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Poe, Paredes, and Aquino: The trivialization of citizenship

First of a series

“I will answer in the proper forum,” Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares replied to media inquiries regarding her citizenship, three months ago — as if the issue was not of paramount importance, and the lawyers will explain it.

And this former US citizen even thinks she can be President? Not several years from now as she accumulates experience to enrich her understanding of the Philippines that she had renounced, but next year?

The 1970s singer Jim Paredes in 2006 denounced the Philippines as one where “there’s nothing new and so much cynicism,” so that he decided, he said, “to migrate to Australia.” He “was taking a vacation from being a Filipino,” he said in an interview with a Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism writer. Recently, he’s back trying to convince people whom to vote for President of the nation he had left.

The President of the Republic never pinning the nation’s emblem on his chest, instead his “Yellow Ribbon” of Americana lore.

Llamanzares is in her 40s, Paredes in his 60s, and President Aquino in his 50s are of different generations, but all reflect a sad phenomenon in the country, which is really one of it biggest obstacles to prosperity.

Filipino citizenship has been trivialized.

Signs of the times: Senator Llamanzares’ US passport; 1970s singer Paredes’ announcement he’s giving up on the country; Brooklyn Nets basketball player becoming Filipino to play in the national team; and, President Aquino III who has never pinned the Philippine emblem on his chest. Insets: The Yellow Ribbon takes over the 60-year old Liberal Party logo; Paredes’ trio in nationalist garb, in a more nationalist era.

So much so that it has reached disgusting levels, as when foreign basketball players are given Filipino citizenship in order to play in the national team  – and nobody thinks something is wrong with that.

And when people of a country trivialize its citizenship, it marks the nadir of nationalism — the sense that we belong to an exclusive organization called the nation-state, whose members’ fate becomes tied up with each other precisely because of their membership. And if nationalism is weakened, it’s every man for himself.

Llamanzares doesn’t even feel she has to explain exhaustively and present documents, as soon as the issue was raised, that she is truly Filipino, not just in sentiment but in actual, legal reality.

Paredes for his part didn’t like the country’s two presidents before this one, so he put down the country, and told the world he would become an Australian instead.

But when he liked the country’s president, the present one, he returned to tell us all who had been left here whom to vote for as president and whom not to. But what happens if his candidate Manuel Roxas II, in a tantrum, does something that triggers a war or an economic collapse, will Paredes remain here, or give an excuse that his family in Australia needs him?

Llamanzares hasn’t said whether her husband also has denounced his US citizenship. If she doesn’t become president or vice president in 2016 and fades into obscurity, will she also say, like Paredes, she’s tired of the country and so they’ll return to America, or “take a vacation from being Filipino”?

Sad and tragic
To see Llamanzares and Paredes trivialize Filipino citizenship is indeed sad — and tragic, since their backgrounds should have put them at the nationalist vanguard of the country.

Llamanzares’ father Fernando Poe’s acting career of course made him rich, but it still helped the masses’ be proud to be Filipino with his portrayal of a distinctively Filipino mythological hero, “Panday.” Although confusing the real person with his movie character, columnist Randy David described Panday’s impact: “He showed them what a Filipino in these times could be.” Today it’s American comic and movie heroes — Ironman, Spider Man, Luke Skywalker.

The name and songs of Paredes’ trio, the APO Hiking Society emerged out of the “Filipinization” movement at the Ateneo in the 1970s. (Under that movement, we even got Filipino as the language used in the college paper Guidon and its literary magazine, something which Ateneans now do not even know happened.) Paredes wouldn’t have been the celebrity he was, if the APO Hiking sang American or British songs and aped the Everly Brothers or the Dave Clark Five.

They sang Filipino songs, not of course kundiman songs, but in the language the youth used, which therefore made Pilipino and being Filipino, well — cool. APO in its nationalist ethos wasn’t unique though. Believe it or not, a hit song in that era was by the Hotdogs, which celebrated going back to the country and its traffic, that “there’s no place like Manila.” Your fellow commuters at the MRT-3 will throw you out of the window, if you sang that now.

APO Hiking Society’s original name was actually Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society, Danny Javier’s brilliant and humorous idea of paying homage to the paraplegic Filipino hero, but not being solemn about it. They were accused making fun of Mabini, but they were already getting popular with the name, so they changed it to the politically correct Apo (as in Mt. Apo) Hiking Society.

Yet even with those kinds of background, Filipino citizenship has become trivialized for Poe and Paredes. And to say citizenship has been trivialized is the same thing as saying that nationalism in our country has declined.

Much sadder for us is that the President of the Republic is himself a reflection of the decline of nationalism. Yes, his speeches are in Filipino, but one can sense that he does that only because his advisers told him that would endear him to the masses, thus his propensity to use street lingo in his speeches like “E di Wow.”

Never wore the Philippine emblem
Aquino has never pinned the country’s emblem on his left chest, as all his predecessors have, and heads of other states do. His sigil is not that of the Philippine Republic, but the “Yellow Ribbon,” an advertising kind of branding concocted in 1985 by an American political consultancy firm Sawyer-Miller [See note on this below], which originated from an American folk tale of a freed convict unsure of the loyalty of his beloved.

The yellow-ribbon would have been dismissed as inappropriate, corny Americana, and forgotten fast if Marcos had not fallen, or if Cory Aquino made good on her promise to let Salvador Laurel be President. Yet Aquino prefers that to the Philippine flag that represents the blood of thousands of heroes sacrificing their lives to create a nation.

The Yellow Ribbon in fact has even taken over the Liberal Party’s logo, nearly obliterating the Philippine flag. If a Daang Matuwid candidate wins in 2016, will he pass a law putting the Yellow Ribbon on our flag?

“Filipino First,” “This Nation can be great again,” “Philippines 2000,” “Strong Republic” — these are some of the slogans Aquino’s predecessors tried to disseminate to strengthen our sense of nationalism. For Aquino though it is just “Daang Matuwid,” a moral notion, rather than a vision of what the Filipino nation could be.

Even the new car plates reveal how little this administration feels about the idea and the ideal of a Philippine Republic. Nearly all past administrations wisely saw the plates as a means for developing Filipino nationalism as these are seen everywhere, and these had a flag, a nationalist slogan, and even a portrayal of Rizal’s monument. Nothing in Aquino’s plates indicate that the Philippine Republic issues them.

If that is the kind of President we have, it is no wonder that Paredes has been rooting for him, and so does — or did — Poe.

Next in these series: (1) Why nationalism has been in decline; (2) What nationalism is in this day and age; and (3) Why its slump explains much of the economic morass we’re submerged in.

[For more on Sawyer-Miller see James Harding, “Alpha Dogs: The Americans Who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business.”]

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