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Being Filipino: Our soft power

By LEN CABILI, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 20, 2021 5:00 am

Culture is our fingerprint. It is what defines us a people, as a nation. It tells our story.

The Philippines, physically fragmented into 7,641 islands, has nurtured a history of rich indigenous culture and varied cultural influences. These influences come from previous colonization, deriving mainly from the culture of Spain and the United States.

My fascination with soft power started some years ago when I came across an article about it in Monocle. The magazine, known for its global briefing, takes Soft Power seriously and annually does a survey on the countries that effectively utilize soft power within the framework of five sectors: culture, diplomacy, education, business/innovation, and government.

According to Professor Joseph Nye, who coined the term, soft power “is the ability to influence public preference by adopting ideas in a way that appeals to the people, instead of coercing them to agree.” In his book Paradox of American Power, he further writes, “Soft Power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies. It constitutes very real power — an ability to shape the preferences of others to gain objectives.”

According to Professor Joseph Nye, who coined the term, Soft Power ‘is the ability to influence public preference by adopting ideas in a way that appeals to the people, instead of coercing them to agree.’

UNESCO has acknowledged soft power and has said that “Cultural soft power is a form of soft power that strives to foster the exchange of views and ideas, promote knowledge of other cultures, and build bridges between communities. Ultimately, it seeks to promote a positive vision of cultural diversity, highlighting it as a source of innovation, dialogue, and peace.”

The world’s largest economies utilize soft power in their leadership, as it remains to be the least compromising and most organic option. The power struggle among countries is usually depicted through military strength but is now as much about the softer side — winning the affection, the hearts and minds of the rest of the world by building a brand based on its values, culture and products. The Creative Economy is pivotal in shaping soft power.

I have been bitten by the Korean soft power bug and have indulged in K-drama — I find that as I appreciate the culture of others, the more my heart is tirelessly zealous for Philippine culture. As I am writing this, I am listening to Lingi-a, a Visayan song by Melay Libres while munching on 64 percent Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs by Auro Chocolate. Right in front of me is an Ifugao tapestry woven by Ruel and Irene Bawer-Bimuyag. I am seated on a vintage chair with solihiya weaving, while my iPad is perched on a narra table from an estate sale. I am wearing a dress from my clothing line.

It is in the going back to our roots that we discover and define our identity, and with that comes the understanding of who we are.

As we live in the middle of a global information revolution, we are connected more than ever with an easy transfer of not only information but of goods and services as well. Globalization has given birth to a personal need to become localized. It is in the going back to our roots that we discover and define our identity, and with that comes the understanding of who we are. Our traditions serve as reminders. It has to be part of our everyday life. To be inspired by it is the best way to honor it and create authenticity in our work, whatever that may be.

The Ternocon, a joint project of Ben Chan of Bench and the Cultural Center of the Philippines with Gino Gonzales as creative director, has reignited the love, appreciation and the actual wearing of the terno in everyday life. To wear it is patriotism. And that goes with other traditional garments around the Philippines. Hashtag:  I wear Filipino because I am Filipino.

The past year, I became involved with the Philippine Fashion Coalition, in particular the Textile and Crafts sector. I have had the pleasure of having constant discussions on Soft Power with Esme Palaganas, Gina Nebrida Ty, and Emi Englis. It is an ongoing discussion that has given birth to tangents that we hope will make a difference in our textile and crafts Industry.

Whether it is in pop culture, traditional culture, sports or the arts, our country can invest and expect a rate of return because we uphold and validate emotional content that is distinctly Filipino. Sama-sama, collectively, we have the opportunity to contribute in writing the pages of our history. Filipinos are innate storytellers. As we each write chapters of stories for this new year, may we ask each other, what is your story of being Filipino? The answer is where our Soft Power lies.