Filipino culture as soft power

 Filipino culture as soft power
L-R Top row: Len Cabili, Gino Gonzales, Leigh Reyes; Bottom row: Bayang Barrios, Ito Kish, Jenny Yrasuegui

SOFT POWER is referred to as a nation’s ability to attract and influence various actors in the global arena — and the Philippines has the potential to wield this power more effectively, according to Filipino artists, creatives, and craftspeople.

Dama Ko Lahi Ko, a volunteer-driven initiative established by the Filipino Culture Collective in 2021, marked its third year of spreading awareness about Filipino products, services, and experiences.

“This campaign is what we hope to contribute to improve our culture’s global standing,” said Leigh Reyes, one of the movement’s co-founders, at a May 31 event in Makati City.

The Philippines, known for its warm and welcoming people, ranks 61st out of 121 countries when it comes to soft power, according to the 2023 Global Soft Power Index by brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance.

Though the country’s performance could be better, its high score in the “people” metric “speaks volumes in terms of who we are as Filipinos,” according to Ms. Reyes.

“We’re nurturing, and we’ve reached other countries through different professions by always being rooted in malasakit (concern),” she said.

Whether it’s giving a visual platform to icons such as tribal tattooist Apo Whang-od, like Vogue photographer Artu Nepomuceno did, or showing the beauty of the terno in local TV, film, and theater, as scenographer Gino Gonzales does, Filipinos must be proud of their own.

For restaurateur Jenny Yrasuegui, who showcases local cuisine at her food joint Lunes Everyday Dining, it’s not that Filipino culture must be “elevated” — it’s that it must be championed and creatively presented.

CULTURE AS ECONOMIC STIMULUSAward-winning furniture designer Margarito “Ito” Kish drew tactile inspirations for his work from his upbringing in San Pablo, Laguna, largely influenced by his mother and grandmothers.

“Filipino will always be my design language,” he said, recalling solihiya chairs at the family’s ancestral home and wooden balusters that beckoned cool air. “My memories are woven into my creativity. “

This is why his Gregoria two-seater chair, named after his own mother, was able to win awards for best design at various events and continuously sell over the years. It is representative of looking back.

Meanwhile, ethnic music diva Bayang Barrios maintained that it’s possible to find one’s way back to local culture, even after resenting it.

“When I was younger, I didn’t want anything to do with being Manobo,” she said. Her college years weren’t defined at all by any sort of care for indigenous culture — but destiny would have her music and dance groups at school take it up anyway. “It really seemed like destiny.”

Now, her lilting voice captivates audiences, and she is a proud pioneer of Manobo music.

“Kung hindi natin mamahalin ang kulturang atin, tayo po ay magkakawatak-watak, at ang mismong bansa ay hihina at walang mapa-tutunguhan (If we don’t love our culture, we will fall apart and the country itself will weaken and lose direction),” said Ms. Barrios.

Dama Ko Lahi Ko co-founder Lenora “Len” Cabili gave Hallyu, or the Korean cultural wave, as an example of how a country can invest in soft power.

“The economic implication is that the same way people eat food, people also consume media and culture,” she said, likening it to how Filipinos may reach for another suman or another empanada or another lumpia.

“It must be very intentional on the part of the country and its government and its people to spread that throughout the world.” — Brontë H. Lacsamana