Column: The decisive decade: 2011-2022

In which your friendly neighborhood columnist tries to take the long view. Published September 1, 2009.

I would like to suggest that the “long decade” from 2011 to 2022 is shaping up to be a make-or-break period for the Philippines—not so much as a state, but as a nation. These years are rich in “teaching moments,” as we have now learned to say, in the affiliated subjects of nation-building and nationalism. If, as many of us agree, the country’s fatal weakness is an inadequate sense of nationhood, the coming years are a crash course, a get-it-while-it-lasts opportunity, in learning to love the nation.

The “long decade” is bookended by multiple milestones. In 2011, we mark the 10th anniversary of People Power II (January), the 25th anniversary of People Power I (February) and Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary. Those of us who believe, as the historian John Schumacher, SJ wrote over two decades ago, that Edsa vindicates Rizal, that non-violent resistance embodies the Rizalian ideal of a people virtuous enough for self-governance, should find the coincidences auspicious.

At the other end of the decade, in 2022, we mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law (September) and the 150th anniversary of the Cavite Mutiny and (consequently) the execution of Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora (February). The martial-law era must be counted the lowest point in our history; it was worse than the often brutal Japanese occupation because we were ourselves the source of our oppression. (In Rizalian terms, yesterday’s slave had become tomorrow’s tyrant.) To the 1872 execution of Gomburza, on the other hand, we can trace the true beginnings, the first flowering, of the nationalist movement that today defines Filipino identity.

In between, we mark many other anniversaries. An incomplete list:

In 2011, the 400th anniversary of the University of Sto. Tomas (in April). The great Dominican university, despite the rough treatment it gets in “El Filibusterismo,” is the true seedbed of Philippine nationalism, to which the great protonationalist Jose Burgos traced his roots.

In 2013: the centenary of the death of Rizal’s great friend Ferdinand Blumentritt (September) and the sesquicentennial of Andres Bonifacio’s birth (November).

In 2014: the 150th birth anniversary of Apolinario Mabini (July) and the 125th anniversary of both the first issue of La Solidaridad (February) and the beginning of Marcelo del Pilar’s stalwart stewardship of the fortnightly (October).

In 2016, the centenary of the Philippine Senate (as well as the fifth post-Marcos presidential election).

In 2017, the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan (April).

In 2018, the centennial of the birth of Mariano Ponce, Rizal’s “kaibigang pili.”

In 2019, the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Suez Canal. By greatly reducing travel time from the Philippines to Europe, the Canal helped create a class of Europe-educated natives who began to identify themselves as Filipinos. In the same year, the Philippines will mark the 75th anniversary of Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines (October), a controversial milestone in a controversial career, reflecting the complicated relationship between center and colony.

There are, of course, many other anniversaries; it’s only a question of looking at the calendar with Rizal’s eyes. “For Rizal history was at the very heart of his nationalism,” Schumacher writes in “The Making of a Nation.” “It served as a weapon to combat the pretensions to beneficence of the colonial power. It provided an explanation of the contemporary situation of the Philippines as well as a picture of the glorious past destroyed by Spanish intrusion. It offered the key to national identity and corresponding orientations for future national development, as well as examples to emulate in the nationalist struggle. Finally, it provided a legitimation of the struggle for freedom and the destruction of colonial rule.”

In my view, the years 2011 to 2022 mark out a crucial passage; it’s either make or break.

Why the sense of urgency? The true cost of the impeachment wars that have defined Philippine politics since 2000 can be measured in the demoralization that now weighs down the Filipino spirit. The political poison in the air that in their plain-speaking days both President Macapagal-Arroyo and ex-Speaker Jose de Venecia described so graphically has infected the body politic; even the choice of “optic” which Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, the President’s favorite economic adviser, says determines whether we see the proverbial glass as half-full or half-empty has turned infectious; the possibility that a plunderer—Joseph Estrada had first to be convicted before he could be pardoned—might return to Malacañang sends shivers down the body politic’s spine, the symptom perhaps of a mortal fever.

The outcome: a people long faulted for their “failure of nationalism” (James Fallows, writing controversially in 1987), now have even less incentive to place the national interest ahead of the personal. The true legacy of the Estrada and Arroyo years is every man for himself. (Every woman too.)

Thus the genuine draft that seeks to push Sen. Noynoy Aquino, the political heir of a martyr and an icon, to run for the presidency; it is an attempt to recover the black-and-white certainties, the purity, of an earlier politics.

But one election will not cure our weak sense of nationhood; we would all need to be reminded—and tested—again, and again, and again. In this view, the “long decade” of 2011 to 2022 is our last, best hope.

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