That date Filipinos mistakenly regard as “Independence Day” is approaching. Mistaken, because it is a reality from Filipinos’ perspectives but not everyone else’s. The Philippines’ real independence day was, of course, on the 4th of July 1946, when it was granted by the United States. The Philippines ceased being a colony of the United States on that day.
This and the confused thinking Filipinos surround their “independence” with is made more relevant today — in their now confused regard for their fighting men and women. This is because the issues that result in Filipinos consistently and routinely losing battles are precisely the reasons why the notion of “Independence Day” being recognised as one “achieved” on the 12th of June 1898 is a delusion at best.
Filipinos are renowned for their internal battles. Their rambunctious elections and the vicious campaigns that precede these are legendary. Friendships are made and broken on the back of irrational alliances with politicians of the moment — never mind that these politicians themselves are bound amongst themselves by friendships, family ties, and business interests that escape the sensibilities of the common folk who battle one another in their names.
What we see today is yet another fatal lack, on Filipinos’ part, of any ability to recognise real threats to their country even as they latch onto imagined threats. The imagined threat Martial Law presents to today’s “activists”, for example, is but a relic of a 30-year-old mythology that pits its “evil” versus the “good” of freedom supposedly championed by the Yellow camp of the Aquino-Cojuangco clan. And so, even as Filipino soldiers bravely fight — and die — in bloody street fighting in Marawi City against Islamic terrorists, they enjoy very little support from their own society’s most prominent influencers.
To the Filipino soldier, Marawi City, it seems, is their Vietnam War. The parallels are there. Imperial Manila’s newspapers are reporting body count tallies. Its hipster “activists” are screaming bloody “Human Rights Abuse!” while sipping lattes in trendy cafes, and its prominent celebrities pose for photos while holding refugees’ babies.
The idea of rallying behind soldiers is, quite simply, not part of the Philippines’ cultural DNA. Filipinos’ most prominent monuments and political symbols are peacenik and religious in nature. Their heroes are mostly so-called “martyrs” and not victorious commanders and conquering chieftains. The Philippines last vestige of any semblance of a martial tradition was finally crushed when mandatory civilian military training was abolished some years back.
Indeed, in recent days, images and stories of Filipino celebrity Angel Locsin consorting with Marawi’s displaced civilians were making rounds in social media attracting thousands of Facebook “likes” and Twitter “retweets”. But there is a conversation that needs to be had about these supposed “victims” of the Marawi conflict, perhaps starting with this hypothesis:
Many of these “victims” were, for decades, fully aware of the terrorist cancer gestating under their very noses within their own city.
Surveys upon surveys have revealed that known terrorist and bandit groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front enjoy the unwavering trust of the vast majority of Filipino Muslims. Yet, in 2015, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was responsible for the massacre of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) police officers while they were on a mission to capture a terrorist leader. The recent capture of Ominta Romato Maute (a.k.a. Farhana Maute), mother of the Maute terrorist brothers, while in the act of squirrelling away a cache of arms and wounded Islamic combatants also highlights the reality that Marawi’s most prominent citizens are in on the plot.
It is therefore quite ironic that while Christian Filipinos are divided in their support of their national troops, their Muslim “brothers” are united behind their armed — and dangerous — Islamic fighters, patrons, and financiers.
So while images of long-haired “angels” coming down from Imperial Manila to comfort war victims induce warm fuzzy feelings amongst Manila’s liberalist hipsters, one wonders where the equivalent solidarity for Filipino troops can be found. There is none of course. Filipino liberals have, for many decades, shoved the notion that Filipino military personnel are bad people and not to be trusted and have, as a result, created a huge gulf between civilian and martial sensibilities.
Indeed, it is ironic considering one of those bastions of fundamentalist pacifism — the Ateneo de Manila University — puts upon its highest pedestal a soldier. San Ignacio de Loyola was, of course, a soldier. His most famous monument depicts him offering his sword to the heavens as a gesture of his commitment to a life of service to God. Nonetheless, Ateneans take pride in a tradition of celebrating San Ignacio’s feast day with, get this, a military mass.
Suffice to say, when people routinely allow their minds to be hijacked by demagogic political mythologies and continue to latch on to obsolete irrational internal fears, the result is the sort of confused inconsistency Filipinos struggle with today even as a deadly war rages on their backyard against an enemy that presents a clear and present danger to national security.