Regionalism is defined as the consciousness and loyalty to a distinct region. Populations within countries are not monolithic. There is not one Canadian population, but a group of separate populations united under one nation. The same can be said about many countries. Even South Korea, a country whose population is quite homogeneous exhibits regionalism, rearing its head most often in politics and in dating.
The Philippines consists of over seven thousand islands. The biggest islands in the Philippines, Luzon, Mindanao, Samar, etc. are mountainous and tend to separate populations into different regions. This encouraged a multi-cultural environment where different languages and dialects developed. Out of these languages, Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Ilonggo, Bikolano, Waray, Kapampangan, and Pangasinense became the most widely spoken, with Tagalog being made the official Filipino language. Of course, as a former US colony, you can add English to the mix of the most common languages in the country, but we’ll come back to that later in looking at regionalism.
Prior to colonization, regionalism already exists in the country. It is after all, only human to be loyal to the place where you were born and raised as well as to the people who speak the same language as yourself. Even when you go visit the Philippines right now, people who hailed from the same region tend to be more comfortable and have an easier time getting along. Ilocanos would be with Ilocanos, Cebuanos with Cebuanos. But when the Spanish colonized the country, they used regionalism to their advantage. They would favor one region over another in order to prevent a unified rebellion. With colonization comes the creation of Spanish Filipinos, the mestizos and mestizas. Now the term in current day Philippines can be used for any Filipino of mixed European, Chinese, or American ancestry, but back then it was exclusively for Spanish Filipinos who tend to be of a higher class compared to the general population. Interestingly, with languages, the Spanish occupation created a Spanish-based creole language, Chavacano, which today is still spoken by many Filipinos.
After the Spanish occupation, the United States introduced a different form of regionalism via immigration. This occurred in three waves: pre-World War II farm laborers (Hawaii, etc.), Filipinos in the United States Navy, and post 1965 family reunification and occupational immigrants (Espiritu, Y.L. (1995) Filipino American Lives). Filipinos began arriving in the United States during the occupation in order to study. These were either scholars sponsored by the government, and thus called pensionados, or those whose wealthy parents could afford to send their children overseas for higher education. It wasn’t until the United States started utilizing Filipinos as cheap plantation workers did migration significantly increase. The initial recruits where from Tagalog-speaking regions, then came the Ilocanos and the Visayans. When the Navy started recruiting Filipinos in their fleet, once again, it was most often the Tagalog-speakers who were often recruited.
The batches of immigration to the United States centered on specific regions created a gap in opportunity and wealth in the country. Now, even if a Filipino person can immigrate to the US today, their ability to create wealth is only beginning now, while someone from a different region already had generations of creating wealth and sending money back home.
So how does Filipino regionalism manifest itself right now? Well, like many countries, it created regional stereotypes that continue to this day. People from Tagalog and Kapampangan speaking regions tend to be more affluent. The capital of the country is in Manila, and with President Duterte being the first president not from a Tagalog-speaking region, he made a promise to institute a Federalist government and not focus all of the country’s wealth and development solely on the Tagalog-speaking capital. Tagalog-speakers have enjoyed quite the number of perks throughout history and to this day, they often employed people from poorer Visayan regions as cheap household laborers. Thus, Visayan is seen as a lower language. Visayans and Cebuanos in turn tend to be very proud of where they come from due to chips on their regional shoulders.
One time during a trip to the Philippines, I tested a rather harmless regional stereotype on a relative who is Ilocano (from an Ilokano-speaking region). His daughter was dating someone who was Kapampangan. Now, some Ilocanos believe that Tagalog and Kapampangan-speaking people tend to be braggarts due to their privileged history. Ilocanos in return are said to be notoriously thrifty because they had to travel to other regions, save up money, and send it back home. Without any knowledge of how his daughter’s boyfriend truly is, I asked him, “So I hear your daughter is dating a braggart.” With a sigh he goes, “Pretty much. He’s Kapampangan.”
Back to politics, voters tend to be swayed by regionalism as well, with people voting for the candidate most aligned to their region and language. It is why the election of Mindanao-born Duterte was monumental. Populism has defeated regionalism. Of course, regionalism in politics is not unique to the Philippines. South Korean politics is so heavily divided into regions when it comes to politics that I sometimes wonder why politicians even bother campaigning in a region that is so captured by their opponent. Every election, just like the United States, there are often only a handful of true battleground states.
When it comes to immigration, Filipinos can sometimes be regional as well. Sometimes those born and raised overseas are more comfortable associating with other natives, while newly-landed immigrants are more at ease with those of similar circumstances. Filipinos can sometimes feel insecure in the way they speak English, with Filipinos making jokes regarding mispronouncing or misappropriating English words. These jokes tend to be aimed at no one, but it can manifest into insecurity or a form of impostor syndrome, and seeing those who are more fluent in English to be more highly evolved or worldly.
What I find amusing is that sometimes, even in a foreign country, Filipinos will still find a way to group themselves into their regions. This is not to say that Filipinos will discriminate based on their ancestral region, but they will often be more at ease with those from the same background as them. Growing up in Canada, I was amazed and bewildered that my father founded a group for Ilocanos in the city. I was like, “Why?” and “How did you find each other?” But most importantly, “Isn’t there already a bigger group for Filipinos that is not exclusive to Ilocanos?” This is like me starting a group in Seoul specifically for expats from Winnipeg. What are we supposed to do in this group? Listen to Burton Cummings and talk about the Winnipeg Jets?
Just as black people are not a monolithic group, the same can be said for Filipinos. Scratch that. The same can be said for any population, really. There are Filipinos who get along well with other Filipinos, there are there are those who get along better with Filipinos from a specific region or from a common background, and sadly there are those that hate other Filipinos.
Blame the islands, the mountains, and years of colonization.