Many have lamented that José Rizal wrote much for a nation that does not like to read. Strictly speaking however, that is not true, because all Filipinos do love to read—tweets, Facebook updates, and anything immediately entertaining, but seldom the ‘valuable’ material, that is. Among these treasures waiting to be appreciated are the works of our venerable National Artists for Literature. Guilt for this is perhaps one of the things that drove me, while browsing Filipiniana in a Powerbooks branch, to pick up Virgilio Almario’s Muling-Pagkatha sa Ating Bansa: O Bakit Pinakamahabang Tulay sa Buong Mundo ang Tulay Calumpit.
Muling-Pagkatha is an enlightening and inspiring collection of essays on Philippine history, language and literature. The topics touched upon are rather wide in scope, yet Almario convincingly and authoritatively presents his case for a renewed perspective on each topic.
The book’s opening and defining chapter, which has the same title as the book, revisits the Himagsikang 1896. Almario asserts here that the Revolution has a distinctively native Filipino spirit, in contrast to detractors’ opinion that the Revolution was, like many other ideas pervasive in Philippine society, merely ‘imported’ from Europe. This spirit was inspired by a vision for a Philippine nation, as defined by a merged recollection of Dr. Jose Rizal’s “Filipinas” and Andres Bonifacio’s “Katagalugan”. Interestingly, Almario goes on to argue that this vision was betrayed by the self-serving political maneuvering of the Filipino intellectual and economic elite who steered the Revolution off the pure and moral path already set by the Katipunan1. The Malolos Republic, therefore, was merely a corrupt shadow of the Filipino nation as envisioned by Rizal-Bonifacio.
To me, having embraced a glorified view of the Philippine Revolution before coming across readings that downplay its meaning and significance, Almario’s positive view is a certainly welcome interpretation of history.
The rest of the book deals with the intertwined topics of Filipino culture, education, language and literature. Some of the more important themes discussed are:
- The regionalism inherent in our country’s archipelagic geography and the colonialism intrinsic to our education system continues to hinder the development and enhancement of our national culture and identity. This is evident in the continued criticism and resistance against our national language, Filipino, and in the far-from-finished efforts at writing a national literary history with a truly native perspective.
- Our indigenous cultures are ripe with shared traits and values that we can take advantage of to build a unique national culture and identity. After all, the ethnic groups of our islands have the same Malay lineage and flourished in very similar environments.Part of this is Almario’s proposal for a refined “Filipinong Pananaw” in relation to the establishment of national literature. He calls for this genuinely native perspective that will be essential to the full appreciation of our country’s cultural heritage, eliminating foreign prejudices and clarifying the Filipino essence. Such a Filipino perspective has to be strongly rooted in native values and in a Philippine literary history that is more comprehensive than anything that has been published so far. He contends that the current Filipinong Pananaw still has many aspects needing criticism and correction.
- Our Wikang Pambansa has a long way to go before it can fulfill its potential as envisioned by the framers of the 1935 Constitution. We cannot, however, give up this effort in favor of English or any other foreign language. Almario presents many arguments in support of this, but among the more provocative ones is the idea that English, as a foreign language, has built-in values that subverts its learners’ native perspective. This, coupled with the language’s dominance in Philippine academics, leads to the tragic evaluation of our native culture and identity using the foreign framework and categories that English carries, which only adds to our kaisipang sungyaw, or inferiority complex.(This, as I see it, is the essence of what he calls “Rice Terraces Syndrome.” He questions why such a popular symbol of our cultural heritage is best known with an English name; its Tagalog designation, hagdan-hagdang palayan, is a mere translation of the English name. The fact that no one bothered to ask what the Ifugaos themselves called it, and the general lack of insightful research regarding it, can be blamed on our English education. We appreciate the rice terraces in a shallow manner not far from how the foreigners appreciate it; we are like tourists in our own country.)
Muling-Pagkatha sa Ating Bansa is important reading both to those who are looking to affirm their nationalistic values and beliefs, and to those who criticize the foundations of Filipino nationalism. It is of course also important to our ‘cultural workers’: artists, writers, journalists, researchers, and, perhaps most importantly, teachers.
Note: This is an edited version of a review that was originally published in 2011 in a blog which has been taken off the Internet.
1 An interesting thought to re-read in 2015: the harsh truth of infighting among the Filipino revolutionaries is now familiar to the Filipino public, thanks to the popular film Heneral Luna by Jerrold Tarog.