I was in grade school when Ferdinand E. Marcos first became president of the Philippine Republic. I make â€śRepublicâ€ť as my marker for my Marcos years because in my milieu, the Philippines would always be referred to as the Philippine Islands and it was in my memory, Marcos in his numerous (and lengthy) speeches, ramming in my young mind, his reference to this country as the â€śRepublic of the Philippinesâ€ť.
It was also a time when academe, via its social sciences, tried to wrestle with questions of: â€śWhat, who, and how is it to be Filipino?â€ť It was a time when the Philippines still was the â€śPearl of the Pacific,â€ť a time of exploring our limitations as a nation, while at the same time expanding our boundaries of self-concept. It was a time for self-definition.
Life cycle theorists in the field of psychology aptly tagged this as a stage of development, where a healthy individual (nay, even a nation) must go through in order to develop a clear sense of self. They called this the age of struggle while developmental theorists call this period, adolescence. The questions wrestled with are the same. â€śWho am I, Where do I belong, Of what am I made of?â€ť Religion (Christian) calls this â€śvocation.â€ť
To deal with this age of national identity struggle, Marcos along with his contemporary Presidents from Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, opted to exercise authoritarian rule via a dictatorship. More than 20 years later, the fruits of their leadership would speak for themselves.
Some years ago, I chanced upon a cable program where Singaporeâ€™s former dictator Lee Kuan Yew was coaching what seemed like Singaporeâ€™s college students. The studentsâ€™ main issue was the curtailing of the previous Singaporeâ€™s freedom and democracy. Lee Kuan Yewâ€™s response touched my spirit. He responded to the almost belligerent questioning with patience, humility, and restraint, trying to impart not only information, but wisdom and love of country and its citizens. Essentially, he tried to explain the basic need of the Singaporean and Singapore at the time and connecting them with the freedom and the material benefits that ALL Singaporeans are reaping today.
How interesting. I thought their interaction to be symbolic of a father mentoring his childrenâ€”all hungry for answers. Why?
Does the end justify the means? It is not the intention of this article to indulge in this question of validity of intent justified by outcomes. What caught my interest was what seemed like an authentic desire for healing for a father and children from past hurts; a desire for closure that the hurt may not impede on his children’s decision-making process for their future, and a decision to be vulnerable that his childrenâ€™s pain may find some balm. Each child free to confront their confusion, to ask the painful question, to struggle in self-definition, as the father comforts them with his presence and guides them through with his teaching.
Images of the Marcos rule and its outcomes flashed through my mind. Manila at the time was the economic hub of Asia then, perhaps as Singapore is today. Marcos was brilliant, perhaps as Lee Kuan Yew has grown in wisdom today. Manilaâ€™s questions for self definition may be the same as the Singaporeanâ€™s of today. Again, I will not dwell on the motives for the declaration of martial rule for either country. I am not equipped for this. But brilliance alone does not a father make.
What if Marcos allowed the questions to flow? So what if he didnâ€™t have the answers at the time? But to quell the questions from being asked simply because one cannot answer these would be similar to Angat Dam containing its water as heavy rains pour, risking the dam to burst taking with it life and limb along unleashed watersâ€™ violent rush.
And so it was with the quarter storm. Read our history. Listen to their stories. They only wanted their questions answered. What is Filipino, why a carbon copy (of Americaâ€™s) democracy, and what about socialism? And then much later on, a painful and profound â€śwhyâ€ť for families of political detainees and military atrocities.
Filipinos continue to ask these questions perhaps because we were not allowed to live these questions and search for our own answers that we may define ourselves. On the nation’s question on self-identity at the time, Marcosâ€™ brilliance offered the answers â€”his answers that were deemed as absolute. But absolutism offers no love; it quells the fire of passion; it is the destroyer of self-definition.
I once heard somebody declare that the son must be better than the father. For this to happen, the children MUST be allowed to struggle with their question; they MUST be allowed to live their question and for them to purge what to them is not essential; the children MUST be allowed to search for their answers.
With every step of the way and with much gentle restraint, the father providing his assuring presence and wisdom in never providing for the answers, but putting into context the childrenâ€™s discoveries. As the children are allowed to do these, then the children are allowed to be. Only then will our children be better than us- and then we become students to our children as we learnÂ from their discoveries.
To quote Lee Kwan Yew, the father of Singapore, â€śMore than economics, more than politics, a nation’s culture will determine its fate.â€ť If a nation is allowed to live its question, it will necessarily find itself in the question and shape its culture. To our nation, I appeal that we now allow ourselves to live the question that we may be; to our leaders, I ask the question, what have become of us?
How about you? Tell me what you think.
Roderick Marfil, RGC, is a family therapist. He is available on Thursdays by appointment only at the Ilaw Center, Miriam College in Quezon City. For inquiries: (0939) 211-0403; (+632) 520-5400 loc. 1134