Our Land, Our Seas, Our Identity

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It is always good to begin at the beginning. This sounds simple enough, but not for a vast majority of Filipinos.

To test about how intimate Filipinos are about their knowledge of the beginning, I asked a group of young men a simple question, “What makes you Filipino?” There followed an interesting exchange of views and sentiments. Then, one of them, in his Facebook page, posted the same question to his friends.

The answers did not take long in coming, more than a hundred of then in less than a day. Of course, the answers were all correct. They mostly mentioned traits and culture, love of country, love of the Filipino people. But few, an embarrassingly few, gave the most succinct and fundamental answer, the most important of all correct answers. And that is, “I was born in the Philippines.”

Why would such a seemingly simplistic answer be the most fundamental, the most correct? Because it is true, that’s why, and without that basic truth, all the other correct answers cannot be correct. Because if there is no Philippines, there is no Filipino people, there is no Filipino race. Our land, our seas, they gave birth to the Filipino race. Simple, fundamental, true, yet few ever give it a thought.

If our islands now known as the Philippines belonged to Malaysia, or Indonesia, or China, we would be Malaysians, Indonesians or Chinese. We will not be Filipinos. There would be no Filipinos. It is the land and the seas of the Philippines that define our identity as much as provide us our first security.  That is the gift of our land and seas – our identity and our security.

To begin at the beginning should be the fundamental context of all Filipinos but most especially those who would take on leadership roles in society. Losing sight of the beginning in our active consciousness makes us react to surface stimuli with serious disconnection from our foundation. This is crucial when we speak of a poverty  that is rooted in landlessness. This is just as crucial when we talk of territory that other countries try to take away from us.

We cannot assume that all Filipinos understand how our land and seas give us our identity as a race. How can the majority naturally think so when they have been forcibly separated by circumstance from children of the Mother Land? For four centuries, Filipino natives as a whole were taught that the land and seas belonged to everybody else but themselves. The King of Spain, the United States of America, Imperial Japan, and since 1946 to the small minority of the population who owned land by land titles. Everyone else had no right to be anywhere in their country of birth. How, then, can they love a Mother Land that they were taught was never theirs?

Colonial history and legal protocol dispossessed the natives of our islands of their right and control over the lands they had inherited from generation to generation. It is no wonder that history’s running total reflects a people with a very shallow sense of nation. Nation, after all, is rooted in land and seas that identify and provide us the means to survive, and thrive. It is no wonder that this sense of nation, and those critical of others without this sense of nation, refer mostly to Filipinos with no land issues – those who have and those who can afford to have.

We even adopted a greater anomaly, this time not because of colonial leaders, but of defiant colonial mentality that persists without colonizers. Is there anything more laughable than Filipinos calling other Filipinos as IP or Indigenous People? The West grabbed the land from the indigenous people of America, Canada and Australia, became the dominant population, then called the native tribes as Indigenous People. And we call the Aetas, the Mangyans, the Ifugaos, the Mlangs, and so many other minorities as Indigenous People as though we, the majority of Filipinos, are not as indigenous as every one else.

Who are we, the vast majority of the Filipino people, if we are not indigenous? Are we Spanish, American, Japanese, Chinese? That stunning stupidity of the majority of Filipinos calling the small minorities as Indigenous People make these minorities, including Muslims, as Filipinos, natives of the Mother Land, while we are as lost as sheep without a memory, without an identity, without security from our land and the seas.

What happened to our societal leaders? What happened to our public officials? What happened to the Church hierarchy? What happened to our industrialists, our businessmen, our entrepreneurs? What happened to our academe, the intellectuals, the social scientists? What happened to our patriots that they could not see how difficult it is for Filipinos without an intimate attachment and ownership of the people’s land to feel love for that which had never been there for them?

Is our patrimony only for those who were blessed, only for their children and grandchildren, while the rest wallow in amnesia that they, too, had rights of inheritance, rights to an identity, rights to security from the abundance of the Mother Land? Are we who can do something about it, we who have influence, position, authority and wealth so callous as to perpetuate this amnesia to our advantage?

There will be no answer to poverty, no answer to corruption, no answer to our lack of identity, security and sense of nation until the amnesia is lifted from our consciousness. We will only manage to bring a grave injustice to even graver levels, but this time only with malice and greed when we refuse to correct a massive and horrible historical injustice.

We must work to awaken the living dead of a memory. We must return to the historical truth, confront it, accept it, resolve to amend it, then commit to atone for it among the most injured and damaged. We must go to our people, tell them their own forgotten story, and journey with them to the waiting arms of the Mother Land.

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