Obsessing on a beloved









Obsessing on a beloved
Sunday, March 9, 2008

Today, I want to write about an obsession. I use the term “obsession” loosely here. Something qualifies as obsession if it has rendered me sleepless from time to time, or has moved me enough to spend a lot of time, money and effort in trying to understand, master, befriend and reach a profound understanding of and accommodation with it.

To me, an obsession is a topic, a condition of reality that can keep me hooked for days, weeks, months, even years, engaging my faculties, talents and emotions  to a level that can affect or realign my priorities. My continuing obsession is with the perennially worrying conditions prevailing in our country, and most acutely these days.

When I was in high school in the late ’60s, there was a   very charismatic priest named Father Castillo who, addressing the entire student body, proclaimed that his generation had failed to reform the Philippines. He looked at us and, with dramatic solemnity, said that it was our turn to change things.

At different junctures in my life, the thought of “saving the Philippines” has haunted, fascinated, inspired and challenged me.

I was a college student during the First Quarter Storm in the early ’70s when some concepts of nationalism captured my fancy. The APO then was a group of awkward teenage Ateneans who were well-versed in the English language and were gaining popularity singing English songs in different girls’ schools. We were writing songs exclusively in English then.

Things changed drastically one day when we found ourselves performing in a concert with the Juan de la Cruz band. I was blown away by the fact that they sang in Pilipino and the crowd got quite excited about their performance. A profound inspiration hit me — we had to start writing original Pilipino songs. The concept of writing pop songs in Pilipino was exciting, radical and so new, and it played into the rebelliousness of my youth.

This simple act of writing in Pilipino opened my eyes to the richness of Filipino culture, language, history and politics. As we continue to perform all over the country today,  it is not lost on me that Pilipino pop songs have probably contributed more to awakening Filipinos from all over the country and the world to their common Filipino-ness than speeches made by politicians.

Through the years, I have written and sung many songs about the lighter side of Pinoy life, love, our habits and character, and some special events that have moved us as a people. Writing those songs was my way of serenading the Filipino spirit.

I have had many conversations with people everywhere about facets of life in the Philippines, and I have expended much passion defending, arguing, promoting, or just making sense of what our country and people are all about, and why we behave the way we do.

I have reveled in the national euphoria over the accomplishments of Filipinos in the world arena. And I have wept and cursed on occasion recalling our struggles that have ended in failure and disappointment.

In the process I like to believe I have sharpened my intuition about how we Filipinos think. For example, I have this instinctive understanding of how our people vote. I can also almost effortlessly pull, out of my hat, witty, satirical and accurate comments that can summarize the general state of our country’s affairs at any given time.

I believe this is due to the fact that whatever we pay attention to or care about will reveal its secrets to us.  Often I feel I can easily detect the subtle and drastic shifts in the national zeitgeist. It’s as though, in some psychic way, the Philippines is a woman I have known, devoted my time to and loved intimately.

So intimately, in fact, that I am eager to get away from her at times. When I left for Australia almost two years ago, I was happy to breathe some fresh air in a foreign land in place of the staleness coming from the political and social scene that was suffocating me here. The new, vibrant scene of Aussie life, culture and its functional political and social environment revived my spirit and inspired me to once again gaze at the Philippines, and imagine what kind of a place she could be if we borrowed and applied a few things from Australia. I have asked myself many times how the Australians, whose ancestry is comprised mainly of the lumpen of British society dumped onto that continent centuries ago, have managed to build a functional, beautiful and free country. I don’t see why we can’t do the same.

As I write this, the TV is on and I am riveted to the news about Jun Lozada, the isolation of Malacañang, more details about the unfolding ZTE scandal, and the moral bankruptcy that threatens GMA’s standing as our president. At once, I am both angry and excited.

I know that something is definitely up. This is not a run-of-the-mill crisis we are undergoing. This is our moment of truth, where the best and the worst in our people will surface. I am happy that the youth participated in large numbers during the big Makati rally but I am not ready to admit that my generation has failed and that I am passing on the torch to them. What I want to say is that this is a golden moment, just like the eve of EDSA 1.

This is a time when we can see clearly that our cultural, political operating systems need a drastic upgrade or a total rewrite.

This is also the time when we can continue the process we began in 1986 and accomplish with finality a few things that we were not able to do then.

While I see no one among the proclaimed presidentiables who excites or inspires me one bit, I still feel optimistic. Why? Because large numbers of our people are awakening not only to their sense of outrage but also to the realization that we are prisoners of a dysfunctional system of our own making. As Pogo said in the cartoon: “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”

This is a time when we can awaken to who we can be and the new possibilities we can create out of this mess we are in.

While this is a time of fear and uncertainty, it is also a time of courage, creativity and deliberate action, but this time guided by painful lessons learned from the past.

“Kay sarap pala maging Pilipino” is a line from a song I wrote 22 years ago. I say it here like a man renewing his vows with his beloved. Or a citizen committed to fighting for his country.

* * *

The Tapping the Creative Universe (TCU) workshop starts tomorrow!!

This is the last call.

This workshop will shake you out of your inertia, awaken your awesome creativity, which has probably been dormant for some time now, and give you on experience of unlimited joy, power and achievement. If you are in-between dreams, relationships, careers, lives, or feel that parts of you are stuck, this is the workshop for you.

TCU will be held from March 10 to 14, and concludes on March 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. The fee for the six-day seminar is P5,000.

Those interested can get a copy of the syllabus by calling 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or send e-mail to emailjimp@gmail.com and I will be happy to respond.

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Craig Peihopa
12 years ago

Jim, I certainly cannot adequately comment on the political landscape of the Philippines owing to a lack of knowledge about what’s happening there, but I have read and re-read many of your posts that deal with this topic and I certainly recognise the passion and commitment you have for your homeland. I embrace it also, and yet for me the pivotal thing in my mind that makes the Philippines unique is, that Filipinos are who they are, and make no excuses – nor need there be any made. The images to me during the uncertain times of the People Power revolution in 1986 where the sweet defiance of the Nuns handing out flowers to the troops, people crying and looking for the commonalities that do unite rather than segregate and destroy. I am still amazed that I was able to witness such a pivotal event event in the history of the world. I personally believe that inspite of the faults and corruption that allegedly exists there, I don’t believe a bloodless people power revolution cold have happened anywhere else. Filipinos are an incredible race of people. I had fallen in love with Handog, without even knowing the words, or even before I knew what they meant. It truly captured the zeitgeist of the time for me. The fact that you wrote it was a wonderful blessing that I have come to know you more. You are like a bellwether and it is my hope that the elements that make Filipinos a great people will permeate the areas where they might lack, and enable the country to once again take it’s proper place in the world hierarchy.

12 years ago

The national Philippine language is written with an “F”. Filipino. Have a nice day!