Portrait of the Philippines: 500 years without love

Published September 6, 2020, 7:09 AM

by Deedee Siytangco

Angel Thoughts

‘Rivers do not drink their own water. Trees do not get their own fruit; the sun does not shine on itself and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves. Living for others is a rule of nature. We are all born to help each other. No matter how difficult life is… life is good when you are happy; but much better when others are happy because of you.’

—Pope Francis

Five Hundred Years Without Love is the thought-provoking title of a new book launched on National Heroes Day, by bestselling author Alex Lacson

It was launched in a webinar format that reached over 11,000 views in both Zoom and FB live. The digital event highlighted thoughtful reflections from prominent reactors, music, and a live performance from artist Gary Granada. It was moderated by Boy Abunda. The author led with  a heartfelt call to love our country more, much as he did with his first book 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country in 2005.

Max Soliven, the late chairman and founder of the Philippine Star, played a key role in the success of 12 Little Things. On Dec. 15, 2005, shortly after the book’s publication, Max’s car conked out along Paseo de Roxas in Makati City in the rush hour, when he was on his way to an important appointment. In a fateful meeting, Alex Lacson, who saw the stalled car in the middle of the road, stopped and offered to give a lift to Soliven. Alex didn’t recognize Max, whose column Lacson read regularly.

Four days later, Soliven wrote a heart-warming column  about how Lacson rescued him on the road. “A Filipino of Faith” was the title of the article. According to Alex, after Soliven’s article came out, his small book 12 Little Things took off like a plane. The book sales soared. Invitations from various groups and companies for him to speak about the book shot up astronomically.

Lacson said, “It was an answered prayer. During many nights when I was writing the book, I prayed to God to send me many wonderful souls who can help me spread the book’s message to as many Filipinos as possible. Max Soliven was one of the very first of those big, wonderful souls sent by heaven to help me.”

Lacson said, “It was an answered prayer. During many nights when I was writing the book, I prayed to God to send me many wonderful souls who could help me spread the book’s message to as many Filipinos as possible. Max Soliven was one of the very first of those big, wonderful souls sent by heaven to help me.”

The story of Anton Hinirang and his family reflects our own story and journey as a people. It reflects the story of the Filipino in the last 500 years.

In Noli Me Tangere, the Philippines’ national hero Jose Rizal exposed the country’s social ills during his time—the corruption, abuses, injustices, and immoralities of the friars and Spanish authorities who occupied the Philippines for close to four centuries.

In this novel, Alex Lacson painstakingly exposes the various root causes of our country’s social malaise at present, which results in the continuing massive poverty, powerlessness, and misery of the Filipino people.

The year 2021 is the 500th year of Christianity’s arrival in the Philippines. It is also the 500th year of the Filipino story, of our quest as a country.

It was the Spaniards who drew the first map of the Philippines. The first to define the Philippine territory, they helped form our first steps as a nation.  If we count the coming of the Spaniards in 1521 as the beginning of our quest for nationhood, then 2021 will be the 500th year of our story as a country. 

Paradoxically, the author writes, those last five hundred years were a period of greed, abuse, injustice, and immorality. Those were years of social cancer, when the few with the power and influence took advantage of the many who were poor, ignorant, and powerless. Five centuries when a great many Filipinos lived without dignity.  Five hundred years without love.

For almost four centuries, the Filipinos were enslaved by foreign rulers, first by the Spaniards, followed by the Americans, and the Japanese. Nowadays, many of our people continue to be enslaved, by their own kind, in many political territories and corporate confines. Today, the worst enemy of the Filipino people is the Filipino himself.

During the official launch, three speaker-reactors were invited. The first was Prof. Solita Monsod, former NEDA secretary during the time of President Corazon Aquino and talk show host of “Bawal ang pasaway kay Mareng Winnie” on GMA 7.

Monsod noted that “133 years later, the social ills during Jose Rizal’s time are still present, but the perpetrators are different.  They are Filipino.”

Calling the Filipino “manas na (swollen)” from facing these problems every day, Monsod said: “Alex’s novel strips us of our immunity and personalizes it so that we are made to partake of the agony that social cancer causes its victims and their loved ones. I make a fearless forecast that this book, if my reaction to it is any indication, will be a bestseller… Page 11 pa lang eh naiyak na ako.”

Monsod noted that the human factor is a significant element in the elimination of poverty, considering that over 70 percent of the causes for our lack of development can be directly attributed to government policies.

Ben Punongbayan, the second speaker-reactor, called the book “a worthy portrayal of the country’s debilitating problems, portrayed in a manner similar to the style used by Rizal in his books published more than 130 years ago.”

He noted that our country is beset by so many big problems, “our troubles today are huge compared to those in Rizal’s time. The overriding issue we face today is that we have had ineffective government leadership.  The all-embracing reason for this ineffectiveness is that the country is being run by an oligarchy of about 100 families.”

Focusing on poverty, education and language, Punongbayan then highlighted certain reforms that he felt would help uplift the condition of our country. He noted that “we need a competent and well intentioned government to remedy what Alex aptly describes as cancer in our society.”

Manila Archdiocese Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo said, “The book is easy reading because the language is simple and engaging but it is also hard reading… We cannot separate our personal lives from the situation of our country. We are in this situation because of the social cancer that is fed by greed and self centeredness.”

“We don’t know what will happen to Anton, much less do we know what will happen to our country.  Will we be eaten up by our social cancer or can we transform the country in order to come to our dream Philippines?  Now that depends on us. This is the challenge to us. Can we let go of our own self centeredness noticing the cancer that is eating up our own people … to go and live more simple lives and serve the poor and thus contribute to the renewal of our society?” concluded Bishop Pabillo.

The book was edited by Paulynn Sicam, former CHR Commissioner during the term of President Cory Aquino. Gary Granada performed two of his most powerful songs—”Bahay” and “Kahit Konti.”

Five Hundred Years Without Love is also about hope as it offers a possible cure or solution. Alex talks about “A Dream Philippines,” a vision of a developed, prosperous, and more humane nation, which can be achieved if we can implement a package of reforms, mostly economic, which are discussed in the chapters. These reforms are based on the successful policies and programs of 12 countries that could serve as model countries for the Philippines. Through this novel, Lacson hopes to contribute to our pursuit of a Dream Philippines and hoped  that the book would reach our youth, particularly those in Grade 9 or 10 studying the Noli or Fili, as a companion book for reflection and a call to action.

The book is also about the author’s faith.

He noted that 60 years ago, South Korea was a very poor country, 90 percent of its people were extremely poor. It was called the impossible country by many foreign writers. Singapore was also a very poor and backward country 60 years ago. So was China.

Sixty years ago, the Philippines was much better off than these nations.

“If these countries were able to find their path to development and progress, the Filipinos can also find their way to a better future,” said Lacson. “We have all the essentials we need to succeed as people.”

He believes that the solution to our many problems is not rocket science and that the solution to our many problems is already within us.

“It is in our hearts. Love is the answer to all our problems. The first thing that we must clean up in this country is our hearts, especially the hearts of our leaders in government and in business,” declared the author. “Love as expressed in kindness, generosity, fairness, and justice,” Alex ends.


We are saddened by the news of our dear friend Ethel Timbol‘s passing. She was a treasured colleague, the lifestyle editor of the Manila Bulletin from 1976 to 2007. She passed away peacefully in her bed at St. Luke’s at BGC. My love to her children Alex, Bebeth, and my inaanak Dabi.

READ: mb.com.ph/2020/09/06/longtime-manila-bulletin-lifestyle-editor-ethel-timbol-passes-away/