Going back to pre-Magellan days.
Many of us learned in school that Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines. Who discovered the Philippines was a favorite question in radio quiz shows and every Christian lowlander and riverside dweller knew the answer. Even history books written by Filipinos gave Ferdinand Magellan, that Portuguese navigator, the supreme credit of discovering this country called the Philippines. For decades, no one bothered to question the accuracy of the statement that Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines; it was gospel truth.
Not until the 1960's did I begin to hear that Ferdinand Magellan did not discover the Philippines after all; or, that he discovered the Philippines for his fellow Europeans, not for us Filipinos. Even that angle was placed under scrutiny. How could he have discovered something that did not exist? There was no Philippines, no Filipinas before Ferdinand Magellan came to our shores.
In the early 60's, I began to hear, during "sobre mesa" conversations at home that Filipinas, the Philippines, was/is a political unit configured by the Spaniards who took hold of this archipelago in the name of their monarchs. What an astounding feat to lasso the more than 7,000 islands, of different sizes, a varied population into a single political entity and turn it into the CapitanAaAaAeA a-General de Las Islas Filipinas. L us not get into the details of the Patronato Real for now.
I have often wondered how the Spaniards went about that awesome task without the sophisticated technology available to us now. Aside from the more than 7,000 islands, Filipinas included the Marianas chain at the rim of the Pacific basin and the islets and shoals (in the West Philippine Sea) now claimed by neighboring countries. Keeping the whole enterprise together must have required a lot of imagination and zeal; it drained the colonial treasury.
So, most school children no longer say that Magellan discovered the Philippines. Consequently, Lapulapu who is vaunted as first defender of the Philippines was strictly speaking not a Filipino, and he was defending only his community in Mactan. Be that as it may, we will continue to honor him as one of our heroes. No one will dare demolish monuments in his honor nor will anyone diminish his place in Philippine history.
Having united the archipelago in the political sense of the word, the Spanish colonial government vigorously used "divide and rule" tactics against the natives of Las Islas Filipinas. That may sound ironic in the 21th century, but not in those days. For its own protection, the colonial government had to make sure that the natives were always at odds with one another. So, Tagalogs, Kapampangans, Visayans, Tausugs, Maranaws, etc., we pitted against each other during military campaigns of political consolidation. Needless to say, that engendered a deeply rooted regionalism we have not shaken off to this very day. Taga saan ka? is the inevitable question when Filipinos meet. That is probably the reason we have political "dynasties" and "warlords" that continue holding sway in their provinces.
The Philippines will turn 120 this year, but, in my humble opinion, national unity is still as tenuous as ever. At this late date, we still ask rhetorical and academic questions like, what is a Filipino? What does it mean to be Filipino? Lamentably, national identity is still a chimera. Because of that and many other considerations, I am wary of the current administration's federalism project.
How will we create the federal states? Will it be open season for gerrymandering? As early as now, it is quite obvious which parts of the country could be autonomous entities. The coastal provinces with developed port facilities, the "food baskets" with sufficient infrastructure, those with thriving economic zones, must-see tourism destinations with their own air and sea ports, provinces blessed with mineral resources. What about the rest?
What will happen to the cultural sector? Most of the government agencies in charge of history and culture are based in the National Capital Region, although the National Museum of the Filipino People has at least 11 branches in various parts of the country. What impact will federalism have on our efforts to achieve national unity through history and culture?
At the risk of being called a prophetess of gloom and doom, I insist that federalism should first be studied and discussed thoroughly. Let us listen to the political elders who have pondered upon this matter; we know that federalism will not solve the chronic problems of our country, it is not a panacea. If we rush into this unchartered territory at full speed, the Republic of the Philippines which our forbears founded with blood and tears will crumble into little kingdoms ruled by dynasties and warlords, not unlike the pre-Magellan period.
Gemma Cruz Araneta