Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Aftermath of Colonialism

As a republic, the Philippines is only 66 years old. The country as we know it today has spent four centuries under colonial rule by major powers. For more than 350 years it was ruled by Spain before the Americans, who ruled for another 50 years, after they "defeated" the Spaniards. Japan briefly wrested control of the country from the U.S. when it occupied the Philippines for four years during the Second World War. After the war, in 1945, the country was granted independence by the U.S.

During Spain's colonial rule most Filipinos were effectively converted into Catholicism. Under Spain, religion did not make the life of Filipinos any easier. The friars, who often wielded more power than the colonial administrators, were no less oppressive in their treatment of Filipinos. Both Church and State were competing powers that ruled the secular and religious life of the people. The cross and the sword were the backbones of Spanish colonial rule. Each commanded obedience and exacted tribute from its subjects. The three and a half centuries of Spanish rule completely suppressed any blossoming of Filipino identity as a nation and as a people. Traces of Filipino culture that the Spaniards found when they first arrived either were obliterated, transformed, or replaced with what the Spaniards believed to be their more superior culture and beliefs. These foreign cultural influences were fused with indigenous beliefs and practices in the psyche of the native Filipinos. For example, Christian practice and worship by Filipinos have elements of animistic beliefs and an emphasis on worship of idols. The representation of saints often became more important than what it represented.

The Spaniards fostered the regional separation of Filipinos and exploited the language barriers among Filipinos who spoke a number of regional languages and dialects. Afraid of a rallying force that can unify the Filipinos, the learning of Spanish language was never promoted. In fact, Filipinos from regions who spoke a different language or dialect were often used to suppress rebellions in other regions. Today the Philippines is the only former Spanish colony where Spanish is hardly spoken. Except for the Spanish names of most citizens and the sprinkling of Spanish words in the Filipino language, Spanish is basically irrelevant.

When the Americans supplanted the Spaniards as colonial masters, after a brief but bloody pacification campaigns against the Filipino revolutionaries, who were fighting the Spaniards for independence before the Americans came, they used a different colonial approach. The Americans built institutions such as government, education, and promoted the English language. To this day most Filipinos are bilingual, able to speak English and Pilipino, and in some cases, in addition to a dialect in the region they were born. The Americans effectively captured the minds of Filipinos and used a powerful tool of colonialism, the idolization of everything American; hence, the birth of a cult mentality from fashion, music, cinema, to toothpaste.

Adding insult to injury, the brief but brutal occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese, left many Filipinos with memories of wartime atrocities and abuses. The already saddled Filipino consciousness, with four centuries of colonial rule by Western powers, took another beating.

The last 66 years, following its independence from the United States, was the Filipino nation's journey in search of its soul. The last century of its history had a promising start which, unfortunately, eventually led into a cycle of self-destructive bents in its politics and socio-economic policies. To what malevolent forces do we attribute the cause of such a sad state of the nation? The collective consciousness of a nation subjected to centuries of abuse and traumatization under the yoke of colonialism is surely to blame. Like a child who suffered extended chronic trauma, the Philippines is a nation still trying to heal and find itself.

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