Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Liberal Filipino

by Alan S. Cajes

Note: This essay is published as part of the book The Filipino as a Liberal: Selected Essays on Liberalism and the Philippine Condition.

When one is called liberal it means that one is “willing to respect and accept behavior or opinions different from his own.” In Latin, the term is liberalis, which means suitable for a free man. Assuming that the Filipino is a free man, this paper will focus on whether the Filipino is what a liberal means.

Former President Manuel Roxas defines a liberal as someone who fights hard for what he believes in, but concedes to those who disagree with him the right to fight in like manner, so long as they are fair. In Roxas’s philosophy, the fact that a liberal exists presupposes that truth exists and the human mind can grasp it. Truth is elusive and takes many forms. Since the whole truth is usually not known at once, the search for truth requires free and open scrutiny of its parts that are usually diffused in the minds of people.

Reason, therefore, is important to a liberal because without it one cannot grasp the truth. Judgment or the mental process of making a decision from among various choices is also important because it is a higher level exercise of rationality. Finally, a liberal rejoices in freedom because judgment requires the absence of restraint or violence.

The willingness to respect and accept others’ behavior or opinions does not preclude one from convincing others to make his ideas their own in a free and democratic marketplace of ideas. It means tolerance – a postmodernist theme of letting others be. It means opposition to grand narratives or totalization – colonial ideas that tried to convert the Filipinos into Spaniards or Americans. It means being enlightened or ilustrado -- for what good is truth if the mind is ignorant? It means becoming a witness to truth – for what good is a man if he is surrounded by deceptions? Above all, it means the sustained pursuit of justice – giving what is due to a person – because without justice no society is fit for a human person. The philosopher Gabriel Marcel said that the sacred element in the person’s nature is the spirit of justice. The moment life is degraded, the value of justice is eroded.

Now, is the Filipino a liberal?

The prehispanic Filipinos minimized conflicts by forging peace agreements, such as the sandugo or blood compact. William Henry Scott describes sandugo as a process by which two persons became “blood brothers, vowing to stick together through thick and thin, war and peace and to observe mourning restriction whenever they were separated from one another.” Such is the native Filipino’s way of peaceful co-existence with other communities.

The watershed of the Filipino’s adherence to liberalism, however, was the eighteenth century struggle for equality, liberty and fraternity – three ideals of the French Revolution that reached Philippine shores through the educated native members of the clergy. It started as a demand for equality in the parishes. When Spain responded by executing Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, the struggle was picked up by the young and educated Indios who sought reforms through the Propaganda Movement.

Rizal’s execution did not end the struggle of the Filipino liberal. On the contrary, it led another sector of Philippine society to think that freedom is not possible under Spain unless the Filipinos severe their ties with the Spaniards through armed revolution. Inspired by Andres Bonifacio, the Katipuneros fought the Spaniards to free themselves from oppression. The revolutionaries also resisted the American forces, which came later on. The Americans, however, eventually quelled the revolution with the use of superior weapons and military strategies.
Despite being decimated by war, the Filipinos continued to guard their lives and possessions. The Filipino Muslims in the South engaged the Americans in combat while the subdued Filipinos fought for independence in the halls of the Philippine Legislature and American Congress. Under pressure from the American farmers, businessmen and liberal-minded members of Congress, the American Government recognized the country’s independence at a time when the Filipinos, devastated by Second World War, could hardly stand on their own feet.

With the struggles for equality, freedom and independence over, the Filipino faces a daunting task: to make independence a reality rather than an end in itself. At present, the Filipino exhibits liberalism by letting those institutions established by law to manage the affairs of the State. But as a jealous guardian of his freedom, the Filipino liberal is willing to sacrifice his life and his fortune to ensure that the rule of law is not subverted by the very institutions that it has created. It is in this context that those who ousted Estrada from power and installed Macapagal-Arroyo as president in 2001 can be regarded as liberals, who showed vigilance in safeguarding their freedom. It can also be said, however, that there were liberals, who did not side with those who took part in Edsa Two. They were not just fence sitters but rather a part of the silent majority who wanted the Senate to continue with the impeachment proceedings.

Put differently, the contemporary liberal Filipino takes many forms. He works in government and performs his task effectively and efficiently despite the low pay. He labors in factories to feed, house and cloth his family and to send his children to school with the hope that they, with proper education, will have a better future. He plows and fields and braves the seas but at the same time protects the natural endowments so that the next generation will be able to meet their own needs. He practices his profession or runs his firm with a social conscience while silently murmuring prayers that those clowns in Congress, Judiciary and Executive Department will spend every centavo for the benefit of the Filipino people. In short, the Filipino as a liberal is what makes this country worth living and fighting for.

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