By Virgilio C. Ventura
While ‘social distancing’ has become a new norm in current Covid-19 pandemic crisis, it has taken on a very misleading idea on what it truly means to us as a nation or a community.
I contend that physical distancing is the more appropriate term to describe one of the prescriptive behavior of battling the spread of the corona virus as against the broader social distancing term. The use of the term social encompasses both the physical and the ideational levels of socialization. Humans are necessarily social in their dependency of other human beings for physical intimacy and other common purposes. Yet, socialization sans physical contact or proximity can still be possible even at the cerebral and spiritual levels.
As we anticipate our commemoration of Philippine Independence Day (June 12) and Jose Rizal’s birthday (June 19) we reflect on these two events’ societal relevance to the raging global health crisis at hand.
The essence of the members of the Propaganda Movement’s conceptualization of the Bayan (nation) through their writings in La Solidaridad (foremost among them is Rizal) is quite different from the Western concept of the nation-state born from the doctrine of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia of north-western Germany which ended the Thirty Years War. While the idea of the bayan is mainly moored on the fellowship of a cultural collective more than just a cultural/locational/territorial identity, the nation-state is more focused on the legitimacy of conjoining “the political entity of a state to the cultural entity of a nation, from which it aims to derive its political legitimacy to rule and potentially its status as a sovereign state.” 1/ Thus, the bayan departs from the nation-state meaning as it is more focused on the moral grounding of fellowship rather than the political legitimacy of governance. The individual leaders of the bayan are devoid of the egotistical consciousness of entitlement and vested interests but are simply focused on the practice and the imperative of service to the collective. Once a leader’s term of service and utility is done, he/she goes back to the fold and be among the faceless multitude. The western concept of individualism takes a backseat to the needs of the collective.
The celebrated author Benedict Anderson proves this point in his conception of the nation as an imagined community that is not necessarily imaginary. While political boundaries [are] certainly recognized as one form of nationhood, … there are other nationalisms, of people who are united by the idea of belonging, of a community, of an imagined space, an imagined community.2/ In fact, according to Ernest Gellner, ‘nations are the artifacts of men’s convictions.’ 3/ Relating to other members of the bayan defies the geographical boundaries of big bodies of water (in the case of the Philippines’ archipelagic formation) since the bayan is not necessarily translated to the geographical formation of a bansa (country) but is rooted in the fellowship consciousness of its people, in looking after the welfare of our kapwa tao or kapwa Filipino.
Moreover, one must note that the cultural identity called Filipino is very different from other cultural identities since it is not simply grounded on the color of one’s skin or some other distinct physical features but is a product of a historical process and political struggle of patriotic individuals in Philippine history mostly those educated Filipino elite members of the 1872 Propaganda Movement in Europe like Isabelo De Los Reyes, Antonio N. Luna, Pedro Paterno, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Mariano Ponce, Jose Maria Panganiban, Antonio Maria Regidor, Jose Rizal, etc., and foreign sympathizers like the Austrian ethnologist Ferdinand Blumentritt and the Spanish historian and statesman Miguel Sagrario Morayta. It is noteworthy that in their conception of who is a Filipino, racial identity has been set aside to favor patriotism or love of country making it possible to call a Chinese from mainland China but who has experienced Spanish colonial oppression and has much sympathy for the indio and Las Islas Filipinas be worthy to be called a Filipino as well. Thus, racially there is no such person as a “pure-bloodied Filipino.” The concept of kapwa has been well promoted in the 20th century academic circles by the organic intellectuals (a term coined by the Italian neo-Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci) of Philippine Studies scholarship like Virgilio G. Enriquez (Psychology), Prospero R. Covar (Anthropology) and Zeus A. Salazar (History) who unselfishly labored so much to produce the kind of social sciences that are not only descriptive but also sensitive to Philippine society and cultural identity.
Taking extra care to practice physical distancing to prevent the virus from spreading does not necessarily mean we subscribe to the idea of social distancing. Regulating social distancing is an impossibility for the collective bayan as we consciously manifest what the American sociologist C. Wright Mills calls our individual sociological imagination or our capacity to look beyond our individual selves. Sociological imagination makes it possible for the individual to connect his/her personal challenges to larger social issues. The indignant criticism we rant on social media or with our friends about the many instances of lockdown quarantine violations committed by selfish and abusive individuals show our sense of fellowship or connectedness to that larger collective we call bayan.
In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic we only need to read about the many instances of bayan fellowship through the relief assistance of the Office of Vice President Leni Robredo, the philanthropic acts of wealthy personalities like the actress Angel Locsin and other celebrities generating funds to purchase the much needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and food for our medical front liners or even of ordinary individuals like Police Corporal Jon Jon Nacino who unselfishly gave a $100 bill to a poor food delivery boy he encountered at a checkpoint, the lady apartment owner in Antipolo who condoned her tenants monthly rental for the duration of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or even the water-refill owner who thought of supplying for free the households in his community with mineral water as his way of serving them during this difficult time. These are but a few examples of our sociological imagination of the bayan. Reaching out to the less fortunate through wired money transfers or donations actualizes the bayan fellowship or sense of community that no physical distancing policy can ever prevent. This is so because being social is being connected in our capacity to imagine beyond ourselves.
Speaking about the Ramadan and Eid’l Fitr celebrations, Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo observes the strengthening of Muslim Filipinos linkages. “We see it in friends reaching out and checking on each other online during fasting; in Muslim business owners extending compassion to their staff; in leaders who advocate peace and put their constituents front and center in their agenda.”4/
Confronting grief over a departed beloved family member or of important togetherness occasions like the Ramadan or a birthday celebration is not limited to the physical but can be achieved through the spiritual or the sacredness of memories. We also need to appreciate the perspective that religion is not simply a physical public ritual but a transcendental or metaphysical personal experience of togetherness. Going through photographs or other tangible artifacts like a melody or a song can trigger the pathos of bereavement or celebration.
In closing I only want to expose the problematic conception of social distancing using our sense of bayan connectedness and making social distancing an impossible feat if not a silly terminology. END
- John A. Hall, Ian Charles Jarvie (ed.), The Social Philosophy of Ernest Gellner. Amsterdam (Editions Rodopi B.V.) 1996, p. 40.
- Mara Cepeda, Rappler, May 24, 2020, Robredo: Despite virus, Ramadan and Eid’l Fitr strengthened Muslim links