Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Only in the Philippines?

Posted by butalidnl on 26 October 2010

We hear the expression “only in the Philippines” quite often. It comes out in TV, blogs, even everyday conversation. I wonder how many people really believe that these things are really “only in the Philippines”; and how many just go along since this has something to do with our national identity etc, even though they know these things are not unique to the Philippines.

I think that there are indeed some people who DO think that these things are really “only in the Philippines” – and I want to respond that most of these are NOT. In fact, I think that there is practically nothing that is truly found “only in the Philippines”.

Food, Faith, Geography
Many things we consider Filipino are actually similar to those found in other Asian countries, because of our common cultural background and history. Food is a good example: pansit and siopao are due to the Chinese influence, leche flan and arroz valenciana are Spanish, fruit salad is American. But even food like kare-kare is due to Indian influence, and eating all parts of the chicken or pig (e.g. “Adidas”, or “IUD”) is common in Southeast Asia and beyond. People think that balot is Filipino; but it is Vietnamese as well.

There are also a lot of things we have in common with Latin America, due to our history as a Spanish colony.  Our common Catholic roots mean that things religious couldn’t be uniquely Filipino. For example, our veneration of the dead during All Souls day is common in Latin America. Self-flagellation and even the reenactment of the Crucifixion is also not unique to the Philippines.

But there are things less obvious which we may think are Filipino, but which we have in common with Latin America after all. Take the barong tagalog: the Cubans have the guayabero; and most of Latin America have a similar shirt that is a national costume for men.  Or the kundiman: we may think this is uniquely ours, but it turns out that the tune of the kundiman we share with some Mexican or Central American countries. It seems that sailors in Spanish galleons brought these over to the Philippines. And thus, the kundiman has Aztec or Mayan roots.

Let’s take geography. The Chocolate Hills in Bohol look nice, but they are not unique. The Chinese have something that I think is even more impressive: the hills are bigger and there are streams between some of them; and you can see them by going by balloon (all we have is a “viewing hill”).
Or the rice terraces. If you still think that it is the eighth wonder of the world, I’m sorry to inform you that not only is it NOT the eighth wonder of the world (there is no such thing, btw), but that it is not unique. There are more impressive rice terraces in Indonesia and Nepal, and some other countries.

Response to Technology
Even things that we think are our “unique” response to technology are not unique. Jejemon may be uniquely Filipino in that it is the Philippine languages that are being “murdered”; but in the broader sense, people from France to China to Thailand are worried about how the young generation is creating their own language on the internet and on SMS.

Or the jeepney. We may think that we are unique in adapting the American “jeep” to become a public utility vehicle as jeepney. But I found out that they did the same thing in Thailand, and they call it the Songtaew.  And of course, our tricycle is the Thai tuk tuk.

Choc Nut
We could say that Choc Nut is unique to the Philippines. But, this is only true in the sense that there is really no other place in the world where such a chocolate delicacy is packaged as Choc Nut (I don’t think so, at least.) However, there is sure to be a place somewhere in the world which has a chocolate product like Choc Nut, but which is called by some other name by the people there.

And this is common for some other things that are supposed to be “only in the Philippines”. For example, someone said that it is only in the Philippines where the crime rate is 0% when Pacquiao has a boxing match. I agree. But this is only because Pacquiao is specific to the Philippines. But, in a sense, it is not really unique. For example, I’m sure that the crime rate in Brazil was also 0% whenever their national football team played in the World Cup.

We could  say that Kinaray-a, Waray, Pangalatoc, or Iranun are spoken only in the Philippines.  (Strictly speaking, this is not true, because of the many Overseas Filipino communities all over the world. But anyway…) This would be true for many language-specific statements, local place-names, or national personalities. After all, we can say that it is “only in the Philippines” where in every municipality, there is a statue of Jose Rizal. But, what would that mean, really?

There is really no particular thing that is unique to the Philippines. But this is not to say that the Philippines is not unique. The combination of all the things we find in the Philippines is unique only to the Philippines. Our national identity as Filipinos is unique.

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