There is a narrative in Philippine folklore about a Mangifera indica tree and a bamboo tree. Not being able to agree as to which was the stronger of the two, they called upon the air current to make the decision. The air current blew its hardest, but the Mangifera indica tree stood fast. It would not give. It knew it was strong and hardy. It would not rock. It was too proud. It was excessively true to itself. But eventually its roots gave way, and it tumbled down. The bamboo tree was wiser. It knew it was not as robust as the Mangifera indica tree. And so, every time the air current blew, it bent its head gracefully. It made loud protests, but it let the air current have its way. When eventually the air current got tired of blowing, the bamboo tree still stood in all its beauty and grace.
The Filipino is like the bamboo tree. He knows that he is not strong enough to withstand the onslaughts of superior forces. And so, he yields. He bends his head gracefully with many loud protests. And he has survived. The Spaniards came and dominated him for more than three hundred years. And when the Spaniards left, the Filipinos still stood – just much richer in experience and culture.
The Americans took the place of the Spaniards. They used more subtle means of winning over the Filipinos to their way of living and thought. The Filipino embraced the American way of life more readily than the Spaniard’s obscure promise of the afterlife. Then the Japanese came like a storm, like a plague of locusts, like a plague – rude, relentless, cruel. The Filipino learned to bow his head low, to “cooperate” with the Japanese in their “holy mission of establishing the Co-Prosperity Sphere.” The Filipino had only hate and contempt for the Japanese, but he learned to smile sweetly at them and to thank them graciously for their “benevolence and magnanimity.” And now that the Americans have come back and driven away the Japanese, those Filipinos who profited most from collaborating with the Japanese have been loudest in their protestations of innocence. Everything is as if the Japanese had never been in the Philippines. For the Filipino will welcome any sort of life that the Gods offer him. That is why he is contented, happy, and at peace.
The sad plight of other peoples of the world is not his. To him, as to the ancient Oriental poet, the past is already a dream and tomorrow is merely a vision, but today, well-lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. This may give you the idea that the Filipino is a philosopher. Well, he is. He has not evolved a body of philosophical theories, much less has he put them down into a book, like Kant, for example, or Santayana or Confucius. But he does have a philosophical mentality on life. He has a saying that life is like a wheel. Sometimes it is up, sometimes it is down. The monsoon season comes, and he has to travel undercover. But then the sun comes out once more. The flowers bloom, and the birds sing in the trees. You cut off the branches of a tree, and, while the marks of the bolo are still upon it, it begins to shoot forth new branches – branches that are the promise of new color, new fragrance, new life. Everywhere about him is a lesson in patience and fortitude that he does not have to learn with difficulty.
For the Filipino lives in a country on which the Gods have lavished their gifts aplenty. He does not have to worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will be merely another day – no winter of discontent. If he loses his possessions, there is the land and there is the sea, with all the wealth that one can want. There is plenty to share – for friends, for neighbors, and for everyone else. No wonder that the Filipino can afford to laugh. For the Filipino is endowed with the saving grace of wit. This wit is crude as befits one who has not indulged in deep contemplation. But it has enabled the Filipino to shrug his shoulders in times of hardship and say to himself, “Bahala na.” The Filipino has often been accused of being indolent and of lacking in enterprise. And he has answered back that no one can help being indolent and lacking in enterprise who lives under the torrid sun which saps one’s verve. This seeming lack of vitality is, however, merely one of his means of endurance.
He does not allow the world to be too much with him. Like the bamboo tree, he lets the winds of chance and circumstances blow all about him; and he is unruffled and calm. The Filipino, in fact, has a way of escaping from the strict problems of life. Most of his art is escapist in nature. His forefathers reveled in the moro-moro, the awit, and the corrido. They loved to identify themselves with the gallant knights fighting for the favors of fair ladies or for the possession of a sacred place. And now he himself loves to be lost in the throes of modern love affairs and adventures. His chivalry towards women, especially comely women, is a manifestation of his romantic bent of mind. Consequently, in no other place in the Orient are women so well-respected, so adulated, and so pampered. For his women have enabled the Filipino to look upon the vicissitudes of fate as the bamboo tree regards the angry blasts of the blustering wind. The Filipino is eminently suited to his romantic role.
He is slender and wiry. He is agile and graceful in his movements. His voice is soft, and he has the gift of language. In what other place in the world can you find people who can carry on a fluent conversation in at least three languages? This gift is another means by which the Filipino has managed to survive. There is no insurmountable barrier between him and any of the people who have come to live with him – Spanish, American, Japanese. The foreigners do not have to learn his language; he easily manages to master theirs. Truly, the Filipino is like the bamboo tree. In its grace, in its ability to adapt itself to the peculiar and incomprehensible caprices of destiny, the bamboo tree is his expressive and symbolic national tree. It will have to be, not the molave or the narra, but the bamboo.