Wednesday, March 16, 2005



Posted 00:14am (Mla time) Mar 16, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the March 16, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

COMMENTING on the attention to detail in my work, someone once said that I would have been better off as an anthropologist rather than as a historian. Observing people is one of my joys, and one of the things I try to impart to my students. We often go through life seeing a multitude of things but we rarely take the time to stop and really notice.

I asked my students recently how a blind person would distinguish between the current P5 and P10 coins. Eyesight made the students remark that it was the gold inner part of the coin that made one different from the other. Our coinage is actually blind-friendly because you can tell by size, weight and shape (and even a hole) the different denominations, but the P5 and P10 peso coins are of a similar size and weight.

I asked my students to close their eyes and try and figure out what the difference was and was amused by their answers. One person said that if you drop the coins, the sounds are different. Another said that if you run your fingers over the coin, the way a mahjong player feels the surface ["salat"] of a mahjong tile, you could sense that the P10 coin feels different. Another student said that all a blind person has to do is use the unidentified coin to pay for something worth P7. If he gets change, then he must have handed over a P10 coin, and if the seller asks for P2 more, then he has P5.

Actually, you can tell by feeling the rim of the coins. The rim of the P5 coin is smooth, while that of P10 is ribbed. We handle these coins daily and yet we do not notice the text or pictures on them. We see the coins but do not note their differences. There is something about disability that strengthens the rest of the working senses.

The same can also be said about symbols. One of my friends who regularly passes through Lito Atienza's Baywalk noticed the street sign saying "Ped Xing" and asked me for its historical significance. Frankly, I was tempted to create a whole story about a Chinese adventurer in 1360 who married a pre-colonial princess in Malate and sired many children, one of whom produced many offspring from whom Jose Rizal could trace his ancestry. Of course, I come from the illegitimate line of the family. But I told her the sign was simply a short form for "Pedestrian Crossing." One can only wonder how many people want to know who "Ped Xing" is, but are afraid to ask. How many people pass through this sign daily but never notice?

The Philippine flag is one of the symbols we encounter daily, but we never stop to ask ourselves what the symbols mean and whether the symbolism taught to us in school conforms to the historical documentation. For example, one of the questions I usually ask my students is to give me the symbolism of the sun. Very few people can enumerate the eight provinces that are immortalized in the eight rays of the sun. Worse, when I ask that they pinpoint these provinces on the map, very few know that all eight are Luzon provinces. When you continue the interrogation and ask why these provinces were chosen, the standard reply is that these were "the first eight provinces that revolted against Spain." Historically, these were the first eight provinces placed under martial law by the Spaniards at the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution.

We all know that our flag is unique in that it flies with the blue field up in times of peace and the red field up in times of war. But, what about the colors? Do they mean anything else? Doesn't the declaration of independence read in Kawit on June 12, 1898 state that the red, white and blue in our flag is based on the red, white and blue of the US flag?

Mariano Ponce in 1899 sent a Philippine flag to a friend with a letter explaining the symbols as follows:

"...[T]he blue, color of the sky, means our hope in a future prosperity, through progress; the red means the blood with which we bought our independence; the white represents peace which we wish for ours and foreign countries. The sun represents the progress, and sometimes means that the Philippine nation belongs to the Oriental family, like Japan, Korea, etc., who bear also one sun in their flags. The three stars are the three great groups of islands composing the Archipelago, the Luzon group, the Bisayas group, and the Mindanao group."

Emilio Aguinaldo and other patriots have their own take on the flag and to enumerate them here will cause more confusion. You can choose from a number of texts to make a certain point.

Of late, there have been moves to redesign the flag and make it more sensitive to present socio-political life. There have been proposals for a ninth-ray in the sun or a crescent moon to make the flag inclusive of Mindanao, which is already represented by a star. One of Aguinaldo's speeches explained the rays of the sun saying it:

"...[S]tirred up Filipinos and spread the light over their world ... it is now the light which brightens every spot in the Philippine islands, and under its influence the Itas, Igorots, Manguians and Moros, all of whom I believe were made in the image of God, and whom I recognize as our brethren, now come down from the mountains to join with us."

Symbols are open to numerous interpretations, and in the case of the flag, it can be used to unite or divide. The choice is ours, which reading do we take?


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