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It is always nice to see a package in the mailbox. And indeed it was a pleasant surprise to see last Wednesday a package from Australia with a fresh copy of the newly published paperback book "Footnotes to Philippine History" from the author himself: Renato Perdon.
I have previously posted on this blogsite my reviews of his two previous books: the first, the Brown Americans of Asia, and the second, Learning and Speaking Filipino. Perdon has asked me to review his new book.
Renato Perdon wrote here a very short historical book, with only 231 pages that includes 10 pages of Bibliography. He divided its contents essentially into three(3) main headings/topics: The Making of Filipino Identity, Lessons from American Democracy, and Global Filipinos.
In his Introduction, Renato defined his central objectives for the book, that is, to provide an easy, i.e. "user-friendly" brief historical account of our people and homeland, as a source of general information about us Filipinos for those millions of Filipino OFWs who interact with other peoples and cultures in foreign lands and a hope that reading his book (as "some books are to be tasted" per old Sir Francis Bacon would say) would interest them to further (deeper) readings or study about our history.
The Making of Filipino Identity
Perdon jumps right into that moment in our history when Andres Bonifacio – The Great Plebian founded his secret society "Katipunan," which was subsequently exposed by a traitorous fellow Filipino (we seem to have this despicable characteristic repeatedly demonstrated in our history). Here Perdon touches on the origin of the term "Filipino" and other labels we learned in school, such as "indio," "peninsulares," "insulares," "mestizo," etc. which oftentimes correctly imply one's socioeconomic and political status. His section on the roots and/or sources of our names as natives was quite amusing (I am reminded about a few friends with Spanish surnames wanting to do a family tree, and not discouraged by the fact that they do not indicate any Caucasian attributes).
Perdon then addresses our well-known Filipino traits/values and our propensity to enlarge our kinship/family ties through the "compadre/comadre" system, good when used to reinforce friendship, bad when used for utilitarian purposes; i.e.gaining favors and practicing corruption. He dwells briefly on our two major religions, Catholic Christianity with some of its beliefs that merges well with some of our ancestral animism; and Islam, as it gained earlier foothold in the islands but lost much of them upon the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores.
Perdon also discusses some of the external symbols of our Filipino-ness such as our national flag -its evolution to its present appearance, our national anthem and our nationally prominent costumes like the "terno" and the "barong;" including their variations in style and cloth materials.
Lessons from American Democracy
Perdon starts off by employing the usual and milder term of American "expansion" when I think it should be called "American Imperialism" as it really was during the turn of the 20th century. The Splendid Little War between Spain and America lasted only four (4) months, while the so-called Philippine Insurrection, as called till a few years ago and now aptly renamed by the US Library of Congress as the Philippine-American War lasted for at least four (4) years officially speaking; but guerrilla warfare continued for another five years or so. And how could it be an insurrection when America was not yet the colonizer in control then.
Here, Perdon provides a significant number of historical information which the typical American and other Philippine school history books -old and new- do not address. He has injected the names of known/significant personages of the events/times involved in implementing a new American foreign policy, i.e. used to serve American economic interests (and of course protected by then and now new global bully in the block, i.e. American military might, so to speak). He writes about the brutality of the supposedly more civilized/westernized American officers/soldiers in committing torture, mass murder against our nationalist forefathers; against the old, young, Filipino civilians all of which are reminiscent of their military campaigns -as used by the white man in committing genocide against the American- Indians aka Native Americans, i.e. Wounded Knee Massacre and many more before and/or after the American Civil War - all in their quest to conquer the American Frontier (west of the Mississippi River,later beyond). Note that all these means of subjugation applied to our forefathers, i.e. "water cure," "Balangiga Massacre," rape and looting, etc. were precursors to those used in Vietnam and Iraq exemplified by the My Lai Massacreand ABU GHRAIB PRISON Abuse respectively.
Perdon writes about our Americanization and molding as Little Brown Brothers, beginning with the Treaty of Paris (1898) wherein our forefathers, after being duped and unwittingly facilitated the American takeover of our homeland and sovereignty as a people; who were ignored and left out from the Treaty negotiations; and purchased by America from Spain for $20 million. American imperialism dressed with Manifest Destiny brought and imposed general education to our natives. With education, came the democratic institutions and the training of promising natives as "pensionados," many of whom became our first politicians, many characterized by unquestioning loyalty and utang na loob to their master; at the expense of their fellow countrymen and homeland.
Our Americanized education facilitated our transformation into Brown Americans, that is, Americanized minds. With Americanized education came American consumer products and their advertising/media, ergo our damaged culture. Perdon presents to us the often unmentioned historical event of the 1904 St. Louis World Fair which I venture to say many of us native Filipinos did/do not know. That event was used to rationalize our American colonization since it displayed our native Negritos, Bagobos, Moros, Visayans and Igorots in G-strings, with the eating of dogs, etc. and thus highlighted us Filipinos as mere savages like the Australian Aborigines and Native Americans, deserving to be educated, Christianized and tamed, if not shot to extinction as the latter almost were.
It is in such premeditated settings that we were stereotyped as not fully human and therefore not to be treated as fully human, as how Black Americans too were seen until just recently. With America, having covertly and successfully fashioned our Americanized minds, and having to keep its word, she finally granted us our so-called Philippine independence -with destructive economic and military preconditions shoved down our national throat [our non-acceptance would have kept war reparations money inaccessible; and since our aristocrats and resident Americans comprise or influence, and control much of the ruling elite, they acquiesce].
In this third and last main header of his book, Perdon dwells on the massive Filipino Diaspora to America, Canada and Australia; and subsequently to the Middle East and then most of the world. He correctly comments that our (so-called rulers in) Philippine government encourages our fellow countrymen to leave their loved ones to earn dollars and thus pay for its humongously odious foreign debt (payable only in US dollars).
Our rulers beginning with Dictator Marcos, then pious but ineffective Cory Aquino -who by the way declared that our government will promptly pay this debt rather than ask for moratorium or some debt write-off while she was still extremely popular at home and abroad; through Ramos, Estrada and now Gloria Arroyo, all borrowing more to pay debt while revenues are being stolen by the same, their ilks and their technocrats. And the more to steal with the OFW remittances to encourage, offset and/or supplement the greater stealing.
Perdon narrates about the early history of Filipino settlers in his adopted country of Australia, beginning with Filipinos being the pioneering and preferred pearl divers there. He tells us about the few famous Filipino women in the arts such as Lea Salonga, etc. of the Miss Saigon fame. I never go and see such shows, it's the usual BS about Asiatic or colored people falling for the white man; shades of Madame Butterfly and the like.
Perdon then deals on a sad and almost universal truth about us Filipinos, that is, about our Filipino Associations abroad. He understandably questions the purposes of our associations, which exist in astronomical numbers compared to those of other nationalities. the seemingly trivial concerns/pursuits such as having mainly socials: fiestas, dance parties, beauty contests, ad nauseam. He correctly asks about the apparent absence of Filipino groups that specifically cater to helping the new Filipino immigrants (personally I found only one back in the late 1970s).- a discouraging reality when compared again with other immigrants.
Perdon refers to Australia but he can just as correctly say the same here in the USA; the hundreds, if not thousands, of Filipino associations only indicate and reinforce the truism that we Filipinos are so deeply divided, atomized like our thousand islands, and compounded by the bickering animosities, class consciousness, hypocrisies ad nauseam; all these at their very bottom exhibit our lack of Filipino nationalism (not just exemplified by wearing the barong or terno, etc.).and therefore our lack of unity.
Perdon devotes some good, personal stories and words on the late Pura Santillan-Castrence, who I would think is unknown to many, including myself until I read her book:"As I See It: Filipinos and the Philippines." She is a Filipino treasure.
He gives readers some background on the Philippine claims to Sabah and the Spratley islands. On these, Perdon reminds me of my freshman college year in 1962 when as ROTC cadets we, from several colleges/universities, were herded to the Rizal coliseum to hear then Pres.Diosdado Macapagal talk about our government's claim on Sabah. I can only say that whatever the legality of our claims, nowadays it seems a question of military power and will, which we seem not to possess.
I do not know why Perdon spent energy and time on Evita Peron and Imelda Marcos; both being notoriously known. Well, I realize it is his book, what can I say. After all she, her dictator husband, and their cronies have really began the precipitous decline of our homeland, our society; to the selling out of our patrimony and the Filipino people's sovereignty (including the thousands of native lives lost through "salvaging," assassinations, murders, or in labor building monuments to satisfy her edifice complex and so on) --all were/are being perpetuated by succeeding regimes. I wonder if their children learn and adopt such attitudes and behaviors. I believe and think that the best way to treat Imelda is to ignore her. That would kill her.
In summary, I believe and think that Perdon accomplished what he sought to do, that is, provide a ready, easy background historical resource for our OFWs about Filipino-ness; a good historical narrative and at times quite satisfying since he injects nationalistic commentary and understanding of the events in our history and not falling into the usual self-censorship brought about by a miseducated Filipino Mind. I find "the book a good one to taste" --for a start to learn about our history; to share, keep and give to friends and relatives; a truly handy primer, firstly for our own selves as Filipinos and our descendants; and for informing our foreign hosts and friends in foreign lands.
The easy format and informative read, should encourage the typical fellow Filipino expat to open it. As Perdon and Dr. Pura Santillan-Castrence correctly noted, we Filipinos are generally not readers, sad truth and costly to our homeland. I just hope Filipino expats and those in the homeland will realize that trading-off a little cigarette and/or shopping money to purchase this book is worthwhile. And doing so will not be disappointing, but rather enlightening.
I truly wish Perdon success in his publishing career and hope he takes care of his health. We Filipinos need his rare kind in helping discover, know and understand ourselves from our past and in the struggle to revive our nationalism and thus regain our homeland from our traitorous fellowmen and their foreign partners/sponsors.
We need to regain our land since the Philippine Island(s) is our true home. I believe and think that many of our expats deep down, just like many expats from other poor countries, did not want to permanently leave the homeland, the true home.
“The true Filipino is a decolonized Filipino.” – Prof. Renato Constantino (1919-1999)
PS. I gather the book is now available at the Solidaridad Bookshop in Padre Faura and at the National Historical Institute (NHI), Manila.