This book answered that question conclusively. The answer had been staring me in the face all along. It was obvious. The Philippines is an artificial, cobbled-together state consisting of numerous ethnic minorities. Well, duh! One of the very first things I had learned about the Philippines was that dozens of languages (169 according to the Summer Institute of Linguistics) are spoken within its borders. But somehow I had failed to connect the dots between cultural diversity and the current miserable behavior of the Philippine government. A Country Of Our Own connects those dots in a very systematic and thoughtful way. By the end of the book one is brought to the inescapable conclusion that partition of the country into separate nations is the only viable option. Even if one disagrees with this ultimate conclusion one would have a formidable task refuting the mountain of evidence which the author uses to support his argument.
But since I've told you what the book is about, let me also say what it is not about. This is not a book about reforming the Philippine national language policy or the Philippine education system. Indeed, the author would argue that the Philippines can only be meaningfully reformed by partition. Instead, this is a book which challenges the very right of the Philippines government to exist. As such, it is probably the most inflammatory book (at least to the powers-that-be in Manila) to come along since the novels of Jose Rizal more than a century ago. And I note, that just like the novels of Rizal, it had to be published outside of the Philippines. It is only fitting that since Rizal's novels introduced the concept of the Filipino, it takes a book such as Martinez's to demolish this same concept.
The author begins with a brief autobiographical sketch in the first chapter which is fittingly called Epiphany. While fleeing the martial law regime of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1972 the author began to doubt his own Filipino identity. One of his benefactors who helped him escape to Malaysia refused to call himself a Filipino, but rather a Tausug. Eventually winding up in the United States, the author again would meet someone who refused to call himself an American Indian, but rather a Navajo. Upon settling in the Los Angeles area the author noted that there were more than 400 Fil-Am organizations existing in the area, with most being formed along ethnolinguistic lines. It seemed to the author that no matter where in the world you find Filipinos they are beset by internal cultural divisions. Thus did the author's own Filipino identity begin to unravel, and his previously hidden Bisayan identity (the author is a native of Dumaguete, Negros Oriental) begin to assert itself.
I will attempt to present the author's arguments in roughly the same order they are given in the book. First, one must establish the terms of the debate. To the author a nation is a significant number of people bound by a distinct ancestry, culture, history, and language. Thus, in the Philippines context the Tagalogs are one nation, the Cebuanos are another nation, and so on. A state is defined as an independent nation or group of nations organized under a single government exercising effective authority over a given territory. Given these definitions one can examine the various states existing in the world and classify them according to the percentage of the total population comprised by the largest nation. Thus, for example, the author defines type A states as those in which the largest nation comprises 90 percent or more of the population (example: Japan). Type B states are those in which the largest nation comprises 80-89 percent of the population (example: United States). And so on. So where does the Philippines reside in this scheme? It's a type H state in which the largest nation comprises 20-29 percent of the population. Incidentally, the largest nation in the Philippines are the Cebuanos who comprise 24.4 percent of the population followed closely by the Tagalogs who comprise 23.8 percent of the population.
The author notes that type A states are much more stable than type H states. Over the same time period type H states have had far more occurrences of civil wars, coups, and secessions than type A states have. Furthermore, the type H states (such as Nigeria, Uganda, etc.) have had similar problems as the Philippines has had such as high population growth, low economic growth, and persistent insurgencies. What does all this mean? It means that the Philippines is not an anomaly. It is undergoing the same problems as the other states in which cultural fragmentation is a major issue. Indeed, compared to most of its Asian neighbors the Philippines has a very high level of cultural fragmentation, which may explain why its economic growth is among the lowest in the region.
World history since the end of World War II has been dominated by the breakup of colonial empires once held together by the major European powers (plus the United States). The so called Third World countries were largely formed keeping their previous colonial boundaries intact. But what that did was to essentially trap smaller nations within the territorial boundaries of whatever Third World state they happened to be located within. This is what the author terms the Fourth World. Largely invisible to the international news media the captive nations of the Fourth World will begin to play an ever increasing role in the 21st century as they begin to seek independence for themselves. This is a process that is already happening. Recent examples include the secession of East Timor from Indonesia in 1999 and the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993. It seems that the world's map makers will be quite busy for some time to come redrawing political boundaries all over the world.
But how did the Philippines inherit its present territorial boundaries? The answer is that its territorial borders are essentially an historical accident. Magellan accidentally landed in the Visayas in 1521 and thus began the Spanish claim on the territory. Unfortunately, subsequent Filipino historians have completely misrepresented the Spanish conquest of the Philippines. Teodoro Agoncillo and Renato Constantino are two Filipino historians whom the author accuses of promoting a nationalistic bias in terms of their historical writings. The next attempt by the Spanish to subdue the islands was in 1565 with the expedition of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Originally landing in the Visayas, Legazpi would later relocate the capital to Manila in 1571. Why? Because the Visayans were hostile to Spanish rule. Legazpi essentially got his butt run out of the Visayas. Once in Manila he was able to establish alliances with the local Tagalog and Pampango tribes. With their help he was able to return to the Visayas and conquer its peoples. Thus, right from the very beginning, the Tagalogs and Pampangos were willing collaborators with the Spanish conquerors. This is not something you are likely to find in a standard Philippine history textbook.
The other factor was religion. Why did the natives of the Philippines so readily accept the Catholic religion of the Spanish? The author provides an answer that I had never heard before: because the religion they already had was very similar. For example, the pre-Christian religion of the Philippines envisaged an invisible deity. So did Christianity. The pre-Christian religion of the Philippines envisaged a netherworld populated by demons which was the final destination of evil people. So did Christianity. There were so many parallels in the two religions that it was very easy for the natives of the archipelago to adopt Christianity.
Fast forward a few centuries. It is 1896. The Philippine Revolution has broken out or has it? There is ample evidence that the people living at the time never considered it to be an archipelago-wide revolt. Rather, the Spanish referred to it as the Tagalog Rebellion. It was only with the passing of the years and the establishment of the American colonial enterprise that historians would look back and call it the Philippine Revolution. Both Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo called their government the Republika ng Katagalogan (Tagalog Republic). Other rebellions would soon break out in the Visayas but they were never under the direct control of Aguinaldo or his short-lived government established at Malolos in 1898.
In 1898 the United States entered the scene (regrettably and in complete abrogation of its founding principles). Again, a conquering power would find willing collaborators in, for example, the Macabebe Scouts of Pampanga province who participated in the raid which captured Aguinaldo himself in 1901. Upon his capture Aguinaldo would turn traitor and betray his cause by swearing fealty to the President of the United States. Where was this Filipino unity which supposedly unites the entire archipelago? In both the Spanish conquest of the Philippines and the American conquest of the Philippines, there was no Filipino unity to be found despite what future nationalist historians would later claim.
The American occupation of the country brought to the fore the concept of the Filipino. No longer a Tagalog, or a Cebuano, or an Ilocano, or whatever ethnic group one was born into, each person was now reborn as a new creature, a Filipino. The Filipino would be the proud citizen of a new republic (although controlled exclusively by the Americans). He would be taught English and democracy. Kipling's "white man's burden" would be fulfilled by the Americans in the creation of a new nation in the image of America. Only it didn't work out quite that way.
The Filipino elite played along with the American delusions and bided their time waiting for their day of independence. The words of Manuel Quezon, first President of the Philippine commonwealth, would prove to be prophetic when he said: I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans. But first, the new Filipino identity required a language to go with it. English was associated with the American colonialists who would soon be gone. In 1937 Quezon created an Institute of National Language which, to the surprise of nobody, selected Tagalog as the national language. After all, Tagalog was the language spoken in the capital and by Quezon himself. Funny how the new Filipino identity became to resemble more and more the identity of the ruling elite in Manila. In 1959 the government would try to quell regional opposition by renaming the national language Pilipino, but few were taken in by this ruse.
World War II brought the Japanese horror show to the Philippines as if the people hadn't suffered enough. With the defeat of Japan and independence in 1946 surely now the time was ripe for the fulfillment of Filipino destiny. But instead of Japanese collaborators being imprisoned or shot, most of them were welcomed into the new government. An era of government graft and corruption began which has really never ceased since. The very first act of the independent Philippine Congress of 1946 was to vote themselves back pay for the entire duration of the war. Yes, that was including the members who had served in the Japanese puppet government. With their entire country in ruins the ruling elite's priority was to take care of themselves first. This is a pattern which continues to this day.
What has happened in the decades since has been more of the same. The author paints a bleak picture of the current status of the Philippines in a chapter entitled Diagnosis: Critical; Prognosis: Terminal. Among the statistical facts you will find in this chapter are the following gems:
Put this all together and what do we end up with? There is no other possible conclusion than that the Philippines is a failed state. Its ruling elite has shown a callous disregard for the safety and well being of its citizens. They have been given chance after chance to provide true leadership and to form the type of country which Rizal envisaged more than a century ago. Each time they have failed by putting their private economic interests above the interests of the common people.
As a result of this failure of leadership in the Philippines, a culture of victimology has spread throughout the archipelago. The author calls this the "religion of blame". People from all walks of life in the Philippines must find outsiders to blame for their problems. I ran into this attitude during my first trip to the Philippines in 1999. When I asked my driver what was the cause of the malaise which seemed to permeate the country his reply was: It's a result of being under the Spanish for hundreds of years. Those dead Spaniards of centuries ago were somehow holding the country back which is quite an impressive accomplishment for ghosts to pull off! This is a common attitude which you find everywhere in the Philippines. The culture of victimology leads to a crippling passivity among the population as a whole, and to a belief that nothing can be done about their problems, and that it will take a miracle to fix the Philippines.
I once heard a crude aphorism which went like this: Free your mind and your ass will follow. This is a lesson which the captive nations of the Philippine state have yet to learn. Maybe, just maybe, they are beginning to free their minds. As the author says, if the captive Cebuano nation, Muslim nation, etc., etc. have provided tacit consent for Imperial Manila to govern them then the time has come for them to withdraw that consent. The last chapter of the book is entitled The Separatist Imperative. In it the author lays out a clear plan for the peaceable partition of the Philippines into five separate states: Luzon, Cordillera, the Visayas, Mindanao, and Bangsamoro. This is to be accomplished by means of a ballot initiative during the 2007 Senatorial elections.
Of course, the last chapter is the most problematical of the book because it tries to peer into a future that no one can really know until it's here. And for the first time I must part company with the author on some of his assumptions and predictions. I can foresee many problems in the implementation of such a plan. For example, what happens if the Muslims in the south claim all of Mindanao as their ancestral domain and demand that the Christians living there be expelled? Of course, even if the Christians living there wanted to vacate Mindanao (which they don't) there is no place else for them to go. Wouldn't the result be a continuation of the civil war in Mindanao which has already claimed 200,000 lives in the last century? What happens if the Ilonggos of Panay or the Warays of Samar refuse to be part of a Visayan state which they perceive to be dominated by Cebuanos? But most importantly, what is to prevent the existing ruling elite from dominating the five successor states? For example, what is to prevent the Osmena, Garcia, and Aznar clans from pretty much running Cebu the way they do now? The net result would be the Philippines reproduced in miniature five times with exactly the same culture of corruption which currently exists. One can't expect the author of a book to have all the answers for these questions, but I can guess that these will be the same questions asked by Philippine citizens before they cast the most important vote of their lives.
To sum up, I immensely enjoyed reading A Country Of Our Own. If you read one book on the Philippines in your life this should be the one. It provides insights into the history and culture of the Philippines which you will find nowhere else. The author lays out a compelling argument for the partition of the country which even opponents will have a difficult time resisting. Weighing in at a hefty 460 pages (excluding the appendix), this is not a book that one can expect to finish quickly. It may take you some time to digest it. Along with his own prose the author provides a multitude of quotations almost too numerous to count. These quotations provide philosophical insight into what some of the world's greatest thinkers had to say on the subject of government and the right of a people to govern themselves. The scholarship represented by this book is of the highest order (there are 780 footnotes!). Although the author has a clear disdain for the Manila-centric political system of the Philippines, his book never stoops to the level of a polemical screed. He pretty much keeps it on the facts which is where it belongs. I would highly recommend this book to anybody who is interested in the Philippines or in government in general. I give it my highest rating of five stars.