The challenge of good Filipino citizenship

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The challenge of good Filipino citizenship

Topic |  

boholano-thumbMany Filipinos here and abroad are inspired by the exemplary model of Couples for Christ and its demonstration of civic virtue and concerned citizenship in the unique housing and community development of Gawad Kalinga. Led by Tony Meloto, our modern civic hero, the model has captured our imagination and is spreading to other countries as well.

There are many other models of civic virtue and concerned citizenship that we should know about, celebrate, and emulate. These are suggested by community development and civic projects involving civil society and outstanding local leaders, such as those that have earned recognition through the Galing Pook Awards. They are concerned with poverty alleviation, peace and conflict resolution, the environment, health, education, anti-corruption, cooperativism. These are notable examples of how Filipino citizens are responding to the challenge of good citizenship.

Pooling the strength and power of citizens’ movements of national NGOs and people’s organizations, international civil society organizations (otherwise called international non-governmental organizations  or INGOs) have been challenging and opposing corporate economic globalization.  For some years now, INGOs have been promoting awareness and achieving partial acceptance of specific alternatives under their ten principles for “sustainable societies.”

These principles are: (1) New Democracy (based on the citizens’ agenda), (2) Subsidiarity, (3) Ecological Sustainability, (4) Common Heritage, (5) Cultural Diversity, (6) Human Rights, (7) Jobs, Livelihood, Employment, (8) Food Security and Safety, (9) Equity, and (10) the Precautionary Principle (or precautionary action against threats of harm to health and the environment). (International Forum on Globalization, Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible, Berrett Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2002)


Citizenship in the philosophy and tradition of Liberalism. But let me go back to the basic concept of “citizenship.” What makes a person a citizen of a particular state? Our constitutions have defined who are citizens of the Philippines, or the Republic of the Philippines . Article II, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution provides: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” Thus our citizens, referred to as “the people,” have a fundamental legal status and role in our democracy.  They are entitled to the exercise and enjoyment of their constitutional and legal rights which are protected and promoted by the state.

Beyond their right of suffrage and their civil rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights (in Article III), our  Constitution also mandates the state to protect or promote the family, human rights in general, the rights of the youth, women, labor, and indigenous cultural communities, the rights of farmers, farm workers, landowners, and subsistence fishermen.  

Given the dominant emphasis on citizens’ rights, the Constitution only implies who are “good citizens,” or what may be regarded as duties and qualities of “good citizenship” in the Philippine context. The Constitution provides: “The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people.” Therefore, exceptionally, “The Government may call upon all citizens to defend the state, and in the fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required … to render personal, military or civil service.” Also exceptionally, the Constitution provides that the state “shall inculcate in the youth patriotism and nationalism, and encourage their involvement in public and civic affairs” (Article II, Section 13).      

Historically, under American colonial rule and since the Philippines regained its independence in 1946, Filipinos have followed the tradition of Liberalism. According to Banning, “Liberalism …regards man as possessed of individual rights and the state as existing to protect these rights, deriving its authority from consent. Liberals place the greatest value upon individual rights and personal autonomy (individual liberty, a purely individualistic notion).”

Citizenship in the Classical Republican tradition.  In sharp contrast to Liberalism as the dominant tradition in the Philippines , “Classical Republicanism emphasizes civic virtue and public responsibility (collective responsibility, the collectivist or communitarian ideal}.” (Dagger, p.12) Significantly, the Chinese and Singaporeans emphasize communitarian welfare over individual rights according to Confucian ethics. They promote social and economic rights over civil rights and political freedom. In this sense, some Filipinos may view the Chinese and Singaporeans, or even the Malaysians as authoritarian or less democratic. On the other hand, Chinese, Singaporeans and Malaysians may  view us, Filipinos, as obsessed with our civil liberties and freedom while unable to provide for the social and economic welfare of our citizens.

Shifting from Liberalism to Classical Republicanism. Let me now share with you my deliberate effort to help shift the orientation of Filipino democracy and constitutionalism from traditional Liberalism to a new Republicanism in the image of Classical Republicanism.


In our Draft Constitution for a Federal Republic of the Philippines with a Parliamentary Government, the Citizens’ Movement for a Federal Philippines ( CMFP ) proposed a New Bill of Duties and Obligations to complement the Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution (Article V. Bill of Duties and Obligations, CMFP Draft Constitution)


We argued that, together, the Article on the Bill of Rights and the proposed Article on the Bill of Duties and Obligations, would be very helpful in our civic education and the training of responsible and accountable citizens and leaders. While respecting freedom of worship and expression, we also urged that citizens should be encouraged and assisted by concerned leaders and institutions in their voluntary spiritual development—to round out their civic and political education.

Our society seems to suffer from an excess of selfish individualism, (Wala akong paki-alam sa inyo. Bahala na kayo.); materialism (materialismo, hindi espiritual); and secularism (makamundo, hindi maka-Diyos).

On the other hand, we have these important reminders over many years.


“Bayan muna, bago ang sarili! This is a nationalistic reminder to all Filipinos as a sign of our love of country.

As Jose Rizal said: “…the thought of my whole life has always been love of my country and her moral and material development.” (1892)


In his Dekalogo (1893), Andres Bonifacio said: “Always bear in mind that the true love of God is the love of country, and that this love is also the true love of thy fellowmen.”

Apolinario Mabini said: “Procure thy country’s happiness before thine own, making her a kingdom of reason, justice and labor, for if she is happy, happy will also be thou and thy family.” (1898)

For his part, Manuel L. Quezon said: “We must imbue our whole citizenry with a spirit of heroic patriotism. For a country as small and with such limited wealth as the Philippines , ordinary patriotism is not enough to insure its security. Heroic patriotism is necessary—a patriotism that is devotion, loyalty, and courage that rises to the heights of self-sacrifice.”  (1939)

To the Catholic Church: “Filipinism, which is nationalism for Filipinos, means hard work and generous sacrifice for the welfare of the Philippines in the temporal order, genuine love of Filipino culture in its nobler aspects, sincere appreciation of our historic past, honesty in public as well as in private life, mutual cooperation in common endeavors, scrupulous administration of public affairs, faithful compliance with laws, unselfish acceptance of the burden of services required by the nation, payment of taxes and sincere love for national symbols and institutions.” (1959)

And as President John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Therefore, as citizens in a developing democracy we should balance our emphasis on individual rights and privileges with a much stronger sense of collective and communitarian duties and obligations. In this way many more citizens can become patriotic, responsible and effective—in solidarity with our kapwa Pilipino. We can build a cohesive national community and a peaceful, just and humane society.

Citizens of progressive nations like Japan , Korea , China , Taiwan , Singapore , Israel , the Scandina-vian countries, and the Federal Republic of  Germany have a deep sense of their duties and obligations to the community and the nation. (By Jose “Pepe” Abueva)

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