Today, June 12, 2007, on the occasion of the Philippines' 109th Independence Day, I realized something weird. Sad. Every time Filipinos get a taste of "freedom", of "independence", we go stagnant. By some unfortunate turn of events, whether our doing or not, we seem to go wayward, like a ship lost at sea.

I say so because the country has been through a gazillion changes and we've only gone so far as the rest of the world has pulled us along with. Through the years, it seems that we've only been free riders, sharing the benefits that the others have gained. We've adopted so much for so long without really moving ahead, with innovating, without going full speed, arancada. True, we've gone global with texting, the internet, gigantic malls, pirated DVDs and the lot, but what can we show for the 109 years that we've been free?

How ironic that last June 11, the non-working day in commemoration for the 12th, which was the real holiday, I watched a Pedro Almodovar film. Ironic? Well, I was celebrating my country's 109th year independence from the Spaniards, and I was watching a film by a descendant of the purest breed. Mr. Almodovar is pure Kastila, born and raised in Calzada de Calatrava, in the heart of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. Direct descendant of the mananakop, of the malulupit na Kastila who treated my ancestors as second-class citizens. Not only is he Spanish, but he's through and through Castillan, descendants of Felipe I to whom we owe our country's name. He's not Catalan, or Valencian, or Basque, or Andalucian. Castillan. Kastila, as our grade school Sibika at Kultura books would term our country's colonizers. Therefore, I felt like I betrayed my Katipunero ancestors by watching an obra of an nth generation Kastila, whose ancestors have caused mine great pain and suffering.

But so much for that. Actually, what struck me was that Almodovar was an integral part of La Movida Madrileña, La Movida for short. La Movida was Spain's sociocultural movement which happened during the first ten years after the death of Generalisimo Franco in 1975. During that time, Spain reopened itself to the world, a new emerging Spanish cultural identity was born, and Spanish economics blossomed. Almodovar spearheaded this movement by making such films as Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980), documenting the Spaniards' newfound freedom after years of repression under the General. To see such advance by Spanish society in such a short time was what struck me. Like us, Spaniards also suffered for quite some time (WWII to 1975 - that's long). But since then they've moved on beautifully. 

On the other hand, we Filipinos seem to always be in a rut. After WWII, Marcos. After Marcos, People Power. We should have gone full speed ahead too. But then, countless coup attempts. After coup attempts, EDSA II. After EDSA II, EDSA III. After EDSA III, a stubborn president who's doing everything she can, but has lost to apathy and opponents who are just waiting for her to screw up big time. Granting that these are only political concerns, what else have we got to show since EDSA I with the other areas of our existence as a nation? Poor economy, lackluster arts and culture? No movement, no advancement. Did we ever had a chance to do our version of La Movida? Grand chances we had, but I guess no one took 'em chances.

What's most ironic is that the "golden" years of Philippine arts and culture, when the likes of Brocka, Bernal, Cervantes, Aguilar, Juan dela Cruz Band, Florante, Asin, APO, and Gary Granada churned out amazing works, were done at the height of the Marcos dictatorship. With the regime gone in 1986, what happened? The only image I had growing up during the post-Marcos years that was truly Filipino was The Dawn. Nothing else. Movies? Nada. It seemed that Filipinos just suddenly started sleeping for a while, allowing Debbie Gibson, Michael Jackson, Bananarama, New Wave Music, Joan Collins, and Chuck Norris to dominate their culture while preparing for a resurgence of communist rebels and Gringo Honasan and Co. to awaken us. 

Which led me to think, are Filipinos capable of doing great things only when they are oppressed? Rizal, Luna, Bonifacio, et al. emerged when the Spaniards were still here. Gallaga, Brocka, and Bernal blossomed under Marcos' dictatorship. Only Premiere, LVN, Lebra, and Sampaguita were producing movies in the '50s to the 60s, the so-called Golden Age of RP cinema. Can't Filipinos do great things without a monopoly or without being oppressed  I'm hoping that the current stream of rock bands can replicate what the Eraserheads did in the '90s or that our promising indie filmmakers could be as great as Raymond Red. I'm afraid that we only saw spurts of brilliance in the '90s. I hope a good, huge movement can happen these next few years.

Until then, happy Independence Day.

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