I write this amid public outcry on the issue of the 52-year-old Philam Life Theater, which was for some weeks under threat of demolition. This theater in Manila is known for its performances of celebrated local and international musicians, and its excellent acoustics, designed by the same people behind Sydney Opera House’s acoustics. One of the biggest multinational companies in the Philippines, SM Development Corporation, was contemplating building a condominium complex in place of Philam Life Theater, but is now saying they will keep it, after bowing to petitions and public protests.
For a time, the historic Philam Life Theater’s future was uncertain.
I write this also with pride, which I believe many Filipinos share, of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines (final and tentative lists), many of which I had the privilege of seeing myself.
Miag-ao Church, Iloilo. One of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines.
I am saddened in my travels, though, when I see ancestral houses and other cultural structures slowly crumbling from neglect and the passage of time, and some beaches and other natural attractions littered with garbage. These could have been tourist attractions Filipinos could be proud of, if not World Heritage Sites.
Which makes me ask the question – what does it take for us Filipinos to really value and take care of our cultural and natural heritage?
At first, the obvious problem may be the lack of government funds for such efforts, and the apathy and lack of priority of individuals – after all, what is in it for them?
To address this, I’ve seen a few local governments and individuals working together in successful community projects like ecotourism, as what I have witnessed in Roxas City, Capiz. Roxas’ seas and rivers are the locals’ sources of livelihood, not only for the earlier’s fish and shellfish, but also for the tourism pesos they bring. I believe this is also why the tourism office and the locals, who both can benefit from tourism in the area, work hand in hand.
Palina Greenbelt Ecopark in Roxas City, Capiz, is an initiative of locals with the help of the tourism office.
But I feel that the answer to my earlier question is more than this external, though effective, solution.
In one workshop I would never forget, National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario drew a timeline of Philippine history on the white board. He plotted the prehistoric era up to the present. More than three-fourths of that timeline was a blank, while the remainder – which comprises majority of Philippine history text books – contains Spaniards’ colonial rule over the Philippines, and succeeding countries’ colonization.
No wonder. We Filipinos now know little of who we were before our colonizers arrived.
Leah Tolentino, a former NGO worker who worked both with educated and marginalized groups around the Philippines and is now a wellness teacher and facilitator, found in her work over the years that “there is a dearth of a deep appreciation of who one is, as a Filipino.”
“Could it be that our cultural core is not buo (whole), given our colonial history and sense of fragmentation for centuries?” Tolentino wondered. She added that if this is so, then: “We need to affirm our intrinsic gifts as a people, renew our love for the land that birthed us that is organically connected to our bodies, and re-awaken our spirits that recognize and is at the service of wholeness.”
This is what I also believe. In going back to our roots and reclaiming our identity – as well as a healthy Filipino pride – can we truly value our cultural and natural heritage. And that is how we Filipinos can enthusiastically work to preserve it.
Tolentino is already conducting workshops that help reclaim Filipino identity, which I wrote about, have personally experienced, and which I am now training to be a facilitator of.
Baybayin calligraphy meditation is one of the activities in Tolentino’s workshops. Baybayin (more popularly known for its misnomer alibata) is an ancient pre-colonial Filipino writing system now little-known and no longer used in mainstream writing.
With each workshop, I am becoming more convinced that it is only in knowing and appreciating who we are as Filipinos can we really work with genuine passion for our country. I believe that this same principle may also apply to people in other countries – while workshops are not a requirement, actions which can prompt them to go back to and appreciate their roots and who they are, are important. This idea is part of what I hope to share in the ASEAN Blogger Festival this May, whose theme is “Re-inventing the Spirit of Cultural Heritage.” I love the word “spirit.” here. Indeed, more important than a country’s physical structures and heritage sites is the spirit, or the pride, behind these.
Grounding and getting in touch with who we are is important in reclaiming and appreciating our cultural heritage.
In the festival, I also hope to connect with and learn from resource persons and fellow participants how they maintain or renew the spirit of cultural heritage in their own countries. In learning from one another’s examples, we can make our actions in our own countries more effective.
And, from what I understand, the ASEAN conference in May is not just an isolated event. It is also one of the steps in building the ASEAN Community by 2015, which will make ASEAN nations more unified than ever before. With barriers broken down in trade and the countries more open to one another, I feel it is more important for each person in each country to have a strong local pride and identity.
In doing this we can be proud of what makes each of us unique, and in celebrating these differences can we find our similarities, and the threads that bind us all. And for me, that makes a more powerful unity.
It can be as simple as this: in my appreciation of the Yakan and Sagada weaving artistries in my home country the Philippines, I am able to better appreciate the krama and other cloths I saw and bought in Cambodia.
Two different cloths and countries, one community. Yakan-woven cloth in Zamboanga, Philippines (left) and krama in Siem Reap, Cambodia (right).
On a deeper level, however, I believe that it is in fully realizing our places in the beautiful tapestry that is the ASEAN and the world can we truly be one community.
This is why when the organizers of the ASEAN conference ask what bloggers and social media practitioners can do for the ASEAN Community 2015, I say we should all continue doing what we do best: writing and sharing about art, culture, politics, food, travel – whatever are our respective specialties. And doing these with pride, definitely.
And connect with one another, too. As I mentioned earlier, we all can learn from one another’s examples. Also, in connecting with and learning from one another, we can better appreciate and perhaps even experience one another’s cultures. And then, we can collaborate on what we can contribute as one for the ASEAN community.
Such social network sites like Aseanita already help pique curiosity and appreciation for one another’s culture. Aseanita is a virtual goodwill ambassador who shares interesting facts and trivia about each country, and invite people from ASEAN countries to participate.
Aseanita, a cute AND effective cultural ambassador. Photo from Aseanita
We can follow Aseanita’s example or do something else – it is up to each one of us. Bloggers, social media practitioners, and even individuals regardless of profession can – as I mentioned – do what we do best (our fields of specialization). And from there, we can connect, appreciate and learn from one another’s examples, then work together and take action as one.
But first we must go back to our roots, connect with who we are as individuals and as a people. When we stand on the solid ground of who we are, our actions will be all the more powerful.