Imagining the Filipino Nation

Filipino children

Imagination is giving life to a possibility inside one’s mind. Imagination is the foundation of creative thinking, empirical supposition, scenario building process, and even the simple process of decision-making that we all have to go through each day.

Imagination may appear unstable at first, but as the number of entities, say members of the society, who believes in the existence even the tangibility of something increases, then that product of communal imagination becomes more than just a conception. It will eventually have a life of its own, not totally independent from the its source, but will have characteristics that are distantly-related to the entities that first imagined it. That is the power of man’s imagination. Dr. Shaharil Talib, dean of the Institute of European Studies at the Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, paraphrasing the works of Benedict Anderson, said “My nation i my imagination.” This simple statement captured the complexity that characterizes the concept of a nation.

Although there are states without a nation, such as Singapore, or nations without a state such as the Kurds in Central Asia or the Bangsa Moro People in Mindanao, Philippines (by the way, the Polish nation preceded the existence of Poland), it is important that they go together. A state, if it is to be truly sovereign should have a nation base where the people believe in their communal history and heritage, that they are connected by an invisible cord that bonds them as one group of people.

Looking at the Philippine setting, this seems to be absent. What is our concept of a Filipino nation? A friend pointed out that the local Filipino word for nation is “bayan”, which in English will roughly translate to a smaller political unit that of a municipality. The same is true in Hiligaynon (the language spoken in the majority of Panay and eastern Negros) the word “banwa”, also the word for nation which when translated to English will yield that smaller political unit. If you ask an Ilonggo, “Sa diin ang banwa mo?”, he would say Miagao or Iloilo, but never the Philippines.

This maybe a simple observation on the use of language as regards the word nation (bayan or banwa) or language per se but it has repercussions on our imagination of what comprises the Filipino nation. If we see our bayan as Miagao, Polomolok, Calamba, etc., and not the Philippines then we shall never see ourselves in context more so using the larger more complex community of Filipino people as a vantage point.

This can prove dangerous. The nation is already becoming obsolete, out-dated, and stale as the emergence of supra-national organizations such as the European Union, Mercosur, or ASEAN is becoming the menu for the day and homogeneity the hors’ oeuvre. We can just as easily fall into this trend, after-all the whole world is moving into it. But that is going to be a sad thing. These countries have established their national identities and have worked hard to maintain it. We are a people mired with multiple personality disorder, or worse have gone amnesiac and forgot who we really are.

Corruption, poverty, slow national development, diaspora of our people, these are just but some of the few result of our inability to imagine a Filipino nation.