Bayan o sarili?

12:00:00 AM

I was in Seoul, South Korea for a weekend last March when I felt this nagging pang of jealousy over what their country had: wide roads with working traffic lights, ample directional signage, and properly-marked bicycle and pedestrian lanes, well-preserved heritage sites right at the heart of the city, and an incredibly efficient public transportation system. Whenever I think about that trip, my heart sinks to my stomach and I find myself wondering why we can’t have nice things in the Philippines.

First answer is corruption, obviously - despite exorbitant tax rates, we can’t really move forward because much of what’s collected from the workforce is pocketed by our elected officials. And these people stay in power by keeping people poor, uneducated, and therefore dumb enough to keep voting for them; they know that they will never win with a well-informed, intelligent electorate.
Bayan, o sarili?
(image from the internet)
The other reason stings because it’s true, and because I’m personally guilty of it. In the hugely-successful historical film “Heneral Luna,” John Arcilla’s titular character posed the question that I’m sure a lot of Filipinos will squirm to answer: Bayan, o sarili? (The country, or the self?). And save for the few truly patriotic I know or heard about, self-interest is our basic resting pulse as a people.

I recently finished watching “Descendants of the Sun,” a Korean military romance series recommended by a friend. Of all the themes tackled in the series - from love to career to moral dilemmas - what stuck with me is patriotism. 

Having returned from captivity, the male supporting lead went to his commanding officer (also the father of his girlfriend, who refused to give his approval for the longest time) to retract his resignation, which he gave before going on that mission. The reason he gave was that although his life was in constant danger, he never once regretted his decision to become a soldier, and thus he believes he is a soldier that the country deserves. 

A soldier the country deserves. SLOW. FUCKING. CLAP. This soldier believes that his country deserves a good soldier like him. Bayan, bago ang sarili.

Everyday on Facebook, I see people bickering over what the government is fucking up. There is widespread clamor for the nice things we don’t have but feel we deserve. But I don’t recall seeing posts about what people think the country deserves and how they can contribute to it. What have we done to deserve all the things we seek?

We say we deserve good roads - but those same roads deserve conscientious motorists. We say we deserve an efficient public transportation system - but those buses and trains deserve people who know how to fall in line. We say we deserve free public education - but those schools deserve students who wish to give back to society. We say we deserve peace - but to attain it, what compromises are we willing to make? We say we deserve better politicians - but we have to elect them. We say we deserve our freedom - but we need to be responsible for the consequences of our choices. 

The Philippines is a country worth loving, but we, its people, need to understand that loving it is more than just posting about our beaches and waterfalls on social media. To love the country is to know its history, to respect its culture, to serve it. This is the bigger problem, and if we can address this, everything else will follow in time. If we want change, we have to make it happen - if self-interest is our basic resting pulse, this is where we will stay, because that's what we deserve.


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