I was born and raised in the metropolitan area of Greater Manila in the Philippines. I lived with my grandparents in a town (now a city) called Malabon, next to a place called Caloocan City. Seeing the Bonifacio Monument was a regular occurrence of my youth. Its image is on this post, by the way. Not till I was a teen did I realize the sort and depth of impression the Monumento, and the events it honors, made on me.
I grew up near a place called Balintawak and had heard about the Cry of Balintawak from grown-ups numerous times. It wasn’t till I was much older (say, 9 or 10 years old) that I realized that the Cry of Balintawak wasn’t about the call of some type of local bird. The Cry of Balintawak (also known as Cry of Pugad Lawin) signaled the start of the Philippine Revolution, when the members of the Katipunan secret society tore up their cedulas personales (tax papers) amidst battle cries, then
had their first fight with the Spanish civil guards. The Katipuneros (Katipunan members) are revered as revolutionary heroes who fought for Philippine national independence.
When I think of pakikibaka (cooperative resistance), I think of the Philippine Revolution during the 1890s. That’s actually my favorite time in Philippine history. I am taken by the heroes who rose against the oppression of Spanish colonial rule. 300 years later, sure, but still. The Philippine Revolution is commemorated by the Bonifacio Monument. (There’s more to the story of the Philippine Revolution, involving the coming of the Americans and the eventual annexation of the Philippines to the United States, but that’s a story for a different day.)
Pakikibaka is among the values I remember being raised with, but it didn’t come from my grandparents or my parents. They were much more concerned with delivering messages supporting kapwa (community, togetherness, empathy). Values about justice, fairness, and necessary resistance came from my Até Gina, who used to look after me and my sisters during the summer months, and a young LaSallite brother who taught religion class at my high school (I can’t remember his name). It was from my Até Gina that the history lessons about the Katipunan that I learned from school became real, relevant, and personal. Br. LaSallite linked the Filipino student movement with Catholic ethics. Both taught me that there is no true community, no true togetherness, no real peace and prosperity without justice and fairness for all. This is also a significant teaching of the Catholic Church that forms the core of my beliefs.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
I think the above virtue is sometimes overlooked or rationalized for other “virtues,” ones that serve self-interest more than community and fellowship. I hold that my claim to be a devout Catholic Christian means that I am obligated to keep the welfare of my brethren at the same esteem and care that I do for my own and my family’s interests. This is why I care about marriage equality, bullying, the rights and welfare of indigenous peoples, children, prisoners, people less fortunate than me, and oppressed people everywhere. And, yes, I very much care about fair and equal access to information (whether through universal design or Open Access). I am committed to a life that strives for a seamless garment of ethics. This is not easy. There are many contradictions, knots, and loose threads.
I was in fourth grade during the time of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, in sixth grade during the EDSA revolution in 1986, and in my first year in high school when Fr. Balweg and the struggle for indigenous rights in the Cordillera region of Luzon came into my consciousness. Liberation theology made a great impression on me during my formative years. It’s for this reason, and the significant intellectual traditions that the Church provides, that I find it very difficult to turn away from the Catholic Church completely. Despite its culpability in the colonialization of my people and many other people all over the world, its continuing exclusion of women within the hierarchy, and the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ continuing campaign against President Obama’s health care reform efforts. I’m sure there are many other reasons for me to step away from the Church. And it’s not like I haven’t tried either. But somehow, I just keep coming back. Membership in the Catholic Church is very much like being part of a large, dysfunctional, but loving family. In many ways, I am better without it. But in others, I am not.
Back to pakikibaka. I don’t think this is a virtue that is exclusive to Filipinos. There are times in life when one must join others to achieve things. Sometimes, the things that must be achieved involve surmounting or countering unjust, unacceptable situations and events. Choosing to fight doesn’t come easy. At least it doesn’t for me. I find it hard regardless of the reason and nature of the struggle–whether it’s personal, professional, or societal. The uphill nature of many such battles don’t make the decision to fight any easier. But they must be done. I draw courage and comfort from the knowledge that I come from people who have known both great suffering and valiant, heroic effort to resist oppression. I can only hope to honor my people’s history by the way I live my life and raise my children.