The Long View: The 500-year interval


The 500-year interval

Every president, officially, at least, has some sort of idea about Philippine history in his or her head. For his part, the President’s fixation is on Lapulapu, which was demonstrated early on by his instituting the Order of Lapulapu and by the bending of everyone to his will, as far as the quincentennial of the Victory at Mactan, which took place yesterday, was concerned. We can assume that when the Shadow President, Bong Go, made a speech at the Mactan Shrine, it was at least, in tune with, if not an actual articulation of, the President’s opinions. A Cebuano journalist, Max Limpag, pointed out: “On a historic day, at a historic site, Sen. Bong Go shares wrong information about Lapulapu, that he was a Tausug sent to check presence of foreigners and was met by the forces of Magellan and thus the Battle of Mactan happened.”

This is nowhere as bad as the social media account of Jolo Revilla which saluted the bravery of one of the first national heroes who gave his life for our freedom… no other than Ferdinand Magellan! It took a while, but the salute was finally edited on Facebook to refer to Lapulapu who didn’t have to do any dying to be heroic. But seriously, folks, the harsh reality of life seems to have made yesterday’s commemoration muted, at best, and disregarded, in the main. But a case can be made, I think, for the quincentennial neatly bookmarking 500 years of Western influence on our leadership that has now come to an end.

This idea isn’t a unique one, and owes much to a provocative essay by Razib Khan in the online journal UnHerd, titled “Why the West lost India’s culture wars.” In looking at trends in Indian culture and politics, specifically the fading of the Westernized older generation of Indian leaders from the independence era, Khan both identified and described, what that generation was, and how it became extinct. Anyone reading it will immediately sense a feeling of familiarity to our own Western-oriented generations, the ones that were oriented toward Spain and Europe and those who were often educated in, or at least according to the principles of, the United States. In India’s (and Pakistan’s) case(s), their highly Westernized — indeed, culturally quite Anglophile — leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, led their peoples to independence and belonged to elites who sought the creation of nation-states but who were comfortable with the West, indeed, integrated “among the English-speaking peoples” in ways fundamentally alien to the people they governed.

But in the intervening generations, the old bonds between these elites and the people they governed frayed, faded, and were ultimately rejected. Khan’s description of India’s current populist prime minister, Narendra Modi, “[he] sports a third class degree…,” and the dynamics of his rule, which “could withstand being shunned by Western governments…” will strike a chord along with Khan’s identification of how Modi does “not rely on the West in the way their predecessors did.” The political class of old, which “were in the subcontinent, but not truly of it,” or the intelligentsia of India, which is “the face of elite India most prominent to the rest of the world, but this is not the only India” or “no longer the dominant India,” will also strike a chord with the Filipino reader. The Filipinos appalled and aghast with the present dispensation—who could not prevent its assumption of power, and even now, is probably secretly convinced what we have now will last longer than one presidency—though they may be divided ideologically all represent a profoundly Western orientation, whether expressed in terms of liberal democracy or national democracy, to use the favored euphemisms for both.

Here a Filipino reader will deviate from the rest of Khan’s fascinating essay which looks at socialists and Hindu nationalists; we are still groping for the terms to describe what we have now, but it is, arguably, at the end of five centuries of defining ourselves according to the West, every bit an organic, because enduring, and identifiably so, world view of power, and interrelations. The end result is same-same: The end of looking to the West, and an embrace of what the intervening centuries never erased, and which has found fulfillment in the ballot box.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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