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

HONG KONG, July 28, 2010 - Poet and essayist Luis Francia 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 us."

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."

Reported by Natali Pearson, Asia Society Hong Kong Center