"Ang hirap mong mahalin"

Well, it's Independence Day, which means my social media feeds are filled with somewhat tokenistic "happy Independence Day!" posts, complete with some rumination on whether we are truly independent. You know, like this one.

And I know my feeds are not necessarily your feeds, what with the way our Internet overlords have deployed algorithms so we only see only the things we supposedly agree with, the better to sell us stuff we really ultimately don't need like, say, online courses for self-awareness and that zen bullshit. But that's what I'm seeing, and so that's where I'll be coming from. My friends, whatever that means these days, ruminating on whether we are truly independent.

The last time my feeds seemed united on an existential concern of national importance - and, again, this is just my feed, not yours - was around the time the winners of the last elections were announced. Now, while I'd like to think what I see represents opinions from different sides of the issue - which explains why I still see posts from my cousin who hinges his entire self-worth on whatever Rodrigo Duterte says he does - our Internet overlords have somehow decided that I'd be more interested in seeing posts from the so-called "dilawan", those who are critical of the current administration and would much rather have people of the same persuasion win.

Alas, that's not what happened. And so, as administration ally after administration ally was proclaimed winners - not to mention a dance expert - I began seeing the same things again on my feeds: disappointment, despair, and this one line, or variations of it: "Pilipinas, ang hirap mong mahalin."

That line's always struck me, but perhaps in a different way than what you'd think. Like, how exactly do you love your country?

It's a bit awkward to ask this question now, particularly considering how, in the past decade or so, some have pushed to define "love of country" as "unflinching support for the president". Well, if "ang hirap mong mahalin" stems from a disappointment towards who's in charge, maybe those efforts are succeeding.

To be frank, though, there really isn't one idea we can easy latch our love on, not like the Americans' sense of destiny, or the French sense of equality, or the Japanese belief in the divine, or even the Malaysian construct of what makes one Malay (and that is arguably messy). We haven't had that discussion on what makes us Filipino, perhaps because we can't be bothered arguing with the definitions that change depending on which part of the country you are. We even fight over what constitutes as Filipino street food, even. (I've just watched that episode of Street Food, and I have not had tuslob-buwa. Bring me there next time, Nat?)

So what else is there to truly define us? National pride? Sure, we're "united" whenever Manny Pacquiao wins in the ring, although his prime is long past us and we don't really like has-beens as a nation. We're having good luck in beauty pageants but we've somehow compartmentalized that as "a gay thing", so that's ruled out. People of fractional Filipino descent making it relatively big abroad? You know my feelings about that. And besides, despite what we're taught in elementary school about our values of hospitality and bayanihan, we are a selfish bunch. We think of ourselves first and foremost, which is why we just have to have our hot takes out there. Like, you know, this one. And perhaps that view disqualifies me from having a say, because, well, how dare I say Filipinos are selfish?

Maybe that explains why we are where we are now: too much noise, despite how much we supposedly dislike the bungangero and the taklesa; too many calls for quiet; and eventually, the equivocating of any criticism as hate, particularly in that too-familiar intersection between showbiz and politics. But I digress.

How do you love your country? I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't answer that, because I'm a glass half-empty person, and questions like these demand someone with an optimistic point of view. "Pilipinas, ang hirap mong mahalin" always struck me because I always end up going, "dapat mo ba talagang mahalin ang bansa mo?" And yes, nationalism, or perhaps patriotism, are such lofty ideals, and it feels good to be associated with them because that just makes us look like we're inherently better citizens. But then, you don't really get a choice about this. You don't get to dictate which country you'll be part of, unless you're ultra rich of the "citizens of nowhere" (to quote Theresa May) sort, to whom citizenship is just a convenience when it comes to passports. (Looking at you, Tyler Brûlé.) That, and, let's be honest, on several objective barometers, we haven't really received a lot from this country, but then, that risks turning love into a transaction, and that is also messy.

Two more things I find fascinating. One, Filipinos who live abroad tend to act out their love of country more than those who have stayed here. Most likely it's them missing their homeland, but I can't help but feel there's another factor at play that I'll never put my finger in unless I end up working abroad, which is, frankly, improbable at this rate. Two, "Pilipinas, ang hirap mong mahalin" tends to be paired by a threat to leave this country because they're just not happy that Bong Go is senator, and you just know he'll be merely a doormat for the president like he's always been. So much for love. But then, perhaps I am just incapable of this sort of love, or at the very least, understanding how love for country is different than, say, love for girlfriend. Perhaps I am disqualified to even ruminate on what all this means, because I am what you'd call an ungrateful asshole.

And your responses...

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