De La Costa - The Filipino National Tradition
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ome young friends of mine, who find me insufferably conservative and bourgeois, gave me for assigned reading recently a book of essays by Chairman Mao Tse-tung. I find Chairman Mao’s literary style engagingly direct and refreshingly vigorous. That must be the reason why he is so widely read and quoted in the People’s Republic of China. I am especially fascinated by his manner of asking a question and immediately answering it himself. Thus, in the essay on the Chinese Revolution, he asks: “What, then, are the targets of this revolution? What are its tasks? What are its motive forces? What is its character? And what are its perspectives?” And a little further down:“Since the character of present-day Chinese
A Lenten Lecture delivered at the Ateneo de Manila University on March 10, 1971, published in Lenten Lectures, edited by Raul J. Bonoan, S.J. (Manila:Ateneo Publications Office, 1971), pp. 42-56; The Filipino in the Seventies:An Ecumenical Perspective, edited byVitaliano R. Gorospe and Richard L. Deats (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1973), pp. 18-29; Rediscovery: Essays in Philippine Life and Culture, edited by Cynthia Nograles Lumbera and Teresita Gimenez-Maceda for the Department of English,Ateneo de Manila University, from an original compilation by Bienvenido L. Lumbera (Manila: Department of English, Ateneo de Manila University and National Book Store, Inc., 1977), pp. 324-337; The Heart of the Philippines (in Japanese), edited by Mary Racelis Hollnsteiner (Tokyo: Bunyusha Publishing Co., 1977), pp. 153-175. For basically the same article under title “The Uses of Living Tradition,” see Archipelago, 1 (June 1974), 16-20.
Horacio de la Costa, S.J.
The Filipino National Tradition
society is colonial, semi-colonial, and semi-feudal, then what, after all, are our chief targets or enemies at this stage of the Chinese revolution?” The answer is immediate, brief, and to the point.“They are none other,” says Chairman Mao,“than imperialism and feudalism, namely, the bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries and the landlord class at home...” “Confronted with such enemies, the Chinese revolution becomes protracted and ruthless in nature... “Confronted with such enemies, the Chinese revolution must, so far as the principal means or the principal form is concerned, be an armed rather than a peaceful one... “Confronted with such enemies, the Chinese revolution has also to tackle the question of revolutionary base areas...” This question-and-answer form, if repeated often enough—and Chairman Mao, recognizing a good thing when he sees it, does not disdain repetition—has a mesmeric effect which is quite effective. After being exposed to it for sometime, one finds oneself believing not only that the answers are the right answers, but—what is more important—that the questions are the right questions to ask. Part of the secret, of course, is that the vocabulary must be limited. Certain epithets must be permanently attached to certain persons and institutions. There must be no variation. The masses must always be the toiling masses; the running dogs of capitalism must always be not only dogs but running dogs; and once a puppet, always a puppet. I wonder if you will allow me to try a modified form of this method of exposition on you this evening? It will have to be a modified form, because, unfortunately for our experiment, this is not the People’s Republic of China, but the ambiguous (alanganin) Republic of the Philippines.And Filipinos are not easily mesmerized. They are apt to question not only the answers to questions, but the very questions themselves.You are likely to demand some proof for what I am about to say. Laging makatuwiran ang Pilipino, that is the trouble. And so, one must expect that the discussion period after this lecture will not be as orderly and harmonious as it might have been in a Chinese village commune. But it may, just possibly, be more interesting.
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Well, then, let us ask ourselves five questions. One: What is nationalism? Two: What is a nation? Three: What is a nationalist? Four: What is the Filipino national tradition? Five: What light does this tradition cast on our present national task? What is nationalism? Nationalism is two things. It is an ideology; it is a commitment. An ideology, that is to say, a concept of what the nation is, what it can be, and what it ought to be. A commitment, that is to say, a recognized and accepted duty to help develop and to help defend one’s nation so conceived. Clearly, nationalism presumes the existence of a nation about which it is an ideology and to which it is a commitment. Our next question must therefore be: What is a nation? A nation is a people with a common political allegiance. A common political allegiance, because a nation tends, by its very nature, to constitute itself an independent and sovereign state, and to maintain itself as such.This common political allegiance is based on three things. It is based on a tradition, a consensus, and a compact. A tradition, that is to say, a shared historic experience from which the nation drives the principles and values by which it lives. These principles and values each generation seeks to understand and to assimilate.And it seeks to transmit them intact, and if possible enriched, to the generation that succeeds it. A consensus, that is to say, a shared understanding of what the nation is, of what is good for the nation, and of what belonging to the nation means. What the nation is: the national identity. What is good for the nation: the common good, as distinct from the private interests of person, group or class. What belonging to the nation means: the rights and duties of the citizen. A compact, that is to say, a shared agreement among the citizens based on the national tradition and the national consensus. This compact need not be explicit, because it is implicit in the very notion of citizenship. This compact is an agreement with respect to three things.
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It is an agreement to keep the nation intact and independent. This is what moves the citizen to take up arms, and if necessary to lay down his life in defense of his country. It is an agreement to develop the nation’s physical and human resources, and to do this in such a way as to benefit the many, not just a few; to provide not only for the present generation but for future generations. This is what moves the citizen not only to fight for his nation in time of war, but to work for his nation in time of peace; to keep it in being, and to promote its well-being. It is an agreement, finally, to do these things not with a view of national aggrandizement at the expense of other nations, but rather with a view to rendering one’s nation capable of making a distinctive contribution to the general advancement of mankind. Thus, the nation is constituted not only by a tradition and a consensus but by a compact; a compact among its citizens to come to the nation’s defense, to contribute to the nation’s development, and, by so doing, to strengthen international friendship. What, then, is a nationalist? From the preceding considerations it follows that a nationalist is one who commits himself to a threefold task. A nationalist seeks to embody the national tradition in his ideology, while adapting the principles and values of that tradition to the challenges of the present. A nationalist seeks to win national consensus for that ideology. A nationalist seeks to give direction to the national compact by reducing that ideology to a practicable plan of action. Since a nationalist ideology must take into account the national tradition, we must now ask ourselves: What is the Filipino national tradition? The Filipino national tradition can be summed up in five principles: pagsasarili, pakikisama, pagkakaisa, pagkabayani, pakikipagkapwa-tao. Pagsasarili. This is the principle of self-reliance. It is the burning ambition of every Filipino to be himself; to be his own man; to be a person in his own right; to make up his own mind; to do his thing. He may not say so in so many words. He may not even be completely conscious of this drive within him. But it is there. Pagsasarili: to own oneself.
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But magsarili, to own oneself, necessarily implies ownership of that sufficiency of this world’s goods whereby one can be one’s own man. That is why pagsasarili rejects both the abolition of private property, which is a principle of collectivism, and the concept of private property as an absolute right, a right to use, to abuse, and not to use, which is a principle of free-enterprise capitalism; for both of these principles, when carried out in practice, deprive the majority of people of the economic base for human dignity, and for real and not merely nominal citizenship. What pagsasarili demands is, rather, the wider distribution of private property, and the development thereby, in every responsible citizen, of the quality of self-reliance.
Only when we rise from the knees we have bent in beggary and stand beside the other nations of the world not on crutches but on our own feet, thinking and speaking and acting as free men and as free citizens of a true republic in name and in fact...(only then) can we rightly claim to have achieved and deserved our independence.
When Magellan and his men called on the people of Mactan to stop owning themselves, what answer did Lapu-Lapu send back to them? This: that if the Spaniards had lances made of metal, the men of Mactan had lances made of wood, with tips hardened in the fire. Just that. Of us Filipinos it can be said that our history is a history of lost battles. But the battle of Mactan beach was one battle we won; and we won it by relying on weaponry that, while vastly inferior, was nevertheless our own. Pagsasarili. If we Filipinos put so high a valuation on pagsasarili, it is perhaps because we have been denied it for so long. One of the great evils of colonialism is to put a premium on dependence; to make survival itself depend on being dependent; on not being oneself; not being one’s own man; being a non-person; having someone else make up one’s own mind; doing someone else’s thing, not one’s own. And so, more fortunate foreigners, to whom an inscrutable Providence has granted the opportunity to be always self-reliant, must try to live with this hang-up that we have about pagsasarili. Listen to Recto:
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Pagsasarili is the personalist principle in our national tradition. Pakikisama is what might be called the partnership principle. What does pakikisama mean? It means the equitable sharing of goods and services among all who help to produce those goods or render those services; and this on the basis, or a least in the spirit of partnership. The ideal of self-reliance certainly does not exclude this other ideal of sharing, of the give-and-take, whether spontaneous or institutionalized, that living together in society demands. Especially is this true of a society such as ours, with its marked family-alliance and local-community orientation. Most Filipinos have never even heard of Aristotle, but they would certainly agree with his dictum that the man who lives alone— Rousseau’s “noble savage,” in fact—is not a man at all, but either a beast or a god. One of the worst things you can say about a Filipino is that “hindi siya marunong makisama” or “wala siyang pakikisama.” Thus, Rizal, in the Constitution of the Liga Filipina, proposes as the second general objective of that organization “mutual protection in every want and necessity.” In the section “Duties of the Members,” n. 5 prescribes that “in all walks of life, preference shall be given to the members. Nothing shall be bought except in the shop of a member, or whenever anything is sold to a member, he shall have a rebate. Circumstances being equal, the member shall always be favored.” And n. 6 declares that “the member who does not help another member in the case of need or danger, although able to do so, shall be punished.” This punishment shall be according to the principle of poetic justice, for “at least the same injury suffered by that other must be imposed on him.” Finally, under n. 9, “he shall not submit to any humiliation” (the principle of pagsasarili), but neither shall he “treat anyone with contempt” (the principle of pakikisama). Emilio Jacinto, in the Kartilya of the Katipunan, follows this up with the following declaration: “The good work that is done out of self-interest and not for its own sake has no merit.True piety consists in doing good to others, in loving one’s neighbor, and in making right reason the rule of every action, work and word.” It will be said that there is nothing particularly Filipino about pakikisama, that pakikisama is simply the normal human response to the fact that one owes one’s being and well-being to society, and hence
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that one ought to share with one’s fellows both the burdens and the rewards of association.True enough; and because pakikisama is human, it is also Filipino. Filipinos are human beings, after all. But this also might be said, that when we give our own name to a human condition, we also give our own nuance to it. What, then, does pakikisama add to the general notion of sociability? Perhaps this, that helpfulness, neighborliness, is expected of everyone; but it is never forced on anyone. It is expected of everyone; that is why we have an instinctive aversion to rugged individualism, to being malakas at the expense of others, which is the operative principle of the free-enterprise society. We cannot accept the survival of the fittest, because we do not consider survival a matter of fitness, but a matter of right. We are sceptical of the famous “hidden hand” of Adam Smith, whereby if I simply and single-mindedly sought my own self-interest in everything, I will be found, in the long run, to have contributed to the welfare of everyone else.We beg leave to doubt this, not so much because we believe, with Keynes that “in the long run we are dead,” but because we tend to put our faith in the helping, rather than the hidden hand. Only, we do not force the helping hand on anyone; this is the other nuance of pakikisama.We make a distinction between makisama and makialam, between helping and meddling. Help should be offered, but should await acceptance.A man should be allowed to make up his own mind as to what is good for him. He may have lost everything else; let him not lose that—the right to decide whether he wants to be helped, and in what way. This being the way we are, I suspect that we would resist collectivization with the same angry vigor that we are now trying to shake off laissez-faire. We simply refuse to be organized, either by the Left or by the Right, and least of all by experts. If there is any organizing to be done, we would like to do it ourselves; and it will have to be organization that allows for a large measure of individuality. By all means let us have community but let it be a community of persons, not units; people, not masses. Tayo’y makisama upang ang bawat isa ay makapagsarili—let us help one another to possess himself. But is this possible? Freely to organize; to organize for freedom; to fashion unity out of diversity—is this possible? Possible or not, it is what we want. It is the whole movement of our history. Of seven
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These are truths you must never forget. If instead of using freedom you abuse it, we shall not only not make progress, but we shall be in a worse state than we were before. Not only that; if we really mean to reconstruct our society on firm foundations, then we must undertake a radical reform not only of our institutions but of our own ways of thinking and acting. Our revolution must be not only external but
Freedom does not mean that we are to obey no one, for freedom itself demands that we conform our conduct to the guiding light of reason and the commanding voice of justice. What freedom does mean is that we ought to obey, not anyone, but only and always that person whom we ourselves have chosen and acknowledged as the most capable of leading us; for in this way we are but obeying our own reason. An army that becomes insubordinate and disobeys its commanders really loses freedom, because it subverts the order and attacks the discipline imposed by reason, which shows that a body of men becomes incapable of action if it has no unity of movement and purpose, if one pulls this way and another that.
Many there are (he wrote in a famous passage) who talk of freedom without knowing what it means. Many believe that once they have gained freedom they may do what they please, good or bad.This is a great error. One is free only to do good, never to do evil. Freedom must always be in harmony with reason and the dictates of an upright and honest conscience. The thief is not free when he steals, for he allows himself to be dragged by evil desire. He becomes a slave of his passions, and we imprison and chastise him precisely because he refuses to be truly free.
thousand islands and seventy languages; of Indian spirituality, Chinese humanism, and Malay enterprise; Spanish hidalguía and Anglo-Saxon technology; of animist bahala na, Muslim dedication, and Christian commitment, to make one nation—that is our modest proposal. Pagkakaisa. Rizal set the ideal in the Latin motto he gave to the Liga Filipina: unus instar omnium, one for all. Mabini explained what making the ideal a reality would demand of us.
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Therefore. O my countymen! Let us scatter the mist that befogs our intellect, and let us consecrate all our strength to the good cause, with unshakable and absolute faith in its success, and in the ultimate prosperity so anxiously desired by us, of the land of our birth.
Reason tells us (he wrote) that we must not waste our time waiting in vain for promises of felicity that will never come, that will never materialize. Reason tells us that we must rely upon ourselves alone and never entrust our rights and our life to anyone else. Reason teaches us to be united in sentiment, thought, and purpose, so that we may acquire the strength necessary to crush the evil that is affecting our people...
Mabini was a man who wanted to get things done. And the only way he saw things could get done was by concerted action under iron discipline; in a word, pagkakaisa. But you will observe that no matter how much he wanted pagkakaisa, he did not thereby jettison freedom. What he said was that “freedom itself demands that we conform our conduct to the guiding light of reason and the commanding voice of justice.” It is interesting to note how much reliance the founders of our nationalist tradition placed on reason. Rizal, of course was always appealing to reason, Mabini here insists that freedom must be reasonable, else it is not freedom. Jacinto, in a passage quoted earlier, makes true piety consist not only in pakikisama, but in “making right reason the rule of every action, work and word.”And when Bonifacio asked the self-same question that Lenin asked—“What then, must we do?”—It was to reason that he turned for a reply.
internal.We must provide a more solid basis for our character formation, and we must rid ourselves of the vices which are, for the most part, a legacy of Spanish rule. Otherwise our country will become more and more enfeebled and impoverished by civil war and domestic disagreements until it perishes altogether. Even the blood so generously shed by our heroes will be powerless to save it from death.
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It is doubtful, however, whether reasonableness alone, even if it had “justice as its sole end and honest labor as its sole means,” can bring about that “perfect union” to which we all aspire. Something else is needed; something that can only be called love—love of country, patriotism. Threadbare words, unfortunately, much used and much abused. Who was it that said of patriotism that it is the last refuge of the scoundrel? But if scoundrels occasionally succeed in passing themselves off as patriots, honest men ought not to fear being patriots lest they be taken for scoundrels. As Saint Augustine said in another connection, sheep should not feel compelled to change their appearance simply because there are wolves in sheep’s clothing.The association of sheep with patriots is perhaps unfortunate, since we are today inclined to be sheepish about patriotism. But why should we be? Those who embody patriotism— pagkabayani—in our national tradition were by no means sheep-like characters. Certainly not Raja Soliman of Maynila, who said to
And therefore, taking reason as its sole norm of action, justice as its sole end, and honest labor as its sole means, (the Philippine Republic) now calls upon and invites all Filipinos, its sons, without distinction of class, to come together in a perfect union for the purpose of creating a noble society; noble not by virtue of pedigree or pompous titles, but of personal merit; a free society, free of the self-interest and petty intrigue that destroy and debase, free of the jealousy and patronage that demean, free of the boasting and quackery that deface a commonwealth.
It would seem, then, that pagkakaisa, national unity, is not something we would allow anyone to impose on us. Rather it is something we want to arrive at ourselves, through a process of free discussion and by the exercise of a certain reasonableness. Laging makatuwiran ang Pilipino, ngunit paminsan-minsan ay may katuwiran din. Filipinos are congenitally disputatious, but it is not impossible for a reasonable agreement to result from their disputes. And therefore, as Aguinaldo’s proclamation of 23 June 1898, which is our Declaration of Independence, states,
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This, then, is our ideal of patriotism. To the ideal of a people united by a national consensus (pagkakaisa) to build together by a neighborly sharing of goods and services (pakikisama) a society in which every man can develop himself fully as a person self-possessed (pagsasarili), it adds the demand for total dedication to the nation as such—pagkabayani. We are told, of course, that this ideal is hopelessly out of date. Why cultivate nationalism in a world rapidly moving toward internationalism? If we must dedicate ourselves to an ideal, let it be to the brotherhood of man. As to that, we can readily agree that an international organization within which all men can live as brothers is a consummation devoutly to be wished. But we might point out that the very word “internationalism” presupposes nationalism. If nations are to be united, there must be nations to unite. Those who have already achieved full nationhood can afford to take their nationalism
Ensueño de mi vida, mi ardiente vivo anhelo, Salud! te grita el alma que pronto va a partir; Salud! ah, que es hermoso caer por darte vuelo; Morir por darte vida, morir bajo tu cielo. Y en tu encantada tierra la eternidad dormir.
“No sacrifice can be too great.” The same thought had been expressed, a year earlier, by another man about to die, in one of the most moving stanzas ever addressed by a poet to his country:
The General has given me the pick of all the men that can be spared and ordered me to defend the Pass. I realize what a terrible task has been given me. And yet I feel that this is the most glorious moment of my life. What I do is done for my beloved country. No sacrifice can be too great.
Goiti that he was pleased to be the friend of the Spaniards, but that the Spaniards should understand that the Tagalogs were not painted Indians; that they would not tolerate any abuse, and that they would repay with death the least thing that touched their honor, And certainly not Gregorio del Pilar, who, on the very day he died at Tirad Pass, wrote the following in his diary:
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A man’s worth does not consist in being a king, or in having a pointed nose and white skin, or in exercising as a priest
All men are equal, whether the color of their skin be white or black. One man may surpass another in wisdom, wealth, or beauty but not in that which makes him a man...
for granted, can even be high-mindedly apologetic about it. But we who, having been colonial subjects for four hundred years, are still seeking national identity and purpose, may perhaps be forgiven if nationalism is uppermost in our minds and boringly recurrent in our conversation. Would it be thought discourteous on our part if we were to recall that it was once said of England that patriotism was the religion of the English? And that it was not so long ago that American school texts prescribed for use in the Philippines quoted with reverence the dictum of an American naval officer, “My country, may she always be right, but right or wrong, my country”? That is not a principle we are prepared to defend. What we are prepared to defend is this: that if we are nationalists it is not because we wish to separate ourselves from the rest of men, but, on the contrary, because we wish to build up a nation that can make its own distinctive contribution to the general advancement of the human race. Our ideal of pagkabayani is balanced—or, more precisely, is completed—by our ideal of pakikipagkapwa-tao, which is our polysyllabic way of expressing John Donne’s insight that no man is an island, he is part of the main. Pakikipagkapwa-tao—to be a fellow, a friend, of every man, provided it be on a basis of equality—was this not what Raja Soliman tried to convey to Goiti when he said that “he was pleased to be the friend of the Spaniards,” but that “he would not tolerate any abuse”? A principle, unfortunately; which, as it turned out, was more honored in the breach than in the observance. But, when all is said and done, the brotherhood of all mankind will be advanced in proportion as all mankind agree on what a man is, and what he is worth. If anyone asks us what our thinking is on this matter, I suggest that we simply quote to him the words of Emilio Jacinto:
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These, then are the principles and values we derive from our national tradition. Pagsasarili: the will to secure for every Filipino the means to develop himself as a responsible human being. Pakikisama: the willingness to share with one another the burdens as well as the rewards of living together. Pagkakaisa: the building up of an articulated national community through forms of social organization understood, accepted, and undertaken by the people themselves. Pagkabayani: the readiness to put the common good of the nation above the private interest, whether of one’s own person, group, or class. Pakikipagkapwatao: human solidarity but human solidarity understood as, first of all, a dedication to the development of one’s own nation, so as to enable it to participate on free and equal terms in the total development of mankind. The past, they say; is prologue. If we seek to retain remembrance of the past, and employ historians to help us to do so, it is not so much to indulge in the barren delights of antiquarianism, as to derive from the thoughts and deeds of our predecessors a better understanding of our present concerns. And so we must ask ourselves what enlightenment we can draw from our national tradition with reference to our present national task. But before we do so, a previous question should perhaps be moved, namely, whether it is to our national tradition that we should go for enlightenment. For this is an assumption that has been and is being disputed.Whether explicitly or by implication, in theory or in practice, it is being asserted that either we have no national tradition, or if we have, that it is not relevant to our present concerns. And therefore it is proposed that we look for the solution to our national problems elsewhere, to some foreign ideology; whether it be the
the office of being God’s representative. It does not consist in being one of the great ones of the earth. What though a man be born and raised in the wilderness, and speak no other language but his own? If his ways are gentle, if his word is true, if he cherishes his good name, if he neither tolerates nor commits injustice, if he knows how to love the land that gave him birth and to come to her assistance, that man is really and truly great.
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liberal ideology of the Western, or the totalitarian ideology of the Communist world. I personally do not agree with either the assertion or the proposition. I believe that we do have a national tradition. If it appears that we do not, it is surely because we have not taken the trouble to look for it. Secondly, I believe that we will find this national tradition of ours to be entirely relevant to our present concerns, if only because it was fashioned by Filipinos—by thoughtful and dedicated men of our own race who saw our society and culture not from the outside but from the inside. Thirdly, I would have no objection whatever to deriving from foreign ideologies, whether liberal or communist, what may be valid and useful for our purposes; but I would judge the valid and usefulness of such foreign derivatives from the standpoint of our national tradition. What, then should we look for in that tradition? May I suggest that what we should look for is not ready made solutions to our national problems, but a specific approach to them; that approach, namely which is most likely to win national consensus, as being most in accord with the principles and values which, as result of our shared experience over historic time, we have come to hold most deeply as a people? May I further suggest that this approach would be, specifically and concretely for the Philippines, to undertake national development as a process of liberation and integration? Development, according to Pope Paul VI, is the new name for peace. This is true enough of development globally considered, for, certainly the alleviation of world poverty is our best hope for world peace. But we must ask ourselves whether in a country like the Philippines, development is best approached from the notion of peace, and not rather from the notion of liberation? For peace is the tranquility of order; but the order may be a just or an unjust one.The tranquility of an unjust order is what Tacitus transfixed, once for all, in a famous epigram on the pax romana. “They have made a desolation and called it peace.” Now the development of people can only be brought about by the people themselves. No one can do it for them; not government; not the Church; not foreign aid. Only they can do it. But they cannot do it if their energies are sapped and their initiatives thwarted by an
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unjust and oppressive social order And so it is there that development must begin; in the dismantling of institutionalized injustice; in setting people free. But this means conflict. Freedom from injustice cannot be won without conflict. In a country like the Philippines, before development can mean peace, it must mean liberation. Liberation; but at the same time, and by the same token, integration. For the whole object of setting people free is that they may be free to work together, free to collaborate in the building up of a social order that shall be just. It is precisely the fragmentation of our society that is the most prolific source and the strongest bulwark of the injustices that prevail among us. Our struggle for liberation must therefore be not only against the forces that now divide our national community; but against the forces that would further divide it, and transform what is already a fragmentation into an anarchy. Liberation and integration - these are the two nuances, it seems to me, that our national tradition gives to our present task of development.The whole thrust of our historic experience as a people has been toward pagsasarili, toward that state of society wherein every man can possess himself, and can have access to that share of our national resources whereby he can in truth possess, and be, himself. It was to this end, that every Filipino may at last, in Recto’s words, rise from the knees he has bent in beggary; that our heroes, our bayani, made the sacrifices that they did. But the thrust of our historic experience is, in equal measure, toward the achievement of self-possession through equitable sharing within a national community by pagkakaisa through pakikisama; or, as our Declaration of Independence put it, by the coming together of all citizens, without distinction of class, into a perfect union. And it is thus, and only thus, that we can hope to fulfill our other ideal of pakikipagkapwa-tao: to approach the brotherhood of man not with a petition, but with a gift. A gift distinctively; uniquely Filipino.
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