I rarely spend time in front of a television or movie screen, and when I do I’m usually drawn to stories of heroism and courage, of monumental decisions and epic battles, of those fine gray lines that define morality, and of the different motivations that drive people to different courses of action.
But more than the high-tech chase and fight scenes (which often put me to sleep, truth be told), what I’m more interested in are the back stories, the ulterior motives–the whos, whys, and hows of these big events.
I want to know what makes people great, what makes them fall, and what makes them give up life and love in defense of values they deem greater, be that honor, justice, love of country, freedom, and so on.
The more basic questions
Here in the Philippines, however, the questions are even much more basic than all those. For beyond parrotting the names of our heroes and memorizing basic descriptions from (often-erroneous) textbooks, we Filipinos know very little of our heroes. Save for José Rizal, we don’t know many of our other great men and women, what they were like, and what lives they lived (and left behind). We hardly know of our heroes from pre-Hispanic times–and how heroism and valor were defined then–and we don’t even know much about Lapu-Lapu, the man who killed Ferdinand Magellan! We don’t know enough about the many other names whose names are recited alongside Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Jacinto, Luna, Silang, etc., and we know even less about the men (boys, really) who fought alongside the Allied forces during World War II. There are names that have stuck out from recent history–from the fight against the Marcos dictatorship and People Power One–but again, they still aren’t household names.
And, truth be told, the way history is usually taught during grade school and high school will make anyone fall asleep or, worse, want to swear off learning about history altogether. Our history books are often difficult to comprehend and are boring to death (for lack of a more descriptive term), and many teachers, even more so. I’m just grateful to have studied college in an institution where history became fun and meaningful, and where I was actually inspired to re-read the Noli and the Fili in its full, hardbound version. (Thanks, Ma’am Noelle Rodriguez! I will never forget you.)
But not everyone is as fortunate as some of us had been, so that leaves a large gaping hole in our social and cultural fiber–where children end up learning next to nothing about the great men and women who have sacrificed much for this country that so many people now want to leave.
At the heart of it all, learning more about our heroes will allow us to answer and understand the most fundamental questions of all: What makes the Philippines great? Why did people give up so much for it? Why should we even bother to continue the work that they started? What can make us great again?
And in the context of today’s commemoration, we want to know, what makes the Philippines the “duyan ng magiting” (cradle of the valorous, of the valiant)? Besides commemorating the fall of Bataan, and many other falls we have taken and things that we’ve taken down, what can we celebrate about what we Filipinos can build?
Yet another great challenge for Philippine mass media
Yet again, this is where Philippine mass media should come in–to fill in the large gaps left by our ultra-boring, in-dire-need-of-overhaul history books and lectures. Instead of filling our young minds with crass commercialism and pure rubbish, media, especially cinema, should be firing up our young people’s imaginations and should inspire them–us all–to help rebuild a great country.
Think about it, if we truly are the creative, imaginative people that we claim to be, then where is our retelling of our own stories? Our own colorful myths and legends, our own historical milestones and great heroes? Where are our own versions of compelling bio-pics–of presidents and politicians, of heroes and heroines? (And not the Metro Manila Film Festival kind, please!) Why do we know more about the Kennedys and the Tudors–and even the Italian mafia–than our own historical figures? Where is our own version of samurai and kung fu movies? Why do we see our own Filipino Martial Arts only through movies like Bourne Identity, and not in our own action movies? (Oh, wait! What action movies??)
Do we really believe that the only kinds of movies and stories our people want to see are sappy romantic films unimaginatively made from song titles? Or chick lit that don’t say anything about the kind of stuff our women warriors and legendary heroines were made of?
Before anyone goes on to say that this is piece merely a rant against media, I’d like to think of this as a commentary against our entire society‘s failure to impart precious historical lessons that would have been invaluable for the crucial task of nation-building. How are we to know what nation we can build if we don’t know what it is made of? Or what it once was? How can this next generation of leaders be inspired to live out Filipino values if the quotable quotes we frequently cite are those of Kennedy’s, or Gandhi’s, or Lincoln’s? (And I’m guilty of that, too, I admit.)
So as we continue to mark this day commemorating the lives and the courage of the young men who fought and fell in Bataan, let us look at the larger view and ask the bigger questions: what now, and what next? How can we ensure that the lessons from the past are carried on to the future? And how do we do it in a way that engages and inspires?
To emphasize this point yet again: if we Filipinos are indeed the creative, ingenious, resourceful, and imaginative people that we claim to be, why can’t we use this to inspire our own people to celebrate our own stories?
Your guess is as good as mine, but I hope that one day, in the very near future, we’ll find answers that will surprise, delight, and inspire us all.