What if

by Fernando Perfas

(Second of two parts)

The large gap between the rich and poor in Philippine society has existed for centuries and began during the Spanish era. In fact, they created it when choice lands were expropriated by the colonial administration and the Church from the various ancestral barangays. The early Filipinos lived and cultivated ancestral lands freely and there was no formal private ownership. Permission from the Barangay Chief was all one needed to cultivate land and an agreement that a portion of the harvest be shared with the barangay. The Spanish landgrab was the beginning of the disproportionate agrarian ownership by Spanish landlord and later their heirs, who eventually became the handful wealthy elite. First, they stole the land and then required the now landless Filipinos to rent or cultivate the land and sell the produce to the landlords for a set price. These same landlords then sold them back to Filipinos for profit.  The rest is history and its socio-economic impact was devastating to many of our ancestors.

What if as a result of colonial oppression and social and economic deprivation, the early Filipinos’ survival adaptation of “siege mentality” handed down through generations of Filipinos persists to this day? One well-known outcome is “colonial mentality” which is in full display even among millennials, who mostly are oblivious of the Philippine colonial past, and who contribute to the continued popularity of skin-whitening cosmetic products and their preference for anything associated with white people. Siege mentality is perhaps the most corrosive colonial legacy that resides deep in the Filipino unconscious. It is expressed in our insatiable predilection to wealth and luxury.

“Siege mentality is so ingrained in us and pervades our society and institutions.”

When an opportunity comes along to make money, we don’t know when to stop. We show an easy willingness to bend the law and become inured to shame.  It is as if we are afraid to suffer deprivation “again,” so we hoard and distribute the loot to relatives and then to friends in the hope that we have so much to fall back to just “in case.” Siege mentality is so ingrained in us and pervades our society and institutions. Any position of public trust, sadly, is an invitation to feed on the greed that fuels our perverted adaptive coping for survival against the ancient crucible that continues to hang over our head deep in our unconscious. We are more of a reactive rather than a proactive society as a result.

What if our sense of priority as a nation is still dictated by the unresolved trauma of the past? Simply look at the policies and laws enacted in the hollowed chambers of our legislative body and the kind of issues that preoccupy the legislators. They are often trivial and irrelevant to the needs of the people and the country. Personality assassination is rampant and crab mentality is the name of the game. The executive and judicial branches are no exceptions. And by the way, Filipinos carry the same attitude and mentality wherever they go. We cannot seem to disagree amicably and express our differences without breaking things apart. 


“The Spanish capitalized on these regional differences to keep our people and the country divided. We see this in plain view in Philippine politics, in our everyday life, and even when we migrate to other countries.”

What if we never really formed a coherent national identity because the Spanish colonial power for centuries effectively indoctrinated us to stay divided by pitting us against each other? They used Filipinos from other regions to quell uprisings in another region. It’s hard to love one’s country when there is a competing allegiance to a hometown, and difficult to relate completely to other Filipinos when they speak another dialect and have their distinct customs. The Spanish capitalized on these regional differences to keep our people and the country divided. We see this in plain view in Philippine politics, in our everyday life, and even when we migrate to other countries. So, why do we have an Ilocano organization or Bicolanos, or Davawenyos, etc. even here in the U.S.  instead of just a Filipino organization? 

It is in this historical context that we can try to piece together how we develop our deepest sense of ourselves as a people. So, I ask myself, who is a Filipino? 

Related article: What if (First of two parts) 

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