Is there a Filipino Philosophy? I read an essay titled “Doing Philosophy in the Philippines” by Dr. Afredo P. Co and his answer to this question can be summarized this way: Since the Philippines is a melting pot of cultures brought about by invasions, missionaries, trade etc. the Philippines has no distinctive and native philosophy to speak of. He goes on to say that the Philippines is a Spanish creation and an amalgam of east, west, north, south, Christian, pagan, Malayan, Muslim etc. cultures. “Ours is the identity of the new age—ambivalent, polymorphous, processual, always becoming.” According to Dr. Co, philosophy as a formal discourse is a Spanish import. Dr. Co is writing with a postmodern perspective. (His essay is part of an essay collection titled “Two Filipino Thomasian --from the University of Stro. Thomas and not Aquinas--Philosophers on Postmodernism.”)
I don’t know if I’m (an old college student) qualified to challenge a professional philosopher’s essay but since Dr. Co is not reading this blog, I’ll try with the knowledge that my arguments can be destroyed by the touch of his (or anyone’s’) pinky.
First what is the measure of a thing before it can be called a philosophy? Is it formalism? A system? Because if the search for the Filipino philosophy is the search for a philosophy patterned after the Graeo-Roman-Jewish-English-German etc. system of Philosophy then the wrong instrument is being used. What one will find is a Graeco-Roman etc. philosophy because there’s a template, a fingerprint already at hand to act as a reference to whatever is being searched, hence to fail to measure up to that reference meant failure in identification. What tool must we use in searching for Filipino Philosophy? That is the first question in the exploration for the search for Filipino Philosophy. I think the western philosophical tools are inadequate or inappropriate for this task. Then what is? I don’t know but I think this is where Filipino thinkers must start.
One may ask, is there such philosophy without a system or a structure? This is one of the tasks of the philosopher also—to find and formulate a system or order from an existing, albeit primitive philosophy or potential philosophy. They criticize, deconstruct, reconstruct whatever it is that they do to philosophies in order to make it “presentable.”
Second, whether we like it or not, philosophy, to be recognized as a philosophy must have a founder, a champion, an innovator. It must have a thinker to attach it to. But Filipino’s has no recorded sage in the level of Plato, Confucius etc. But is that requisite for a philosophy to exist? We have no champion in philosophy because we have not searched all the individual cultures in the Philippines with diligence because if this is done, in their epics, in their poems, in their songs, in their myths there is and will always be champion of wisdoms. Mythical these people maybe but then again most philosophers especially Asians are mythical, or mystical. It must also be understood that some Asians philosophies became “recognized philosophies” because they are in part became political creatures in the form of governmental ethics.
Dr. Co has mentioned that there’s no such thing as native Filipino culture because there’s no culture to speak of in the first place; it was destroyed by foreign intrusion etc. I agree but that does not mean the Filipino’s lost all of it. We are an archipelago and the diversity of languages is a testament that there are survivors. I think what Dr. Co is thinking when he that we have no national language he may be referring to the death of the Alabata, the ancient Filipino alphabet. But as present history proves and the modern Filipino, the national language, is proving a national language is still in the process of being created because there exist a regionalistic mentality among the Filipinos. Yes, Filipino, the national language, is being taught and being used but there are still more Cebuano speakers than the Tagalog based Filipino.
Third, there’s this tendency to think of philosophy as abstracts and not practical. Hence what is considered articulation is verbal conceptual articulation. But it is that necessarily so. A practical people with practical language will have practical philosophy. A highly abstract people like the Greeks will have abstract philosophy. An organic people like the Chinese will have an organic philosophy. What is the measure then? Environment is a factor.
Fourth, is we tend to think of a Filipino Philosophy as a unified Filipino Philosophy. If I follow Dr. Co’s argument that the culture is preserved in its language it follows that since the Philippines has hundreds of languages then the search must be for Filipino Philosophies and not for the Filipino philosophy. Leonardo N. Mercado in his book “Applied Filipino Philosophy” tried to do a comparative study of Filipino philosophy by comparing local languages like his exploration of the word beauty ( aesthetics) and according to Dr. Co “Mercado is still on the level of comparing them but he has not established what can be categorically claimed as the Filipino Philosophy.” I think that Dr. Co is (not) forgetting that the Philippines is a country of many nations. There’s no “the Filipino Philosophy” there is “ Filipino Philosophies.”
Fifth, what is meant by formal philosophical discourse? Logical? Dialectical? Empirical? Pragmatic? Etc. Do we have to apply these things in search of Filipino Philosophy/ies?
Dr. Co’s concluding statement is I think fatalist. “As I said, you not need not worry any longer about the search for a Filipino philosophy, for when you philosophize with excellence, your articulation is bound to be recognized here and elsewhere, now or later. And since you are a Filipino philosophizing, then that philosophy of yours becomes Filipino.”
I don’t think a people can survive without culture, without philosophy. Tribes have ethics that must require sophisticated discourses and articulation, no matter how primitive they seemed to the highly abstract western philosophy, but they must for how can they survive? The search for Filipino Philosophies is a worthy enterprise. Although Dr. Co does not discourage this endeavor, it seems that he has already made up his mind as to what Filipino philosophy should be and is all about—skills in articulation, articulating other philosophies.
I have one suggestion, Why not start the explorations of Filipino Philosophies by exploring Filipino cuisine. I’m not joking. Mercado tried by exploring the Filipino’s sense of time, why not try, again, Pinoy cuisine.
It’s not a matter of nationalism or patriotism, but I think there is or there are native Filipino Philosophies to speak of. I can feel it because we Filipino have values and practices, an ethos and an ego that is uniquely ours. If there’s smoke there must be fire! There’s discourse in there, and definitely there’s Philosophy in there. It’s just that in the search we must invent the tools —that is, if we have to.