By Ed Aurelio C. Reyes

Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers

(December 1994)

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T HAS BEEN a generally-unchallenged expression of dismay over our self-image as a people: "Hay, naku! Ganyan talaga ang Pinoy!" (Filipinos are really like that!) The specifics would move us to laugh heartily on the outside, and to weep bitterly on the inside.

This writer once described the present-day Filipino as "increasingly cynical of his neighbor and even of himself, increasingly vulnerable to the temptations of systemic corruption and injustice and pushed to be always on the alert for the easiest shortcuts often at the expense of his peers. Underneath the crackling laughter of ever-ready Filipino humor now hides a tormented social psyche, with numbness and confusion about the past, tears for the present and subdued agony, manifesting as fatalism, over bleak prospects of the future."

What tends to make us resign to this sort of national identity is precisely that "numbness and confusion" about our past. And let us now include another painful word: ignorance.

That last word would invite indignant refutation from many. But if we dare them now to recall for us the historical event that they know to be farthest back in time, chances are they'd tell us who supposedly discovered the Philippines. That is ancient?

Of course it would be wrong for anyone to say that we know absolutely nothing about "pre-Spanish Philippines" (term not coming from our own point of view). After all, we did study in class about "waves of migration," the datus, the aliping namamahay and saguiguilid, the baranggays and the so-called "trials-by-ordeal."

But how much do we know about the lives of our ancestors during the time of "Philippines 1000"? How were they during the time of Christ? Believe it or not, they were already here that early, in fact, much earlier. At the time Jesus Christ was being crucified, our ancestors already had the renowned Banaue rice terraces and the Manunggul Jar (3,500 years old by now), which proved their belief in the afterlife. In a chapter he wrote for the book Philippine Progress Prior to 1898, which he co-authored with Conrado Benitez, Austin Craig cited passages in Chinese history, including chronicles covering the Chou dynasty (B.C. 722), describing active interaction between the Asian mainland and what later came to be called the Philippine archipelago.

Rizal, in his "The Indolence of the Filipinos," asserted that "the Filipinos have not always been what they are," and cited as witnesses to this point "all the historians of the first years" after Magellan's expedition. Wrote he: "Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Malayan Filipinos carried on an active trade, not only among themselves but also with all the neighboring count ries. A Chinese manuscript of the 13th Century, translated by Dr. Hirth, which we will take up at another time, speaks of China's relations with the islands, relations purely commercial, which mention is made of the activity and honesty of the traders of Luzon, who took the Chinese products and distributed them throughout all the islands, traveling for nine months, and then returned to pay religiously even for the merchandise that the Chinamen did not remember having given them."

Now there is an important realization to be had with the help of any one-foot ruler. If we take the Chou dynasty chronicles of B.C. 722 as the hypothetical starting point, and 1994 as the end, we have had at least 2766 years of written history, or about "230 years per inch" on the ruler. It was only in the last 473 years, or roughly a mere one-sixth of this entire time span, that we have been under Spanish and American sphere of influence and domination. Looking at a one-foot ruler, therefore, we can say that we are relatively familiar with only its last two-inch segment, from the "10" marking to the end. We know next to nothing about almost the entire length (ten inches) of that ruler.

And the little we know, from Rizal, Craig and the others, is not anything that describes the "notorious Pinoy" that we now tend, with resignation, to identify ourselves with. On the contrary, we do have reason to be proud of our ancestry and heritage, if we could only diminish our collective ignorance and disinterest in our own lifestory as the people of these islands.

(Kamalaysayan Media Service)



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