Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shelf Life: The History of the Burgis

I meant to write this entry in time for the 112th Independence Day of Las Islas Filipinas last June 12, but I was caught up in a few things, so I'm making this pahabol entry.

Still it disturbs me that we mark our independence day on the declaration of the first Philippine republic in 1898 when in fact we were sold for a measly 20 million dollars by the Spanish to Uncle Sam, marking the start of fifty years of American colonization until it was formally granted to us in 1945.

Coincidentally, a few weeks before Independence Day, I stumbled upon a book called The History of the Burgis by Maril N. Francisco and Fe Maria Arriola (GCF Books, 1987). Burgis is the Filipino term for bourgeois and was for time used as a pejorative to describe the snootiness and crassness of the rich, nouveau riche, and even the middle class.

According to the authors, burgis as a label is both an economic condition and sensibility. A burgis lifestyle for instance can mean having disposable income for trips abroad or also a Westernized mindset that separates the burgis from the masa (masses).

The book's introduction mentioned that "[t]o understand the role of the burgis in our society, we need to take a good look at our history," after all, the burgis played a major role in the many upheavals in Philippine history. Our national hero, Jose Rizal, was clearly burgis as a member of the ilustrado class (the so-called "enlightened ones" who were educated in Europe). All of the Filipino presidents were burgis. And of course, the People Power movement that toppled Marcos was largely a middle-class revolution.

The History of the Burgis thus traces the evolution of the burgis: how they came about, their many incarnations, and their very profound impact on Philippine society (either as collaborators of the colonial governments or as instigators of change). The book has comics-style illustrations, deftly playing on the events and people that mark history, making it fun and easy to read (it's far from a hard-core history book).

What struck me most about the book is that while it was published in 1987 (fresh on the heels of the People Power revolution), and with the nearly quarter of a century since then, it is still undoubtedly relevant today. The oligarchs still rule Philippine politics and rob our country's coffers. Economic power still rests on the hands of the few. And most of the rich people continue to act blindly in the midst of glaring poverty in the cities and elsewhere.

The authors best say it: "Burgis is being removed from the realities of a developing country. It is being trapped in a First World consciousness while living in the Third World. It is ignorance and disinterest in how a nation's bounty can be shared by all of its citizens" (p. 14).

The Philippines remains essentially feudal and paternalistic and the sad thing about it is such system seems to persist and will continue to persist in the many generations to come. I honestly do not see our country changing for the better soon. Well, that's what a corrupt system breeds: cynicism.

While seriously treading dangerous waters here, it has crossed my mind why the Philippines is not going the direction Thailand's rural class just recently took. In fact, the income gap in the Philippines is much, much, much wider than Thailand. And maybe I can also safely imagine that corruption is way much worse in the Philippines, no?

I wonder if the Filipinos' relative freedom to express their political views help quell such a "revolution". In fact criticizing the government, "the system", and "the culture" has become a national past-time. Perhaps while corruption, injustice, and poverty prevail back home, we can always give a dirty finger to the bitch in Malacanang, hence, still tempering our discontent? I really don't know, but I should give that assumption much better thought.

At least with a culture that encourages criticism against the government and the elites, I still see a little bit of hope among the new generation of burgis. I noticed that there's quite a strong political consciousness among the educated class, especially in these days of easier exchange of information and views.

However, getting an example from the recent elections, the so-called "educated vote" remains right at the top, and their message failed to trickle down to the masses, thus explaining why half of the elected senators in last month's elections are movie actors. A huge gap does still exist in terms of making informed decisions (as an example) and unfortunately our dysfunctional educational system continues to fail the rest of the Filipinos.

So in the midst of all these gaps, there exists the masa and the burgis, the pesante (peasants) and the panginoong maylupa (landords), the uring manggagawa (working class) and the kapitalista (capitalists). What's obvious in the case of the Philippines is that such a system takes generations to change. Perhaps it's time we examine again the burgis in us?


kiel estrella said...

hmmm. i agree with most of your points but i have high hopes for the philippines. basta, i believe in pinoys despite the actors-as-politicians, pink urinals, loud karaokes and hepa infected fish balls. somehow i think we're going to pull through all of this. and this is the burgis in me talking.

btw, i also wanted to post a 12th june write-up but looking for inspiration all i saw was the independence day special of one of the male go-go bars in timog. KKK - kalalakihan, kakisigan, kagwapuhan. while its a revolutionary group i'd like to engage, i thought it would suck as a homage to homeland

Man of the Rose said...

firstly, nice new layout ganda! anyway all i can say is that live your life to the fullest with a noteworthy contribution to the society. burgis man o hindi, iisa lang po ang amoy ng syet na po.

JLC said...

read this while i was still in elementary in Bacolod...

had fun reading and laughing at the jokes...

love the collages of old photos and paper ephemeras...

Anonymous said...

I have been wanting to have a copy of this book but it seems to be out of print. Do you have any idea where I can get one? :(

Koko Javra said...

Dear Anonymous, it is unfortunate that such a good book as this is out of print, and I hope to see the day a good hero will scan a copy and make and ebook format.

I have first encountered this book during a UST library visit. That is the only place I know that this book exists.


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