It was the practice back in the bad old days of Martial Law for the sons of the wealthy to bring their pregnant wives to the US, to deliver there a scion of dual citizenship. This was to earn the entitlements offered by America and thereby secure the child’s future. Some chose Australia for a fairy godmother, others Europe. The enticement was always the same.
Though sometimes resented by the envious and often lamented by nationalists, their pragmatism was largely understood. Indeed, due to the instability caused by the dictatorship, many who were neither expecting nor rich also tried their luck abroad. Among them were members of the intelligentsia who earned slots in the top universities and later won juicy jobs that kept them in their adoptive countries. Many of them were naturalized for practical reasons.
Happily, there were those who remained. My family was one of many who never imagined migrating. We elected to stay in the Philippines not because we couldn’t qualify for the Ivy League or land prime jobs. We persevered because the Philippines was home. She didn’t offer much, but she was Inang Bayan, the motherland. In immeasurable, ineffable ways, she drew our fealty.
We brandish a patriotic heritage that includes a Katipunero great-grandfather, Timoteo Anzures, who fought alongside Aguinaldo, and my paternal grandfather, Vicente G. Cruz, who as an 18-year old wrote a fiery prize-winning poem against the American colonists, for which he was unsuccessfully tried for sedition. He spent his adult life serving his compatriots as a journalist and a senior Councilor of the city of Manila. My father, Isagani A. Cruz, militated for freedom with his libertarian pen throughout the martial law years, and later wielded it in defense of the Constitution for close to a decade as a Justice of the Supreme Court. We children shared their cause and followed their lead. No matter our national plight, we are proud to be Pinoy.
I was 15 when Ninoy Aquino was murdered. That was an age ago, yet I recall the uncertainty with which I filled out my college applications because the future looked horribly foggy. Contemporaries who were applying to foreign universities urged me to do the same. Nonetheless, I declined; it was never an option for me; I would not leave home.
My friends felt likewise. There were already so many jumping ship, it became imperative that we remain. We were idealistic, that is true; but we at least had ideals that extended beyond ourselves. We pursued them in faith and marched in the streets, believing that our concerted action would effect change.
In 1986, we were proved right. We displayed that through bayanihan, Filipinos are an elemental force. A peaceful coup – unheard of! Even granting the covert CIA machinations, we toppled the monolithic dictatorship in days and later inspired the demolition of the Berlin Wall. The CIA couldn’t have done it without us.
Though culturally diverse and geographically fragmented, we Filipinos were amalgamated in the heat of a common cause. We witnessed the rebirth of the Filipino spirit after a long gestation in the womb of bondage. This spirit was adamant yet noble: though we could have violently despoiled our despoilers, we held back. Mystically, though we were strangers to each other, we were kin.
This was the spirit that ruled us in February 1986. This is the spirit that has prevailed against each of our oppressors throughout our history. This is what now lies dormant among us.
This is what the Filipino can do, when he forgets himself and focuses on a supreme cause.
That is why I was dismayed to hear Mohagher Iqbal qualify, nitpick, split hairs that he is a Filipino by citizenship yet Bangsamoro in identity. That is an offensive oxymoron, Mr. Iqbal; it does not make sense. We may not share the same narrative but historically, we have defended our own and fought for freedom against the same foes. Can we not find unity in that experience? Must you constantly harp on our differences when we are striving to find common ground? You are either a Filipino through and through or you are not one at all. Do not cheapen my singular citizenship and identity by dichotomizing yours.
On another point, the fact that the Filipino spirit is empowered by crisis fuels my anticipation that the tyrant in the West Philippine Sea will one day have its comeuppance. China has barged into our waters, destroyed our coral reefs, injured our fishermen and deprived them of livelihood, and it threatens to do more. Its lawmaker lackey in Hong Kong insulted our domestic workers without basis, perhaps intending to further demoralize us. They call us weak. They call us poor. They do not know us. We have resources beyond matériel they cannot understand. We are the people who stared down rifles and tanks. We have our way of dealing with backyard bullies.
Historically, we have consistently overcome oppression by banding as Filipinos. No matter our differences before the siege, we faced the onslaught as one. In the campaign against the Marcos dictatorship, expatriates returned to support the cause. There is no keening like that of the Filipino spirit in chains. It resonates even to our countrymen in diaspora and draws them home.
Perhaps one day we will learn to unite even in the absence of a common foe. That is the ideal we pursue. I pray the younger generations who have known nothing of repression may in time discover their portion of the Filipino spirit. I long for a day when Filipinos will not have to adjure their citizenship for material comfort, when they may pursue their dreams at home and no more in foreign climes.
Until then, I will keep the torch burning and remain faithful to my Father’s final poignant instruction to us, his children:
“Love our country despite its faults and always remain Filipinos.”