Driving around Manila, the sight of Philippine flags leaning on lamp posts or draped on the most distinct spots on buildings become all the more frequent as the days go by. The days leading up to June bring about a heightened sense of nationalism. Last June 12th, the Philippines celebrated her 119th year of independence.
As these flags billow at the mercy of the winds, we recall the struggles and challenges our ancestors have had to overcome, and remind ourselves of how far we’ve come since the days of colonization. The days of Philippine colonization contain much tragedy, but there is no doubt that it is important to revisit these painful scars that make this great country what it is today. Like it or not, the Philippines would not be what it is today without the struggles our ancestors faced in the colonization periods of old.
Now you know what they say: there’s always two sides to every story. Time and time again, we’ve been reminded of how much the Spaniards oppressed our ancestors for over 300 years, but we never got the chance to find out what it was like through an actual Spaniard.
Through Spanish eyes
Of all the colonizers the Philippines has had, the country’s time with the Spanish is perhaps the most recalled when we think of colonization. It wouldn’t be surprising, considering the Spanish maintained control of the country for 333 years; a staggering amount of time.
Perhaps it is under the Spanish that some of the most tragic and cruel events in Philippine history have occurred. We Filipinos know the tales of the heroes who fought valiantly against the Spanish and sacrificed their lives to spare future generations of the harshness of that era. However, there can be no denying that the Spanish have had a massive impact on our society, especially not when looking through the eyes of historian Manuel Perez.
Manuel Perez came from Badajoz, a Spanish town situated very close to the Portuguese border. In college, he majored in Geography, afterwards, he managed to attain a PhD in History. Perez moved to Instituto Cervantes Manila in the year 1994 as a librarian for the Miguel Hernandez Library. Since then, he’s been assigned to France and Tokyo, but has returned to Manila a few times in between. Taking into consideration his many transfers in and out of Manila, he’s lived almost a total of 10 years in the Philippine capital.
As a historian, Manuel says he has knowledge in the history between the relationship of the Philippines and Spain. He gained his information through his previous lectures, books, and articles in magazines. Having dedicated time and effort into learning about the interaction between the two countries, he imparts his thoughts as the month of independence rolls in.
In modern times, the word “colonization” harbors a negative connotation to it. It’s not necessarily a negative word, but after years of suffering under the hands of those who’ve conquered the Philippines, it’s not hard to see why Filipinos may see colonizers as the bad guys in our history.
When asked about the negative connotation of the word ‘colonizer’ in the Philippines, Manuel remains neutral. “I’m not saying it’s good,” he begins. “But I’m not saying that it’s bad either. As a historian, I think you need to see it in a different point of view.”
Like the true historian that he is, he makes mention of the age of exploration, wherein countries ventured into finding new lands in hopes to gain power and spread cultures. “It was the way countries made their way around the world. It was the normal, it was what it was. This was the rule in the world.”
Because of the exploration’s aim to circulate cultures from one end of the world to another, Manuel informs us that Philippine culture is more Hispanic rather than Spanish, a common misconception we have. “What I see here is different from that in Spain, but similar to what we see in Latin America.”
Manuel mentions that countries in Latin America have been colonized by Spain as well and that a part of their culture mixed with that of Spain’s. This mix is what makes it unique. Manuel equated this phenomenon to Spain and how Spanish culture now is a result of the mix of German and Latin cultures into their own. “This is the way we are. We are a result of that.”
Perez compares the influence of Spanish culture in the Philippines to other countries, saying that other countries the Spanish colonized did not preserve the Spanish influence as well as the Philippines has. To Perez, it’s something that makes the country unique. “They mix [the Spanish influences] and preserve all their major cultures.”
It’s been 119 years since the Philippines has last been colonized, but the remnants of the past linger on. Perez says this is only natural, reiterating the fact that the purpose of colonization was to spread culture and religion. “I will speak again as a Filipino historian. The main purpose of Spanish colonization was religion, and until now they are preserved. The costumes, statues. If the Spanish friars had not come here, these would not be here anymore.”
The day of our independence beckons, as it has for the past 119 years. We Filipinos have been through so much in life, and this month reminds us to look back and appreciate just how far we’ve come. However, as much as we appreciate how we as members of our proud nation emerged from strife and struggle, there are times when we neglect the influences of our colonizers.
This month allows us to ponder on being Filipino, and in that sense, ponder the essence of being Filipino. Despite how we may feel about outside influences to our culture, there is a need for us as Filipinos to accept the effects of these as a part of our being Filipinos, and in turn, as a part of why we are now independent. It makes you wonder just where we would be today had it not been for those who’d colonized us centuries ago. After all, without those crucial moments in our history, there is no saying we would be where we are at this very instant.