Virus Of Divisiveness

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I met a wise man when I was in my 50s, a brilliant Filipino with great experience born out of special circumstances. It was an advantage that he was more than well-schooled and ended up with a host of degrees and doctorates. But most of all, he was in the right place at the right time at crucial junctures of our history. He parlayed natural intelligence and personal experience into deep and strategic insights.

The late Prof. Emmanuel Q. Yap did not make me patriotic but he definitely intensified not only love for country from his own passion but greatly aided in developing a macro perspective in me. While he was astute and personally connected to global dynamics for several decades, I think it was also his background in the humanities as well as economics. In the end, he taught me to love and appreciate history, not as a thing of the past, but as a never-ending process where the past plays a crucial role.

It had always thrilled me that the Philippine Islands, the motherland of the Filipino race, is one of the richest, if not the richest, in biodiversity. Biodiversity means life forms, all life forms on earth and that about covers everything.  From different life forms, the physicality of territorial nature and its human residents is determined.

But as much as our extreme wealth in biodiversity thrilled me, our massive poverty puzzled me. How could a people, especially whose talents match the richness of their environment, be mostly poor in a national economic setting that leaned almost totally on its natural attributes until the last few decades? Of course, any rational review will immediately lead one to understand that something disruptive or traumatic had effectively upset a favorable configuration. I did not have a good graphic understanding, though, until Professor Yap pointed me to the right direction.

The historical truth.

Professor Yap kept insisting that we must learn the historical truth in order to understand why things are mostly the way we are. We must understand why natural wealth became the bane, not the blessing, for our people, how the greed of the globally powerful for these can drive invasions and occupations. 380 years of colonization is the disruption and trauma of Filipinos that absolutely redirected the course of our history.

Spanish, American and Japanese occupation of the Philippine Islands did contribute many things, no doubt. Assimilation is one process by which cultures diversify and create new opportunities. But assimilation by force, at the cost of perverting the native strengths of a people, triggers an ugly mutation and evolution. The worst of these, according to Professor Yap, is the virus of divisiveness planted into the culture of Filipino natives. Divisiveness is a human weakness, but in the case of Filipino natives, it was intensified by circumstances and by policy, by the “divide and conquer” practice applied by conquerors among their conquered.

Why would the virus of divisiveness be particularly debilitating to Filipinos? When one considers that bayanihan, that hospitality, are traditional cultural strengths of the natives of the islands, promoting a direct counter force called divisiveness against their natural strengths caused, and still causes, havoc in Philippine society.

One often repeated analogy used by the eminent professor was a situation where a piece of bread was placed on a table surrounded by Filipinos. In the discussion that turned to a debate, then to an argument, the Filipinos around the table began to fight with one another. While they were doing do, a foreigner walked over to the table and simply ran away with the bread.

The analogy explains many things, both about the past and the present. If we understand this, we can anticipate even our future as a society. The divide-and-rule policy of the conquerors pit natives against each other, especially since the foreign masters used selected locals to pacify and maintain order among all other locals. Early in the game, to maintain control over millions when they only had thousands of soldiers, the conquerors used local sympathizers and evolved their own datu system loyal to them.

Because we never confronted this historical truth, because pointed to other reasons or blamed the wrong people or events, the effect of that divisive virus continues to keep so many of our people poor, landless, homeless and even hungry.  Because we just moved from foreign governance to a local governance trained only by the views and ways of the foreign masters, it has been as if we are still governed by them. Look at our laws and jurisprudence. Look at our Constitution and how it is framed and worded. The horizon of it all is foreign, mostly American and partly Spanish.

Our continuing amnesia of the historical truth is our single worst weakness. It gives birth to a host of other weaknesses. And the hyper activation of divisiveness in our cultural genes because of our colonial history almost automatically sets a path of confrontation among ourselves—whatever the issue of the moment. At the end of the day, when our emotions have stabilized, we even forget why we fought. Unfortunately, we had already fought and developed prejudice and distrust for one another.

Today, then, our politics and politicians are past masters in jumping on the board of prejudice and distrust, from their campaigns to their governance. Divisiveness is the heart of the partisan politics we have, not a diversity of ideas. That is why we have an overflow of personalities, each claiming to be better than the other, but an absence of vision and platforms. What our past has influenced us to be is what our present and near future will follow.

Unless we understand ourselves, reclaim the historical truth, learn and change from it. Unless we allow the younger generations who do not yet live according to the dictate of the virus to take us to the tomorrow they deserve.

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