Ten years ago I wrote an article at a time when there was a move to partition the Philippines into five independent nations based on ethnic or religious differences. Some Filipinos are of the belief that because of our differences, we are incompatible with one another. They believe that we are better off as separate nations and separate people.
The move to create a Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao, carved out of several predominantly Muslim provinces, is gaining traction and would soon be a reality once the Philippine Congress passes the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would be the framework for an autonomous region for Muslim Filipinos.
Which begs the question: Is partitioning the Philippines into separate “nations” the right thing to do?
One People, One Nation
August 26, 2005
Long before the Spaniards came in the 16th century, the Philippines was already a thriving trading post strategically located at the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. Thus asserted Dr. William Henry Scott, a Professorial Lecturer in History at the University of the Philippines, who completed his doctoral dissertation in 1968 entitled “Prehistoric Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History.”
Using anthropology, archaeology, geology, history, linguistics, paleography and paleontology, Dr. Scott was able to put together, in his own words, “a critical summary of what is actually known about the Filipino people before the beginning of Spanish records in 1521 from a consideration of the sources produced before that time.” Indeed, it was a challenging endeavor to piece together the evidence he gathered to provide an answer to the question: “Who are we?”
In the beginning, at the height of the Ice Age, the Philippines was connected to Borneo that was then an integral part of the vast Asiatic land mass. Palawan — where the fossils of a 24,000-year old homo sapiens were discovered in the Tabon Caves — was a peninsula attached to the northern tip of Borneo. South of Palawan and to the immediate east of Borneo, the Sulu group of islands was sandwiched between Borneo and Basilan faintly separated by shallow straits. And from Basilan to the northern tip of Luzon was a contiguous mass of land. And hedged between this land mass and the Palawan peninsula was an island consisting of present-day Cebu, Panay, Negros and Masbate.
Archaeological digs yielded stone tools that were dated — using Carbon-14 dating technology — 40,000 years old, and Chinese porcelain that were dated as early as 1,850 B.C. These archaeological discoveries proved that homo sapiens was already in the Philippines long before the migration of Malays and Indonesians to the Philippines. Other proof of habitation were the discoveries of 30,000 years old stone flake tools in Palawan; 11,000 years old stone flake tools in Samar; 10,000 years old stone flake tools including jade in Cagayan; 5,000 years old flake tools, mortars and grinders in Isabela; 2,900 years old stone and shell flake tools in Davao; and 2,100 years old polished stone tools and burial jars in Sorsogon.
What is very interesting in Dr. Scott’s study was his extensive analysis of the languages of the Philippines. According to him, “the family stock from which all Philippine languages are descended is called Austronesian (i.e., southern islands) or, more popularly, Malayo-Polynesian.”
As a result of his linguistics and paleography analyses, Dr. Scott developed a Philippine language tree, similar to a family tree. It turned out that all of the Philippine languages came from the same root language branching out into three major groups. For instance, Tagalog, Waray, Bicol, Masbate, Aklanon, and Hiligaynon sprouted from the same branch; while Tausug, Mamanwa, Butuanon, Cebuano, Mandaya, and Mansaka came from another branch. However, the two branches were the offshoots of a bigger branch. In terms of familial relationships, Tagalog and Waray would be siblings; and likewise with Cebuano and Butuanon. Tagalog and Cebuano would then be cousins.
When the Spaniards “discovered” and colonized the Philippines in 1521, the Philippine languages were preserved only because the Spaniards — either by design or by neglect — failed to teach the Spanish language to the Filipinos. However, several thousands of Spanish borrowed words were incorporated, through casual usage, into the Filipino languages. Nevertheless, the Filipino languages are not considered “Hispanic” or “Hispanized” languages.
Today, the Philippines is the only former colony of Spain whose first language is not Spanish. I am glad it turned out that way because it would have been a pity to lose the beautiful languages of the Filipino people. After all, the Filipinos are not an Hispanic people but a distinct and unique group of people with a common beginning and ancestral language.
Present day regionalism, or provincialism, is mainly caused by a “presumption” that Filipinos are different peoples with different cultures and languages. There is a tendency for Filipinos to distrust each other due to these perceived differences. There is now some talk of partitioning the Philippines into several nations based on “regional ethnic differences.” The proponents of “partition” claim that Filipinos are different from one another… that they are incompatible with one another… that they are better off as separate nations. Well, Dr. Scott proved them wrong.
I believe that there must be a reason why the Philippines is clustered together into a beautiful archipelago, known as the “Pearl of the Orient.” I believe that there was a grand design by The Almighty to populate the Philippines with people of common origin and similar characteristics. I also believe that the Spanish colonization, however harsh, was an act of providence, the purpose of which was to unify the Filipino people and prepare them for nationhood — a price they had to pay in order to amalgamate them into a nation. The arrival of the Americans laid out the groundwork for the architecture of a future nation — a self-governing Commonwealth period, infrastructure, road building, establishment of a Civil Code, and institutionalizing a public education system which in a span of less than 50 years produced one of the most — if not the most — literate peoples in the Orient.
By July 4, 1946, the Philippines was ready for nationhood. Filipino leaders trained during the Commonwealth era took over the stewardship of a new nation: Manuel Roxas, Sergio Osmena, Elpidio Quirino, Camilo Osias, Quentin Parades, Jose Laurel, Claro M. Recto, Carlos P. Romulo and other great leaders of superior intellect, ability… and vision.
Today, the Philippines is undergoing a tumultuous political turmoil. Agents for partitioning the country are demanding for a referendum to partition the Philippines into five independent nations — albeit arbitrarily defined boundaries — that would relegate the Filipinos to perpetual third-rate status and stigma.
It took almost half of a millennium to bring the Filipino people together. And now, forces with a dubious agenda threaten its very survival as a nation. The Philippine republic faces a challenge to dismantle its national foundation. However, I believe that the republic will survive the assault because, at the end of the day, Filipinos are what they are — one people, one nation.