Remembering Haiyan: The Filipino Resilience
I agree that resilience is one of our distinguishing characteristics. But what does it really mean? To say that a people is resilient is to say that they have the ability to withstand and recover quickly from difficult conditions. Given the extremely difficult situation that we are in, it does seem like it’s right to speak of resilience. But I still can’t shake off the feeling that there’s still something wrong with this notion. Why are we so resilient, and why do have to be resilient? Well, at the moment, we don’t have a choice. As my friend MC Martin said in her FB status, “Recovery will be a long and painful process, but it’s the only option.”
But there’s a reason why we consider ourselves, or why the world considers us, to be resilient. We suffered centuries of colonial rule. One of my favorite stories about how we dealt with colonial rule is that of the BarongTagalog, the formal attire for Filipino men. Legend has it that during the Spanish era, Filipino men were required to wear translucent shirts so that they would be unable to conceal weapons underneath their clothes. Perhaps it’s part of our resilience that, instead of rejecting the oppressive imposition, we embraced it and officiated it as our formal wear, even long after the Spanish had gone.
But our resilience isn’t just due to our ability to endure colonial rule. Not long after we got rid of our colonizers, we suffered under decades of tyranny under the Marcos regime. After the People Power Revolution in 1986, the promise of a better future was before us. We were the world’s poster child for democracy, that even the Encarta Encyclopedia had photos from the EDSA revolution under the topic democracy. I distinctly remember seeing that Encarta page as a child and thinking to myself that I must belong to such a great nation. I distinctly remember gaining appreciation of the fact that we are among the first countries in the world to have a woman as head of state, and I was so sure that gender equality was something that could be attained in my lifetime.
But fantasies of our capacity for self-governance and gender equality slowly but surely dissipated as I grew up. I was in high school when Estrada became president, and I was an undergraduate freshman when we ousted him. I was 17 years old when, after days of taking to the streets with thousands of my compatriots, I came home exhausted and wrote in my diary “History is happening right now, and I am part of it.”
Our celebrated resilience is due to how we are able to cope with sustained and systemic violence and oppression. We have mastered the art of adapting to, and making the best out of, whatever horrors we face. We cherish that we are pliant like the bamboo. Whilst all the other trees break from the strong winds, we survive.
I’m sure this is indeed a venerable Filipino quality, but I balk at the idea that this is our most defining characteristic. For in celebrating our resilience, we may be tacitly consenting to the perpetuation of oppression. By celebrating resilience, we could be agreeing to endure further injustice. In celebrating our resilience, we might be condemning ourselves to mere survival.
And so while I agree that we should be emphasizing our resilience, our good-naturedness, and our always Kodak-ready faces, we should be aware that it might also be our resilience that sentenced us to centuries of oppression.
This is why I’m particularly irate with that CNN commentary. It said that Filipinos “do not complain much, they will bear as long as they can.” I vehemently hate the celebration of our docility. I detest the praising of our silence. Our silence – under the guise of resilience – has ensured that the way things are continue to persist, that we will continue to have corrupt and inept government officials, that the public good is always a ready sacrifice for the powerful few.
So whilst I begrudgingly celebrate our resilience, because we have no other choice, I condemn the fact that we have to be resilient. I stand with Yeb Sano in his refusal “to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life.” Now is the time for our resilience, but I long for the day when we actively reject subjection to forces and conditions that require resilience. I reject this as our defining quality, because I am getting more and more convinced, that we are getting closer to the time for the pliant bamboos to break and, as Peque Gallaga put it, to rage.