Fighting Spirit Award

“If it will be down to hand-to-hand combat, why not?”

–AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. on the defense of the Kalayaan Island Group


Meaning no disrespect to the Filipino soldier, probably among the hardiest and fiercest warriors that any fighting force in the world can muster, but this will never happen.


We’re not even talking about the impossible logistics of arranging a brawl with Chinese soldiers on islands that are closer to being reefs than actual land masses. Just finding someone to referee it would be a pain, and then there’d be the question of rules: will it be a square-off between an equal number of combatants, a large-scale version of the classic high school 10 Seconds? Will punches to the face be allowed? What about low blows?


These are just details, and do not really matter in the face of the fact that we Filipinos do not have a warrior culture. Sure, we’re effective, even fearsome fighters judging from the abundance of Weapons of Moroland plaques and the variety of weapons our warriors have wielded from the kris to the kampilan to the korambit to the sansibar to the pillbox to the lead pipe.


The head hunters of the mountains to the North were feared by colonists and settlers. Our Sulu pirates terrorized shipping along the straits of Basilan for centuries. Our hot Malay blood is quick to anger and demand blood for the slightest, sometimes imagined, insult, but it is not in our genetic code to wish that the Emperor reign ten thousand years, and then charge pell-mell to certain death. It is not even in our genetic code to have an Emperor or any other infallible despot whose word is the law.


Decisive set-piece battles are not in the Filipino subconscious. When we say patay kung patay, we mean our willingness to kill, not to die. Aguinaldo went into talks with Spain barely a year into the 1896 Revolution, fleeing to Hong Kong when no decisive military solution seemed possible. He returned, of course, to wage war again and to carry the fight to our new masters, the Americans. He then surrendered again, as did every other revolutionary with the possible exception of Artemio Ricarte who refused to pledge allegiance to America.


The defense of the Philippines collapsed within five months despite the presence of the admittedly ill-equipped USAFFE. Soon after, a puppet government was formed and positions were filled by collaborators. Artemio Ricarte, our hero who refused to pledge to the American flag promptly bowed to the Japanese one, helping found the KALIBAPI, the Japanese-sponsored political party that remained unopposed throughout the war years. When the war ended, most collaborators were pardoned since they were badly needed to get our war-torn country running again. And why not? We are masters of the long view, after all.


The long view does not favor massive forces annihilating each other, does not see the quixotic and bloody defense of one’s homeland as a virtue. Massacres and burning down villages in long campaigns of attrition will do nobody any good. Much better to catipulate now, or pretend to, at any rate, and resort to guerilla everything later. Sure, we’ll sing our heavily-accented Star-Spangled Banner and bow to you all you want, but the moment you turn your back, we’ll raid your armories, attack you while you breakfast, ambush your supply trains, pee on your walls, spit in public, flood you with illegal immigrants, etc.


Some may refuse to surrender, swear death before dishonor, but there will always be someone higher up who, thinking in the long term, will willingly turn over our territory. In the interest of the people’s safety and for regional stability, no doubt. And this is why if push comes to shove, we’ll lose the Kalayaan Island Group. We do not have the hive-mind of our neighbors, the ethnocentric certainty that conquest is their right, the conviction that they would rather fall first before their country does.


Sure, we’ll fight for our country, but we won’t be able to defend it.

And our next number…

If you have spent much time canoodling in public parks, then you know that the Philippine primary and secondary school systems have an obsession with presentations, dances and skits (which, properly, should be a short sketch or scene within a longer performance, and not as it has become: an excuse to look silly and giggle in front of the class.) Whether as a learning aid, a distraction, or as a means to exploit a cheap workforce to entertain guests of dubious honor, student presentations are an essential part of a DepEd-certified education.

Every afternoon, hundreds of students troop to Rizal Park, Quezon Memorial Circle and other public spaces to practice. Most come in uniforms of their different schools and the parks are filled with skirts of various colors whirling with each dance step or dramatic leap.

During Linggo ng Wika, when we dress up in what we believe people from Not Manila wear, the uniforms may be replaced with grass skirts and g-strings to celebrate our cultural diversity.

Revolutionary attire may be the order of the day when Independence Day comes along, commemorating how all Filipinos who fought against the Castillians wore white shirts, red pants and straw hats with KKK painted on them. When red pants were not available, rolled up denim jeans apparently served just as well for the Philippine Revolutionary Army.

And, always, in the middle of each group of students, whether they be rehearsing an interpretative dance of the Battle of Manila or a scene from Noli Me Tangere, is the commanding (near despotic) presence of the class’s bading.

I do not mean this in a mean homophobic way but in the sense in which kids often label each other unthinkingly: Jonat Manyak, say, or Impeng Negro, or Winston Mahilum. True, these labels are generally more cruel and psychologically-damaging in the long run, but the kids don’t really mean it. Think Maximo Oliveros, not those horrible scenes where Roderick Paulate has his head dunked into a river to make him, I suppose, renounce his gayness. Well, except that part where someone tried to rape Maxie, and that scene where his dad dies. Just the happy parts.

Where do these bading choreographers come from, one must ask, eventually. How does the DepEd ensure that there is at least one per class? Further, how does the DepEd rather successfully avoid, er, artistic differences by ensuring that there is rarely ever more than one per class? Is there a DepEd memorandum, that orders principals to issue each class throughout the islands with one? If the quota is filled, will a student be forced to sign a contract forbidding him to be artistic?

Where do they learn their skills and their vision? It isn’t enough that one can dance to be able to choreograph and direct and pull off a fabulous performance, one has to have passion and art. Does one suddenly wake up one morning with the realization that they want to be bading choreographers?

These guys are the lifeblood of every cultural week, fiesta, class presentation and foundation day, but after that, quo vadis, vaklush? Where do they go when they grow up? Is there a boulevard of broken dreams for them as well? A point when they drown their sorrows in gin and wonder bitterly where it all went wrong? After all, no matter how much you try to choreograph things, there isn’t always a happy ending.

Roman Holiday

Filipinos shouldn’t have holidays, which is not to say that we shouldn’t have vacations. We work harder than carabaos (which isn’t really saying much,) and deserve whatever breaks we can get.

There’s no need to be phony about things, though. The word holiday comes from the Old English for holy day, which is not all that different from the modern English except in spelling.  A religious festival, say, celebrating some saint. And this made sense in ancient times when things were stricter: no meat during Lent, throwing water at people on St. John the Baptist’s feast day and not doing so on other days, going barefoot on the Feast of the Black Nazarene and not doing so on others if one can afford footwear.

Things were more structured then, and it made sense to differentiate the Feast of St. Jude from the Feast of the Annunciation lest people put up the wrong kind of buntings, dress up the wrong figurine and pray the wrong litanies.

Today, however, there is hardly any difference between an EDSA Day weekend, a Labor Day weekend, Holy Week, All Saints and Souls Mega-weekend and Christmas except the length of time away from work and the number of establishments open, and, really, we could just call them Long Weekends and lose nothing.

Holy Week used to not be as fun as other so-called holidays because of the death of Christ and the dearth of non-Biblical shows on TV. With cable TV and the Internet, however, it has become just as kick-ass as all the others, if not more. The Christ still dies on Good Friday, though, technology cannot solve everything.

As the only Lapsed-Catholic country in the region,  we  have a feast day for every day of the week. Add to that the dozens of battles, routs, victories, martyrdoms, foundation days and historical events that have to be commemorated, and one cannot blame the Filipino for celebrating them all in the same way: a bacchanalia that has more to do with getting noisily, obnoxiously, and often, violently, drunk than with the event itself.

Of course, concessions are made to the more popular days-off. Christmas ups the ratio of Christmas songs to love ballads sung on the videoke machine significantly, and All Saints/Souls leaves more people sainted from drunken brawls and  traffic-related altercations than, say, Rizal Day, which, it is supposed, people commemorate by sporting beer moustaches and being instant polyglots.

Still, the general theme is the same throughout the year, and probably closer to the real holiday, the Jubilee, where wage slaves are freed, and fields and office cubicles are left idle, if just for the weekend.

It is now March.

We skipped February altogether.

Do not worry. You did not miss much.