy can only do so much: APEC has not brought us closer to Peru, nor ASEAN to Laos and Cambodia. Though surely we can prod President Duterte to look beyond Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, we Filipinos – not just our leaders – must ourselves realize and take ownership of our place in the world.

Traveling, as I have experienced, helps a lot: it is thanks to my trips to different continents that I learned of our connections with them. Cultural – even culinary – exchange, is likewise beneficial, and the same can be said of the teleseryes that we Filipinos are exporting to – and importing from – various countries.  

But most importantly and fundamentally, we need a renewed sense of history – or perhaps a retelling. Alas, much of our national narrative paints ourselves as objects of colonialism. Without denying the sufferings and betrayals we endured in the past (there are too many to mention), we should also be reminded of how throughout our history we have forged bonds with people from all over the world; and that oftentimes, these bonds have shown the best of humanity.  

We need to be reminded that 15 US soldiers actually defected to the our side during the Philippine-American War, believing in the righteousness of our cause; and that Americans like Mark Twain denounced their own government’s colonial ambitions. By adding nuance to the way we regard other nations, we avoid generalizations that lead to hate, conflict, and suffering. 

We need to be reminded that 112 Filipino soldiers died to fight for the freedom that South Korea enjoys today; and that we have always opened our doors to refugees, from the Jews during World War II to the Indochinese during the Vietnam War.

When we realize that we Filipinos, far from passive victims of history, have always been active in making not just our history but that of the world, we begin to overcome the feeling of smallness that sets back our geopolitical imagination. What our past should give us is not an enmity for those who oppressed us, but an empathy for those who experience oppression.  

What our past should give us is a not a feeling of victimization or entitlement, but a dignity of a people that has suffered much – but has overcome more. –

Gideon Lasco is a physician, medical anthropologist, and commentator on culture and current events. His essays have been published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Singapore Straits Times, Korea Herald, China Post, and the Jakarta Post.