The Beacon Light of Asia

For Throwback Thursday this week, I have decided to share a larger excerpt of Laubach’s “The People of the Philippines.”  Guro Inosanto used to read from this passage quite a bit, and at one time even had Guro Nino make copies of one of the pages to pass around. 

I find it particularly fascinating that this is how some (and definitely Laubach) had seen so much potential in both the Philippines and the Filipino people.  Written before WWII, it also captures a moment in history when the Philippines was flourishing, it’s beauty intact and the effects of both Spanish and American colonization were newly branded.  Two years ago when my family visited the Philippines for my brother’s wedding, I remarked how so much of the gorgeous architecture and buildings were neglected and decaying.  He told me how that during WWII the United States heavily bombed cities in the Philippines to out the Japaneses, destroying it’s entire infrastructure at times and permanently marring the once ornately decorated edifice. 

Now here we are nearly a century after this was published.  As Laubach also writes, the question was not of opportunity but capacity of the Filipino people to fulfill their potential.  Guro Dan would often explain that to understand a martial art, you would have to examine where it comes from, it’s people and context in which it was forged.  While not related to Filipino Martial Arts per se, this has definitely become one of my favorite pieces on the Philippines of that time and day.

“Historically, their thousand years of preparation for this day, reminds one of a Chosen People millenniums ago.  We have already seen that they are a blending of Indonesian and Mongoloid blood, and that for hundreds of years prior to the Spanish occupation they were in constant touch with both the Indian and Chinese civilizations.   These contacts have never ceased.  With the Chinese they have been increasingly intimate.  The Filipinos know India better than the Chinese do, and they know China better than the Indians do.  They have observed Japan, not with the distrustful prejudice of China, and not with the dreamy indifference of India, but with friendly and discerning interest.  The Filipinos know all of the Orient better than any of the other Oriental peoples know each other; and they know the Orient a thousand times better than any Occidental does or even can know it, for Oriental blood courses through their veins, and Oriental thoughts and emotions fill their minds.  They alone are unprejudiced, racially and socially, toward every nation of the Far East.  They are in a better position to adopt the viewpoint of statesmen than any other people of the Occident or of the Orient.  In the Philippines it is possible to find Mohammedans and Christians sitting in the same legislative bodies, attending the same schools, expressing sentiments of mutual love, and working in perfect harmony.

On the other hand, Filipinos know Europe and America a thousand times better than any other Oriental nation does.  The customs, the language, the religion, the art of Spain, were drilled into the Filipinos for three hundred years.  The Filipinos, from one point of view, knew Spain better than she knew herself, for they not only appreciated her virtues for what they were worth, but they also comprehended that autocracy and injustice of which Spain herself seemed unaware.

Twenty-four year ago they came under the discipline of the United States; several thousand Americans – school teachers, officials, and missionaries, set to work with prodigious energy to give the Filipinos, not only the English language, but also everything that seemed worth while in government, economics, sanitation, engineering, and religion.  They found the Filipinos amazingly eager and able learners.  The Filipinos, from one point of view, know America better than she knows herself; for they not only appreciate her virtues, but they see with eyes unblinded by national pride, her weaknesses as well.  No other people of Asia could ever know America as the Filipinos know her unless they too passed through the tutelage which the Filipinos have had for a quarter of a century.

Then again, as men learn best by contrast, the Filipinos has had the illuminating experience of observing two cultures, that of Southern Europe through Spain, and that of Norther Europe through the United States, struggling side by side for supremacy.  Each culture the Filipino sees and understands in the light of the other.  He knows that Spain has some qualities which are superior to those of the United States.  He knows that America possesses certain qualities which, in this age at least, are indispensable, and for want of which Spain has lost her position among the leading powers.  The Filipino student penetrates the hypocrisy and discovers the genuine in both cultures.  The same genius for pricking bubbles that Rizal exhibited in his famous novels resides in every educated Filipino.  Where he is free and trained, he subjects every religious doctrine, of Catholicism and Protestantism alike, to the same pitiless scrutiny.  he is not misled by loud protestations of altruism or sanctity.  He knows that while America is a tremendous improvement upon Spain in most respects, America herself is infinitely below the Sermon on the Mount.  The Filipinos who know America best and who appreciate her most, are, like Dean Bocobo, most earnest in warning their countrymen against ‘blind imitation.’  At the same time their criticism is friendly and discriminating, unlike the bitter antipathy so much in vogue on the mainland of Asia.

For the first time in history the four greatest streams of civilization the world has known, Northern and Southern Asia, and Northern and Southern Europe, have merged, in one nation.  The Philippines are therefore historically in a position such as no nation has before enjoyed, to be as President Osias says, ‘an agency for the harmonizing of the cultures and civilizations of the East and of the West.’  The Filipinos are in a position to be, and many of them are today, the most cosmopolitan people on earth.  White men may be cosmopolitan so far as the white race is concerned; Chinese may be cosmopolitan so far s the Orientals are concerned; but who save a Filipino can feel equally at home in a palace in Peking, in the White House in Washington, or in a salon of Paris?  Few Filipinos have become such masters of the English language as yet that they can bend it to their wills as President Osias can.  They know better than they can say.  But the day is at hand when there will be multitudes of Filipino men and women, now in school laboriously building for themselves an effective vocabulary, who will hold up to the world a portrait of herself such as she never saw before.  It would be surprising if some of the great international prophets of the future, men able to analyze and to disentangle the intricacies of world affairs, should not come from the Philippines.

We have spoken of the capacity of the Filipinos.  We have spoken of their historical preparation for leadership.  Their geographic position completes the triangle.  The nestle up under the breast of giant Asia, as that great continent awakens from his sleep of millenniums and reaches out after Western civilization.  They are the only nation which even calls itself Christian, in all the Orient.  If a line were drawn between Christendom and heathendom, that line would pass below Japan, cut through the China Sea, divide Mindanao from Borneo, and leave the Philippines on one side, and Japan, China, India, the entire continent of Asia, on the other.  Ever other Christian nation is thousands of miles away; every other  Christian nation is alien and of different color and race from Asia.  The Filipinos have no rivals from the Christian point of view, and, for generations to come, will have none.  The field is theirs for the taking.”

Frank Charles Laubach, “The People of the Philippines” (1925)

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