Culture clash: Why Freddie Aguilar isn't ready

Freddie Aguilar said he dreams of a Department of Culture and the Arts that will lead a "cultural revolution" in the Philippines. In his interview with the media, Aguilar stated:

“Pangarap ko talaga na magkaroon tayo ng cultural revolution dito sa Pilipinas. Sabi ko, ito lang po iyong revolution na walang mamamatay. Ang ibig sabihin ko po sa cultural revolution ay pinapangarap ko po na ibalik ‘yung mga talagang Pilipino na pag-uugali natin, pati sining natin, pati panulat natin, ibalik sa atin ‘yun tinanggal sa atin ng mga banyaga.

Pag tinanong mo ang mga tao balang araw, hindi na po nila iisipin na taga-Luzon ako, wala akong pakialam sa Visayas. Taga-Visayas ako, wala akong pakialam sa Mindanao.

Pag nagkaroon po tayo ng cultural revolution, pag sinabi po nating Ilokano, Kapampangan, Bisaya, lahat po iyan maninindigan na siya ay Pilipino.” 

My interpretation of the above is that Freddie Aguilar wants to drive an agenda of Cultural Purification and Unification. Regardless of the man’s qualifications, his stated agenda alone would be cause for concern as I believe it would actually pull the Philippines back into the backwater of cultural isolation rather than push us forward towards global recognition and value creation. 

I am sure Freddie Aguilar knows that the term Cultural Revolution refers to Mao Ze Dong’s destructive ideological cleansing program that ravaged China from 1966 to 1976. Mao’s Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution was meant to purify the country from ideas not in line with Mao’s Little Red Book and in so doing unify the country under one pure ideology. This Cultural Revolution led to widespread destruction of cultural heritage & the suppression of political, intellectual, religious and indigenous minority persons and perspectives not aligned with those of Mao.

I am also sure Freddie knows that China’s Cultural Revolution is recognized by the Chinese Government itself as a massive failure that was "responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the Country, and the People since the founding of the People's Republic.”  So if he knows this, then why would he stigmatize his own agenda by calling it a Cultural Revolution? 

But let’s say that Freddie is unaware of the stigma behind the term Cultural Revolution, his agenda of Cultural Purification is doomed to fail because it assumes there is in fact a pure Filipino culture underneath all the “foreign” influences and that transcends regional diversity.

Our religions, customs, cuisines, languages & arts are all heavily influenced by foreign cultures be it Spanish, Chinese, Malay, Indian or Anglo-American. If you take away Christianity & Islam and return to indigenous spiritism, take away the alphabet and restore the alibata, take away all English, Spanish, Malay, Indian and Chinese influences from our languages, customs and cuisines, would our culture still be Filipino? It would not. We would have a multiplicity of indigenous cultures from the isolated societies that the early Islamic, Chinese and Spanish traders and explorers found in our Islands. It may be pure in its indigenous roots, but it would not represent the totality of Filipino culture as we know it today.

Freddie believes that his Cultural Revolution will also create a singular Filipino identity in lieu of the strong regional identities.  He may find however that it is precisely the foreign influences in religion, language and education that binds us across the different regional differences. Foreign religions such as Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant) and Islam binds Filipinos together across our different subcultures. English, though foreign, is the language of education, government, and media. Its use is sometimes more acceptable to Visayans and Cebuanos than Tagalog. English also allows us to participate and many times excel in the international arenas of the arts, business or politics where our command of the language makes us an active citizen of the world.

Foreign influence is not only ingrained in our culture, it is essential to promoting our own talents and culture to the world. Jose Rizal, our national hero, wrote in Spanish because he wanted to give European audiences a window into our culture and the challenges we faced. Luna and Hidalgo learned their respective forms from the classical Western traditions and gained recognition and respect outside our country. Our National Artists, such as Lamberto Avellana, Nick Joaquin, Arturo Luz, and contemporary creative heroes, like Lea Salonga, While Portacio, Kenneth Cobonpue, Ronnie Del Carmen and Brillante Mendoza have achieved recognition not by shunning foreign influence but rather by learning to hack it.

In closing then, I agree with Freddie Aguilar that the Philippines needs a Department of Culture and the Arts, not only to preserve and promote our culture, but to turn it into an economic value driver as other progressive countries have done. 

However, I do not believe that Freddie Aguilar has the right agenda and vision to lead this department. I believe his views on Cultural Revolution and Purification will set us back from being participants in a globally connected creative world, and his overzealous nationalistic idealism would lead to policies that will isolate, stagnate and alienate Filipino creativity. –  


Paolo Mercado is a business professional and advocate of a Philippine creative economy agenda which envisions turning culture and creativity into an economic growth driver for the country. He is currently SVP for Marketing, Communication and Innovation at Nestle Philippines. He is a recognized international marketing and advertising expert and has worked in France, Switzerland, and China. He is currently enrolled in the Berlin School of Creative Leadership executive MBA program.