The Philippine Independence Day Series

Art by eszs, 2020.

There are two kinds of Filipinos on the internet today: On the one hand, there are those who criticize everything as a starting point to bring about change. On the other, there are those who just criticize. Period.

What can you do to move from the second to the first? What can you do after you criticize?

  1. Register to vote and vote.
  2. Talk about the leaders doing their job well. We know criticism in this country is not taken well. Why not reverse it? Stop talking about those who do not work so they may “die” to the masses. Shine the spotlight on the good change-makers and look how that will affect 2022.
  3. Check up on the Filipinos who are not as blessed and fortunate as us, who do not have the time to criticize like us – your former house help, the jeepney driver who always asked how you were, the janitor that works in your office floor, the motorcycle rider who delivered your meal kit, your condominium security guard – and help them. Donate a small amount of money. Give them some of the cookies you baked yesterday. Leave them an extra face mask. Ask them if they need help looking for a new job.
  4. Read about a law, a person, a movement before sharing your opinions online. Educate yourself before “schooling” others. This 2020, education is the new currency. Everything else is ungraspable. (Here are some suggestions: on the Anti-Terrorism Bill and why it is problematic; on the West Philippine Sea dispute against China; on how we Asians are affected by the BLM Movement)
  5. Never lose hope. Take inspiration from world history and the past. People thrived when they believed in change way beyond their lifetimes, when they thought less of themselves and more of the community. As the late great Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino said, “It is the duty of every Filipino to suffer with his people in times of crisis.”

Finally, read these, not one, not two, but THREE CONTRIBUTIONS from different Filipinos – two government employees calling fellow Filipinos to serve its country; a private practitioner calling fellow Filipinos to cooperate with its Southeast Asian neighbors; a Filipino immigrant in the USA calling Filipinos to care about powerful movements  like the BLM Movement in America and around the world.

May their pieces bring you a wider perspective on, deeper peace for and ultimately, undying patriotism to the country this 122nd Philippine Independence Day.

These are our love letters to you. Happy Independence Day, our Love. Buhay ay langit sa piling mo pa rin.

The Greatest Service

Art by Kevin Roque, 2019. (More at @kevinroqueart)

Sixty years ago, in the United States of America, John F. Kennedy (JFK) delivered his inaugural speech as the 35th US President. In Capitol that day, JFK delivered one of the best speeches in American history, ending with this clear challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” JFK’s message deeply resonated in the minds of the American youth in the early 1960s. All citizens of the country were challenged to contribute to the public good and serve. From JFK’s moving words, thousands of patriotic Americans aspired to serve their country in government, one of which was Richard Goodwin.

When Richard Goodwin graduated as Editor of the Harvard Law Review and at the top of his Harvard Law class, law firms were lining up to hire him. He would have earned three times as much if he accepted any private law firm offer. He turned down all of them for a job in government and served publicly until his death in 2018.

When asked why he stayed, despite living through the Depression, being there during the early days of World War II when it seemed that everyone was dying, being in the White House when both Kennedys were killed, seeing the impact of Martin Luther King’s death, seeing the anti-war movement spiral out of control, he simply said, “I always believed that our country is not as fragile as we think. We always got through it. We will get through everything.”

In this country, half a century after JFK delivered his historic speech and Goodwin graduated from law school, less and less Filipinos in their mid-20s to 30s have the same mindset for public service. Youthful and empathetic Filipino leaders who wish to pursue public service have become a rare breed. The government does not deserve my service, our generation says, because the system is unfixable. Our country is hopeless.

We disagree.

Admittedly, President Rodrigo Duterte is no JFK in delivering inspiring speeches. In the three and a half years the President has been speaking publicly, the Filipino youth have been discouraged more and more. The Filipino youth have cared for the country less and less.

However, to our generation, let this be the speech you have been waiting to hear or read: We cannot rely on the non-existent monumental speeches of our current leaders anymore. We only must rely on ourselves. We must finally realize that to hastily generalize the nation’s intrinsic worth without aspiring to serve it would be to succumb to supreme indolence. Our country needs us. Our country is in direr need of youthful, patriotic and well-educated citizens willing to serve well and with integrity. Our government needs people who care more about public service than their own private lives. Ironically, the greatest disservice to our nation is to deprive our motherland of the quality of service that it truly deserves. As politician William Joyce once said, “Public service is the moral equivalent of war.” There is the same feeling of working for other people, doing something for the greater good and a larger cost, in turn making one a much larger and deeper person.

There needs to be a collective belief that it is our generation that will deliver this nation from these dark ages. Our motherland is more resilient than it seems. Undoubtedly, this poor mindset that our country is hopeless and unfixable needs to be fought, for a century from now or even earlier, we might lose what was once ours. A call to serve the Republic of the Philippines must thus be heeded by our generation now more than ever. Our country is not as fragile as we think. We must believe that we will get through this together. It is the only way we will heal as a nation.

Marlon Tronqued and Sarah Sarmiento are government employees. A shorter version of this piece appeared in the Opinion Section of Philippine Daily Inquirer.


The Philippine Initiative for Independence

Art by Ronnie dela Cruz, 2020.

Even before the second plane crashed the second tower of the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, the 43rd President of the USA knew exactly what his next move was: War. And as a superpower, the USA knew that this move would not only affect its own country and its own officials, the move would reverberate across countries, diplomats and officials all over the world.

The willingness to form a coalition and alliance to fight terrorism was naturally set on the global stage. Countries were triggered to create not only institutional associations, but task forces to specifically respond to the atrocities brought about by the event. The wounds from the 9/11 incident were so severe that it brought about sympathies worldwide but more importantly, it garnered the full participation of other nations in this temporary, war-themed fight against terrorism.

This temporary, theme-based coalition of willingness of nations is coined “thematic diplomacy.” In a Global Policy Journal article by Amine Bennis, a legal counsel for an international organization, he describes “thematic diplomacy” as “multilateral by nature and focuses on a specific theme,” and through thematic ambassadors, “[it] often constitute[s] as a response to an emergency context or a crisis.” “Thematic diplomacy” is temporary in nature, but it incidentally creates a long-lasting relationship among nations and other international organizations involved in an event, theme or conflict.

Despite the ongoing fight of all nations against the coronavirus pandemic, a kind of conflict which similarly calls for “thematic diplomacy,” today, on the 122nd anniversary of the Philippines’ independence from its many colonizers, I urge my fellow Filipinos to not forget the other conflict that needs our utmost attention too: the ongoing arbitrary maritime invasion of the People’s Republic of China in the West Philippine Sea.

To fight this fight, “thematic diplomacy” is our best move too against the modern-day bully that is China. However, the Philippines, the small nation that it is, cannot do it alone. If the USA, a giant nation, needed other countries to back up its move after 9/11, we too need our neighbors, other Southeast Asian countries, that will help us fully confront the brewing threat.

In the 34th ASEAN Summit held in June of last year, an “ASEAN Outlook” toward the Indo-Pacific was agreed upon by all member-states of the ASEAN. Aristyo Rizka Darmawan, a contributor-writer to the ASEAN Post, emphasized that ASEAN-led mechanism should be used in dealing with strategic issues in the Indo-Pacific region, including the South China Sea dispute. The ASEAN Outlook reiterates the need to strengthen maritime coordination among neighboring nations in the region. Unfortunately, the Philippine government refuses to participate while other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam are fighting hard, after being fed up with China’s maritime dominance.

Let today’s celebration of our nation’s 122nd Independence Day serve as the call to our government to finally assert “thematic diplomacy,” a civil fight against the tyrannical moves of China by, as ASEAN Studies Center expert Hoang Thi Ha put to words, “[We must] engage not only the great powers, but also all partners across the power spectrum to help prevent the region order from being skewed towards the orbit of any single country.”

Let us not forget that there were Filipinos who asserted this “diplomacy” when they civilly and amicably brought the case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague. Let that diplomatic move pave the way for our country to take the lead in formulating a coalition of willingness among Southeast Asian nations. Let “thematic diplomacy” among Southeast Asian countries take its course to fight for all nations’ independence. After all, independence is not the Filipinos’ solely. Independence rightly belongs to everyone.

Ulpiano Z. Sarmiento works at a private law firm.

#BLACKLIVESMATTER: A Filipino Immigrant’s Perspective

Credits to Inquirer Mobile, 2020.

Against the backdrop of the #BlackLivesMatter upheavals over the past days, I’ve thought a lot about my relationship with anti-Black oppression — specifically, as a Filipino immigrant who came to the United States as an adult.

I spent the first 34 years of my life in Manila, where American history is not taught in schools and the population is homogeneous. I knew, conceptually, of anti-Black oppression in the U.S., but had no idea of its extent. When I watched “American History X” in 1998, I thought the story of neo-Nazis in America was exaggerated for dramatic effect. When I watched “Hairspray” in 2007, I was shocked to learn that segregation and integration had ever been a thing.

It was only after moving to the U.S. in 2012 that I learned why the Civil War happened and what the civil rights movement was. That there were such words as “confederate” and “supremacist.” And that anti-Black oppression was still very much alive — from Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012, to the rhetoric leading up to the 2016 election, to the myriad killings of Black persons over the years, culminating with Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. It’s been an ugly eight-year crash course that I can still barely wrap my head around.

Yet I rarely spoke out, if at all, and built up an arsenal of reasons to justify my silence. “I haven’t lived through the system long enough to talk about it.” “I’m not an American citizen, my voice doesn’t matter in this country.” “I’ve found a happy equilibrium in my life as an immigrant, I don’t want to risk losing that.” “Filipinos living in the United States have problems of their own — including racism.” “If I say anything that pisses off the administration, I could get deported.” “Americans made this mess, they should clean it up.” “The Philippines has its own political issues, I should be talking about those…”

But I’ve decided enough is enough. With George Floyd’s last breaths captured on video and thousands sacrificing their health to protest in a pandemic, there has come the realization that silence only contributes to a broken system. The question of Should I get involved? has moved far beyond considerations like Whose business is it? and Which minority suffers the most? and Which country’s problems should I care about more? Rather, my sole consideration has become: What kind of America — what kind of world, even — do I want to be a part of? One that values what’s right or is complicit with what’s wrong? One that is compassionate or self-interested? One that amplifies unheard voices or turns a deaf ear to them? One that lifts up the oppressed or suffocates them as they are pinned to the ground?

Now the other question is: even if an immigrant cared, what could an immigrant do?

Showing solidarity with the Black community doesn’t necessarily mean marching in the streets or being loud on social media. You can donate to causes, and truly, every amount helps. You educate yourself on the history of anti-Black oppression, and understand the challenges, limited opportunities, and hurts that the Black community has endured for centuries. You can reach out to Black friends and express your support. You can call out misinformation and biases in your families and communities, educate young and impressionable people, and engage with others and help them realize that this is their fight too. And you can examine, own up to, and resolve to correct your own contributions to oppression — which, frankly, has been the toughest step for me to take.

There are the obvious behaviors. Tensing up when Black persons are nearby. Believing that Black persons brought their hardships upon themselves with their laziness and poor attitudes. Concluding from one or two unpleasant interactions with a Black person that all Black persons must be just as unpleasant.

Then there are also the quiet, insidious behaviors. Snickering at people (including fellow Filipinos) who mispronounce English words or struggle with English grammar. Making jokes out of people’s complexions. Loving it when we’re told, “You’re an immigrant? But your English is so good!” Believing we’re superior to other races because we’re the hardworking, overachieving, non-confrontational Asian that America loves. Wishing people would lighten up and not make everything into a socio-political issue. Believe it or not, and like it or not, all these behaviors of ours reinforce the widespread belief that white Western persons are superior to all others — including us, including other races, and most especially Black persons.

I acknowledge that I have been guilty of each of these behaviors, to some extent, at one time or another. I am not proud of it, but I own up to it, and aim to do better. I hope all of us do the same. Because, if for nothing else, a fight against the oppression of Black persons is a step towards eliminating oppression against all minorities — us Filipino immigrants included.

Paulo K Tiról is a composer, lyricist and arranger of musical theatre and liturgical music. His musical about the Filipino immigrant experience, “On This Side of the World,” was staged in February at the Greenwich House Theater in the West Village. He lives with his husband Jeremy in Jersey City. More at

This piece was originally posted on the author’s Facebook page on June 2, 2020. The essay was also published in The FilAm: A Magazine for Filipino Americans in New York.


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