They say patriotism is a thing of the past. They say it has become obsolete with the advent of globalization and the revolution in communication technology. They argue that patriotism is a relic, while cherished and appreciated, aptly belongs to our museum of historical recollection.
However, they were proven wrong when the Filipino people demonstrated their patriotism in their resolute defense of our territory against a regional bully. With the Chinese government threatening our sovereignty in the Spratlys and the Panatag Shoal, Akbayan together with the Filipino people mounted a strong campaign to secure Philippine sovereignty in the disputed areas and draw attention to the need for the government to strategically develop the West Philippine Sea.
Early on, Akbayan Representatives Walden Bello and Kaka Bag-ao filed House Resolution 1350 on July 2011 which urged Congress to conduct an inquiry on the process of renaming the South China Sea to “Western Philippine Sea” or “Kanlurang Dagat ng Pilipinas.” Akbayan asserted that the first step in securing our sovereignty in the area has to be fought within the consciousness of the Filipino people.
Almost immediately, Malacanang, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Armed Forces of the Philippines began using the name “West Philippine Sea” to refer to the water west of the country. This was institutionalized when President Aquino issued Administrative Order 29 which officially named the maritime areas on the western side of the Philippines, where the Panatag Shoal and Kalayaan Island Group area located, as the "West Philippine Sea."
Subsequently, Akbayan organized the historic “Peace and Sovereignty mission” to the Pag-asa Island which is part of the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys. Together with other lawmakers and media people, Akbayan Reps. Bello and Bag-ao boarded the first commercial, civilian flight to the area to conduct consultations with our kababayan residing in the island and to assess the situation in the region.
The mission was a success as it highlighted our undisputed sovereignty and jurisdiction over the area before the international community and demonstrated our resolve to peacefully defend our territory against a militarily and economically superior country. The mission also highlighted the Pag-asa island residents' call to our public officials to provide needed social services and infrastructure support to sustain and develop their community.
For that reason, Akbayan lobbied the government for an increased budgetary support for Pag-asa Island. It also launched a donation drive to gather supplies for the school on Pag-asa Island, which started classes for kindergarten students. With the slogan “Be patriotic. Donate”, Akbayan has successfully brought both the government and the private sector in a common platform to demonstrate their patriotism in securing sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea by supporting the Pag-asa island residents' endeavor to provide education for their children.
Akbayan also takes pride in being the only national political party to openly and consistently oppose China's bullying in the region. Together with Filipinos based in different parts of the world, the group mounted a successful “global day of action” against China's bullying which drew the support from the different strata of society. It also participated in a “global day of prayer” for peace and sovereignty which gathered all the major evangelical groups in the country.
Both events effectively mobilized international public opinion on the side of the Filipino people and transformed the regional conflict into an international issue. It also made a deep and positive impression on the international community. The South China Morning Post articulated it best when it reported that Manila “stunned” the world by standing up to China even if the face-off was described as “between an elephant and an ant.”
Clearly, from the halls of Congress to the streets, patriotism is well and alive in the Philippines. While it may not have the same intensity as the patriotism of the 70s, it is nevertheless passionate and participatory. Yet, it is also sober and levelheaded at the same time, clearly reflective of the process of maturity Philippine democracy has undergone through the years.
And though the conflict will not be completely resolved in the near future, the Filipino people have already achieved victory. It has demonstrated that their patriotism has not been relegated to the ash heap of history but is intact and nourished, waiting to be tapped and stirred up to assert and defend Philippine sovereignty from foreign powers through peaceful, democratic and diplomatic means.