I CAN’T remember anything recently quite like it. But there was inarguably so much joy among Filipinos who saw — directly or through videos — the opening ceremonies of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2019 in New Clark City the other night.
What was amazing was that two words were often used to describe their feelings: “goose bumps” and” tears.”
Veteran journalist Jay Sonza, whom one would expect to be so jaded with his long career, posted in his Facebook time-line: “Noong sindihan ni Pacquiao iyong cauldron at magliyab ito, kasabay ng world-class fireworks sa loob ng Class 1A Olympic Track and Field sa Athletes’ Village, New Clark City, nanindig ang balahibo ko, sabay nangilid ang aking mata sa tuwa at kagalakan.We have built a monument, a work of art, and a remembrance of good governance.”
“Goosebumps and tears! World-class ceremonies indeed! So proud to be a Filipino! We win as one! Go Philippines!,” wrote TV presenter Gretchen Fulido. “Naiiyak ako with pride seeing the entire Team Philippines take center stage,” renowned singer Gary Valenciano said.
It was also sheer genius for the organizers to have our eight ‘legendary’ sports heroes carry in a dramatic way the SEA Games federation flag. That made it an event in which we were reminded that the Filipino could be world-class.
What is so significant is that the goose-bump-and-tears remarks were almost always followed by a reference to the nation: “I’m proud to be Filipino.”
We are witnessing a rare moment in history, of the same kind when we from Metro Manila had been mesmerized by the drama of the Yellow Widow, and were with EDSA I. The SEA Games ceremonies, significantly with President Duterte there and wildly cheered, was an event that was a communion of the community we call the nation. The President was the High Priest of that ritual, as any leader of a nation should be, or its value would be much lesser.
To agree with me that I’m not exaggerating with this column’s title, one has to understand the groundbreaking insights on nationalism of the late Cornell University political scientist and historian Benedict Anderson, which he explained in his academic bestseller, the 1983 book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.
For starters contrary to what an unfortunately growing number of “globalists” claim, it is nationalism, or the intensity of a people’s sense of belonging to this association called the nation, that has been the biggest factor in all countries’ growth and prosperity.
This is an incontestable fact of history around the globe. It is only when these countries have become rich nations that they have espoused “globalism,” a tactic one Korean nationalist economist claimed was a form of “pushing the ladder away” after they’ve reached the summit of their countries’ development.
The nation is the most important organization any human being belongs to in this era, since its situation mostly determines his fate. Just think of the grossly contrasting fates of an ordinary Filipino worker’s family if he stays here or migrates to the US.
Anderson pointed out though how difficult it is for a people to be nationalistic, since the nation is really an “imagined community.” It is different from “real communities” such as the family, the clan, the tribe, or even the fraternities to which it is just natural to have an allegiance to, since we get to be acquainted with each and every member of these organizations. These are after all simply collections of relatives or friends we know.
A Filipino will never ever meet each of his 110 million kababayan (countrymen). But in his mind, when he recognizes and greets somebody, say, in a strange foreign land and calls him kabayan, he does so because from his childhood, he was taught to imagine a community called the Philippines.
To imagine a community is not easy, even if the necessary but insufficient conditions exist, such as a shared territory, language, history and nuanced but similar genetic features.
There has to be myriad rituals (e.g., the singing of the national anthem at the flag-raising ceremony), martyrs (who make the supreme sacrifice to further the community’s aspirations, as Rizal did), and events (which remind us that we share the same fate, that we are in the same “boat”). These are intended to wrench us out of our ego-centered (or clan-centered) consciousness, and merge it with the community.
Hosting the SEA Games and its crucial opening ceremonies are such events that helps us imagine the nation. This is the reason why countries for such global sports events as the Olympics compete fiercely to win the bidding to host. (For the SEA Games, one of the 10 Southeast Asian countries is assigned a year to host it, although a country can waive such assignment, as we did in 2017 on grounds that funds at that time were better used for the rehabilitation of the war-devastated Marawi City. )
Marxism, with its view that society is divided into irreconcilable exploitative and exploited classes, could not explain the emergence and strength of nations starting in the 19th century. How could nations ever survive if it is torn by class struggles?
Anderson’s theory of imagined communities filled this lacuna in Marxist theory. As he put it, “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.”
The goose bumps felt and tears of joy shed by Filipinos proud of the SEA Games’ opening ceremonies are indications of that nationalism, that sense of comradeship among citizens of one nation is a good feeling to have. That therefore should make it easy for a state to develop among its citizens.
Indeed, the venom and inanity that reveals their wretchedness was shown by comments by a few Yellow commentators – such as that one Raissa Robles who claimed that ceremonies were like a “perya sa probinsya,” referring to the native dances featured in the show such as northern Luzon’s “La Jota Moncadeña” and Mindanao’s “Singkil.” But then Raissa also wrote that it was like the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which at the time was considered the most awesome opening ceremony so far — planned by the best German architects and film-makers of that time — of that global event.
I hope our slogan for the SEA Games — We win as one! — will eventually be understood in the sense of that truth of history globalists have tried to bury in our minds: That we win — grow to be a prosperous country — only if we are united as one, with each citizen imbued with a deep sense of nationalism.