(Note: This is a reflection paper by theRev. Fr. Mark Ivo A. Velasquez, submitted in partial fulfillment for the course of Filipino Philosphy)
There are many things that set the Philippines apart from its neighbors. Among these is the distinction of being the only Christian country in the Far East, the result of nearly three centuries under Spanish rule. A great bulk of the nation-building process had been realized under the tutelage of the Catholic Church. It is common knowledge that the Catholic Faith preached by intrepid missionaries to the natives of the islands had left much of its mark on the people and in their consciousness, whether individual or collective. Aside from just being one among the many factors that have determined the course of its history as a nation, Catholic religiosity has decisively formed the Filipino psyche, and is a significant influence that needs to be considered in the effort to understand who the Filipino is, as an individual in himself, and as a part of society.
Several approaches have been identified with regards to Filipino philosophy. There is a traditional way of doing philosophy, which entails studying the foremost thinkers, their life and their teachings. There is a national approach, which entails a shift in criterion and focus, allowing the author to take center stage and relegating the subject matter to the margins. And finally, there is a cultural approach, one that has been introduced into the local Filipino philosophical community by William Graham Sumner (1960) in his work entitled Folkways. By “folkways” he pointed to habits of thinking and doing developed over the years for the purpose of survival. Understood as habitual ways of satisfying needs, they are not creations of human purpose but rather products of natural forces, that get crystallized in the life and memory of a society as traditions. As traditions, they are significative as a reminder of the beginnings and of identity. They admit no exception or variation, yet they change to meet new conditions, still within the same limited methods, and without rational reflection or purpose. The cultural approach supposes that the lived experience of the community forms the substratum of its philosophical thought. From the life and experience of the community we can derive and extract the philosophical underpinnings or presuppositions of cultural forms.
This cultural approach is represented in the philosophical community by such authors as Florentino Timbreza and Leonardo Mercado. Each of them stated orientative aspects in this kind of approach. Mercado (1974) in his book Elements of Filipino Philosophy said that the underlying world-view in Filipino thought is non-dualism. This Filipino vision of the world seeks to be integrative; the Filipino wants to harmonize the object and the subject, while at the same time holding both as distinct (1974:xi). Timbreza (1982) on the other hand says in Pilosopiyang Pilipino that philosophy is based on life experience; it is something that could be derived from the people’s world-view (1982:1).
One attractive thing that I find with this approach is that it is nearer to ordinary and common experience without being less intellectual and academic. With this approach, one doesn’t need to be hold a doctorate in philosophy to be able to do philosophy. In the cultural approach, life itself becomes a book in which philosophy could be examined and reflected upon.
One element in the Filipino experience is the Catholic faith. Attaining to what has been stated concerning the cultural approach to Filipino philosophy, the main question that I would like to pose in this paper concerns itself with what the local religiosity of the Filipino Catholic would reveal about the Filipino psyche. What does Filipino religiosity tell us about the Filipino? What does it reveal to us about his view of life and its meaning, and how does the Filipino deal with this proper view?
Whenever Filipino folk religiosity is brought up, there are at least two icons that are most popular among the people in the archipelago: the Black Nazarene of Quiapo and the Sto. Niño of Cebu. They represent Christ in two moments of his earthly life: his childhood and his redemptive suffering (actually there another aspect that is very important in Filipino popular religiosity, and this is the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, one so ardent that the Filipinos have been termed pueblo amante de Maria,a people in love with Mary. This third aspect I would mention in passing). These are images are by no means native to the Philippines, but have been brought to its shores during early years of the Spanish regime, but they have formed part of the cultural, religious and social fabric of the Filipino consciousness. The oldest, that of the Sto. Niño of Cebu, features Jesus Christ as a child arrayed in the vestures of kingly power. It is an image that reveals a paradox: the frailty of a child contrasts to the trappings of might and royal majesty. On the other hand, the image of the Nazarene of Quiapo features a man in his prime, bent under the weight of the Cross; his distinctively darkened visage (said to be caused by a fire, according to some) reveal a patient confidence in his Father despite of the suffering and pain that he undergoes on his way to Calvary. Millions of devotees flock around these images every year on the occasion of their respective feast day, a phenomenon that is utterly breathtaking and descriptive of the faith of the Filipinos. But what could it reveal to us about the way the Filipino views himself with respect to life and to the meaning that it holds for him?
Perhaps one thing that could be said about the devotion to the Black Nazarene is that people are drawn to it due to the fact that they can relate to the message that the image bears. The suffering Christ endears itself to a people who are no strangers to suffering. For the Filipino, suffering isn’t merely a part of life, it is a fact of life. People suffer because of many things; there is a major feeling of dissatisfaction towards the political situation that is blatantly corrupt, and this corruption is largely responsible for the suffering of many. People suffer because they have no proper housing, because they have no jobs, because they have to fight in order live.
When they see the Nazarene, they experience a certain affinity with it. Here they see a tangible representation of a God who is not alien to their suffering, a God who is merciful, a God who suffers for them and with them. to many who approach the image in faith and devotion, it seems to provide catharsis. May awa ang Diyos (God is merciful) is one common expression that reveals not only the faith of the Filipino believer, but in his own optimism that since God is near, God knows what it means to suffer, things are not that bad. This is not escapism nor fatalism, but rather a realistic view of life that doesn’t lead one to close in on any difficult situation, but rather it opens up to optimism. There is still hope in life, no matter how hard it may be. This confidence in God, if channeled well, leads to confidence in what I could do and what I need to do in giving a remedy to my difficult situation, while at the same time learning how to laugh at myself while being in a hard fix. When life throws you lemons, make lemonade, as one saying goes. This was very evident in times of tragedy and disaster. The Filipinos taught the world a lesson when we continued to smile and strike up a pose in the midst of the destruction of super typhoon Yolanda.
This utter confidence in God is likewise exhibited in the devotion to the Sto. Niño de Cebu. The Filipinos love children; if this is so, its because they are childlike in their confidence in God (this does not exclude the reality that there are times when Filipinos are childish at best). To trust in God is one sentiment that is evident in the life philosophy of the Filipino: the expression bahala na reflects this in a positive way (though this could easily express resignation as much as confidence, and resignation is not always good, since it could lead to a loss of initiative in dealing with things). Filipinos have confidence in God, seeing him not merely as a powerful an almighty deity, but as someone familiar: he is Father, and I am his child, and when I look at the image of his only-begotten Son, I am reminded of this relationship between God and myself. God is somebody who is near to me as a member of my own family; this could perhaps account for the Filipino penchant of calling Christ Papa Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mama Mary. In this I am reminded of a foreign missionary who was disapproving of this habit among Filipinos, describing it as indicative more of childishness that of being child-like. But then I think that in order to understand why Filipinos do that, one would need to look a bit deeper into the Filipino psyche.
Filipino folk religiosity offers a very valuable tool for us to discover philosophical underpinnings that are rooted in the Filipino psyche. They offer us a glimpse of how a people view life, the world and everything in between. People could be dismissive of folk religiosity and devotions, thinking them to be a thing of simple people. However, I believe that they reveal more to us than just faith. These devotions also allow us to come up with a portrait of the philosophical view of a people who know suffering to be a fact of life, and yet refuse to be bowed by it; a people who have an optimistic view of life, to a fault at times, and finally, it shows us a people whose vision of the world and of life far exceed the boundaries of this finite world, to rest upon the arms of the Infinite.