The Nationalist Sell-Out

F. Sionil Jose

La Solidaridad

In “Archiving Philippine Letters,” we feature classic essays from older literary journals. Here, reprinted in full, is the maiden editorial of Solidarity from 1966.

If only because the past could teach us, with the birth of this magazine perhaps it will do well to recall La Solidaridad, the newspaper which was the rallying point of the Propaganda Movement against Spain. This is not to say that Solidarity can ever approximate the stature and the dedication to the Filipino cause of Marcelo H. del Pilar and his colleagues. But in a country with a leadership grown flabby with corruption it is the fond hope of Solidarity to be, even in a feeble fashion, a vehicle of protest against those well-entrenched individuals and institutions—foreign as well as Filipino—who continue to strangle this nation.

In Madrid in 1889, the intellectuals of the Filipino colony founded La Solidaridad. The contributors –Mariano Ponce Enrile¹, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Jose Ma. Panganiban, Gregorio Aguilera, Eduardo de Lete, Dominador Gomez, Antonio Luna, Jose Hernandez Crame, and of course, Jose Rizal and his friend, Ferdinand Blumentritt, are now enshrined in history. Let us not miss what they have done: they made Filipinos conscious of their nationhood; they gave vision to Filipino aspirations which led to the Revolution of 1896. They were participants—not dilettantes—in the Filipino cause.

It is our misfortune that many of those who are capable of creative thought are alienated from their society, unlike the Del Pilars and the Lopez Jaenas who never severed their roots from Filipinas. It is easy enough to define the causes for the alienation of the intellectual, to conclude even that nationalism has already been sold down the river by the nationalists themselves who, through repetitive slogans, have made nationalism respectable just as corruption has been made acceptable in the highest enclaves of our society. Today, no sacrifice is asked of patriots; they are rewarded with high government positions, with fellowships. Better still, they are hired as spokesmen of the neo-ilustrados—the ideological heirs of the ilustrados of 1896 who craved equality with the Spanish hierarchs, not freedom from them, who later on sold their honor to whoever would flatter their status—be they the Americans who subverted the Revolution against Spain, or the Japanese who came in 1941.

As such, they have altogether forgotten the wellsprings of nationalism itself. The leaders of the Propaganda Movement fought a class war against the Spanish and mestizo elite. Herein, therefore, lies the failure of Filipino nationalism: its contemporary manifestation has not been imbued with class consciousness. Without affirming the class struggle, it has been easily undermined and subverted by its enemies.

The most vicious and cynical exploiter of nationalism is the political system itself. Every politico now swears by it, and yet nationalism as an ideology, as an instrument of the working class and as a political program, does not exist. In fact, none of our parties—with perhaps the illegal Communist Party as the only exception—has any real class ideology or program which will give form and meaning to the aspirations of the working class.

This does not mean that the common man does not participate in the political system; but when national policies are formulated and the decisions are made, his interests are forgotten for he has no voice in the higher councils. Almost two decades of independence have borne out this fact; both parties are instruments of the vested few. There was a time, of course, when both parties had an ideology, when both worked for independence from the United States; that was the ideology. But with this independence achieved, the props have been removed. During the last two decades both parties have worked not for the working class but those who were at the helm.

In the absence of an ideology, political leaders have swung from one party to another with impunity. There is no stigma attached to this political infidelity; how then could one explain the election of Ferdinand Marcos last November, and earlier, the election of Ramon Magsaysay—both of whom junked the Liberals for the Nacionalistas?

As long as politics remain the prerogative of the rich and corrupt, we will always have cynical leaders. Since there is no class distinction between the leaders, whoever wins is actually of no importance. The winner will always pander the interests of his group, to the dictates of the wealthy—Filipino and foreigner—who contributed to his campaign. We have seen this system operate with increasing ferocity and, as long as it persists, it will continue to make the rich richer. And the poor be damned—they have a voice only on election day and after that, silence.

Without class ideology and the dedication which such an ideology generates, it is not only easy for politicians to go from one party to another; it is also easy for them to be corrupt. They are not beholden to the people who, in the first place, they do not represent. During their tenure, there are no institutions to which they are answerable because the electorate is not an effective critic. Thus, year after year, corrupt officials are sent back to high offices.

Yet, there is universal agreement that corruption must be wiped away not only because it is wasteful but because it is the people who suffer ultimately when the public services break down. But the real argument against corruption is not its wastefulness but what it does to government. Corruption discredits even the few honest people in government; it further imparts to government the foulness of injustice. And if a government is corrupt and therefore unjust, it is easy for people to be disloyal to that government and to support any movement no matter how treacherous this alternative may be. Those who have lost faith in democratic institutions will not hesitate to clutch at straws. They will welcome anything, even communism, if it means change.

At no other time has this been most evidently illustrated than in the last elections. Macapagal was defeated although he claimed kinship with the masses for his government was not only bumbling and inefficient; it was corrupt. Unemployment and the cost of living had soared. Worst—the poor had no defence against those in power and authority who trampled them. In the end, Marcos won because he personified change.

But even if Marcos and the Nacionalista Party won with the clearest mandate from heaven, the need for a truly revolutionary party, a radical or a workers party would still be of great urgency. There was a time when the Party for Philippine Progress could have been that party. After all, it has no less than Raul Manglapus and Manuel Manahan—the political heirs of Ramon Magsaysay—who could have mobilized the intellectuals, the workers and the restless middleclass with their “left of centre” platform.

But the PPP did not attract the moribund farmer organizations; the labor unions and the nationalists flocked, instead, to either the Nacionalistas or the Liberals. The PPP as a revolutionary party was aborted right in its convention when the knights in shining armor of Forbes Park took over so that, in the end, the PPP came to be known as the party of the privileged class, of the neo-ilustrados who have always gotten to the top, in whatever climate and season.

Worst of all, the PPP did not have a voice in the villages. In this connection, it is perhaps relevant to illustrate again how the Iglesia ni Kristo has succeeded through the years. It has provided the lower classes a community, a sense of achievement with its neo-gothic cathedrals. And most important, it has given its thousands of members among the workers and farmers that sense of belonging which the Catholic Church in this country—with all its money, sophistication and wisdom—could never give, not in a thousand years.

The radical vacuum exists, not only in the villages but in Manila. Our unemployment runs into millions, more than half of our farmers are still tenants, thousands of college students graduate each year without jobs. How to harness the aspirations of these people, how to wield them into an effective pressure group upon our politicians, how to form a revolutionary party—these are problems which demand correct answers now.

In the absence of such a party, perhaps it is time we asked ourselves the wisdom of keeping the Communist Party outlawed. It is not naiveté or ignorance of the Communist Party’s objectives which motivates this thought. We all know how Filipinos have risen to the Huk challenge in 1953 and how the late Ramon Magsaysay—in spite of his administrative shortcomings—pushed through social legislation. Perhaps, it is only in the face of danger that Filipinos can act.

But more important, without a radical party, creative thought no longer pervades our politics. If the Communist Party were legalized again, it may act as a catalyst not only for social reform but for that political dialogue which is vital to any democracy.

Excessive fear has clouded our vision and made us wary of all dark corners. Filipino nationalism could bring back to us not only the wisdom with which to see the sooty nooks of our own house; it could enlarge our vision so that we may appraise better the region and the world we live in.

We are afraid to think and we often let half baked columnists, pseudo-intellectuals with social elite backgrounds and scoundrels masquerading as patriots do the thinking for us. The articulate we often mistake for the representative.

What are some of the ideas that we fear?

We are in deathly fear of anything that smacks of radicalism without once remembering that in this country radicalism cannot even break through the hard crust of tradition and apathy.

We are in deathly fear of disagreeing with the vociferous few no matter how wrong they may be. We are inclined to believe that all those who profess love of country are always in the right; we do not question their motives, their backgrounds, and most important, the powerful interests they represent. So, today, the Filipino industrialist who exploits and degrades his Filipino worker is edified as long as he mouths nationalist slogans; we heed not the facts that many Filipinos are steadfastly loyal to their foreign employers who give them higher wages, respect their dignity and afford them access to the highest ranks of executive authority and prestige.

The stomach dictates but we ignore this. Let us go hungry if pride desires that this be so! our pseudo nationalists exclaim. They can afford to for they have provided for their future. The masses have not and cannot. And someday, the masses will realize that their worst enemies are, in fact, members of the Filipino elite—greedy, grasping, treacherous. And we paraphrase here a great liberal’s² lasting wisdom: “if the free society cannot help the many who are poor, then it cannot save the few who are rich.”

And if we are honest with ourselves, we will note that, for a long time to come, we will have to deal with the American presence and come to grips with the central fact that many of our domestic and foreign policies are anchored on the bedrock of our relations with the United States. We can only hope that our leaders will cease being sentimental about “special ties” and be guided according to the interests of the Filipino people, not just of the sugar bloc, the new entrepreneurs or the camp followers of Wall Street. And the national interest is simply just that: the interests of the majority of our people—the 29 million farmers and workers who expect so much of our democratic institutions.

We have put Americans for so long on pedestals that we are shocked when someone like Harry Stonehill rises in our midst. When some callous official at the local American embassy bungles his job and rides roughshod over our sensibilities, we feel betrayed. We should have realized a long time ago that in spite of the shibboleths about American fair play, the cherry tree and the log cabin, the average American businessman is no different from the Filipino peso chaser: indifferent, greedy and not beyond corruption.

There are two issues to which nationalism should address itself. The first is Parity Rights which our leaders and American business interests mesmerized us into accepting in 1946. Most Americans do not know that we amended our Constitution to grant these rights to well-entrenched American businessmen here who have connived with Filipino neo-ilustrados in exchange for War Damage pesos. In fairness to Americans, however, it was we who went to the polls and voted freely to give them these rights.

Is self-respect more important than dollar aid? Have Parity Rights been beneficial to us? These are questions which must be answered dispassionately. The incoming Marcos administration can provide the answers. If it elects to ignore these questions altogether, still it cannot shirk the responsibility of providing alternatives to the cessation of Parity in 1974.

The other important issue is the American bases in this country. We will have to answer unequivocally whether or not we need them. The Americans know, of course, that a base surrounded by a hostile native populace is worthless. At the same time, we cannot call ourselves independent for as long as we have such bases. And yet, we also know that the American presence—although it is destined to diminish—is necessary to us, not merely because we don’t have the potential for military enterprise but because the American presence not only in the Philippines but in the whole of Asia will provide us the stability with which we can develop ourselves.

This is not to say that we should be at the mercy of the American military; we do not owe them anything knowing as we do that they would pull up their stakes the moment these bases are no longer necessary or are obsolete in the light of America’s strategic requirements. Knowing this, we should be able to deal with them with integrity, believing not for one instant that they are in Angeles and Subic for the benefit of Pampango tenants, but for the ultimate good of the United States and incidentally, us.

Having recited the basic problems which confront us, we may now examine the alternatives. First, we need a nationalist party endowed with class consciousness. Such a party could develop out of our labor unions and farm organizations. This is the core of a third party, and its loftiest virtue should be patience. This is crucial for a third party that aims at power cannot achieve this power unless it is prepared to start at the lowest levels, in the villages and the towns, in the factories and the farms. Only by starting with a real mass base will it be able to grow and move upward with the force and the aspirations of the people which such a party truly represents. If this is not feasible, then within the established political framework men of vision should work and imbue either the Liberal or Nacionalista Party with the ideology which they do not have.

We need to support any move that would widen the avenues of social mobility and, in this, we need to assist all those elements of our society that could hasten the democratization process, be it better schools, better organized proletarian groups and better and more dedicated farm and labor leaders.

We need to help, too, all those who are interested in giving our rural people the power to improve their lot, not only through land reform, but through decentralized government.

And finally, we need to give meaning to nationalism, as only the leaders of the Propaganda Movement have given it meaning.

The great tragedy which has befallen nationalism is not that it has failed to resolve these and other questions but that it has lost social content. Nationalism no longer concerns itself with the landless, the high cost of living, the educated unemployed. And its many enemies are only too glad for they and the irresponsible rich can thus, in all hypocrisy claim to be nationalists themselves without thinking twice about their exploited tenants and their underpaid workers. Why should they? Nationalism is only concerned with such high and ghostly matters like folk dancing, the Filipinization of Western ideas, the changing of street signs, the recital of past achievements. Thus the millionaires of Forbes Park now proclaim themselves nationalists as they collect Filipino antiques and cast crumbs to our artists. The big advertising firms, particularly the Madison Avenue agents, now sell soap and gasoline while mouthing pious nationalist catch-words. Now every politician or government hierarch proclaims himself a nationalist. And when nationalism had been given respectability, it was denuded of its social emphasis. In the context of the Revolution of 1896, it no longer means freedom for the working class or the flowering of a Filipino culture unsullied by the obnoxious clichés of the cold war. Nationalism has been betrayed by the nationalists themselves, not because they were not articulate enough but because they did not see beyond their petty, personal desires and failed to identify themselves with the masses.

If respectability breeds decay, then perhaps it is time to recall again all those disrespectable terms heaped upon the Propaganda Movement if only to give meaning once again to an idea which was first propounded in the pages of La Solidaridad some eight decades ago.

That idea “is very simple; to fight all reaction, to hinder all steps backward, to applaud and to accept liberal ideas, and to defend progress; in brief, to be propagandist above all of ideals of democracy so that this might reign over all nations…”


  1. MR Editor’s note: This is an error from the original; the author is referring to Mariano Ponce.

  2. From John Kennedy’s inaugural address