The National Village

Analysis and Opinion

By Irineo B. R. Salizar

Joe noted in 2018 that Philippine culture is not damaged, but fluid. Clearly it is:

  1. more personal than institutional. Lots of Filipinos feel uncomfortable with formal institutions; feel more comfortable with personal arrangements like utang na loob and patronage. The President acts personalistic, like a village chief. Misuari seems to be good for him while peaceful critics aren’t. Revolutionary Government is OK with some of his followers if it isn’t against the President. Plenty of officials act as if his word is law, even if it is against written law. Barangay captains deal with petty neighborhood quarrels. Rules seem to need a person behind them to be enforced. “The Mayor doesn’t like this” or “the President doesn’t”.
  2. more high-context than low-context in its language. Newspapers in the Philippines often refer to current events in a high-context way, often like the he-said she-said gossip in small communities across the world. Lots of politicians are referred to be first name, like “friends”. I find Filipino more emotionally “loaded” and have the impression that a lot of Filipinos use English, a low-context language, to discuss dispassionately. German is a high-context language while German dialects are not, they are more personal and emotional – I feel.
  3. Run by many unwritten rules. A DDS on the Internet explained to me in 2015 that there was a kind of three-strike rule for tokhang, and found it just that drug addicts were given two chances to rehabilitate and the third strike – well our context knows what that means now. Manila traffic had unwritten rules which I feel still worked even into the 1980s, I feel. Now MMDA is trying hard to corral traffic via barriers, as if rules had to be cast in stone.

Metro Manila traffic is the living embodiment of how fluidity doesn’t scale well. Tokhang, orders of the day instead of clear and consistent rules, personal judgement of who is OK or not is inefficient and wasteful on a large scale. Just like you can’t run a national or global firm like a sari-sari store, can’t navigate an ocean liner like a collection of bancas. You even need more structure playing soccer with 11 people than playing basketball with just five. A rock band with a drummer, a guitar player, a bass player and a singer/keyboarder doesn’t need a conductor. An orchestra most certainly does.


A. The Ruling Class

Philippine settlements didn’t even have dynasties in the olden days. Chiefs were chosen for their perceived strength and maturity to lead the community. There were bigger settlements, notably Maynila (Manila) and Sugbu (Cebu) by the 16th century – Manila certainly due to its being in a well-protected natural harbor, Cebu possibly because it is in the middle of the Visayan. They had “Rajas” – the allegiance of datus to them was certainly due to material benefit. Yet the smaller communities were practically self-sufficient. There was enough land to till and less population. No outside enemies to defend against, so no need for a kingdom or a republic. Societies develop based on need.

This was to change under Spain. Manuel Quezon III writes this in Bamboozled by the Barangay: “In Spanish times, the Teniente del Barrio was also known as the Cabeza de Barangay, who, in the earliest barrios, were the datus or local leaders who accepted Spanish rule. In exchange, Spain made them permanent, hereditary chiefs exempted from the annual period of labor required by the Spanish crown. The various cabeza de barangay, in turn, elected the gobernadorcillo who was a kind of combined mayor and judge.” – Barangay captains and mayors ruled instead of datus and rajas.

MLQ3 Continues:  “When a cabeza de barangay died without heirs, or a new barrio was created, the gobernadorcillo in turn was influential in recommending the appointment of the new cabeza de barangay. All very cozy indeed, until the Americans came along and made everything elective. But since the gobernadorcillos had been elected in the time of Spain anyway, everyone knew what to do, and that was, to campaign as they had always campaigned: with bands, food, promises, and if necessary, the use of the police.” This sounds very much like Philippine local elections TODAY.

But there was more. Historian Xiao Chua says this in Bayan vs. the Elite: “..The end of the Galleon Trade monopoly because of the Mexican Revolution compelled the Spaniards to open the ports throughout the archipelago to foreign trade. When traders like the French, British and German got the indios and the Chinese mestizos as their middlemen, the latter started to have money and began sending their kids to school. This began the division of the colonial indios from the elites who were Westernized by the educational system against the ones that remained part of the bayan..”

Xiao Chua continues:  “The ilustrados called their concept ‘nación’ as they had learned from Western liberalism. We should aspire to be a Republic where citizens have rights guaranteed under a written constitution and a declaration of independence.. The Katipunan, however, essayed a more indigenous concept of the ‘Inang Bayan.’ As the old bayan was founded on ‘sandugo’ and ‘kapatiran,’ we are all brothers and sisters..” Aguinaldo had Bonifacio killed, breaking kapatiran. He wanted power.

But the presence of many different “generals”, some of whom kept fighting afterwards, and others like Macario Sakay who revived Bonifacio’s idea of the Haring Bayang Katagalugan show how fragmented things were. We will never know, but Aguinaldo’s Republic may have fallen apart. Political violence stayed. The 1940 Supreme Court decisionon the killing of Julio Nalundasan on Sept. 20, 1935, allegedly by the young Ferdinand E. Marcos, is a showcase of violent local politics.

Filipino elites got their wish for more power via American rule. The Philippine Assembly, the precursor of the Congress, was established in 1908, the Senate in 1916 and the Commonwealth in 1935. Plus the USA put the former property of Church orders on sale. Rizal’s family had still leased land from the Dominicans. Now rich Filipinos could become large landowners and politicians as well. The Filipino ruling class moved up and gained control of the nation. Some became “oligarchs”.

Marcos added the barangay to the mix. MLQ3 writes: “he created Citizens Assemblies to solve the problem of his proposed constitution losing if a proper plebiscite was held. Instead, he created something called ‘Citizen’s Assemblies.’ In January, 1973, he renamed the citizen’s assemblies as barangays. And in 1974, he decreed the abolition of the barrio and its replacement with the barangay.” MLQ3 also writes that there was no barangay originally –there was bayan.


B. The National Village

Xiao Chua write this at the end of his article: “hopefully, in time, we will reduce the gap and just maybe, bridge the gap between the elite and the bayan to form a truly united Filipino nation, isang sambayanang Pilipino.” The nation of politicians and the people’s nation have to merge one day. Something did happen in 1986 – people on EDSA did act in a three-day gesture of kapatiran and ousted a dictator. But Feb. 1986 brought forth the 1987 Constitution as well, with its emphasis on human rights. The Local Government Code was to give more autonomy to LGUs – the “bayans”.

Bayan means both town and country. That the country would elect a town mayor isn’t surprising. It happened in 1998 and in 2016. The formal laws and rituals of Senate, Congress and courts aren’t something many a Filipino can truly relate to as they were the domain of politicians while the Constitution was mainly designed by intellectuals.  Split-level Christianity was defined by Fr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ. There is also such a thing as split-level governance in the Philippines. Schizophrenia.

As the amorphous spirit of the people’s nation bubbled up in 1986, people became politicians who would hardly have stood a chance before 1972. Estrada got into power because of his movie roles. Fernando Poe nearly made it in 2004. Comedian Tito Sotto is seriously President of the Senate. Media played an increasingly large role. If videotape was a major factor in making Ninoy Aquino’s assassination known, the televised impeachment trial of President Estrada was a national drama followed by text message mobilization. Filipino culture is not only personal but also very visual.

Migrants in the 1980s sent voice tapes to their families at home and got voice tapes back. Writing and reading longer text isn’t the thing for many. Comics in print were a thing before the Internet. Crazy Jhenny and Tarantadong Kalbo comics are quite influential in today’s social media discourse. The 21st century was full of televised Senate Hearings and Congress hearings. Mamasapano, Leila de Lima, ABS-CBN are just a few that come to my mind now. Enter social media. The national village reached me again due to postings about pork barrel and Yolanda in 2013, and Mamasapano in 2015.

Rodrigo Duterte started his climb to power in late 2013 with Yolanda and was highly present on social media regarding Mamasapano and BBL. People who had been out of touch with the bayan were misinformed as they got the point of view of those against President Benigno Aguino III. Furthermore there is a cultic/religious component to the bayan, which Prof. Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution tackles. Consider the 19th century Hermano Pule revolt, the Katipunan, the Colorums and more. Even Cory had a bit of Marian symbolism to her. Nuns kneeled before tanks at EDSA 1.

Though Bonifacio seemingly envisioned his “Haring Bayang Katagalugan” as the entire Philippines, there was no common native language during his time. Quezon decreed in 1937 that the Filipino language was to be based on Tagalog. Tagalog, Bicolano and the Visayan languages (including Tausug) are very similar as they are all classified as Central Philippine languages. Filipino slowly spread through the school system, movies and television. Migration to Manila made a lot of people learn the language. OFWs use it if they are from different parts of the country. More speak it now.

The ruling class used to have Spanish, later English, as their common language – and the local language from where they came from. But the middle class was to rise also.  It had already started in Spanish times: village scribes, sacristans and from the 19th century onward priests, lawyers, doctors; then institutions founded in American times provided opportunities for professors (UP since 1908) for officers (PMA since 1936) and government employees. The public school system taught English.


C. It’s Complicated

So it isn’t as simple as just elite and people. There is a wide middle class by now, though it can be seen as being divided between the old middle class, large parts of which migrated to the USA between 1965 and 1985, and the new middle class that rose via OFW money and BPO earnings,  who have the material standard and maybe the education of the middle class but their parent’s attitudes. There are not just the politicians and the masa, there are the barangay captains who have taken the place of the former principalia as middlemen between national, regional and local power and people.

Alfred McCoy’s Anarchy of Families mentions postwar warlord politicians like Ramon Durano of Danao, Cebu who married Beatriz Duterte of the Visayan clan that partly moved to Mindanao; Justiniano Montano of Cavite and Ali Dimaporo of Mindanao. It also mentions the rise of the Lopez and Osmeña families on the more civil side of things – the Lopez business empire and the Osmeña family as a political force in Cebu city. So there are the violent “guns and goons” politicians and the more bourgeois (“gold”) money elites, though the boundary between them is at times also fluid.

Leftist leaders are purportedly for the people but many of them come from the middle class and are somehow “elite” because of education – while actual rebels are often recruited among peasants. Idealistic students did go up to the rebels in the 1970s, but I venture a guess that the legitimization   the Left means that the educated ones will more likely sit in Congress in a party-list than be NPAs. Populist leaders like Estrada and Duterte are from elite families but were basically black sheep that adopted “masa” mannerisms.  Many rich people and the “new middle class” voted Duterte.

Duterte may act like a national chieftain, but he also commands the men and guns of the nacíon, and has captured its institutions. His disrespect for how they were intended is also shown by his having Bong Go, who is now a Senator, with him always in roles that have nothing to do with the Senate. Being divisive and rejecting those not loyal to him, he goes against the definition of kapatiran and is more like Aguinaldo. Vice-President Robredo by contrast has not excluded anyone so far.

Magsaysay I think merged the institutional state and the people’s state best. Followed due process, “Those who have less in life should have more in law” and had a feel for how the people felt. Unlike Estrada and Duterte he was not from a political family. VP Leni Robredo is of middle class origin.

ABS-CBN was moving into becoming a modern stock company, with more and more stockholders. Modern capitalism is that way. The families Thyssen and Krupp play no role in Thyssen-Krupp today. Control by founders is either at the start or due to low trust. It can be due to insufficient rule of law.


D. The “West”

What made the “West” that crashed into the history of the 7000+ islands in 1521 so very different? People started off as hunter-gatherers everywhere. Aeta definitely still were until very recently. Agriculture and animal husbandry got started when people found out they could plant seeds, grow them – and of course tame animals. One can feed more people using less land with agriculture. Anthropologists like Jared Diamond think that chiefs started off as arbiters of human conflicts.

Half-desert environments around fertile rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates as well as the Nile may have necessitated kings as controllers of resources. Thus, Sumer had granaries of barley, and writing to record the stocks – and professional scribes. Along the Nile which has just a few miles of fertile land – and regular floods of fertile mud that are important to agriculture – Pharaohs ruled who defined themselves as Gods and had dynasties. Egypt had a priesthood to justify Pharaonic rule.

Religions separate from kingship arose, regulating the behavior of the powerful at least on the level of expectations. King David’s remorse is a story in the Bible about how a King bows to a higher authority, that of God. Nothing an Egyptian Pharaoh would have done. Greeks invented democracy, Romans were fond of making laws and Emperor Justinian compiled a body of laws.  Laws made the enforcement of morality more predictable. Democracy gave power to the people. Constitutions made sure it would not become a tyranny of the majority. Human rights put a leash on the State.

Ideas developed to keep ever more complex societies in check and minimize conflict developed over ages. They did too in the East but that is another long story. Culture is the sum total of lessons a group of people learns across time. It is passed by parents, peers – and via ideas, concepts. Yuval Noah Harari, author of “Sapiens” – an attempt at a history of all mankind – wrote that concepts basically drive society.  Lots of stuff we take for granted is the result of centuries of development.

Islam also came from the West, geographically, from Arabia via the Indian subcontinent to the Malay Peninsula, then to islands like Sumatra and Java, to Brunei which became a Sultanate. A Sultan has moral and religious authority under Islam, somewhat akin to the Divine Right of Kings in Christianity. Sultanates are dynastic. The Bolkiah family already ruled Brunei in the time of Raja Sulayman of Manila, who was a Muslim Malay associated with them. Dynastic rule and the religious belief behind the role of the Sultan certainly played a role in helping the Sultanates of Mindanao resist Spain.

Portugal and Spain were also driven by belief – and business. The Portuguese basically followed Islamic trade routes when they established trading posts in Asia. Goa, Malacca – and Ternate are evidence of this. Ferdinand Magellan was with his own country, Portugal, when Malacca was conquered in 1511. His mission for Spain had the goal to reach the area around Ternate to trade spices. His men reached the area after his death and traded with the rival Sultanate of Tidore. The final “cuenta” of the expedition showed some profit inspite of many losses. It was business.

Likewise business, not personal, was how Spain discovered a huge silver deposit in Potosí, Bolivia, how it conquered Mexico and reached the Pacific, and finally how Urdaneta found the tornaviaje, the way back from the Philippines to Mexico. The Portuguese effectively stopped all attempts by Spain to grab the spice trade, so it was 50 years after Magellan landed in the Philippines that Legazpi went for Manila. Pacific access meant Spain could easily send reinforcements. With silver to pay Chinese merchants and knowing the way back, the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade was established.


E. What now?

The gap between nacíon and bayan is evident. The House of Representatives represents itself. Government offices often treat people as subjects, not citizens. People often feel that the institutions of the Philippines are a foreign body. They prefer a personal leader. The barangay is not brotherly.

Xiao Chua also wrote that kapatiran is about treating each other with goodness for everyone’s well-being. The latter is good. Bhutan has such a national goal. But goodness cannot be forged. You can just give people well-being and hope for the best. I think the following could help for well-being:

  1. Better and closer delivery of government services
  2. Similar living conditions in all parts of the nation
  3. Higher transparency as to how tax money is used
  4. Direct(er) democracy at least at the local level
  5. More chances for normal citizens in politics

Re 1: Marcos did very few good things but his dividing the nation into regions and defining regional offices for his Ministries – now Departments again – was a practical step to bring government closer. Modern IT allows for services to be delivered at city hall. National could pay the LGUs to do it.

Re 2: The local Government Code in Cory’s time gave LGUs the doubtful privilege of the IRA which is money they don’t have to earn. Many countries have systems that give a share of income and corporate tax (even cleverly based on employees per municipality) to local governments. That would encourage LGUs to attract businesses and professionals. Today, the IRA is potential funding for trapos. Pork barrel is truly obnoxious. A Regional Development fund for weaker areas might be a better idea.  A share of tax could also automatically go to regions.

Re 3: Regional parliaments could be a way of auditing regional funds. This would not be Federalism, which would give political families too much power. Full disclosure of budgets and expenses could be done via web pages that are generated by an budgeting and accounting system backend.

Regional transport departments, health departments and police could increase transparency, reduce impunity and improve delivery. National DOTr could possibly be only for national roads and airports. National police could maybe specialize in dealing with terrorism and organized crime, like the FBI.

Re 4: Plebiscites at the LGU level would be a possibility. How about the barangay level?

MLQ3 wrote about the “..basic reality about our barrios turned barangays: whatever style of government is on the surface, the ancient pulse of our society—hierarchical, dynastic, violent—beats in every barangay..” Bossism is very much the barangay. It might be time to abolish it. Maybe creating larger LGU districts would be better. And even councils at that level that have town hall meetings every quarter where citizens can voice their concerns to the councils?

Re 5: Very strict ceilings for campaign expenditures like in France, reimbursement of campaign expenditures based on percentageof votes won like in Australia or Germany, all regional parliaments together are the House of Representatives and regional parliaments are voted like the Senate not by districts are some ideas that would make access to politics easier for normal citizens and encourage formation of real political parties. Only parties have the money to help regular citizens run for office.

These are just some ideas based on what I have read and observed from other countries. Community is the best one can hope for, kapatiran a dream at best and cultic at worst. Well-being can be improved. People are kinder in well-run countries. This is just my two pesos, and food for thought.

This article is dedicated to the late Edgar Lores, great thinker and kind soul.

Munich, 8 September 2020


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