04 August 2011

Filipinos If They Say So

It must be the Latin in our culture that makes us want to debate even the most perfunctory of issues. Stripped down to the bare bones, the debate about whether the foreign-born members of the Philippine National Football Team are Filipinos or not becomes exactly that – perfunctory; i.e. superficial, a waste of time, even.

Political Science tells us that a state is a concept that sums up the history of a people and binds them together with a sense of belongingness. Statehood cannot be looked upon as government alone; because governments as seen through time are not permanent. Neither can statehood be seen as mere land or territory. The Jewish State existed for much of its history with its citizens dispersed around the world in what is called the Diaspora.

Statehood, instead, is the sum total of a shared experience of a common history associated with territory that binds individuals into thinking what they are collectively: a state. Because statehood is a concept, it therefore exists in the minds of people.

To make this less of a cerebral exercise, let me tell everyone this story that happened way back in the sixties when a couple of first cousins from my mother side visited from the West Coast of the United States. We being all kids, arguments would break out over the most trivial of things.

The visiting cousins would pronounce their surname – Vasquez – the Anglicized way, i.e. vas-kwez. We would laugh at them and insist that they were saying it wrong; and that they should instead pronounce it the Spanish way, i.e. vas-kez.

Moreover, they would insist that they were Americans; and arguments would break out all over again. We would insist as well that they were Filipinos. I must have been no more than 6 or 7 at the time; and could not figure out why they would say they were Americans when they did not look like Americans at all.

Growing up in an era when anybody with white skin – yes, even albinos – was greeted with the almost obligatory “Hi Joe!” that was a throwback to the American occupation, one naturally associated being American with being white Caucasian. But one of the cousins had the same pale yellow-tan complexion that I had; and the other was several shades darker that was typically Malay.

By this time, you will have picked up the point of this discourse. My cousins’ parents carry in their minds – to this day – their Filipino-ness, something that a change of citizenship does not alter. We have all heard stories of Filipinos actually crying when asked to relinquish allegiance to the motherland as a prerequisite to American citizenship.

Without going into the specifics because the theories of Political Science are complex and not at all exact, I will oversimplify by just saying that the shared concept of being Filipino was either not transferred to my cousins within the household or subverted by their having been born and their having grown up in an American environment.

To make things even simpler, my cousins did not think they were Filipinos.

At the very least, my cousins could cite their having grown up in a land across the whole wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean as a valid enough reason for thinking that they were Americans. We have brethren down south who have either stopped thinking of themselves as Filipinos or never thought of themselves as such to begin with. Hence, we have had to deal with a long and expensive secessionist movement that has dragged on through the generations.

On the flip side, we have people of diverse races who were born in this country who inevitably think of themselves as Filipinos. They might not have had in their heads the shared historical experience that makes the Filipino; but started to get it by virtue of living here, in the same manner that my American cousins started to share in the American experience by simply being in the United States. Some prefer not to formalize their Filipino-ness by retaining the citizenships of their parents; but many others do indeed acquire Filipino citizenship by virtue of naturalization.

To get back to the debate, then, about the foreign-born players in the national team: no less than the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines says that they are Filipinos. Article IV Section 1.2 of the same constitution states that citizens of the Philippines are those whose “fathers or mothers are citizens of the Philippines.” I hope you have noted the italics.

This constitutional provision is further elaborated on by the dual citizenship law that “declares that natural-born citizens of the Philippines who become citizens of another country shall be deemed not to have lost their Philippine citizenship under conditions provided therein.” (www.chanrobles.com)

Any arguments, therefore, against the right of our foreign-born players in the national team to represent the country are made in disregard or, perhaps, in ignorance of this constitutional provision.

But citizenship is only the superficial aspect of being Filipino; in a greater context, the question to really ask is if they think they are Filipinos. In an excellent montage put together by media personality Dyan Castillejo that aired recently over one of the networks, one sociologist interviewed said, “If they themselves say they are Filipinos, who are we to question them?”

Precisely. And this does not apply to football players alone…

Robert Gier, the Younghusbands, Neil Etheridge and the others have all gone out of their way recently to say publicly that they are – and not that there ever was a need other than to convince the doubters – Filipinos. Not that anything I say can make the doubters change their minds, but if words alone are insufficient, they can try running their socks off in 40°C temperatures; or below 0°C in some sub-Arctic wasteland; or being kicked, elbowed, shoved or spat and sworn at by anything from a Lao to a Mongol to a Lankan or a Kuwaiti.

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