Bayanihan in a foreign land

published July 6, 2013 MST Op-ed, page A5. I wrote the script for Bayani Ako. 
"Bongga” is hardly a diplomatic word, but it’s the only one Consul Roderico Atienza could think of when asked to describe the Independence Day-Migrant Workers Day celebrated by Filipinos, for Filipinos, at the Samsan World Gymnasium in Incheon, South Korea last June 2.
“There is no English translation for it,” he said.
Typically Filipino, the whole-day affair consisted of a parade, street dancing, Santacruzan, food festival, film screening, a sports tournament, a raffle and a musical program called Bayani Ako—Bayanihan sa Korea.
Atienza represented the Philippine embassy in the core group that organized the activity.  The mayor of Incheon was generous enough to allow the free use of facilities for the event.
Filipino communities from all over South Korea trooped to Incheon to take part in the celebrations. “You can’t say they were part of the audience,” says Gil Hizon, musical director of Bayani Ako. “Everybody was a participant.”
One such participant was Mcoy Fundales, formerly of Orange and Lemons which popularized the Pinoy Big Brother theme, and now with the band KENYO.  “The entire day was bustling with activities,” he said.  “We were very happy to see Pinoy traditions such as the colorful ‘sagala’ done in Korea! The cultural and musical performances of Filipino artists based in Korea were superb. The food offered in the booths was also great.”  This from someone who is no stranger to Filipino events abroad, having been invited to similar events in Taiwan and the United States.
But what made the event special was that most of the participants were not professional performers/ musicians.  They were, instead, ordinary overseas Filipino workers, among the millions scattered around the world working on factories, households and other places.
“This is also the reason why we were not able to have a general rehearsal,” said Hizon. “It was so difficult to gather them because their only free day was Sunday and of course they wanted to use that to rest, not to travel and rehearse.”
Bayani Ako, the musical, paid tribute to the rich natural resources and culture of the Philippines as well as to the various Filipinos who have made their mark in the international scene, not just in Korea.
It traced the history of heroism in the Philippines – the first heroes, after all, were those who resisted occupation by foreign powers and advocated independence and equality.  In a more modern context, there is a different kind of oppression.  It’s a different kind of freedom that Filipinos are fighting for—economic freedom.
Aside from income inequality, there is the constant threat of disaster. Through it all, the Filipino spirit shines through. Migrant workers are emboldened to venture out to the unknown in search of a brighter future for their families.  In the face of calamities, individuals and communities come together and help each other out in many ways.  Indeed, to be a modern-day hero, an ordinary person only needs to do extraordinary things.
“KENYO was, is and will always be honored and privileged to take part in such an event…Heroism runs in our blood individually and collectively as a people. Overseas Filipino workers are truly this generation’s heroes. It is only fitting that they be recognized and given a special day,” according to Fundales.
Hizon, despite being part of Filipino community in Seoul for years, is still in awe of the Filipino talent. “Simply world-class,” he says, pointing out that these performers do not even do it for a living. “This is why the time was just not enough to showcase them all. You have so many talented people who made the effort to travel three, four hours just to be part of this event.”
According to Atienza, the term Bayani Ako has two purposes: to highlight the ability of the ordinary person to do great things, and to celebrate the bayanihan spirit that Filipinos take with them wherever they go, even to a foreign country like South Korea.
Amid the colorful costumes, the variety of food, the song-and-dance numbers and the festive mood during the day-long affair, Atienza delves on the more sober message it delivered.
“If there is one word to sum up what the event was all about, it would be ‘community’” Atienza said. “That’s just the way Filipinos are. It’s…edifying.”
What a way to celebrate independence in its many forms.