The Long View: The Filipino Volk

The Filipino Volk

Manuel L. Quezon III

AS of this writing, I don’t know how the Supreme Court will rule on the question of Fernando Poe Jr. being a natural-born Filipino or not. A law student I talked to said his classmates are of the opinion the Supreme Court has no choice but to remand the case to a lower court, since former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza refused to stipulate the veracity of the information contained in the documents he himself submitted for his client. Certainly having a lower court look into the facts seems a safer option politically and legally.

But the whole Poe case has me wondering about the way we define citizenship as something that can be, and is, inherited by blood and not by virtue of where you were born. It says something about how we define being Filipino. I am reminded of a very illuminating conversation I had some months back with a French scholar and historian, who has been doing research on Philippine political history for some time now ( he is due to publish a book on Manuel L. Quezon in France in May). He once remarked that Filipinos were like the Germans.

I was taken aback by what he said. Why on earth are we like the Germans, I asked him. I have heard Italians tell me that they find Filipinos and the Philippines strangely familiar because we remind them of their country and politics; but I’d never heard anyone compare Filipinos to the Germans. The Frenchman laughed and suggested I refresh my memory about the Malolos Constitution. It is his view that the Malolos Constitution is of great importance because it contains a closer approximation of Filipino political and legal thought than our subsequent constitutions which are heavily influenced by American, and thus, Anglo-Saxon concepts of nationhood, the state, and the government.

Title I, Article I of the Malolos Constitution states that “The political association of all the Filipinos constitutes a NATION, whose state shall be known as the Philippine Republic.” In contrast, the 1935 Constitution adopted a definition of nationhood defined by territory: Article I, Section 1 stated, “The Philippines comprises all the territory ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris concluded between the United States and Spain on the tenth day of December, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, the limits which are set forth in Article III of said treaty, together with all the islands embraced in the treaty concluded at Washington between the United States and Spain on the seventh day of November, nineteen hundred, and the treaty concluded between the United States and Great Britain on the second day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty, and all territory over which the present Government of the Philippine Islands exercises jurisdiction.”

The Frenchman then explained that the 1935, 1973 and 1987 Constitutions defined the Philippines as a particular territory that made up a nation. On the other hand, the Malolos Constitution defined the Philippines in terms of the people who happen to live in a particular area; it is the people, and their decision to organize themselves and be associated with a common government, that make up the Philippines and are Filipinos. The view that a nation is defined by its territory, that it is the land that defines a people and a nation, he said, is very French and also very Anglo-Saxon. The view, on the other hand, that a nation is composed of a people, of individuals who are a people because of their relationship to each other, is German. It is blood, not land, that historically distinguished a German, say, from a Frenchman or a Briton, both of whom define their nationhood in terms of the earth, of land.

His view is that the definition of Filipino nationhood in the Malolos Constitution hits closer to home than the definition of the Philippines in subsequent charters. Like the Germans before their unification in a single country in 1871, Filipinos, to his mind, are fiercely loyal to their ethnic groups but recognize a kind of commonality that transcends regional differences on a limited level. In other words while we may continue to think of ourselves as Ilocanos, Tagalogs, Cebuanos, first, we then think of ourselves as Filipinos next, and we think of our national identity not in terms of an abstract political entity defined by borders, but in terms of how we happen to be more closely related to our fellow Filipinos than to other ethnic or national groups.

We then discussed the Germans at some length, in particular their former reputation, held for centuries, of being a hopelessly divided mess of warring tribes, and the ramshackle or simply nonexistent political organizations that existed on German terriritory for centuries (the Holy Roman Empire; the Hanseatic League; aborted attempts at confederations). Otto von Bismarck hammered out the short-lived Second Reich after the Franco-Prussian War, but it was destroyed in World War I, which then gave birth to the grisly Third Reich after a chaotic attempt at liberal democracy under the ill-fated Weimar Republic. A united Germany, like a united Italy, seemed for centuries a pipe dream, and a modern unified nation in both places is really a rather recent development, one antedating our own attempts at nationhood by mere decades, though we have only really embarked on nation-building since 1935. The Frenchman seemed to imply that we shouldn’t be too worried because the Germans and the Italians have had two generations’ head start on us. We can catch up.

The whole discussion was fascinating; and explains why our law is so fixated on citizenship by blood inheritance. It also points to why, ahead of other nations, ours is becoming a global nation, a virtual nation.

Comments welcome at

Manuel L. Quezon III.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.