Bayan vs the elite (Manila Times Walking History)

by xiaochua

November 16, 2019


LAST week, we defined the use of the term “bayan” throughout our history. But there’s another one that we left: “bayan” as in the majority of our people as against the elites.

To understand this, we have to go back to the economic changes that happened in the early part of the 19th century. The end of the Galleon Trade monopoly because of the Mexican Revolution compelled the Spaniards to open the ports throughout the archipelago to foreign trade. When traders like the French, British and German got the indios and the Chinese mestizos as their middlemen, the latter started to have money and began sending their kids to school.

This began the division of the colonial indios from the elites who were Westernized by the educational system against the ones that remained part of the bayan, who, although colonized, retained much of the consciousness and wisdom of their ancestors. Zeus Salazar calls it “Dambuhalang Pagkakahating Pangkamalayan,” or The Great Cultural Divide, a concept that, although it betrays the Marxist influence on Salazar, is original because it not only reads the division of society as the struggle of the haves and have-nots, but also a clash of cultures.

In this sense, the ilustrados, although trying to imagine Filipino identity and concept of the nation, were articulating it based on a Western reading, which they learned in the Spanish and European schools. While the “bayan” may have a different understanding of how the nation should be.

In Wika ng Himagsikan: Lengguwahe ng Rebolusyon, Salazar demonstrated the difference between the ilustrado concept of nationhood to the one by the bayan as articulated by Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto in the Katipunan.

The ilustrados called their concept “nación” as they had learned from Western liberalism. We should aspire to be a Republic where citizens have rights guaranteed under a written constitution and a declaration of independence. The emphasis was on political rights and freedom. There were also those who defined nación in the Spanish sense, which meant having a distinct separate identity like the Basques, Catalans and Castillans, but under one Mother Spain.

The Katipunan, however, essayed a more indigenous concept of the “Inang Bayan.” As the old bayan was founded on “sandugo” and “kapatiran,” we are all brothers and sisters and, therefore, “mga Anak ng Bayan” (sons and daughters of the people) coming from one mother — the Inang Bayan. Beyond political freedom, kapatiran means that people treat and love each other as brethren with mabuting kalooban (goodness), which leads to everybody’s kaginhawaan (well-being) and, therefore, kalayaan (freedom). This means, one may have political freedoms like suffrage, but if they don’t eat three times a day, are they really free? Can they enjoy their freedom? Bonifacio also articulated an indigenous concept of democracy called the “Haring Bayan” (sovereign nation), which means that power belonged to the bayan (people) and not just to one person.

But when the Katipunan was already establishing the revolutionary government, they were dismissed by the elites, which eventually grabbed power from Bonifacio. They never believed Bonifacio’s concept was at par with the way nations were defined by the West.

Eventually, the colonial education implemented by the Americans in English further divided the people, where most people are left out by those that had education from the business of economy and government.

This shouldn’t be construed as a clear-cut dichotomy. That the elites are all bad and the bayan are always correct. And that there are complications or in between. But even in recent history, the struggle between EDSA Dos (2) or EDSA Tres (3), or even how intellectuals, who by education had become elites albeit not in a financial sense, but in culture and consciousness, sneeringly call Duterte voters “bobotante.” Irineo Salazar also shows the complication when the elite infiltrates the bayan through rhetoric for their own gain (so it doesn’t mean that if one speaks like bayan, they are bayan).

The goal, according to Salazar, is to build the “talastasang bayan,” or national discourse, where people talk about things that have “saysay” to them, but this can only be done if we use the same language and concepts. This is why to reach the bayan, we should develop Filipino as an intellectual language and the language of government and economy since this, by default and historical processes, is the language that most Filipinos understand, while also developing local languages.

And hopefully, in time, we will reduce the gap and just maybe, bridge the gap between the elite and the bayan to form a truly united Filipino nation, isang sambayanang Pilipino.