14 June 2007

Lacking a sense of local history

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

MUCH has been said about the Filipinos' weak sense of history, a topic that usually becomes a flavor of the month in June. Or more specifically, flavor of the week where June 12 falls as the country celebrates its annual Independence Day.

The spartan celebration of its 109th edition last Tuesday at Naga city hall -- which had Juan Dialino, Camarines Sur 2nd district commander of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines, as guest of honor -- brought to the fore another glaring deficiency: we sorely lack a sense of local history as well.

Dialino's address -- where he took the Arroyo administration to task for neglecting its promises, including the basic social benefits our aging veterans richly deserve in their twilight years -- might sound like an old refrain.

But it is a wound that cuts deeper and more painfully; compared to the long overdue recognition being denied them by the American government, which is a still a foreign entity however one looks at it, this one comes from their very own, the very same country they fought and sacrificed many lives for.

But just as painful, to my mind, was how many in the audience, especially those in the back, failed to accord Dialino the respect he deserves. He may not be as eloquent as Mayor Robredo, Vice Mayor Bordado and Councilor Joe Grageda, who emceed the event. But here was a man who represented those who paid the price of the freedom we enjoy today; the least we could have done is listen to what he has to say. Yet many chose to sit at the back, engage in some small talk, or do some other things just to while the time away.

I had to ask myself why do educated people behave that way. I can think of at least two reasons:

One, the generation gap. Based on the 2000 census, only 2 of every 100 Naga residents were 65 years old and above when that population count was taken (or around 10 years old when Japanese invaders occupied the country and, among others, set up a garrison at what is now Ateneo de Naga University campus). The rest only had a vague recollection of the horrors of that war.

Two, the information gap. Equally, if not more formidable, is our skewed, if not lack of total, appreciation of what happened during those fateful years. A movie buff, the best I can remember are movies like Midway (1976), the Ben Affleck-starrer Pearl Harbor (2001) and Cesar Montano's The Great Raid (2005). Aside from these Hollywood productions that have largely defined what we know about that period in our history, there is not much.

And this information gap is magnified a thousandfold in our classrooms. Check out, for instance, how the DepEd's Makabayan learning competencies for Grade V (History), incidentally the subject of Antonio Go's continuing crusade against textbook errors, conveniently presents the Japanese invasion more as a regime change -- not unlike the transition to martial rule under the Marcos dictatorship, and back to democracy after Edsa '86 -- that merely led to the birth of the Second Philippine Republic, instead of setting it against the context of a global war that pitted the Allied versus the Axis powers.

If this dumbing down is bad enough, the total absence of any information as to what happened in Bikol, especially in Naga, during that time is worse. But what can you expect from a curriculum which totally skirts local history in its History subject, and whose only mention of regional identities is a superficial discussion of their contribution to national unity in Grade IV (Geography)?

These two reasons alone prevent us from having a richer, more textured view of what happened 60 six years ago in this very province, which is not only about heroism of the many "sadit na tao" (little people) who died in the battlefields, but another saga of the continuing political rivalry between the "dakulang tao" (big people) of the Bikol principalia.

4 comments:

mschumey07 said...

Its widespread. This is the reason why we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Just take a look at the textbooks our kids use in school. Its lacking in almost all aspects. This I think is the reason why most of the youth are detached from what is happening around them.

Maybe we as parents should get them interested in the rich history we have. Sadly, books are too expensive making learning very restrictive. Instead, our youth settle for love stories, entertainment and fashion magazines. Maybe our newspapers should have a dedicated space for history everyday.

Btw, nice theme.

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

If we can only have Social Studies teachers and enlightened administrators who are willing to push the envelope, it can be done.

Actually, the curriculum prescribes only the minimum topics to be discussed; local divisions can actually add up to them, depending on their needs.

But I have yet to hear of a division that went to this extent.

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