‘Culture and our national identity: Pursuing change that unites’

December 26, 2016

MANILA, Philippines – This award, while issued in my name, appropriately belongs to my mother who nurtured and influenced me to embrace the majesty of culture and the arts.

My mother, Bessie Gella Bautista, sang operas, collected art, and was a person of culture. As a child, I was surrounded by artists, including Ibarra dela Rosa, H.R. Ocampo and Vicente Manansala — people who, by their art, contributed to shaping our national identity.

I was told that I started to be smitten with art and culture about the same time I learned to walk and speak because of the towering influence of my mother and her cultural friends.

Such influence led me to frequent the museums and art spaces and homes of artists, familiarizing myself with contemporary and modernist art. So deep was their influence that, for my college thesis in 1981, I did a content analysis of Manansala’s paintings which were done during the martial law era. The mood and social concerns of the times were vividly captured by Manansala in his paintings.

I said to myself then, and continue to be convinced at this time, that culture and the arts are the best communicators of history.

Yes, I am a legislator; but I am, foremost, a perpetual student and steward of culture.

I began my professional career as a journalist, taking inspiration from my grandfather, Jose P. Bautista, who was the editor in chief of the pre-martial law newspaper, The Manila Times.

Being a journalist provided me a vantage view to societies’ way of life, their practices and accumulated knowledge and ideas, and how these are transformed to behaviors and interactions between and among people.

I had a front seat to world views and to specific aspects of culture such as language, kinship, music, traditions and practices, including the physical expressions of culture which we find in our architecture, the arts, and even technology.

As a journalist, I saw the realities of crumbling societies and the passing away of some of our greatest generations.

Through journalism, I testified on the harsh realities that beset societies — from the dark truth of child labor, the trafficking of and violence against women, the inequities in society, the destruction of cultures and the environment, the struggles of our indigenous communities, just to name a few. I witnessed how diversity can either divide or unite our country.

In 1990, The Inside Story, which I anchored and produced, went on air. It was an investigative program that brought me to the hinterlands and to the most remote areas of the archipelago. I would also meet indigenous peoples and be educated in what we call their schools of living tradition.

The Inside Story sought to elicit conversations to enrich national consciousness, strengthen our moral fiber, and help mold public opinion on contemporary and indigenous culture.

We need to have more of these conversations because there is no way we can understand the richness of our culture — a culture that will unite us — unless we discover and appreciate this.

Niccolo Machiavelli, a Renaissance historian and philosopher, said, “when states are acquired in a country differing in language, customs or laws, there are difficulties, and good fortune and great energy are needed to hold them.”

Our culture is our identity, and part of that identity is a complex and heterogeneous mix of cultures. Our different ethno-linguistic groups — each with a distinct heritage of traditions, dance, art, music, folklore, beliefs, value systems — make up the identity of the Filipino people.

We cannot subscribe to the Machiavellian principle that differences in language, customs and laws divide people, making them difficult to hold together. On the contrary, diversity breeds richness in our culture and heritage. Diversity brings everyone together for as long as there is understanding and respect — for as long as no one thinks he or she is superior and more deserving than the rest.

Diversity should not be used as an instrument to divide.

In 1998, I decided I could no longer just document the issues. I needed to help shape the story that will hopefully lead to a good ending for our country.

More than 18 years after I first set foot in the Senate, the struggle for a shared sense of national identity continues.

It is ironic that I accept the Dangal ng Haraya Award against the backdrop of an escalating social chaos brought about by narratives of hatred, political rancor, gender biases, violence, and social divisions. Direct attacks, killings, arrests, harassments, zoning and vilification continue in Lumad areas.

This award only tells us we need to do more. Perhaps we need to do another Inside Story, but this time, our stories need a proper ending.

This puts in context the importance of the Dayaw TV series, which I am doing in cooperation with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC). By understanding and appreciating our indigenous peoples and culture, we can help strengthen the elements that tie our people together — our culture, our language, our history, and our collective worth as a people.

We have one of the youngest population demographics in the world, with a median age of 23 years. This is a resource, unequalled in importance; but they need to be nurtured in ways that they become instruments of constructive change — a change that will bring us all together, rather than divide us.

Culture is what binds people, the public and living spaces, and the beliefs and practices of people. Culture defines our soul as a people.

Cultural considerations cannot anymore remain on the sidelines of policy making. These need to be integrated in education, economic planning, urban and rural development, technological innovations, among others.

It is for this reason that I have proposed the creation of a Department of Culture that will ensure the preservation, enrichment, and dynamic evolution of a Filipino national culture that is rooted in unity amidst diversity.

I do not know what kind of a journalist and legislator I would have been had it not been for the humanizing influence of my mother and the arts she dearly loved. Perhaps the stories I documented would have been less profound, and the legislation I sponsored, less socially relevant.

By the same token, Filipinos, without a collective appreciation of our culture, would have no shared understanding of our past, continue to be divided in the present, and will not have a shared vision for the future. A person without a keen sense of his or her culture simply will not care.

This award speaks to all of us. It is a profound recognition that culture gives us a sense of belonging and is a source of knowledge and pride and creates our shared identity. It is, therefore, essential to nation-building.

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The NCCA Gawad Alab ng Haraya honors outstanding achievements in the performing arts, cultural conservation, arts management, library and information services program, theater production, cultural journalism and documentation, and other fields.

Source: Philstar