Defining the Filipino National Identity without all the nationalist melodramatics

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Immediately after the “basktebrawl” that ensued between Gilas Pilipinas and Boomers last Last July 3, well-known sports broadcaster Chino Trinidad took to Facebook to express his dismay and embarrassment over the matter. Netizens were divided on the issue, but it seemed that many (including this blogger) defended the violent anger displayed by Gilas Pilipinas against their roughhousing opponents. Trinidad’s outspoken opinions didn’t sit well with many basketball fans, even prompting some to question his patriotism.


In a seeming response to the insults received, Trinidad posted a question that is close to my heart.


All the comments he received were subjective. Naturally, for not many Filipinos are aware of what a Filipino really is. While it may be easy to define who a Filipino is, it is not the same as defining what is a Filipino. So since the Filipino National Identity is my core advocacy, I couldn’t resist not to reply.

Dear Chino. It is easy to define WHO is a Filipino. Anyone can do it by pointing out to one’s citizenship, or via jus soli or jus sanguinis. Even foreigners like Robert Downey, Jr. can become Filipinos if they wish to do so (via naturalization). Still others can wax melodramatic by claiming that they have the heart and soul of a Filipino (I know many of this kind, Fil-foreign celebrities and emotionally charged historians alike). But defining WHAT a Filipino is? That’s the tricky part, especially for the historically uninitiated, for this area requires a bit of “historical science”. Let me explain briefly…

The Filipino National Identity is the product of the so-called “Estado Filipino” or the Filipino State that began to exist in Spanish on 24 June 1571. This Filipino State was founded together with Manila on that same date, with the government having Spanish as its official language. Towards the end of the 16th century, the previously existing native ethnolinguistic states went into the Filipino State as co-founding members. They incorporated themselves with the Filipino State when they elected King Felipe II of Spain, popularly known as King Philip II, as their natural sovereign. This election was verified during a synod-plebiscite held also during that time frame.

From that time on, and after forming part of the 1571 Filipino State, our pre-Hispanic —I’d rather call it pre-Filipino— ancestors also accepted Spanish as their official and national language with their respective native languages as auxiliary official languages. Thus, the previously autonomous ethnolinguistic states that existed before the 1599 synod-plebiscite were respectively the ones that belonged to the Tagálogs, Ilocanos, Capampañgans, Bicolanos, Visayans, Mindanáo Lúmads, etc. not excluding the Moro Sultanates of Joló and Maguindanáo. Aside from these indigenous or native ethnolinguistic states, the pre-Filipino Chinese of Mayi-in-ila Kung shing-fu or Maynilad, or what is now known as Manila, likewise joined the Filipino State when they accepted the King of Spain as their natural sovereign. More so, because they knew that they would become the chief benefactors of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade that would in turn last for 250 years.

Hence, all of the above mentioned people became, ethnographically and politically, Filipinos as well as Spanish subjects when they freely accepted the Spanish King (Rey Felipe II) as their natural sovereign in 1599, resided in Filipinas to do business, and paid taxes to His Majesty’s Manila government which became the capital of the Capitanía General de Filipinas, the basis of today’s Republic of the Philippines. It is because of this historical event that the Spanish language has become an inseparable part of every Filipino’s individual, collective, and national identity.

It is no wonder why former senator Claro M. Recto, one of our country’s greatest nationalists, declared that: “Without Spanish, the inventory of our national patrimony as a people will be destroyed, if not taken away from us since Spanish is part of our flesh and blood as Filipinos.”

The first to call themselves Filipinos, however, were those Spaniards who were born in our country (my generation remembers them as insulares). These Filipinos proudly referred to themselves as Hijos del País (Sons of the Country or Mg̃a Anác ng Bayan). But there was a power struggle between them and the Spaniards who were from Spain (peninsulares). The ethnolinguistic natives, particularly the most Hispanized of them all (the Tagálogs and the Capampañgans) sided with the people they grew up with: the insulares/Filipinos. In time, these Hispanized ethnolinguistic natives, including the Christianized Chinese, began calling themselves as Filipinos as well. And they had all the right to do so, because they spoke Spanish, they were baptized as Catholics, and they had been sharing the gifts of Western culture with their native-born Spanish brethren.

In sum, our Filipino National Identity is deeply rooted in our Spanish past, as do our country’s name (Filipinas/Pilipinas/Philippines), and how we call ourselves (Filipinos).

This information that I share to you about the origins of the Filipino Identity is just an introduction, and I tried to summarize it as briefly as I could. It is expected that many will disagree with this origin of the Filipino Identity, of course, and I can even be easily tagged as a colonial minded individual or “maca-Castilà”. But I have learned to understand such labels, especially since all of us have all grown up to the kind of history that was spoonfed to us by a chauvinistic kind of nationalistic education, that only the “nativist view” of the Filipino is the best and the most patriotic (I am not afraid to point a blaming finger at UP Dilimáns influential History Department and its exclusivist “pantayong pananaw” view of history).

But then, I think it is high time that we use our intellect instead of our emotions when it comes to a fair appraisal of Filipino History. And more importantly, knowing WHO and WHAT we really are based on our national identity as decreed by history will give us the much-needed DIGNITY and even COURAGE to help us move forward during these perilous times.