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Looking Back
What is ‘Philippine’ or ‘national’?

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:59:00 03/03/2009

Filed Under: Culture (general), Human Interest

During Lent and even other seasons, many Filipino homes regularly serve mongo soup on Fridays. Although mongo is high in uric acid and could contribute to an attack of gout, I always enjoy a steaming bowl of mongo especially if made deadlier with ?chicharon? [crisp-fried pork skin]. While we are very lenient about fasting and abstinence during Lent, one notices that fast-food chains that make a killing on meat burgers and fried chicken put up Lenten specials that offer a fish option to the devout or to those on a diet. Seafood becomes an option during these days, leading some people to comment that Lent is not just a sacrifice for the appetite but also for the pocket because some fish, shrimp and shellfish can be slightly more expensive than beef or pork. But if expense is the problem, then fasting is the solution.

Last week, on Ash Wednesday and on the first Friday of Lent, I sat across from people at table with a dilemma: They had been served meat and didn?t know how to react. To them I repeated Oscar Wilde?s famous advice: ?The best way to deal with temptation is to give in to it.?

There has been much email reaction to my column on ?adobo? last week, especially from those who want schoolchildren and the general public to know ?national? things. As I mentioned in that column, to my knowledge, there are only three things declared ?national? by law: the sampaguita or jasminum sambac (national flower) and narra or pterocarpus indicus (national tree/wood), both of which were declared before the World War II, and more recently the Philippine eagle or pithecophaga jeffery, more popularly known as the monkey-eating eagle, (our national bird and, not, as previously believed, the maya).

If you take a poll and ask people what our national animal is, they are likely to say it is the carabao or bubalus bubalis carabenesis. It may come as a surprise to many Filipinos that the carabao is the national animal of Guam, having imported these hard-working, domesticated water buffalo from the Philippines in the 17th century.

We are in for more surprises, because one of the iconic symbols of Singapore, the merlion, was appropriated from Manila. The merlion has been associated with the ?the distinguished and every loyal? City of Manila when its coat of arms was granted in 1596. Here we see a merlion, with the lion holding a sword aloft while its lower half is the graceful curled end of a dolphin?s tail.

Most Filipinos generally agree that Jose Rizal is the national hero, but some people insist that it should be Andres Bonifacio. During the preparations for the 1998 Philippine Centennial, President Fidel V. Ramos wanted to settle this issue by legislation because to-date there is no law declaring Rizal our national hero; Rizal has always been regarded as such by acclamation and tradition. A group of historians was assembled and after discussion, our pantheon was arranged into national heroes and local heroes. Thus, Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Aguinaldo, Jacinto, Luna, etc. are all national heroes, but from this list Rizal emerged as the prime national hero. The conclusions and recommendations were transmitted to Ramos who, in his wisdom, took no action.

How do we deal with people who persist in proclaiming themselves in praise releases as ?national artist?? They are not in the roster of national artists, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines or the National Commission for Culture and the Arts should officially call their attention on this before shaming them publicly for misrepresentation. Can we say that National Bookstore is indeed the Philippines? national bookstore when its founder Socorro ?Super Nanay? Ramos admits that when she opened shop over seven decades ago, she was at a loss on what to call her bookstore, and then she saw the word ?national? on her cash register. Needless to say, that cash register has been busy ever since.

Is the word ?national? restricted to government agencies? For example, the National Printing Office or the National Bureau of Investigation or the National Statistics Office are government agencies, but can the words ?Philippine? and ?national? be used by private concerns. For example, the Philippine National Bank and Philippine Airlines that used to be government owned are now in private hands. Do they continue to be Philippine and National? Two rival historical associations are called the Philippine Historical Association and the Philippine National Historical Society. There are many other examples, like the Philippine Bar Flunkers Association. I am just wondering aloud, but should we regulate or at least define what is ?Philippine? and what Filipinos should consider ?national??

There is no argument when it comes to: our national flag, our national anthem (?Lupang hinirang,? not ?Bayang magiliw,? which are the first two words of the anthem), and the Great Seal of the Republic as described in our Constitution. We have no argument with sampaguita, narra, and the Philippine eagle that have been declared national by law. But look at Wikipedia, which has become the bible of this generation. This website has fed us ?unofficial? national symbols, like carińosa (national dance), anahaw (national leaf), mango (national fruit), etc. We are in for an exciting debate on this issue once the can of worms is opened.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu.

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