Monday, 24 April 2017

"Culture and the New Philippines"

"Culture and the New Philippines"

By Bienvenido Maria S. Gonzalez
Former President, University of the Philippines

Issued at "Shin Seiki" (October 1942)


Appointed during the Commonwealth regime, Gonzalez was the youngest ever to be named president of the University of the Philippines (46 yrs old) and he was the very first alumnus to be so honored. In spite of initial opposition, and a course different from the others (an Agriculturist by profession), his term as president was characterized by his open attitude to students and faculty and the encouragement of the use of Tagalog as a national language.

He also encouraged the establishment of a UP College of Nursing. Along with Juan Nakpil, future National Artist, and UP Music Conservatory director Ramon Tapales, he conceived the UP Carillon in 1940.

However, upon the outbreak of World War II and the Japanese occupation, he resigned from his position rather than serve under the enemy. President Jose Laurel of the 2nd republic designated Antonio Sison as his successor.

After the war, Gonzalez eventually reinstated to his position as the University President. But that time, it has more to do with the difficulties of salvaging remains of the institution he cared and loved with. But he still persisted with his vision and succeeded in having the United States War Damage Commission pay P13 million for rehabilitation and construction; and it was also the same era when the University's main campus was moved to Diliman, which was proposed before the war and amidst opposition.

In this work shown below showed that the former UP President, despite his actual opposition to the occupation and its "sponsored republic", talks about the need of reforming the Filipino culture, citing Japan as its example. Here it goes:

Those who have had the opportunity of studying Philippine culture agree that we as a people, in a world characterised by cosmopolitanism, have attained a relatively high state of development along cultural lines. Our culture, however, which is a result of a happy union between native and foreign influences, suffers in one aspect.

Like all progressive peoples, we have deceived and profited by the adoption of cultural features from other countries, superimposing these to the substructure of preexisting native culture. However, we have, perhaps unavoidably, but undeniably to our detriment, neglected the study and understanding of the different types of culture of our neighbours of the far east. In this sense we, like the traveller who gazes with awe at the vistas presented by distant mountain ranges yet fails to see the grandeur of the scene in the valley just below him, have overlooked the rich culture that lies within our kin and in our own part of the globe. Our cultural development, therefore, has been one sided. Such a state of affairs is to be deplored when we consider that a people who claims to be genuinely cultured must open its eyes and face realities.

There are distinct advantages to be gained in the study of the development of other peoples. Such is the case particularly when the culture we are interested in is one that belongs to a people whose home is in the same section of the earth as ours and who spring from a similar racial stock because we are thus more likely to find features in it more adaptable to our needs and temperament. An illustration may serve to clarify my point: Fine Arts in the Philippines will profit greatly by a study of Japanese masterpieces, for in those works one may observe that a distinct beauty lies in Oriental senses which only require an adequate presentation in order to equal if not to surpass western models. The understanding of the culture of our neighbours is not only important- by the sheer indisputability of the existing fact of geographical propinquity- it is imperative.

Our present relations with Japan open an invaluable opportunity of studying a culture of which we have therefore had nothing more than a superficial acquaintance. As a people we have always prided ourselves in our ability to assimilate the best that extraneous influences have to offer- for our own uplift and advantage? It cannot be gain-said that Japanese culture has much to give us- if we would put the necessary effort to see what lies beneath the smooth, placid, attractive, and inviting surface. To do this would merely constitute the fulfillment of our duty as an enlightened nation to ourselves and to the world- for adaptation is necessary to growth and progress- and there were is no progress there not only follows stagnation, but eventual retrogression.

Conclusion (and its relevance in the 21st century)

It seemed to be obvious that those hard times be like every intellectual was trying to stimulate patriotic appeal especially in a times of chaos. But as for Gonzalez who was an anti-occupation and in his heart carrying the spirit of resistance, he may've not expressed throughout his anti-Japanese appeal, but instead channeling his innermost sentiment through appealing to the people about moral rejuvenation.

In citing Japan as an example of a "nation imbued with ideals/virtue", Gonzalez, like all others who looked at Japan's modernisation and at the same time rooted in its traditions, sought how the Japanese values much of its culture rather than giving it up altogether as it favours the unbridled consumerism of the west. The Philippines, during the prewar days tries to retain its inherent culture in spite of being barraged by its occupier's cultural policy with consumerism as its greatly emphasised.

And perhaps it continues to be relevant knowing that the present setting, whose culture remains to be occidentised and exploited by the social order meant to recultivate and cherish morals, fails to upheld in spite of numerous appeals for moral reformation.
And that moral reformation nowadays has to do with reviving Filipino consciousness amidst neoliberal/globalist trends, of both revisiting one's character and to remold. The fusion of both eastern and western ways seemed to be beneficial especially for a country such as the Philippines, but to disregard its roots, its heritage is tantamount to suicide, especially in an era wherein "to move on" is a catchy phrase.

Anyway, regardless of its controversial nature, the article at Shin Seiki reflects the sentiment of a patriot than of a typical collaborator. It appears to be pro-Japanese at first citing the idea of looking at the example of the far east, but his love for country is greatly emphasised and it has to be cultivated by each and everyone especially amidst the trial such as an enemy occupation.

The actual Japanese experience may had serve as an inspiration especially in regards to the issue of rethinking for one's self, but Gonzalez wanted something that was Filipino, given that its culture was and is, itself a melting-pot of both east and west and by moral reformation means reclaiming the Filipino identity, honor, and virtue. For on the first place, his patriotism, even during the prewar period, was marked by not just using the Filipino language as the language of learning, but also promoting Filipinisation in the sciences, arts, and culture. He recognises the Filipino's adaptability to other cultures, as well as the Filipino culture as a fusion of both oriental and occidental sensibilities, yet at the same time criticises it because of it's effects.