Good Governance
Review of "A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader"

Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan delivers his review of the book, "A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader"
A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader
A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader © FNF Philippines

Ka Bobby’s book, which covers the essence of nationhood gives us more than a “sense of a nation”. The book takes us to the political struggle in the halls of Congress after its restoration post-People Power 1986. It seeks to enlighten those who, according to Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, remain children for they are “ignorant of what occurred before they were born.”

Has anything changed since Ka Bobby’s time in the Senate?

It has always been said that for us to pave the way for the future, we must look back to our past. Sa sariling wika: “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” Philippine history is a story of struggle, and what was true then remains true now. A French novelist once said that the more things change, the more things remain the same.

While the actors and circumstances are different, the essence remains: that even now, the Filipinos are still fighting for independence and struggling to find its sense as a nation. Independence against foreign oppressors, independence against the pervasive ills of society.

Ka Bobby Tañada’s “The Sense of a Nation” walks us through the post-war history of our people as it happened within the august halls of Congress. With a family legacy of nationalists since the tail-end of the Spanish occupation, it tells a story of how the Filipino has struggled against powers always bigger and more influential than its own.

It showed how a nation can still not be fully sovereign even after independence, and how freedom was fought outside of traditional and bloody wars. Through inspired speeches and powerful rhetoric, Ka Bobby showed how the power of words can protect its people. How it is powerful enough to even go against powers of a nuclear scale.

Makapangyarihan ang mga talumpati—talumpati na siyang nag-udyok sa Senado na tigilan na ang halos isandaang taong pananatili ng mga base-militar ng Estados Unidos sa bansa noong 1991.

From the historic discussions of the US military bases in the Philippines to the coco levy and the struggles of the agriculture and fisheries sector, to the human rights abuses during the Marcos regime and rural poverty, Ka Bobby Tañada has provided a glimpse of how these issues were viewed and tackled within the realities of their time.

It is particularly inspiring for me as a legislator, to witness how decisions were debated and made by my forebears. It allowed me to further reflect on how their decisions then affect the debates we hold now. I felt the weight of those words and the responsibility bestowed upon us even more: what we do every day in the Senate will always have an impact on the future. Perhaps more needs this awareness.

A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader
A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader © FNF Philippines

I had scanned this book while the President was threatening to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States that the legislators of years ago fought hard against, only to be brought back in the early 2000s and go full circle.

It is a striking contrast of realities, but sobering all the same. The questions they sought to answer then are still questions that are pervasive even now, with additional factors needed to be weighed in.

Our current reality includes the looming influence of China over policy decisions that have not been taken into consideration before. The world is moving away from a monopoly to a duopoly. Borders are being eroded. Information is lightning fast. Where is our place in this system?

29 years might not seem like much in world history, but it is a big chunk in the history of our nation. With fake news and misinformation easily finding its hold on online platforms, we need more accounts like Ka Bobby’s to combat the very real threat of historical revisionism. History is indeed important to pave the way for the future. But what is even more important is to learn from it so that the shortcomings then will be avoided today. Ka Bobby gifted us the wisdom of the legislators elected by our fathers and grandfathers. It is upon us to use these learnings so that the generations after us will not face the same.

So has anything changed from 29 years ago?

The pace of life has become faster, the ways of communicating have become instantaneous. The Never Agains and Never Forgets of EDSA have become countless tweets and Facebook posts reminding everyone of the same: #NeverAgain #NeverForget in the face of misinformation and blatant disregard of human rights, and yes, mass murder.

The keyboard has become an effective tool as the bullhorn screaming for freedom in rallies past. It is still equally powerful.

But we also believe that much as how we won before, we can still emerge ahead of the realities we are facing. I am privileged to serve in the same hall now as the legislators of our yesterdays. I am also reminded that upon my shoulders today, the burden of leadership they once carried, I and other like-minded legislators today have huge shoes to fill.

Ka Bobby’s legacy serves both as a challenge and an inspiration—inspiration that continues to influence my own decisions such as voting against the anti-terror law, such as opposing the closure of ABS-CBN, such as championing the coco levy bill so that our farmers can finally taste their sacrifices and have a better future. Ka Bobby’s legacy remains firm.

The fight for true independence continues. But we do not fight alone. We fight with our fathers and mothers in past battles. We fight with our sons and daughters in ongoing struggles.

Magandang araw sa kanilang lahat. Maraming salamat.

Sen. Pangilinan on A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Book Launch