Fr. Horacio Dela Costa, in his work The Background of Nationalism and Other Essays, made an effort to help the Filipino find strengthen his own sense of identity, questioning the shallowness of the usual Filipino’s claim for national identity. He says, “It is easy enough to say, ‘I am Filipino’.” but then asks what saying it means when “the very word itself is a foreign derivative with no exact indigenous equivalent”. The truth is that, as Father Dela Costa says, we do not even have a name we can call our own. Father Dela Costa’s essays in this text concerns to “clarify the Filipino’s sense of identity and purpose as a nation.”(p. vii)
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In this text, Father Dela Costa gave light on the responsibility of the writer in contemporary Philippine society. Here he writes about the concerns the writer must keep in mind. The writer as an artist, he says, is responsible for conveying the right ‘memorable’ experience in his text.
The writer must be aware of the Filipino’s sense of identity. Startling, in fact, that Father Dela Costa started proving the Filipino’s cultural identity by doubting it. He asks, “Do we have a cultural identity?” (p.83) He wonders because what is apparent is that Filipinos have cultural diversity “far more pronounced than any other Asian nation”. He recognizes that our neighboring Asian nations have been subjected to Western cultural influence but he observes that none of them have experienced such interpenetration as the Filipino. This is the reason why he questions the Filipino identity. The influence of the West have seemingly been so much mixed with the Filipino’s own that it might, in a way, have dominated what remains to be originally Filipino.
Father Dela Costa contends that Filipinos cannot just accept it as a given that the Filipino is culturally diverse, a mix of Asian and Western. He wants the Filipino to be aware of his own and claim just one, it cannot be both. So much of the culture may be influenced by the West such as the constitution and religion but Father Dela Costa contends that still, we cannot be both. We must be one or the other, Asian or Western. He says that the Filipino who accepts both might be accepting so because he subscribes to the Aristotelian concept of orderliness wherein he likes to see things fit neatly in categories. To those who accept both, the Filipino is Asian because he is geographically from Asia but also Western because of so much Western things he does culturally. However, this new category of being both might be disorderly after all. Father Dela Costa suspects a rough kind of unity here. (p.84)
All in all, Father Dela Costa encourages the Filipino writer to be aware of his identity thru enlarged consciousness and refined sensibility of the present and past. This work of his aims to empower the Filipino to be aware of what he truly is and truthfully claims his culture as his own.
The Rizal Bill of 1956
Horacio dela Costa was asked to draft for the Church a pastoral letter on the writings of Jose Rizal (particularly Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo) being included in the reading curriculum of students in the Philippines. It is not something many know, but he actually expressed a positive view of Rizal, hailing Rizal as “builder of a nation”.
In draft A, he reinforced that Rizal was not someone with an “unthinking love” for the country, meaning that the Filipinos suffered under colonial rule but this was not the only cause of their suffering. He went on to say that Rizal’s books, contrary to popular belief, were in fact not looked upon unfavorably by the Catholic Church since the Church would never get in the way of the “legitimate political and social aspirations of any people” (Schumacher), which were expressed in Rizal’s novels. However, a closer inspection of the novels reveals that his writing did not lambast the Church but rather brought attention to the abuses and issues surrounding the institution such as the reality of “unfaithful priests” and excessive veneration of saints. Though it must be realized that these issues do not in any way render Catholic doctrine as a whole null and void. Therefore, in Dela Costa’s view, it can be seen that Rizal was not targeting the Catholic Church with his novels but the crimes that its members commit in order to tarnish its principles.
The “way” of Jesuit Education entails that a person has morality closely intertwined with intellect, “an integral relationship between the life of faith and the life of the mind”. (Donahue 1992) This therefore implies that one may display the values of his Jesuit education by making sure that his sense of morality permeates his intellectual endeavors, that he is able to discern well with reason but also able to see goodness, to see God in all things, no matter how difficult it might seem to be.
In this case, Horacio Dela Costa incorporated morality into his analysis of Rizal and his two novels by discerning Rizal’s motives through his writing. It would be all too easy to go with the opinion of the majority of the bishops who hired him to write the pastoral letter by just condemning the inclusion of Rizal’s novels in the reading curriculum of schools. However, Dela Costa wrote out a letter with a more positive view of Rizal according to what his intellect, as well as his sense of morality and goodness told him, which in turn gauged the morality that he could see in Rizal and his writings.
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Rizal’s novels tell of some negative aspects of religion, such as corruption in the character of Fr. Damaso and Salvi or even the religious complacency of Tiago, who prayed as much as a saint in the story but might not have reflected this religious sense in terms of his actions. It would have been all too easy for Dela Costa, or for anyone, for that matter, to dismiss these examples as plain criticisms of the Church, aimed at providing those who do not support the Church as an institution with the fuel to rip them apart. However, Dela Costa was able to use his keen intellect and sense of morality and goodness on Rizal’s writings in order to pinpoint insights that went much deeper. He was able to surmise that Rizal was not anti-Church; his writings did not reflect a negative image of Catholic doctrine, but rather revealed the abuses and crimes being committed by the members of the Church, whether these be in the higher ranks such as the priests or ordinary laymen.
Dela Costa was able to recognize Rizal’s examples of excessive veneration of saints, malicious behavior of religious figures, and other such unholy matters as expressing a stand against how religion was presented to people during his time; how religion existed in people’s lives back then. Dela Costa was able to recognize Rizal’s morality and sense of goodness through his writing when others could only see bald-faced accusations and criticisms of a powerful institution.
It is important to possess a realistic picture of the world, a world where suffering exists. In the world today, it would be so easy for a person to block things out if they should find something unpleasant. However, a Jesuit education, in order to let people see that there is goodness and God in everything must also groom people to accept and face the reality of a suffering world. Dela Costa would not have taken Rizal’s exposure of the negative aspects of the Church as he did, if he did not choose to see the world for what it is, negative aspects and all. He was also able to understand Rizal’s intentions to tackle suffering at its source because he was also able to take the time to discern the dirty, painful picture of reality and avoid putting blame and accusations on Rizal, who the bishops thought had a negative view of the Church itself.
On Free Trade and Poverty
“Free trade between an industrial country and an agricultural country is to the detriment of the agricultural country â€¦ Our negotiating position â€¦ cannot be other than based on our national interest â€¦ and at the same time, on social justice.” (Trade between the unequal, lecture 30 August 1968). According to Gatdula these assertions made by Fr. De La Costa, based on recent findings by several international organizations, were deemed correct and still very much relevant in today’s free trade market. His works from the past are still some of the main frameworks of today’s society.
On poverty this is Fr. Dela Costa’s perspective: “We must now make our own decisions and must take the full consequences of the decisions we wrongly make, or weakly make, or cravenly fail to make. We no longer have a mother country or a colonial master to blame for our shortcomings; we only have ourselves.” (Philippine Economic Development, 27 January 1966) Although not specifically directed towards the poor and impoverished, Fr. Dela Costa believes that we have full control over our lives and he wants the poor to take control to try to get themselves out of the hole they are currently in. They have to make a stand and not just blame whomever for their situation.
Another insight is that this phrase was written forty years ago for it most likely was a problem back then that Fr. Dela Costa saw, truly enough this is still applicable in our lives today, especially with our Filipino culture of blaming others for the shortcomings or negative outcomes in our lives. Clearly seen in our electoral system wherein we are the ones who vote for and decide who our government officials are but when they don’t perform up to par we blame them but in reality the one to blame is us, for we are the ones who voted for them. Fr. Dela Costa also asserts that for our country to gain economic development all the people must contribute, it must be a joint effort. Undoubtedly this is true but the question that he raises is that are we all willing to do this?