Vietnam. Philippines. Friends

Those three words combined must have been the sweetest, most soothing they had ever heard because the message was salvation; they would see their families again.  Never mind the shattered boat, tons of fish reclaimed by the dark waters of Recto Bank, curse the Chinese fiends who left them to drown and die, but, thanks to Vietnamese friends, they would feel the warm embrace of their loved ones again.

If I were the wife or sister of one of those 22 fishermen, I would deeply resent what President Duterte said during the 121st anniversary of the Philippine Navy. He called it “a little maritime accident,” not worth going to war or inciting a nuclear holocaust for that.  Reductio ad absurdum! Get some rest, the only thing we can do, according to the President is wait for the result of the “investigation.”  Such queasy, bland words from someone who told Filipino soldiers to shoot at women’s vaginas and who pre-absolved graduating cadets from heinous crimes (read rape) they will commit in the future.  No wonder the wives of the fishermen did not accept the invitation to go to Malacanan.  They would have been smothered with vulgarities and absurdities.

I salute the senators (Hontiveros, Trillanes, Lacson, and others) who upheld the dignity of Filipinos and defended our sovereignty. Scientists from the University of the Philippines, SC Justice Antonio Carpio, some of my fellow writers came to the defense of the 22 fishermen.  However, I cannot help feeling dismayed, if not appalled, at the insultingly dismissive attitude of the President and his minions, like newly elected Senator Bong Go. Could it be colonial mentality?

As all that was going on, I happened to be reading “The Philippines a Century Hence (Filipinas dentro de Cien Años) by Jose Rizal, serialized in “ La Solidaridad.” He spent many years of his brief existence trying to understand his fellow Filipinos. We have to open the book of the past, he wrote, which was no easy task in those days.  He read the works of the early Spanish missionaries, glossaries and journals about flora and fauna and native customs and beliefs written at the point of contact and in aid of Christianization. Once in Europe, he came across scientific studies by secular people, ethnographers, cartographers, travellers who studied countries (then colonies) in what we now call Southeast Asia. He came across a piece on the Tiruray by a certain Bohemian professor called Ferdinand Blumentritt.

Rizal analysed the effects of Spanish colonization on the natives of these islands (eventually called Filipinos) and concluded that it was a traumatic experience.  Our ancestors suffered the loss of theirs laws, usages, customs, religious, beliefs, music, culture, even their high level of literacy. On top of all that, they were compelled to shed their blood and sacrifice their lives for the sake of Spain’s ambitious wars of conquests conducted around the region. The misery that ensued depopulated, impoverished, and retarded the progress of the islands.  Rizal affirmed that our ancestors were “…caught in their metamorphosis, without confidence in their past, without faith in the present, and without any fond hope of the years to come….” Learning by rote and by memorizing alien doctrines, standards of morality, and  different tastes that our forbears could not understand, they lost what was their own.  They were humbled and degraded in their own eyes, ashamed of what was distinctively theirs. They were so deeply disheartened so they began to extol and admire whatever was foreign and incomprehensible. “The race was insulted, “ Rizal declared, “The people were denied every good trait, every human characteristic…the capacity for virtue….”

Did all that become genetic? After “300 years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood” (my mother’s most famous and plagiarized quotation), maybe those degenerated traits have become embedded in our chromosomes. Perhaps that is what we now call the “colonial mentality.” The way many of our political leaders have reacted to China’s hit-and run behaviour at the Recto Bank betrays their hitherto well-camouflaged colonial mentality.

My grandson shared a Twitter message which said that when a Vietnamese vessel was about to help the crew of F/B GEMVIR1, they couldn’t understand each other, but the Vietnamese said only three words:   “Vietnam. Philippines. Friends.” At the ASEAN Garden in Intramuros (near the Parian gate), there is a monument of Ho Chi Minh. I will go there and offer flowers, as a gesture of gratitude.