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From 'Indios Bravos' to Filipinos

Luis Francia traces the role unequal land distribution has played in fomenting resentment and rebellion in Philippines history. (3 min., 4 sec.)
by wpoon
29 July 2010

HONG KONG, July 28, 2010 - Poet and essayist Luis
has called upon Filipinos to reassess their relationship with the United States, and recognize both the burden and blessings of their colonial heritage. He told
the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, "If we keep decrying our past, we only assign ourselves the role of victim."

Reflecting upon these themes in his latest book, A
History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos,
Francia told
journalist and moderator Isabel Escoda
that he wished to recast the Philippines'
colonial past as something more than a disadvantage. "As
terrible as the colonial experience was, it's there. The fact that we are
speaking in English, the fact that we carry Hispanic names, the fact that we
are largely a Catholic country. These are all indications of a colonial
heritage. And when I say embrace it—certainly colonialism is a terrible
blight—but we should move forward and use it and use it in ways that advantage

Indeed, adopting the name ‘Indios Bravos' signaled a
shift in mindsets. "By taking a term, ‘Indios,' that had long been used by the
Spanish to denigrate the indigenous people of the Philippines, and shaping it
as something positive and aspirational, political reformist and national hero
José Rizal captured, in the late 19th century, the first moment in
the history of the colony where a group of intellectuals started to think of
themselves as a nation."

With Filipino migrant workers comprising one of Hong
Kong's largest foreign communities, Hong Kong has figured in both the past and
contemporary history of the Philippines.
"Several of our exiled patriots, like Rizal and Aguinaldo [independence
leader, general and first President of the Philippines, Emilio Aguinaldo], lived
here for a spell, the former working as an ophthalmologist in Hong Kong while
lobbying local authorities about autonomy for his compatriots."

Yet Hong Kong has
also figured in less patriotic doings, as Francia pointed out. "Banks here are
known to keep some of the Marcos loot, as well as those of some of his numerous
cronies, and this is where Presidential candidates come when they want to woo
the migrant workers for their votes, whom they quickly forget about immediately
afterwards. Hong Kong has long been the
temporary home of thousands of migrant workers who fled while Marcos was busily
impoverishing his country."

Francia also observed that the slow pace of political
and judicial reform in the modern era, argued that the "big stumbling block for
the Philippines is still our relationship with the United States, because we
still have American troops in the Philippines, and that is a clear
contravention of the Constitution. We need to reassess, specifically, our
relationship with Washington."

Additionally, Francia identified poverty resulting
from corruption and bad governance, and agrarian land reform, as two of the
largest ongoing challenges facing the new President, Benigno Aquino. "I am
willing to give the current President a chance to move us forward. It is going
to take time, no question about it, but I do believe corruption is central to
being able to move forward. President Aquino has made that his priority, to not
eliminate—you can't completely eliminate corruption anywhere—but to reduce
it significantly."

by Natali Pearson, Asia
Society Hong
Kong Center