It’s not difficult to understand the Filipino sense of ‘bayan.’ The sense of ‘bayan’ reverberates the strongest in regions farthest from the metropoles—where the community is the most pervasive structure, and the nation seems a far-fetched idea.
It’s not so much that people are hopelessly attached to their barangays or neighborhoods. On the contrary, anyone who has lived a month or two in any barangay distant from any major city would attest to the fierce way people protect their privacy from the prying eyes of their neighbors.
There are many disadvantages to being far from large cities. Capital and employment opportunities are concentrated in the big cities, where ‘modernity’ is peddled every micro-second. Modernity is just consumerism, wrapped nicely in plastic or paper bags. One can contest the claim to any kind of modernity in a country where democracy is a surreal joke, and plunder is more common than socialized healthcare.
When a member of a Filipino family decides to travel to the NCR or any other wealthier province in search of a better life, there is often an urgent desire to strip oneself of the ‘limitations’ of being a ‘probinsiyano.’ Often, there is also fear of the unknown—of spaces that might contradict one’s life so far, and one’s tiny pocket of beliefs.
To say that Metro Manila is a melting pot would be an understatement.
Maynila, as it exists in the collective imagination is a microcosm of the nation, a fragmented vision of transplanted individuals and displaced hopes and dreams. People forego their lives in the provinces for the uncertainty of any city in the NCR willing to take them in because the opposite may result in complications—like a year of strife and starvation for the entire family.
In short, people do not willingly separate from where they are tied to ‘bayan’ willingly. They often do so because they have few other options. The result is physical fragmentation and the rise of pockets of ‘the regions’ in the larger cities accommodating individuals looking for respite from poverty.
In one’s isolation from the community, a sense of longing emerges. The sense of longing often turns into a permanent anguish that bubbles just beneath the surface. The migration from the community creates alienation that one simply cannot shake off. To live and work in a city where everyone else is a migrant creates many compelling reasons to go back. But unless you can afford to go back, the desire remains a far-off dream—just one of a long list of other dreams that may not come true unless one succeeds in the primitive accumulation of capital.
The yearning for ‘bayan’ is a actually a yearning for home—of the safety of the cradle of the community where these dreams first came to be. It is a yearning for a minimum level of personal security that will do away with the need for further migration and fragmentation.
In the era of post-capitalism, where mobile capital shapes policy and the structural design at every level of the nation, the idealization of the province and the regions of origin exist outside the formalized boundaries of state symbols and the public school system.
This yearning is exploited as a vulnerability in the public sphere in the form of ideological manipulation. The themes of ‘national unification’ or simply, ‘unity’, all touch the nerve the pulls the fragmented consciousness of the Filipino into a temporary space where one remembers what it was like before poverty reared its ugly head.
In the confusion of it all, one grasps at invisible straws. Could this candidate mean what he or she said? That there would be bayan once again?
The bayan continues to call from the chasm.
Marius D. Carlos, Jr.
Marius D. Carlos, Jr. is an editor, author and translator based in Pampanga. He is the Creative Coordinator and a founding member of Vox Populi PH. He is the author of two books and has published locally and internationally. His works have appeared in Rappler, Business Mirror, Philippines Graphic, Breaking Asia, and the Philosophical Salon. Marius is a freelance professional engaged in SEO copywriting, content SEO and making websites for business rock. He writes for businesses and agencies at The Content Experts PH.