THE FILIPINO DIASPORA by E. San Juan, Jr.


MAPPING THE VICISSITUDES OF THE FILIPINO DIASPORA

by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

Professorial Lecturer, POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES

 

Contemporary cultural studies posit the demise of the nation as an unquestioned assumption, almost a doctrinal point of departure for speculations on the nature of the globalization process. Are concepts such as the nation-state, national sovereignty, or nationalities, and their referents obsolete and useless? Whatever the rumors about the demise of the nation-state, or the obsolescence of nationalism in the wake of September 11, 2001, agencies that assume its healthy existence are busy: not only the members of the United Nations, but also the metropolitan powers, with the United States as its military spearhead, have all reaffirmed their civilizing nationalism with a vengeance.
In this epoch of counter-terrorism, the local and the global find a meeting ground in the transactions among nation-states and diverse nationalities while global hegemony is negotiated among the metropolitan powers. Their instrumentalities–the World Trade Organization, NATO, the World Bank and IMF, and other consortia–are all exerting pressures and influence everywhere. Citizenship cards, passports, customs gatekeepers, and border patrols are still mundane regularities. Saskia Sassen has described the advent of the global city as a sign of the “incipient unbundling of the exclusive territoriality of the nation-state.” At the same time, however, she adds that what we see looming in the horizon is the “transnational geography of centrality…consisting of multiple linkages and strategic concentrations of material infrastructure,” a “grid of sites and linkages” (1998, 214) between North and South still comprised of nation-states.
With WTO and finance capital in the saddle, the buying and selling of labor-power moves center stage once more. What has not escaped the most pachydermous epigones of free-market apologists who have not been distracted by the Gulf War, the carnage in Bosnia and Kosovo, and now in Afghanistan, are the frequency and volume of labor migration, flows of bodies of color (including mail-order brides, children, and the syndicated traffic in prostitutes and other commodified bodies), in consonance with the flight of labor-intensive industries to far-flung industrial zones in Mexico, Thailand, the Philippines, Haiti, China, and other dependent formations. These regularities defy postmodernist concepts of contingency, ambivalence, and indeterminacy. Such bodies are of course not the performative parodists of Judith Butler in quest of pleasure or the aesthetically fashioned selves idealized by Foucault and the pragmatic patriot, Richard Rorty.
In the Arena of Culure Wars
Culture wars are being conducted by other means through the transport and exchange of bodies of color in the international bazaars. And the scaling of bodies proceeds according to corporeal differences (sex, race, age, physical capacity, etc.). Other diasporas—in addition to the historic ones of the Jews, Africans, Chinese, Irish, Palestinians, and so on—are in the making. The editors of The South Atlantic Quarterly special issue on “diaspora and immigration” celebrate the political and cultural experiences of these nomadic cohorts who can “teach us how to think about our destiny and how to articulate the unity of science with the diversity of knowledge as we confront the politics of difference” (Mudimbe and Engel 1999, 6). Unity, diversity, politics of difference—the contours and direction of diasporas are conceived as the arena of conflict among disparate philosophical/ideological standpoints. Contesting the European discourse on modernity and pleading for the “inescapability and legitimate value of mutation, hybridity, and intermixture” (1993, 223), Paul Gilroy has drawn up the trope of the “Black Atlantic” on the basis of the “temporal and ontological rupture of the middle passage.” Neither the Jewish nor the African diasporas can of course be held up as inviolable archetypes if we want to pursue an “infinite process of identity construction.” My interest here is historically focused: to inquire into how the specific geopolitical contingencies of the Filipino diaspora-in-the-making can problematize this infinitude of identity formation in the context of “third world” principles of national liberation, given the persistent neocolonial, not postcolonial, predicament of the Philippines today (San Juan 1996).
Postmodern Cultural Studies from the counter-terrorizing North is now replicating McKinley’s gunboat policy of “Benevolent Assimilation” at the turn of the last century (Pomeroy 1992). Its missionary task is to discover how, without their knowing it, Filipina domestics are becoming cosmopolitans while working as maids (more exactly, domestic slaves), empowering themselves by devious tactics of evasion, accommodation, and making-do. Obviously this task of naturalizing servitude benefits the privileged few, the modern slave-masters. This is not due to a primordial irony in the nature of constructing their identity, which, according to Ernesto Laclau, “presupposes the constitutive split” between the content and the function of identification as such since they—like most modern subjects—are “the empty places of an absent fullness” (1994, 36). Signifiers of lack, these women from poverty-stricken regions in the Philippines are presumably longing for a plenitude symbolized by a stable, prosperous homeland/family that, according to postcolonial dogma, is forever deferred if not evacuated. Yet these maids (euphemized as “domestics”) possess faculties of resourcefulness, stoic boldness, and ingenuity. Despite this, it is alleged that Western experts are needed for them to acquire self-reflexive agency, to know that their very presence in such lands as Kuwait, Milan, Los Angeles, Taipeh, Singapore, and London and the cultural politics they spontaneously create are “complexly mediated and transformed by memory, fantasy and desire” (Hall 1992, 254). The time of labor has annihilated indeed the spaces of the body, home, community, and nation. The expenditure of a whole nation-people’s labor-power now confounds the narrative of individual progress on which the logic of capital and its metaphysics of rationality are hitherto founded.
Space-time particulars are needed if we want to ascertain the “power-geometry” (Massey 1993) that scales diasporic duration, the temporality of displacement. I might state at the outset an open secret: the annual remittance of billions of dollars by Filipino workers abroad, now more than eight million, suffices to keep the Philippine economy afloat and support the luxury and privileges of less than one percent of the people, the Filipino oligarchy. Since the seventies, Filipino bodies have been the No. 1 Filipino export, and their corpses (about five or six return in coffins daily) are becoming a serious item in the import ledger. In 1998 alone, according to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, 755,000 Filipinos found work abroad, sending home a total of P7.5 billion; in the last three years, their annual remittance averages $5 billion (Tujan 2001). Throughout the nineties, the average total of migrant workers is about a million a year; they remit over five percent of the national GNP, not to mention the millions of pesos collected by the Philippine government in myriad taxes and fees. Hence these overseas cohorts are glorified as “modern heroes,” “mga bagong bayani” (the “new heroes”), the most famous of whom are Flor Contemplacion who was falsely accused and hanged in Singapore, and Sarah Balabagan, flogged in Saudi Arabia for defending herself against her rapist-employer.
This global marketing of Filipino labor is an unprecedented phenomenon, rivaled only by the trade of African slaves in the previous centuries. Over one thousand concerned Filipino American students made this the central topic of the 1997 FIND Conference at SUNY Binghamton where I was the invited keynote speaker. These concerned youths were bothered by the reputation of the Filipina/o as the “domestic help,” or glorified servant of the world. How did Filipinas/os come to find themselves scattered to the four corners of the earth and subjugated to the position of selling their selfhoods? What are we doing about it? In general, what is the meaning and import of this unprecedented traffic, millions of Filipinas/os in motion and in transit around the planet?
Lifting the Embargo
Of the eight million Filipinos, there are more than a million Filipina domestics (also known as OCWs or “Overseas Contract Workers”) in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan today, employed under terrible conditions. News reports of brutal and inhumane treatment, slavery, rape, suicide, and murder suffered by these workers abound. The reason why thousands of college-educated women continue to travel to Hong Kong and other destinations even as the procession of coffins of their sisters greet them at the ports of embarkation, is not a mystery. I can only sketch here the outline of the political economy of migrant labor as a subtext to the hermeneutics of diasporic representation.
Suffice it here to spell out the context of this transmigrancy: the accelerated impoverishment of millions of Filipino citizens, the oppressive unjust system (the Philippines as a neocolonial dependency of the U.S. and the transnational corporate power-elite) managed by local compradors, landlords, and bureaucrat-capitalists who foster emigration to relieve unemployment and defuse mass unrest, combined with the economic enticements in Hong Kong and other Newly Industrializing Countries, and so on–all these comprise the parameters for this ongoing process of the marketing of bodies. The convergence of complex global factors, including the internal conditions in the Philippines, has been carefully delineated by, among others, Bridget Anderson (2000), Delia Aguilar (2000), Grace Chang (2000), and Rhacel Parrenas (2001). We may cite, in particular, the devalorization of women’s labor in global cities, the shrinking status of sovereignty for peripheral nation-states, and the new saliency of human rights in a feminist analytic of the “New World Order.” In addition to the rampant pillage of the national treasury by corrupt Filipino compradors, bureaucrat-capitalists and feudalistic landlords, the plunder of the economy by transnational capital has been worsened by the “structural conditionalities” imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Disaggregation of the economy has registered in the disintegration of ordinary Filipino lives (most from rural areas) due to forced migration because of lack of employment, recruiting appeals of governments and business agencies, and the dissolution of the homeland as psychic and physical anchorage in the vortex of the rapid depredation of finance capital.
In general, imperialism and the anarchy of the “free market” engender incongruities, non-synchronies, and shifting subject-positions of the Other inscribed in the liminal space of subjugated territory. Capital accumulation is the matrix of unequal power (Hymer 1975; Harvey 1996) between metropolis and colonies. The historical reality of uneven sociopolitical development in a U.S. colonial and, later, neocolonial society like the Philippines is evident in the systematic Americanization of schooling, mass media, sports, music, and diverse channels of mass communication (advertisements, TV and films, cyberspace). Backwardness now helps hi-tech corporate business. Since the seventies, globalization has concentrated on the exploitation of local tastes and idioms for niche marketing while the impact of the Filipino diaspora in the huge flow of remittances from OCWs has accentuated the discrepancy between metropolitan wealth and neocolonial poverty, with the consumerist habitus made egregiously flagrant in the conspicuous consumption of domestic returning from the Middle East, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, and other places with balikbayan (returnee) boxes. Unbeknownst to observers of this postmodern “cargo cult,” coffins of these workers (one of them martyred in Singapore, Flor Contemplacion, achieved the status of national saint) arrive in Manila at the rate of five or six a day without too much fanfare.
New Heroines?
Notwithstanding this massive research into the structural and historical background of these “new heroes” (as President Corazon Aquino called them in acknowledgment of their contribution to the country’s dollar reserves), their plight remains shrouded in bureaucratic fatuities. A recent ethnographic account of the lives of Filipina domestics celebrates their newfound subjectivity within various disciplinary regimes. Deploying Foucault’s notion of “localized power,” the American anthropologist Nicole Constable seeks “to situate Filipina domestic workers within the field of power, not as equal players but as participants”(1999, 11).
Ambivalence supposedly characterizes the narratives of these women: they resist oppression at the same time as they “participate in their own subordination.” And how is their agency manifested? How else but in their consuming power? Consider this spectacle: During their Sundays off, Filipina maids gather in certain places like the food restaurants of the Central District in Hong Kong and demand prompt service or complain to the managers if they are not attended to properly. They also have the option of exercising agency at McDonald’s if they ask for extra condiments or napkins. Apart from these anecdotal examples, the fact that these maids were able to negotiate their way through a bewildering array of institutions in order to secure their jobs is testimony to what Constable calls “the subtler and more complex forms of power, discipline and resistance in their everyday lives” (1999, 202). According to one reviewer, this scholarly attempt to ferret out signs of tension or conflict in the routine lives of domestics obfuscates the larger context that defines the subordination of these women and the instrumentalities that reproduce their subjugation. In short, functionalism has given way to neopositivism. To put it another way, Constable shares Foucault’s dilemma of ascribing resistance to subjects while devaluing history as “meaningless kaleidoscopic changes of shape in discourse totalities” (Habermas 1987, 277). Nor is Constable alone in this quite trendy vocation. Donna Haraway (1992), among others, has earlier urged the practitioners of Cultural Studies to abandon the politics of representation which allegedly objectifies and disempowers whatever it represents. She wants us to choose instead local struggles for strategic articulations that are always impermanent, vulnerable, and contingent. This precept forbids the critique of ideology–how can one distinguish truth from falsehood since there are only “truth effects” contrived by power? This populist and often demagogic stance promotes “a radical skepticism” (Brantlinger 1990, 102) that cannot discriminate truth-claims, nor establish a basis for sustained and organized political action.
The most flagrant erasure in Constable’s postmodernist inventory of episodes seems more serious. This is her discounting of the unequal relation between the Philippines and a peripheral capitalist city like Hong Kong, a relation enabled by the continuing neocolonial domination of Filipinos by Western corporate interests led by the United States (Sison and De Lima 1998). But this microphysics of learning how to survive performed by Filipino maids cannot exonerate the ethnographist from complicity with this strategy of displacing causality (a technique of inversion also found in mainstream historians of the Philippines such as Glenn May, David Steinberg, Stanley Karnow) and apologizing for the victims by oblique patronage. Anne Lacsamana pronounces a felicitous verdict on this specimen of Cultural Studies: “To dismiss the broader history of Filipino OCWs in favor of more trivial pursuits (such as watching them eat at a fast food restaurant) reenacts a Western superiority that has already created (and is responsible for) many of the social, economic, and political woes that continue to plague the country” (1998, 42).
Deracination Trauma
Now the largest constituency in the Asian American group in the United States, Filipinos have become the newest diasporic community in the whole world. United Nations statistics indicate that Filipinos make up the newest migrant assemblage in the world: eight million Filipino migrant workers (out of eighty million citizens), mostly female domestic help and semi-skilled labor. They endure poorly paid employment under sub-standard conditions, with few or null rights, in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, North America, and elsewhere. It might be noted here that, historically, diasporic groups are defined not only by a homeland but also by a desire for eventual return and a collective identity centered on myths and memories of the homeland. The Filipino diaspora, however, is different. Since the homeland has long been colonized by Western powers (Spain, United States) and remains neocolonized despite formal or nominal independence, the Filipino identification is not with a fully defined nation but with regions, localities, and communities of languages and traditions. Perceived as Others, they are lumped with familiar aliens: Chinese, Mexicans, Japanese, Indonesians, and so on. Newspaper reports have cited the Philippines as the next target of the U.S. government’s global “crusade” against terrorism. Where is the nation alluded to in passports and other identification papers? How do we conceive of this “Filipino” nation or nationality, given the preemptive impact of U.S. domination and now, on top of the persistent neocolonizing pressure, the usurping force of abstractive, quantifying capital?
According to orthodox immigration theory, “push” and “pull” factors combine to explain the phenomenon of Overseas Contract Workers. Do we resign ourselves to this easy schematic formulation? Poverty and injustice, to be sure, have driven most Filipinos to seek work abroad, sublimating the desire to return by regular remittances to their families; occasional visits and other means of communication defer the eventual homecoming. Alienation and isolation, brutal and racist treatment, and other dehumanized conditions prevent their permanent settlement in the “receiving” countries, except where they have been given legal access to obtaining citizenship status. If the return is postponed, are modes of adaptation and temporary domicile in non-native grounds the feasible alternatives for these expatriates (as they are fondly called by their compatriots in Manila)?
The reality of “foreignness” cannot be eluded. Alienation, insulting treatment, and racist violence prevent their permanent re-settlement in the “receiving societies,” except where Filipino communities (as in the U.S. and Canada, for example) have been given legal access to citizenship rights. Individuals, however, have to go through abrasive screening and tests—more stringent now in this repressive neofascist ethos. During political crisis in the Philippines, Filipino overseas workers mobilize themselves for support of local and nationwide resistance against imperial domination and local tyranny. Because the putative “Filipino” nation is in the process of formation in the neocolony and abroad, overseas Filipino workers have been considered transnationals or transmigrants–a paradoxical turn since the existence of the nation is problematic, and the “trans” label a chimera. This diaspora then faces the ineluctable hurdles of racism, ethnic exclusion, inferiorization via racial profiling, and physical attacks. Can Filipino migrant labor mount a collective resistance against globalized exploitation? Can the Filipino diaspora expose also the limits of genetic and/or procedural notions of citizenship? In what way can the Filipino diaspora serve as a paradigm for analyzing and critically unsettling the corporate globalization of labor and the reification of identities in the new millennium?
Look Homeward, Angels of Pilipinas
As a point of departure for future inquiry, we might situate the Filipino diaspora within its Asian American configuration—since the author is based here in this racial polity (San Juan 2002). His intervention proceeds from a concrete historic staging ground. First, a definition of “diaspora.” According to Milton Esman, the term refers to “a minority ethnic group of migrant origin which maintains sentimental or material links with its land of origin” (1996, 316). Either because of social exclusion, internal cohesion, and other geopolitical factors, these communities are never assimilated into the host society; but they develop in time a diasporic consciousness which carries out a collective sharing of space with others, purged of any exclusivist ethos or proprietary design. These communities will embody a peculiar sensibility enacting a caring and compassionate agenda for the whole species that thrives on cultural difference. Unlike peoples who have been conquered, annexed, enslaved or coerced in some other way, diasporas are voluntary movements of people from place to place, although such migrations may also betray symptoms of compulsion if analyzed within a global political economy of labor and inter-state political rivalries. Immanuel Wallerstein (1995) feels that these labor migrants can challenge transnational corporations by overloading the system with “free movement,” at the same time that they try to retain for themselves more of the surplus value they produce. But are such movements really free? And if they are cheap labor totally contingent on the unpredictable fortunes of business, isn’t the expectation of their rebelliousness exorbitant? Like ethnicity, diaspora which is fashioned by determinate historical causes has tended to take on “the ‘natural’ appearance of an autonomous force, a ‘principle’ capable of determining the course of social action” (Comaroff 1992). Like racism and nationalism, diaspora presents multiform physiognomies open to various interpretations and articulations. Historical precedents may provide clues of what’s to come.
Let us consider one late-modern interpretation of diaspora. For David Palumbo-Liu, the concept of “diaspora” performs a strategic function. It probably endows the slash in the rubric “Asian/American” with an uncanny performative resonance. Palumbo-Liu contends that diaspora affords a space for the reinvention of identity free from naturalized categories but (if I may underscore here) not from borders, state apparatuses, and other worldly imperatives. Although remarking that the concept of diaspora as an “enabling fiction” affords us “the ideological purchase different articulations of the term allow,” Palumbo-Liu doesn’t completely succumb to the rebarbative postcolonialist babble about contingency ruling over all. I want to quote a passage from his insightful book, Asian / American, that might afford parameters for the random reflections here apropos of the theme and discourse of Filipino diaspora:
…”diaspora” does not consist in the fact of leaving Home, but in having that factuality available to representation as such—we come to “know” diaspora only as it is psychically identified in a narrative form that discloses the various ideological investments…. It is that narrative form that locates the representation of diaspora in its particular chronotope. This spatiotemporal construct approximates a psychic experience particularly linked to material history. It is only after the diasporic comes into contact with the material history of its new location that a particular discourse is enabled that seeks to mark a distance, a relation, both within and outside that constellation of contingency (1999, 355).
Like the words “hybridity,” border crossing, ambivalence, subaltern, transculturation, and so on, the term “diaspora” has now become chic in polite conversations and genteel colloquia. A recent conference at the University of Minnesota on “Race, Ethnicity, and Migration” lists as first of the topics one can engage with, “Diaspora and diasporic identities,” followed by “Genocide, ethnic cleansing, and forced migration.” One indeed dreads to encounter in this context such buzzwords as “post-nation,” “alterity,” or ludic “differance” now overshadowed by “globalization” and everything prefixed with “trans-“ and assorted postalities. In fact I myself used the word “diaspora” as part of the title of my book, From Exile to Diaspora: Versions of the Filipino Experience in the United States (1998b). Diaspora becomes oxymoronic: a particularizing universal, a local narrative which subsumes all experiences within its fold. Diaspora enacts a mimicry of itself, dispersing its members around in a kaleidoscope of simulations and simulacras borne by the flow of goods, money, labor, and so on, in the international commodity chain.
Let me interject a personal note: I have lived in the U.S. for over 40 years now (the greater part of my life), with frequent visits to the Philippines without too many balikbayan cargo, unfortunately. And in my various voyages in/out, I have encountered Filipinos in many parts of the world in the course of my research. In the early eighties I was surprised to meet compatriots at the footsteps of the Post Office in Tripoli, Libya, and later on in the streets and squares of London, Edinburgh, Spain, Italy, Greece, Tokyo, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other places. Have I then stumbled onto some unheard-of enigmatic scandal as a “Filipino diaspora”? Or have I surreptitiously constructed this, dare I say, “reality” and ongoing experience of about eight million Filipinos around the planet? Not to speak of millions of displaced indigenous peoples in the Philippines itself, an archipelago of 700 islands, “one of the world’s most strategically important land masses,” according to geographer George Demko (1992).
For those not familiar with my other writings critical of poststructuralist approaches (San Juan 1996; 1998a), I want to state outright that I consider such views about the Filipino diaspora half-truths closer to rumor, if not sheer mystifications. Spurious distinctions about cognition and perception concerning ethnic identity will remain vacuous if they do not take into account the reality of imperial world-systemic changes and their concrete multilayered ramifications. Lacking any dialectical materialist analysis of the dynamics of colonialism and imperialism that connect the Philippines and its peoples with the United States and the rest of the world, conventional studies on Filipino immigration and resettlement are all scholastic games, at best disingenuous exercises in chauvinist or white-supremacist apologetics. This is because they rely on concepts and methodologies that conceal unequal power relations—that is, relations of subordination and domination, racial exclusion, marginalization, sexism, gender inferiorization, as well as national subalternity, and other forms of discrimination. I want to stress in particular unequal power relations among nation-states. Lest people be misled by academic gossip, I am not proposing here an economistic and deterministic approach, nor a historicist one with a monolithic Enlightenment metanarrative, teleology, and essentialist or ethnocentric agenda. Far from it. What is intriguing are the dynamics of symbolic violence (Bourdieu 1997) and the naturalization of social constructs and beliefs which are dramatized in the plot and figures of diasporic happenings.
Excavations in the Boondocks
The testimony of diasporic narrative may be a useful pedagogical device to ground my observations here on the experiences of Filipina migrant workers as synthesized in literary form. Prior to the disruption of the postcolonial impasse and in order to situate postcolonial difference in the Philippine context, I would like at this juncture to concretize the crisis of bourgeois metaphysics and its political implications in contemporary Filipino expression.
In my previous works (The Philippine Temptation, History and Form, and other books), I have described the domination of U.S. symbolic capital on literary and critical discourse since the annullment of the Spanish language and the indigenous vernaculars as viable media of expression in the public sphere at the start of U.S. colonization in 1898. The ascendancy of the hegemonic discourse of liberal utilitarianism expressed in English prevailed throughout the period of formal independence and the Cold War until the martial law period (1972-1986) when an authoritarian order reinforced semi-feudal and tributary norms. Meanwhile, Pilipino (now “Filipino”) has become a genuine lingua franca with the popularity of local films and television serials, aided by the prohibitive costs of imported Western cultural fare. As already noted earlier, these cultural developments parallel the intense neocolonization, or even refeudalization, of the whole political-economic system.
Symptomatic of a disaggregated and uneven socioeconomic formation are the literary and journalistic narratives spun around the trauma of dislocation undergone by over eight million OCWs, mostly women. I analyze one specimen of this genre below. It should be recalled that this unprecedented hemorrhage of labor-power, the massive export of educated women whose skills have been downgraded to quasi-slavish domestic help, issues from a diseased body politic. The marks of the disease are the impoverishment of 75% of the population, widespread corruption by the minuscule oligarchy, criminality, military/police atrocities, and the intensifying insurgency of peasants, women, youth, workers, and indigenous communities. The network of the patriarchal family and semifeudal civil society unravels when women from all sectors (except the rich minority) alienate their “free labor” in the world market. While the prime commodity remains labor-power (singularly measured here in both time and space especially for lived-in help), OCWs find themselves frozen in a tributary status between serfhood and colonizing pettybourgeois households. Except for the carceral condition of “hospitality” women in Japan and elsewhere overseen by gangsters, most Filipinas function as indentured servants akin to those in colonial settler societies in 17th century Virginia, Australia, Jamaica, and elsewhere. But unlike those societies, the Middle East, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and other receiving countries operate as part of the transnationalized political economy of global capitalism. These indentured cohorts are witness to the dismemberment of the emergent Filipino nation and the scattering of its traumatized elements to state-governed territories around the planet.
Undomesticated Domestics
At this point I want to illustrate the phenomenon of neocolonial disintegration and ideological reconstitution of the “third world” subject as a symptom of uneven capitalist hegemony in a fictional account by a Filipina author who writes in Pilipino, the national language. Fanny Garcia (1994) wrote the story entitled “Arriverderci” in 1982 at the height of the Marcos-induced export of Filipina bodies to relieve widespread immiseration in all sectors of society and curb mounting resistance in city and countryside.
Garcia’s ascetic representation of this highly gendered diaspora yields a diagnostic illustration of postcolonial schizophrenia. In the opening scene, Garcia describes Filipina domestics in Rome, Italy, enjoying a weekend break in an excursion outside the city. One of these domestics, Nelly, meets a non-descript compatriot, Vicky (Vicenta), who slowly confides to Nelly her incredible experience of physical hardship, loneliness, and frustrated ambition, including her desperate background in her hometown, San Isidro. Vicky also reveals her fear that her employer might rape her, motivating her to inquire about the possibility of moving in with Nelly whose own crowded apartment cannot accommodate Vicky. Spatial confinement resembles incarceration for those who refuse the oppression of live-in contracts, the latter dramatized in Vicky’s earlier experience.
Dialogue begets intimacy and the shock of discovery. After trust has been established between them, Nelly learns that Vicky has concealed the truth of her dire situation from her relatives back home. Like others, Vicky has invented a fantasy life to make her folks happy. After a short lapse of time, Nelly and her companions read a newspaper account of Vicky’s suicide—according to her employer, she leaped from the fifth floor of the apartment due to a broken heart caused by her sweetheart, a Filipino seaman, who was marrying another woman. Nelly of course knows the real reason: Vicky was forced to kill herself to save her honor, to refuse bodily invasion by the Italian master. Nelly and her friends manage to gather funds to send Vicky’s body back home to the Philippines. When asked how she would explain Vicky’s death to the next-of-kin, everyone agrees that they could not tell the truth. Nelly resolves their predicament with a fictive ruse:

“Ganito na lang,” sabi ni Nelly, “nabangga ang kotseng sinasakyan n’ya.” Sumang-ayon ang lahat. Pumunta sa kusina si Nelly. Hawak ang bolpen at nakatitig sa blangkong putting papel na nakapatong sa mesa, naisip ni Nelly, dapat din niyang tandaan: sa San Isidro, si Vicenta at Vicky ay si Bising (1994, 334-335).
[“Let’s do it this way,” Nelly said, “she died when the car she was in crashed.” Everyone agreed. Nelly entered the kitchen. Holding a ballpoint pen and staring at the blank piece of paper on the table, Nelly thought that she should also remember: in San Isidro, Vicenta and Vicky were also Bising.]
In the triple personas of Vicky nurtured in the mind of Nelly, we witness the literal and figurative diaspora of the Filipino nation in which the manifold layers of experience occuring at different localities and temporalities are reconciled. They are sutured together not in the corpse but in the act of gendered solidarity and national empathy. Without the practices of communication and cooperation among Filipina workers, the life of the individual OCW is suspended in thrall, a helpless fragment in the nexus of commodity circulation. Terror in capitalist society re-inscribes boundaries and renews memory.
History and Agency
What I want to highlight, however, is the historicizing power of this narrative. Marx once said that capitalism conquers space with time (Harvey 2000). The urgent question is: can its victims fight back via a counterhegemonic strategy of spatial politics? Here the time of the nationalizing imagination overcomes displacement by global capital. Fantasy becomes complicit with truth when Nelly and her friends agree to shelter Vicky’s family from the terror of patriarchal violence located in European terrain. We see that the routine life of the Filipino community is defined by bureaucratized space that seems to replicate the schedule back home; but the chronological itinerary is deceptive because while this passage lures us into a calm compromise with what exists, the plot of attempted rape and Vicky’s suicide transpires behind the semblance of the normal and the ordinary:
…Ang buhay nila sa Italia ay isang relo–hindi nagbabago ng anyo, ng direksiyon, ng mga numero.
Kung Linggo ng umaga, nagtitipon-tipon sa loob ng Vaticano, doon sa pagitan ng malalaking haliging bato ng colonnade….
Ang Papa’y lilitaw mula sa isang mataas na bintana ng isang gusali, at sa harap ng mikropono’y magsasalita’t magdadasal, at matapos ang kanyang basbas, sila’y magkakanya-kanyang grupo sa paglisan. Karaniwa’y sa mga parke ang tuloy. Sa damuhan, sa ilalim ng mga puno, ilalabas ang mga baon. May paikot-ikot sa mga grupo, nagtitinda ng pansit na lemon ang pampaasim, litsong kawali na may ketsup, at iba pa. Umpisa na ng piknik. Magkakasama ang mga Ilokano, ang mga Batanggenyo, at iba pang hatiang batay sa wika o lugar. O kaya’y ang mga propesyonal at di-propesyonal. Matapos ang kainan, palilipasin ang oras sa pamamagitan ng kuwentuhan o kaya’y pagpapaunlak sa isang nagpapasugal. Malakas ang tayaan. Mga bandang alas-tres o alas-kuwatro ng hapon, kanya-kanyang alis na ang mga pangkat. Pupunta sa mga simbahang pinagmimisahan ng mga paring Pinoy na iskolar ng kani-kanilang order. Sa Ingles at Pilipino ang misa, mga awit at sermon. Punong-puno ang simbahan, pulos Pilipino, maliban sa isa o dalawa o tatlong puti na maaring kaibigan, nobio, asawa o kabit ng ilang kababayan.
Matapos ang misa, muling maghihiwalay ang mga pangkat-pangkat. May pupunta muli sa mga parke, may magdidisco, may magsisine. Halos hatinggabi na kung maghiwa-hiwalay patungo sa kanya-kanyang tinutuluyan…. (329-330).
[Their lives in Italy resembled a clock—never changing in shape, direction or numbers.
On Sunday mornings they would gather inside the Vatican, there between the huge rocky pillars of the colonnade… The Pope would appear at a window of the tall building, and would pray and speak in front of a microphone, and after his benediction, they would all join their groups upon leaving. Usually they head for the parks. On the grass, under the trees, they will spread their packs. Some will circle around selling noodles with lemon slices, roast pork with catsup, and other viands. The picnic begins. Ilocanos congregate among themselves, so do those from Batangas, and others gather together according to language or region. Or they socialize according to profession or lack of it. After eating, they will pass the time telling stories or gambling. Betting proceeds vigorously. Toward three or four in the afternoon, the cohorts begin their departure. They head toward the churches where Filipino priests, scholars of their orders, hold mass in English or in Filipino, together with songs and sermon. The churches overflow, all Filipinos, except for one, two or three whites, who may be friends, sweethearts, wives, or partners. After the mass, the groups will again separate. Some will return to the parks, others will go to discos or moviehouses, until around midnight they will go their separate individual ways to wherever they are staying.]

Resignation is premature. This surface regularity conceals fissures and discontinuities that will only disclose themselves when the death of Vicky shatters the peace and complicates the pathos of indentured domesticity.
Ludic Mis-Representations
The most telling symptom of uneven development caused by the new international division of labor is the schizoid nature of the Filipina response to serflike confinement. This response has been celebrated by postcolonial critics as the exemplary act of “sly civility,” a tactic of outwitting the enemy by mimicry and ambivalent acts. We read a tabulation of this tactic in Garcia’s description of Nelly’s plans to tour Europe by touching base with friends and acquaintances throughout the continent, an escape from the pressure of responsibility or accountability to anyone. Here is the cartography of Nelly’s “imagined community” which generates a new position: the deterritorialized citizen of global capital. The space of recreation may relieve the pressure of alienated time, but it cannot ultimately resolve the dilemma of spatiotemporal dislocation and dispersal. Asked by her friends what’s going on between her and Vicky, Nelly simply smiles and shrugs her shoulders:
Mas mahalaga sa kanya ang mga tanong ng sarili. Pulos Roma na lamang ba? Aling sulok at kanto pa ng Roma ang hindi niya natatapakan? Pulos pagkakatulong na lamang ba? Hindi siya nagpunta sa Europa upang paganapin lamang ang sarili sa mga istorya ng pagliliwali kung Linggo, na kabisadong-kabisado na niya ang simula’t dulo. Hindi siya nangibang bansa upang makinig lamang sa mga usapang nakaangkla sa mga “nanay,” ‘tatay,” “anak,” mga gawaing-bahay, hinaing at problema. Hindi upang sundan ang buhay at kasaysayan ng isang Vicenta. Ipinasya niyang umpisahan na ang paglilibot sa Europa. May sapat na siyang naiipon para sa ibang bansa. Bibili siya ng Eurail pass, mas mura sa tren. Unahin kaya muna niya ang France, West Germany at Netherlands? May mga kaibigan siya doon. Nasa Paris si Orly, may kuwartong inuupahan. Nagpunta ito sa Paris bilang iskolar, artist-observer sa loob ng tatlong buwan, ngunit tulad niya, hindi na ito bumalik sa Pilipinas. Ngayo’y nabubuhay ito sa pamamagitan ng pagpipinta at pagiging potograpo. Sa Frankfurt, makikituloy siya kay Nora at sa Alemang napangasawa nito, dating penpal. Nasa Amsterdam si Angie, kahera sa department store, at ka-live-in ang isang Dutch. Sapat na marahil ang isang buwang paglalakbay. Saka naman iplano ang mga ibang bansa. Sinulatan niya ang tatlong kaibigan. (333) [ More valuable for her are the questions addressed to herself. Am I to be confined to Rome alone? What corner and crossroad of Rome has she not covered already? Am I to be tied to domestic work? She didn’t travel to Europe in order to let herself play a role in the stories of killing time on Sundays, whose beginning and end she knew thoroughly. She didn’t go abroad only to listen to talk anchored to “mother,” “father,” “child,” domestic chores, grumblings and problems. Nor to pursue the life and history of a certain Vicenta. She decided to start her travels around Europe. She already has enough savings for the trip to other countries. She’ll buy a Eurail pass, it’s cheaper by train. Should she begin with France, West Germany, and the Netherlands? She has friends there. Orly is in Paris, with a rented room. He went to Paris as a scholar, artist-observer, for three months, but like her he never returned to the Philippines. Now he’s supporting himself by painting and photography. In Frankfurt she’ll stay with Nora and her German husband, her former penpal. Angie is in Amsterdam, a cashier at a department store, with a live-in Dutch partner. Perhaps a month’s journey will be enough. She’ll plan visiting other lands later. She wrote her three friends.]
In the above passage, we discern the contradictions immanent in Filipina agency as she negotiates her position in the locus between wage-labor under serflike conditions and the mobility promised by the “free market” of late capitalist Europe. This situation may provide us the source of scaling the postcolonial dilemma suffered by Filipinas, conceving scale as (in Neil Smith’s definition) “the geographical resolution of contradictory processes of competition and co-operation” (1993, 99). But the chance for an escape to resolve the contradictions is foiled for the moment when Nelly and her friends learn of Vicky’s death.
Tragic Comedy
Contrary to postcolonial alibis concerning decentered subject-positions, Garcia’s narrative posits an interrogation of presumed agency: Is the charm of adventure enough to heal the trauma of dislocation and obviate the terror of rape? Are the opportunities of consuming images and experiences offered by the wages of indentured labor enough to compensate for the nullity of citizenship and the loss of intimacy and the support of family and community? Is this postcolonial interstitiality the new name of servitude under the aegis of consumerist transnationalism where physical motion transcending fixed locality becomes a surrogate for the achievement of dignity and freedom?
What is clear is the dialectical unity of opposites embedded in the geopolitical predicament of OCWs captured in Garcia’s narrative. The homeland (or its internalized cartography) is cannibalized and grafted onto sites of potential reconstitution. The Filipino diaspora here is defined by the Filipinas’ social interaction and its specific differentiated geography, an interaction characterized by family/kinship linkages as well as solidarity based on recursive acts of mutual aid and struggle for survival. The political struggle over the production of scale in global capitalism is translated here in Nelly’s mapping of her coordinates as she plans her tour of Europe, a translation of abstract space into places indexed by Filipino friends and acquaintances. This is not postcolonial ambivalence or hybridity because it is centered on the organic bonds of experience with oppressed compatriots and their continuous resuscitation. Nelly’s affiliation with Vicky is tied to a web of shared stories of intimacy, dehumanization and vulnerability. The Eurocentric fabrication of Otherness is qualified if not neutralized by Nelly’s collectively assigned task of communication with Vicky’s family, a task that prefigures and recuperates even if only in symbolic terms the interrupted struggle for national autonomy and sovereignty on the face of disintegration by transnational corporate aggression. Postcolonial disjunctures are reproduced by acts of revolt and sustained resistance. Such acts constitute a bad example for metropolitan citizen subjects of industrialized democracies. Racism still prevents them from uniting with their victims. While it would be exorbitant to claim that global capitalism has been dealt a blow by Filipina agencies of coping and life-maintenance, I would suggest here that this mode of representation, which I would categorize as a type of allegorical realism grounded in the confluence of vernacular poetics and selective borrowings from the Western avant-garde (Brecht, Mayakovsky, Neruda), enables us to grasp the totalizing virtue of Filipino nationalism as it interpellates diasporic subjects. Perhaps this virtue manifests itself only as a potential reservoir of energies that can be mobilized in crisis situations; still, the cultural and ideological resistance of neocolonized Filipinos overseas testify to its immanent presence in what Lenin called “the weak links” of the imperialist chain around the planet, not only in the peripheral dependencies but also in the margins now transposed to the centers of empire.
Extrapolations and Reconfigurations
In summary, I venture the following theses for further discussion. My first thesis on the phenomenon of the Filipino dismemberment is this: Given that the Philippine habitat has never cohered as a genuinely independent nation—national autonomy continues to escape the nation-people in a neocolonial set-up—Filipinos are dispersed from family or kinship webs in villages, towns or provincial regions first, and loosely from an inchoate, even “refeudalized,” nation-state. This dispersal is primarily due to economic coercion and disenfranchisement under the retrogressive regime of comprador-bureaucratic (not welfare-state) capitalism; migration is seen as freedom to seek one’s fortune, experience the pleasure of adventure, libidinal games of resistance, and other illusions of transcendence. So the origin to which one returns is not properly a nation-state but a village, a quasi-primordial community, kinship network, or even a ritual family/clan. In this context, the state is viewed in fact as a corrupt exploiter, not representative of the masses, a comprador agent of transnational corporations and Western (specifically U.S.) powers. Second thesis: What are the myths enabling a cathexis of the homeland? They derive from assorted childhood memories and folklore together with customary practices surrounding municipal and religious celebrations; at best, there may be signs of a residual affective tie to national heroes like Rizal, Bonifacio, and latter-day celebrities like singers, movie stars, athletes, and so on. Indigenous food, dances, and music can be acquired as commodities whose presence temporarily heals the trauma of removal; family reunification can resolve the psychic damage of loss of status or alienation. In short, rootedness in autochtonous habitat does not exert a commanding sway, experienced only as a nostalgic mood. Meanwhile, language, religion, kinship, the aura of family rituals, and common experiences in school or workplace function invariably as the organic bonds of community. Such bonds demarcate the boundaries of the imagination but also release energies and affects that mutate into actions—as performed by Garcia’s characters—serving ultimately national-popular emancipatory projects. Third thesis: Alienation in the host country is what unites Filipinos, a shared history of colonial and racial subordination, marginalization, and struggles for cultural survival through hybrid forms of resistance and political rebellion. This is what may replace the non-existent nation/homeland, absent the liberation of the Filipino nation-state.
In the thirties, Carlos Bulosan once observed that “it is a crime to be a Filipino in America.” Years of union struggle and political organizing in inter-ethnic coalitions have blurred if not erased that stigma. Accomplishments in the civil rights struggles of the sixties have provided nourishment for ethnic pride. And, on the other side, impulses of assimilationism via the “model minority” umbrella have aroused a passion for multiculturalism divorced from any urge to disinvest in the “possessive investment in whiteness” (Lipsitz 1998). But compared to the Japanese or Indian Americans, Filipino Americans as a whole have not made it; the exceptions prove the rule. Andrew Cunanan (the serial killer who slew the famous Versace) is the specter that continues to haunt “melting pot” Filipino Americanists who continue to blabber about the “forgotten Filipino” in the hope of being awarded a share of the obsolescent welfare-state pie. Dispossession of sovereignty leads to shipwreck, natives drifting rudderless, or marooned in islands all over the planet. Via strategies of community preservation and other schemes of defining the locality of the community in historical contexts of displacement, the Filipino diaspora defers its return—unless and until there is a Filipino nation that they can identify with. This will continue in places where there is no hope of permanent resettlement as citizens or bonafide residents (as in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and elsewhere). This is the disavowed terror of globalization. Fourth thesis: Some Filipinos in their old age may desire eventual return only when they are economically secure. In general, Filipinos will not return to the site of misery and oppression—to poverty, exploitation, humiliated status, despair, hunger, and lack of dignity. Of course, some are forcibly returned: damaged, deported or dead. But OCWs would rather move their kin and parents to their place of employment, preferably in countries where family reunification is allowed, as in the United States, Italy, Canada, and so on. Or even in places of suffering and humiliation, provided there is some hope or illusion of future improvement. Utopian longings can mislead but also reconfigure and redirect wayward adventures.
Fifth thesis: Ongoing support for nationalist struggles at home is sporadic and intermittent during times of retrenchment and revitalized apartheid. Do we see any mass protests and collective indignation here in the United States at the Visiting Forces Agreement, for example, and the recent invasion (circa 1998-2000) of the country by several thousand U.S. Marines in joint U.S.-Philippines military exercises? Especially after September 11 and the Arroyo sycophancy to the Bush regime, the Philippines—considered by the U.S. government as the harbor of homegrown “terrorists” like the Abbu Sayyaf–will soon be transformed into the next “killing field” after Afghanistan. During the Marcos dictatorship, the politicized generation of Filipino American youth here was able to mobilize a large segment of the community to support the national-democratic mass struggles, including the armed combatants of the New People’s Army (led by the Communist Party of the Philippines), against U.S.-supported authoritarian rule. Filipino nationalism blossomed in the late sixties and seventies, but suffered attenuation when it was rechanelled to support the populist elitism of Aquino and Ramos, the lumpen populism of Estrada, and now the mendacious Arroyo regime. This precarious balance of class forces at this conjuncture is subject to the shifts in political mobilization and calculation, hence the intervention of Filipino agencies with emancipatory goals and socialist principles is crucial and strategically necessary. Sixth thesis: In this time of emergency, the Filipino collective identity is in crisis and in a stage of formation and elaboration. The Filipino diasporic consciousness is an odd species, a singular genre: it is not obsessed with a physical return to roots or to land where common sacrifices (to echo Ernest Renan) are remembered and celebrated. It is tied more to a symbolic homeland indexed by kinship or particular traditions and communal practices which it tries to transplant abroad in diverse localities. So, in the moment of Babylonian captivity, dwelling in “Egypt” or its modern surrogates, building public spheres of solidarity to sustain identities outside the national time/space “in order to live inside, with a difference” may be the most viable route (or root) of Filipinos in motion—the collectivity in transit, although this is, given the ineluctability of differences becoming contradictions, subject to the revolutionary transformations emerging in the Philippine countryside and cities. It is susceptible also to other radical changes in the geopolitical rivalry of metropolitan powers based on nation-states. There is indeed deferral, postponement, or waiting—but history moves on in the battlefields of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao where a people’s war rooted in a durable revolutionary tradition rages on. This drama of a national-democratic revolution will not allow the Filipino diaspora and its progeny to slumber in the consumerist paradises of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or Seattle. It will certainly disturb the peace of those benefiting from the labor and sacrifices of OCWs who experience the repetition-compulsion of globalized trade and endure the recursive traumas of displacement and dispossession.
From Prologue to Epilogue
Caught in the cross-currents of global upheavals, I can only conclude with a very provisional and indeed temporizing epilogue—if I may beg leave from those Filipina bodies in coffins heading home: Filipinos in the United States (and elsewhere, given the still hegemonic Western dispensation amid allegations of its disappearance) are neither “oriental” nor “hispanic,” despite their looks and names. They might be syncretic or hybrid subjects with suspect loyalties. They cannot be called fashionable “transnationals” or flexible transmigrants because of racialized, ascribed markers (physical appearance, accent, peculiar non-white folkways, and other group idiosyncracies) that are needed to sustain and reproduce white supremacy in this racial polity. Bridget Anderson (2000) has cogently demonstrated how the international labor market consistently racializes the selling of Filipina selfhood; thus, not only gender and class but, more decisively, “racial identities” conditioned by immigrant status, inferiorized nationality, and so on, are reproduced through the combined exploitation and oppression taking place in the employer’s household. Slavery has become re-domesticated in the age of reconfigured mercantilism—the vampires of the past continue to haunt the cyberprecinct of finance capital and its futurist hallucinations. The trajectory of the Filipino diaspora remains unpredictable. Ultimately, the rebirth of Filipino agency in the era of global capitalism depends not only on the vicissitudes of social transformation in the U.S. but, in a dialectical sense, on the fate of the struggle for autonomy and popular-democratic sovereignty in the Philippines where balikbayans (returnees) still practice, though with increasing trepidation interrupted by fits of amnesia, the speech-acts and durable performances of pakikibaka (common struggle), pakikiramay (collective sharing), at pakikipagkapwa-tao (reciprocal esteem). Left untranslated, those phrases from the “Filipino” vernacular address a gradually vanishing audience. Indeed, this essay itself may just be a wayward apostrophe to a vanished dreamworld—a liberated homeland, a phantasmagoric refuge—evoking the utopias and archaic golden ages of myths and legends. But wherever it is, this locus of memories, hopes and dreams will surely be inhabited by a new collectivity as befits a new objective reality to which Susan Buck-Morss, in her elegiac paean to the catastrophe that overtook mass utopia, alludes to: “the geographical mixing of people and things, global webs that disseminate meanings, electronic prostheses of the human body, new arrangements of the human sensorium. Such imaginings, freed from the constraints of bounded spaces and from the dictates of unilinear time, might dream of becoming, in Lenin’s words, “as radical as reality itself” (2000, 278). That was already approximated by Marx in his view that “the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice” (Fischer 1996, 170). Or, to translate in the proverbial idiom warranted by the experience of all diasporic bodies and ventriloquized by the Angel of history (invoked by Walter Benjamin [1969]) surveying the ruins before and after: De te fabula.

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS | Leave a comment

POLITIKANG SEKSUWAL: KUMANDER PARAGO VERSUS ONE-BILLION-RISING


Picasso-Les Demoiselles d'AvignonKUMANDER PARAGO VERSUS ONE BILLION RISING: POLITIKANG SEKSUWAL SA PANAHON NG TERORISMONG U.S.

— ni E. San Juan, Jr.
Professorial Lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines
Ang tao ba ay katumbas lamang ng kanyang katawan, o bahagi nito? Ang kasarian ba ay walang iba kundi organong seksuwal? Seks ba ang buod ng pagkatao?

Kung hindi man ito kalakaran, ang tumututol ay siyang nagtatampok ng problema, bagamat salungat sa namamaraling opinyon o doxang pangmadla. Sinomang bumanggit ng seks ay kasabwat na ng mga bastos at mahalay. Sabi-sabi ito. Batikusin mo, ikalat mo’t palaganapin. Bakit mali ito?

Ang usapang seksuwal ay di na masagwa o mahalay ngayon. Buhat noong maging sikat, bagamat kontrobersiyal, ang “Vagina Monologues” ni Eve Ensler, tila hindi na nakasisindak tumukoy sa mga maselang bahagi ng katawan ng babae (Wikipedia 2015). Ang estilong bugtong o talinghaga sa seks–gawaing pakikipagtalik–ay itinuturing na sintomas ng neurosis o maselang sakit ng budhi. Paano ang seks ng transgender, hybrid o cyborg?

Ordinaryo na lamang ang seksuwal chitchat sa kontemporaryong praktika sa sining at publikong huntahan. Bakit hindi kung laganap na ang advertisement sa Viagra at iba pang drogang nagpapaudyok sa hindutan? Anong masama sa masarap na “dyugdyugan”? Di ba utos kina Eba at Adan: “Multiply…Magparami kayo!” Kung di kaya, uminom ng pilduras o di kaya’y virgin coconut oil. OK ito sa mga pariseo ng simbahan.

Wala bang sariling ating pukaw-pukyutan? Katutubong pukyotan-putakang pangsarili. Biro ng iba, kung instrumento ng progresibong sektor ang popularidad ni Ensler, bakit di pumatol ang “Penis/Balls Monologue”? Kung sobrang tsobinismo o makismo ito, e di symposium o colloquium ng mga genitalia? O sunod kina Bakhtin at Levinas, diyalogo ng balun-balunan, bukong-bukong at puwit? Demokratikong pagpapalitan ng kuro-kuro at kiliti. May reklamo ka?

Pambihirang Pakulo

Iwan na muna natin ang katawang performative. Dumako tayo sa milyung espirituwal, sa palengkeng neoliberal. Pambihira talaga. Walang clone si Ensler. Isa na siyang korporasyon ng Power Elite ng Global North. Isang haligi ng Imperyong U.S. Naging selebriting burgis si Ensler, kumita ng di-makalkulang yaman at prestihiyo sa di umano’y peministang hamon sa moralidad ng puritanismong lipunan.

Nagsilbing kultural kapital ang cause de celebre, ginawang passport o pretext para isalba ang kababaihan saan mang lupalop tulad ng neokolonyang Pilipinas. Talo pa niya si Mother Teresa. Ililigtas sina Mary Jane Veloso, Andrea Rosal, Wilma Tiamson, at iba pang inaaping babae sa rehiyon ng BangsaMoro at Lumad (San Juan 2015).

Huwag nang idawit ang Birhen, o babaylang Reyna sa TV at pelikula. Hindi biro, naging talisman o magayumang lakas ang seks ng babae. Sino ang may reklamo sa One Billion Rising ni Ensler? Ang Vagina Men sa Quezon City o sa Congo? Pati mga gerilya ng New People’s Army ay nagsasayaw sa direksiyon ni Ensler sa tulong ng mga kakutsabang kabaro. HIndi na monologo kundi koro ng mga diwata sa gubat kung saan ang masa ay mga isda, ayon kay Mao.
Magaling! Tuwang-tuwa ang mga hito, talakitok, dilis, bia, tanggigi, bakoko at tilapya. Mabuhay ang rebolusyong umiindak, naglalambing. Kung hindi tayo kasama sa sayaw, sambit ni Mother Jones, bakit magpapakamatay?

Karnibal ng mga Paru-Paro?

Kaalinsabay ang usapang puk# sa liberalisasyon ng diskursong seksuwal sa klimang anti-kapitalistang protesta sa buong mundo. Tampok dito ang Women’s Liberation movement (simula kina Simone de Beauvoir o Shulamith Firestone) noong dekada 1960-1970. Bumunsod na nga sa pagturing sa prostitusyon bilang sex work/trabahong makalupa. Ewan ko kung anong palagay ni Aling Rosa at mga Lola ng “Lolas Kampanya Survivor” na naglakbay sa kung saan-saan, salamat sa tulong ni Nelia Sancho, ang coordinator ng grupo (tungkol sa industriyalisasyon ng seks, konsultahin si Barry 1995, pahina 146-51).

Sa ngayon, 300-400 Lola ang buhay pa sa bilang ng 2000 “Comfort Women” sa Pilipinas. Wala pang hustisya sina Lola Julia, Lola Fedencia, atbp hanggang ngayon. Patuloy nilang iginigiit na ang ginawa ng mga Hapon noong giyera ay hindi pag-upa sa babaeng trabahador kundi talagang gahasang tortyur, panggagahis sa sibilyan, isang masahol na krimen laban sa humanidad. Usapang putangna iyon, walang duda. Ang babae ay makinang ginamit upang magparaos ang mga sundalong Hapon, tulad ng mga “hospitality girls” sa Angeles City, Olongapo, at iba pang R & R sentro ng US sa kanilang pandaramong sa Vietnam, Cambodia at Laos noong mga dekada 1960-1980.

Sa kasalukuyan, walang pang artista tulad ni Kenneth Goldsmith na mangagahas sumulat ng isang tula tungkol sa “Katawan ni Lola Rosa, “Comfort Woman.” Nang sambitin ni Goldsmith ang kanyang tulang konseptuwal, “The Body of Michael Brown” (Goldsmith 2015), katakut-takot na puna’t panunuri ang sumabog sa Internet at mass media. Bakit? Ang katawan ng Aprikano-Amerikanong biktima ng karahasan ng pulis sa Ferguson, Missouri, ay tila naging banal, sagrado, hindi puwedeng gawing paksa sa makalupang aktibidad. “Off Limits,” wika nga, sa mga puting naghahari, puting makapangyarihan (White Supremacy).

Akala natin ay nasira na ang mga hanggahan, regulasyon, o bakod na naghihiwalay sa iba’t ibang uri, paksa, ugali, kaisipan. Akala natin, kung popular na ang “Vagina Monologues,” maaari nang pakialaman ang anumang bagay; wala nang pag-aaring pribado o di kakabit ng espasyong komun o komunidad. Paano mangyayari ito kung umiiral pa ang pribadong pag-aari ng mga kasangkapan sa produksiyon ng ikabubuhay? Umiiral pa ang tubo, salapi, pribadong lupa o espasyo. Binibili pa ang lakas-paggawa, hindi lamang lakas kundi buong katawan at kaluluwa mo. Pati panaginip mo, damdamin, iyong matimtimang pagnanais o pangarap mong kalakip ng iyong puso’t budhi. Walang sagrado sa korporasyong multinasyonal, sa palengke ng kapitalismong global. Biniro ni Goldsmith, kaya siya natisod sa apoy ng umaatikabong alitang di lamang kultural kundi tahasang politikal at moral.

May aral kaya ito sa mga alagad ng ONE BILLION RISING? Anong panganib na sumusunod tayo sa modo ng publicity ng isang haligi ng burgesyang imperyo? Paano mababago ang diwa at institusyong mapang-api kung wala tayong kabatiran sa maselan at masalimuot na rasismo’t makauring ideolohiyang kaakibat ng patron ng produktong inilalako ni Ensler?

Radikal at Mapanuri? Bawal! Huli ‘yan!

Bago sumabog ang peminismong radikal, mahaba na rin ang tala ng rebelyon ng mga alagad-ng-sining laban sa sensura, ipokrisya’t pagbabawal sa malayang paglalahad. Historya ito ng ebolusyon ng modernidad. Kasi, laging pinaglalangkap ng Patriarkong Orden ang militanteng sining at pornograpya. Hindi sumusunod sa istandard ng burgesya. Taktikang pagbubusal iyon sa kritikang kamalayan. Isipin na lang ang kaso sa dalawang nobelang Ulysses ni James Joyce at Lady Chatterley’s Love ni D.H. Lawrence, o mga libro ni Henry Miller. Pati Catcher in the Rye at Huckleberry Finn ay pinagbabawal sa ilang aklatang pampubliko sa U.S.

Nakakabagot itong ipokrisya, testigo sa paghahati ng lipunang mapagsamantala’t makahayup. Huwag na nating balik-tanawin pa ang mga sinaunang halimbawa ng Satyricon ni Petronius, Decameron ni Boccacio, Gargantua at Pantagruel ni Rabelais, at mga akda ni Marquis de Sade. Sinubok nilang sugpuin at pigilin ang pag-unlad ng kamalayan. Laging umiigpaw sa kontrol ng mga naghahari ang lasa at nais ng madla, hindi ng mga awtoridad na umuusig sa mga “ideological State apparatus” ng makauri’t mapagsamantalang lipunan.

Sa larangan ng pintura, masilakbo’t maengganyo ang balitaktakan. Armadong puwersa ang nakapangingibabaw, hindi argumentong rasyonal. Nakasalalay ang kapangyarian ng Patriyarkong Burgesya. Pwedeng banggitin ang eskandalo tungkol sa “Olympia” (1865) ni Edouard Manet, “The Origin of the World” (1866) ni Gustave Courbet, “Ecstatic Unity” (1969) ni Dorothy Iannone, at mga litrato ni Robert Mapplethorpe. Halimbawa naman ng mga paggamit ng tema o imaheng relihiyoso, mababangit ang eskandalo tungkol sa “Piss Christ” (1987) ni Andres Serrano o “The Holy Virgin May” (1999) ni Chris Ofili (Frank 2015)..

Sa atin naman, magugunita ang pagsasara ng “KULO” exhibit at ang “Politeismo” (2011) ni Mideo Cruz. Kung itinanghal ang “KULO” sa Pransiya o Italya, marahil walang problema. Baka naging mabenta pa ang mga mapangahas na likhang-sning, karibal ng mga milyong dolyar na produkto nina Andy Warhol at De Kooning.

Ngunit sa neokolonyang mahal, ang diskurso ng libog o praktikang pukaw-pukyutan ay tabu pa rin, sa pangkalahatan. Merong pasubali. Sa akademyang sekular, umiiral ang regulasyon sa takdang lugar ng usapang libog. Ngunit nananaig pa rin ang tradisyonal na moralidad ng iba’t ibang simbahan–mga ugali, gawi, kostumbre sa kilos, salita, at sentido komun ng bayan.Sino ba ang nakikinabang sa ganitong paghihigpit? Di na tayo makababalik sa hardin ng karinyo’t lampungan (hinggil sa kontrobersyang legal at etikal kaugnay sa pornograpiya, konsultahin si Strossen 1995).

Magtiyaga na lang kayo sa kampo ng mga nudist, susog ng mga miron. O pornograpikong eksena/video sa Internet. Mag-ingat ka, ang surveillance ngayon ay di lamang estratehiya ng pulis, kundi maniobra ng mga espiya sa Internet, satellite, drones—wala kang ligtas! Puputaktahin ka ng isang katerbang buwisit at kamyerdahang panghihimasok.

Hamon kina Gabriela Silang at Mga Babaylan

Paano kung ambisyon mo ang tumulad kay Shigeko Kubota? Lalaki ka man, puwede ka ring gumaya kay Kubota.

Sino itong Kubeta? Kubota po, hindi kubeta. Ipinanganak siya sa Niigata, Hapon, noong 1937, kalahi ng mga Budistang monghe (Wikipedia 2015). Naging kasapi siya sa organisasyong Fluxus sa New York noong dekada 1960. Si Kubota ay tanyag na avantgarde video-iskultor, lumilikha ng video installation, sumusuri sa pamana ni Marcel Duchamp, ama ng modernismong sining. Kalahok ang mga maraming likha niya sa Dokumenta 7, Kessel (1982) at iba pang museo’t galeri. Naging propesor siya ng teknolohiya ng video/pelikula sa iba’t ibang unibersidad at institusyong global. Unang napag-aralan niya ang komposisyon ni John Cago noong 1963 sa pagsasanib niya sa grupong musikero sa Tokyo, ang Ongaku, kasama si Yoko Ono.

Naging tanyag si Kubota sa “Vagina Painting,” na ginanap sa Perpetual Fluxus Festival,Cinematheque, New York noong Hulyo 1965. May foto ng akto niya sa libro ni Peter Osborne, Conceptual Art (2002), pahina 71. Subaybayan din siya sa Internet sa dokumentasyon ng “Vagina Painting” at iba pang likhang-sining niya (Godfrey 1998).

Sa pangyayaring ito, inilatag ni Kubota ang isang malapad na papel sa sahig. Doon nagpinta siya nang abstraktong linya sa pulang kulay sa bisa ng galaw ng brotsa. Nakakabit ang brotsa sa singit. Huwag mo nang itanong kung gaano katagal ang aksyon at ano ang reaksyon ng awdiyens noon. Sinasagisag ang kanyang vagina bilang bukal ng inspirasyon. Ang pulang pinta ay kahalintulad ng dugo sa regla na hulog mula sa lugar na tinaguriang kawalan ng phallus (sa metaporikang pakahulugan; ibig pahiwatig, hindi penis o titi). Sa gayong palabas, pinasimulan niya ang isang perspektibang makababae sa tipikal na pagtatanghal ng Fluxus hinggil sa operasyong pagbabakasakali, pasumala o patsansing-tsansing(“chance operations”).

Iminungkahi ni Kubota sa kanyang akto ang isang alternatibo sa agresibong teknik ng action o drip painting ni Jackson Pollock. Isang hamon din ang ginanap ni Kubota sa papel ng babaeng artista na laging pinapatnubayan, ginagabayan, at inuugitan ng kalalakihan–awtoritaryong disiplina ng mga Patriyarko. Dagdag pa, pinuna ni Kubota ang paggamit sa babae bilang brotsang buhay, nilubog sa pintang kulay asul, na pinagapang sa kanbas, na masasaksihan sa Anthropometrie serye ni Yves Klein noong dekada 1950-1960.

Salungat si Kubota (na asawa ng bantog na si Nam June Paik) sa ganoong paggamit ng katawan ng babae, isang uri ng “human traffiking” ng kababaihan. Kapanalig niya sa krusadang ito sina Yoko Ono at Carolee Schneeman, na hindi masyadong nagustuhan ng kanilang grupong Fluxus (Osborne 2002).

Makibaka, Huwag Magsipsip

Sunod ba ang One Billion Rising sa pintang pukyutan ni Kubota? Aktibo pa rin si Kubota sa New York. I-Google ninyo. Uliran ang kanyang halimbawang napasimulan sa pagpukpok sa pukyutan upang pukawin ang bihag at nakukulong na kamalayan. Isang sandata iyon sa conscientization ng madla.Bakit hindi? Bakit hindi gamitin ang katawan–na siyang lugar ng “Kingdom” ng Tagapagligtas–upang palayain ang pagkatao’t kaluluwa (kundi pa naisangla o naipagbili)? Bakit pa nagkaroon ng inkarnasyon kung tayo’y mga anghel na walang puwit o bunganga, walang titi o puk%?

Anong reklamo mo? Manunuod na lang ba tayo ng “Fifty Shades of Grey” at YOUTUBE seryeng pornograpiko, at mga artifaktong pabalbal sa Internet tulad ng “Kakantutin ka lang nila” (mahigit 4,081,933 ang taga-subaybay sa YOUTUBE; Lordganja 2015). Kuntento na ba tayong laging nakatungaga sa mga strip-tease at sirko ng mga egotistikong selebriti sa TV at pelikula? Marami tayong reklamo, sigurado, kaya dapat ipahayag na ito. Pasingawin at ibilad ang mga pasakit, himutok, hinanakit. Kundi, baka magkarambulan sa sikolohiyang pantayo’t pambarkada.

Alam nating lahat ang tunay na situwasyon. Tulad ng anumang bagay, puspos ng masalimuot na kontradiksiyon. Lahat ng bahagi ng katawan ay may reklamo, laluna ang sikmura, uhaw sa hustisya. Marami nang pasubali: kaya bang ipahiwatig ang damdamin ng buong body politic sa makitid at partikularistikong paraan ng Vagina Monologue o Vagina Painting? Binugbog at pinarusahang mga katawan ng sambayanan, isinasangkot sa pambansang mobilisasyon ang lahat ng kasariang inaapi. Bukod ito sa One Billion Rising.

Pag-ugnayin muli ang pinagwatak-watak na bahagi ng katawan upang mabuo muli ang kalayaan at pagkakapantay-pantay na winasak ng imperyalismo’t kapitalismong global. Usapang mapagpalaya, hindi lang usapang puk%, ang rebolusyong sumusulong, kabilang ang lahat ng nakikiramay ngayon kina Ka Leoncio Pitao at Ka Vanessa Limpag, biktima ng barbarismong kabuktutan ng rehimeng Aquino at US imperyalismo (Dulce 2015). Mabuhay sina Kumander Parago at Ka Vanessa, bayani ng lahi, laging buhay sa puso ng masa.

SANGGUNIAN

Barry, Kathleen. 1995. The Prostitution of Sexuality. New York: New York University Press. Nakalimbag.

Dulce, Leon. 2015. ” ‘Taytay Parago’ and the Defiance of Paquibato.” Kalibutan. Nakapost sa Bulatlat (2 July).
<bulatlat.com/main/2015/07/02/tatay-parago> Webpage.

Frank, Priscilla. 2015. “A Brief History of Art Censorship from 1508 to 2014.” HuffPost Arts and Culture <www.huffingtonpst.com/2015/01/16/art- censorship_n_646510.html> Webpage.

Godfrey, Tony. 1998. Conceptual Art. New York: Phaidon Press. Nakalimbag.

Goldsmith, Kenneth. 2015. “The Body of Michael Brown.” Facebook of Kenneth Goldsmith. Entry for March 15, 2015. Webpage.

Lordganja. 2015. “Kakantutin ka lang nila lyrics.” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVDZWJoFzO&gt; Webpage.

NPA Panay. 2014. “One Billion Rising, by the Red Detachment of Women.” YOUTUBE. Webpage.

Osborne, Peter. 2002. Conceptual Art. New York: Phaidon Press Lit. Nakalimbag.

San Juan, E. 2015. Between Empire and Insurgency. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press. Nakalimbag.

Strossen,Nadine. 1995. Defending Pornography. New York: Doubleday. Nakalimbag.

Wikipedia. 2015. “Eve Ensler.” <https://en-wikipedia.org/wiki/Eve_Ensler&gt; Webpage.

Wikipedia. 2015. “Shigeko Kubota.” <https//en-wikipedia.org/wiki/shigeko- kubota> Webpage.

____________________________________________________________

E. San Juan, Jr.
Professorial Lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines
E-mail: <philcsc@gmail.com>

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS | Leave a comment

BAGUHIN ANG MUNDO: Siklab Lektura: U.P. Los Banos, Feb. 6, UPLB Communicators’ Association


“HINDI LAMANG IPAKAHULUGAN, KUNDI BAGUHIN DIN ANG MUNDO”:
Proyekto tungo sa Paglunsad ng Rebolusyong Pangkultura
LEKTURA SA UPLB SIKLAB PROGRAM, Feb. 6, 2017

ni E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

Vinta
Sa bisa ng likas na kalakaran ng mga bagay, nasa sambayanan mismo ang lahat ng kapangyarihang nakasasaklaw rito….Kung nasa pagtutugma ng katwiran at karanasan ang katotohanan, nasa pagtutugma ng teorya at praktika ang birtud.
–APOLINARIO MABINI

It is no longer a matter of bringing death into play in the field of sovereignty, but of distributing the living in the domain of value and utility.
–MICHEL FOUCAULT

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.
–KARL MARX

Nasaan na tayo? Galing saan at patungo saan? Umabot na tayo sa malubhang krisis ng planeta: pagharap ni Trump sa globalisadong krisis ng finance capitalism na pinalala ng giyera laban sa terorismo, at sa ating bakuran ang pag-lunsad ng giyera laban sa droga ni Presidente Duterte na umani ng mahigit 6,000 biktima. Bakit pinayagan ito?
Matindi’t umiigting ang mga kontradiksiyon sa buong mundo. At tumitining o umiigting ito sa neokolonyang bayan natin, na hanggang ngayon ay sakmal ng Estados Unidos at nakayukod sa kapangyarihan ng mga korporasyon at dayuhang kapital. Sa mga bansa sa Asya, kaipala’y tayo ay huli sa lahat, kumpara sa Indonesya’t Thailand o Vietnam.
Mahigit 103 milyong Filipino na tayo, pero mahigit kalahati ay pulubi’t nagdaralita, “below the poverty threshold.” Hindi na kailangang lagumin ang datos na mababasa sa IBON Webpage. Bakit nakasadlak pa rin ang buong sambayanan sa kahirapan, sa pagsasamantala ng dayuhang kapital, sa korapsyon at kawalang-katarungan, pagkaraan ng Pebrero 1986?
Mahigit 12 angaw na ang OFWs sa iba’t ibang sulok ng daigdig, mga 3 libo ang nag-aabrod. Hindi pa naranasan ito hanggang ngayon. Di na ba nakasisindak? Haemorrhage ng body politic, anong triage ang makaliligtas?

Inihudyat ng bagong administrasyon ang islogan ng pagbabago. Manhid na ang marami sa ganitong pangako. Tuwing eleksiyon, ito ang mantra. Anong uri ng pagbabago? Pagpapalit ng personnel lamang? Paano ang mga patakaran, gawi ng pamamahala, layun ng mga palisi? Meron bang pangkalahatang bisyon o pangitain ng alternatibong kinabukasan?

Merong kaibahan. Kahanga-hanga ang pagtuligsa ni Presidente sa imperyalismong Amerikano. Siya lamang presidente, mula pa kina Roxas at Quirino, ang nakapagbitiw ng matinik na puna sa patuloy na dominasyon ng U.S. sa atin, laluna sa foreign policy at militar. Ngunit hanggang ngayon, puro salita. Nariyan pa rin ang JUSMAG, ang VFA at EDCA. Nariyan pa rin ang mga US Special Forces, at ang marahas na Oplan Bayanihan, ngayon binansagang Oplan Kapayapaan, tila parikalang biro. At kamakailan, nagbalita na malaking konstruksiyon ang ibubunsod ng Amerika sa mga base militar upang gamitin ng kanilang mga tropa. Para saan ito kundi counterinsurgency war, pasipikasyon ng masang tumututol at naghihimagsik laban sa korapsyon, dahas ng panginoong maylupa, komprador at burokrata-kapitalistang lumulustay ng kayamanan ng bansa?

Nagdiriwang ang iba sa diplomasya, hindi sa giyera. Katatapos lamang ng pangatlong sesyon ng “peace talks” sa Roma sa pagitan ng NDF at gobyerno. Mapupuri ang Presidente sa pagpapatuloy ng negosasyon na itinigil ng mga nakaraang rehimen. Maselan at masalimuot itong usapan, ngunit patuloy ang lumalalim na paghahati ng lipunan sa minoryang mayaman at nakararaming nagdaralita. Walang tigil ang karahasan ng sistemang ipinamana ng kolonyalismong Espanyol at Amerikano.

Bumabagsik ang class war, ang tunggalian ng mga uri at hidwaang sektor sa lipunan. Nahinto pansumandali ang sagupaan ng MILF at GRP, ngunit patuloy ang sindak sa Abu Sayyaf at iba pang elementong suportado ng ISIS o Al Qaeda. Nariyan pa rin ang mga sindikato ng droga sa loob mismo ng Estado. Nariyan pa rin ang JUSMAG, ahente ng CIA/FBI sa loob ng kampo ng AFP/PNP. Tahasang neokolonya pa rin tayo, kahit may nominal na independence, depende sa tulong na militar mula sa US.
Sa pangkalahatan, masidhi ang mga kontradiksiyong fundamental at istraktural, na nagbuhat pa sa karanasang hindi na magunita ng mga henerasyong millenials ngayon–hindi ko tinutukoy ang diktaduryang Marcos/martial law, kundi ang pagkawasak sa rebolusyonaryong republika natin sa Filipino-American War, 1899 hanggang 1913. Wala ito sa kolektibong memorya ng bayan. Nang ipaalala ni Pres. Duterte ang “howling wilderness” ni Gen. Jacob Smith bilang ganti sa Balangiga masaker, nagulat ang karamihan sa atin sapagkat wala tayong kamulatan tungkol sa ating kasaysayan, mahina o malabo ang ating memoryang publiko. Pagwariin natin ang pagkagumon ng madla sa konsumerismo sa mall, sa gayuma ng midya spectacle at comodifikasyon ng bawat salik ng pagkatao natin, hindi lang katawan kundi pati kaluluwa, panaginip, atbp. Tumagos sa ating loob ang modernismong kaakibat ng industriyalisadong sistema ng pamumuhay at teknolohiya kahit piyudal at kalakalan lamang ang ekonomiya natin. Bakit nagkaganito?

Maganda ang tema ng inyong 5th Anibersaryo, ng SIKLAB:”to showcase the power of culture and the arts as tools for social change.” Klasikong paksa ito na angkop sa ating sitwasyon bilang isang bansang naghahangad pa ng kasarinlan, tunay na kalayaan, pagkakapantay-pantay, demokrasyang pambansa. Dapat ngang maging instrumento sa pagbabago ang sining at kultura. Ngunit kadalasan, hindi. Naudlot ang pag-ahon sa kolonisadong kabuhayan nang lusubin at sakupin tayo ng Estados Unidos, at hanggang ngayon, hindi pa makahulagpos sa neokolonyang kagipitan, naghahangad pa tayo ng dignidad bilang bansang nagsasarili, malayang nakapagpapasiya sa pagbuo ng makataong lipunan at masaganang kinabukasan. Nagsisikap ngunit laging bigo. Sintomas ba ng malubhang sakit ng psyche?
Sa palagay ko, hindi lamang sikolohikal ito sa isang aspeto kundi, kung tutuusin, talagang mabigat na problemang panlipunan at pangkasaysayan. Nararapat ang kongkretong (multi-dimensiyonal) analisis ng kongkretong kondisyon sa perspektibong historikal-diyalektikal.
Pagbabagong panlipunan: ito ang mithiin natin. Anong klaseng pagbaba—–go, paano at tungo saan? Dapat natin linawin ito upang magkasundo kung paano matatamo ang pagbabagong ninanais ng buong sambayanan. Inaadhikang umunlad mula sa tradisyonal na antas ng ekonomiya tungo sa isang modernong kaayusan, ngunit ang balangkas na sinusunod natin ay hango, gagad o ipinataw ng IMF-World Bank at mga teknokratikong tagapayo mula sa Estados Unidos at Europa.

Itampok natin ang alternatibong pananaw. Nais kong ihapag sa inyong dalumat ang ilang mungkahi, ilang proposisyon na marahil kontrobersyal sa marami, kaya iniklian ko ang panayam na ito upang dulutan ng malaking espasyo/panahon ang pagpapalitang-kuro at tanungan sa nalalabing panahon. Hindi upang maging moderno, kundi upang lumikha ng ating sariling landas sa pakikitungo sa kapwa sa gitna ng malalang krisis.

Totoong masaklaw at malalim ang lakas ng sining at kultura sa anumang binabalak na transpormasyon ng lipunan. Balik-tanawin na lamang ang mga makabagong pintor at iskultor ng Renaissance, at mga pilosopo’t manunulat noong Enlightenment/Kaliwanagan ng siglo 18 sa Europa, na nagbunga ng Rebolusyong Pranses, sumunod ang tagumpay ng burgesiya at liberalismo sa buong Kanluran, at ang hantungan nito sa 1848 Communist Manifesto nina Marx & Engels. Hindi payapang ebolusyon ang masasaksihan, kundi mga pagluksong marahas, nakamamanghang pagpalit ng sitwasyon ng buong lipunan, pagsira na luma’t pagyari ng bago.

Sa balik-tanaw sa kasaysayan, dagling mapapansin na ang kultura, ang nalikha ng mga alagad ng sining, ay bunga ng mga puwersang nagtatagisan sa larangan ng ekonomya at pulitika. Ibig sabihin, ang mga pangyayaring kultural ay resulta ng mga banggaan at salpukan ng mga puwersang materyal sa araw-araw na buhay, repleksiyon ng mga pangyayari sa kabuhayan at reaksyong kasangkot sa pagtulak o pagsagka’t paghadlang sa daloy ng mga pangyayari. Nababago ang kaisipan dahil sa prosesong iyon, at sa bisa ng bagong kaisipan, napapabilis ang takbo ng mga pangyayari. Sina Dante,Shakespeare, Rousseau, Voltaire, Goethe, atbp. ay gumanap ng kanilang mga papel sa bisa ng mga institusyong kinasangkutan nila, institusyong politikal at pangkabuhayan. Sa kabilang banda, tumulong sila upang mapasigla ang tendensiyang progresibo at mapukaw ang madla sa pagbabagong tutugon sa kanilang pangangailangan na hindi na binibigyan-kasiyahan ng lumang orden. Mula sa ritwal ng lumang orden sumupling ang karnabal at pista ng taumbayang mapanlikha’t masuyo sa inilaang biyaya ng kalikasan. Diyalektikal ang proseso ng pagbabagong luwal ng daloy ng mga kontradiksiyon sa mundo.

Bago natin makaligtaan, sa taong ito ipinagdiriwang ang ika-100 anibersaryo ng Bolshevik Rebolusyon na pinamunuan nina Lenin at mga kapanalig sa Rusya. Ito’y tuwirang naging masiglang inspirasyon sa sumunod na rebolusyon sa mga kolonya–sa Tsina, Biyetnam,Cuba, Algeria, Korea, atbp. Nasagap at tumagos sa diwa ng sambayanan ang alingawngaw ng pagbabagong ito sa atin sa pagtatag ng Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas noong 1938. Bagamat naibalik ang kapitalismo sa Rusya at Tsina noong nakaraang siglo, hindi ganap na mabubura ang naikintal sa kamalayan ng anak-pawis ng buong mundo ang ulirang pakikipagsaparalan ng proletaryado sa Rusya at Tsina, na hanggang ngayon ay naisasapraktika sa rebelyon ng mga inalipin at dinuhagi sa iba’t-ibang lugar, halimbawa, sa NIcaragua,Venezuela, Palestina, Nepal, Korea, at sa ating bayan.

Sa gitna ng ganitong mga transisyon, hindi lahat pasulong kundi liku-liko’t masalimuot, maitanong natin: Ano ang tungkulin ng mga nag-aaral tulad ninyo, o ng mga intelektuwal (na kabilang sa uring petiburgesya) upang maging kapaki-pakinabang sa transpormasyon ng bansa mula sa neokolonyalismong kapitalismo tungo sa isang demokratiko’t nagsasariling lipunan? Anong klase ng partisipasyon sa pagbabagong pambansa ang mapipili o mararanasan ng intelihensiyang tulad natin? Sa malas, nariyan ang huwaran nina Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Crisanto Evangelista, Amado V. Hernandez, Angel Baking, Emmanuel Lacaba, Maria Lorena Barros, at marami pang bayani ng katubusan.

Ang katungkulan ng intelektuwal sa midya’t kultura, sa pakiwari ko, ay magsilbing organikong tagapamagitan sa mga uring bumubuo ng mayorya: manggagawa, pesante o magbubukid, kababaihan, propesyonal o negosyante, etnikong katutubo’t iba pang sektor na inaapi. Ang grupong ito ay magsisikap bumuo ng isang progresibong bloc o nagkakaisang-hanay upang itaguyod ang programang mapagpalaya. Maaring magkaroon ng maraming partido o organisasyong magtataguyod ng programang napagkasunduan. Ang proyektong babalikatin ng magkasanib na mga partido/kalipunan ay makapagpalaganap ng isang hegemonya o gahum ng masang produktibo, ang pangingibaw ng lideratong moral-intelektuwal ng produktibong lakas, ng sambayanang lumilikha, sa pambansang kilusan.

Ang unang salik sa programang ito ay paglikha ng ahensiya o agency/subjectivity ng rebolusyonaryong puwersa ng masa. Sa palagay ko, ang pasimunong aralin sa pedagohiyang pagsisikap ay pagmulat sa bawat indibiduwal ng isang kamalayang historikal, isang dalumat pangkasaysayan. Sapagkat lubog tayo sa kulturang neokolonyal, kinalupulan ng gawi’t saloobing piyudal at mapagsunurin, walang inisyatiba o awtonomiya ang normalisadong mamamayan (nakakulong sa kwadra ng ordeng namamayani) , kaya dapat pagsabayin ang isang pagbabagong kultural–isang rebolusyong kultural na paglalangkapin ang mga natamo sa burgesiyang kultura (siyensiya, sekularisasyon)–at ang radikalisadong pangitain na siyang tutugon sa malaking problema ng alyenasyon, reipikasyon, at komodipikasyong lohikang likas sa nabuwag na kapitalismong sistema. Ito ang tinaguriang permanente o walang-patid na rebolusyon.

Walang pasubali, unang imperatibo ang pawiin ang batayan ng komodipikasyon: ang pribadong pag-aari ng gamit sa produksiyon at pagbibili ng lakas-paggawa ng bawat tao. Mawawala na ang pagbebenta ng sarili upang mabuhay. Samakatwid, pagpawi sa eksplotasyon o pagsasamantala. Sa wakas, sa pagpanaw ng paghahari ng komoditi, halagang nakasalig sa palengke o pamilihan, na siyang nagdidikta kung ano ang pamantayan ng halaga. Pagpawi sa salapi, exchange-value, pagsukat ng halaga batay sa tubo/profit. Pagpawi sa tubo o surplus-value. Ang ideolohiyang liberalismo, na nakaangkla sa inbiduwalistikong pananaw, ay mawawala kapag napalitan ang pagkilates sa halaga ng isang bagay batay sa kung ito’y mabibili sa pamilihan at makapagtutubo. Sa halip, iiral ang malayang pag-unlad ng bawat indibidwal na nakasalig sa malayang pagsulong ng lahat.

Marahil utopiko o pangarap lamang ito? Subukin natin. Bago matamo ang antas na ito, ang proseso ng himagsikan–ang malawakang mobilisasyong rumaragasa–ang siyang magbubunsod ng mga pagkakataong makagigising sa budhi’t kamalayan ng bawat tao sa neokolonyang lipunan. Ano ang hinahanap nating kahihinatnan sa mga pagkikipagsapalaran ng bawat tao sa proseso ng pagbabago?

Nais kong ilatag ang isang ideya ni Antonio Gramsci, fundador ng Partido Komunsta ng Italya. Karaniwan, kung tatalakayin ang paksa ng kultura, o kung sino ang taong sibilisado, taglay ang dunong at kaalamang naisilid sa memorya, paniwala tayo na “highly cultured” na iyon. Paniwala na ang kultura ay katumbas ng pagsasaulo ng encyclopedia, at ang edukasyon ay walang iba kundi pagsilid ng sambakol na datos at impormasyon sa utak. Kantidad, hindi diskriminasyon sa kalidad, ang mahalaga’t magagamit sa paghahanap-buhay. Mabibilang ba ang kaalamang nakuha at mapapagtubuan–iyan ang mentalidad ng madla na kailangang baguhin na namana sa ekonomiya ng komodipikasyon.

Kasalungat nito ang pakahulugan ng kultura kay Gramsci, kung ano ang katuturan at kahihinatnan nito. Pahayag ni Gramsci: “Culture…is an organization, discipline of one’s inner self, a coming to terms with one’s own personality. It is the attainment of a higher awareness, with the aid of which one succeeds in understanding one’s own historical value, one’s own function in life, one’s own rights and obligations.”
Salin ko: “Ang kultura ay isang organisasyon/pagsasaayos, disiplina ng kalooban, isang pagtataya sa iyong pagkatao. Iyan ay pagkamit ng mas matingkad na kamalayan, at sa tulong nito matatarok natin ang halaga natin sa kasaysayan, ang ating papel na ginagampanan, ang ating karapatan at pananagutan.”
Nais kong igiit dito na ang buod ng sarili ay walang iba kundi ang ugnayan nito sa kapwa. Walang pagkatao ang isang inbidwal kapag hiwalay sa lipunang kinabibilangan niya. Samakatwid, ang kultura ay galing at kakayahang pagpasiyahan ang paghubog ng ating kapalaran sa buhay, ang pagkaunawa sa halagang pangkasaysayan ng ating natatangi o namumukod na partikular na pag-iral sa mundo sa isang tiyak na lugar at panahon.

Kung pagninilayin ang naisaad kong imperatibo, ang pagkamit ng dalumat o kamalayang pangkasaysayan–“historical awareness”–hugot sa ating karanasan, edukasyon, pakikisalamuha, ay mahigpit na kaagapay ng pakikilahok sa proseso ng pagbabago. Sa larangan ng sining at midya, ito’y rebolusyong kultural. Ito’y pakikisangkot sa pakikibakang etikal at politikal upang mapamahalaan ang pag-unlad ng kalagayan ng nakararami–mga pesante, manggagawa, kababaihan, Lumad, atbp.–ang produktibong pwersa ng bayan. Mungkahi ni Walter Benjamin: “Sunggaban, pangasiwaan ang mga kagamitan sa produksyon upang makasangkapan sa kapakanan at kapakinabangan ng lahat.”
Sa digmaang kontra-imperyalismo, ang mapagpalayang pananaw ng yumayari’t lumilikhang masa ang siyang sandatang kakasangkapanin upang maigupo ang indibidwalistikong punto-de-bista ng kapitalistang ideolohiya’t ugali. Ang pagbabago ng pagkatao ay hindi bukod, manapay matalik na katambal ng paglahok sa malalim at malawak na transpormasyon ng mga institusyong istraktural ng isang kaayusan sa isang tiyak na yugto ng kasaysayan. Ang teorya at praktika ay kasal sa napagkasunduang proyekto ng sambayanang umaalsa.

Ang tinutukoy rito ay ang neokolonyal na ayos o balangkas ng ating kasalukuyang lipunan, na lubog at lunod sa neoliberal na programa ng kapitalismong global. Paano tayo makauusad mula sa pagkalugmok sa barbarismong laganap ngayon sa krisis ng Estados Unidos at lahat ng ekonomyang nakapako sa tubo, komodipikasyon ng buhay, paghahari ng salapi at akumulasyon ng kapital? Paano tayo kakalas sa pagkabilanggo rito?

Ito nga ang hamon sa ating kolektibong lakas. Tungkulin at responsibilidad ng mga intelektwal tulad ninyo, tulad nating lahat, ang magpunla ng binhi ng kamalayang historikal, ang kaisipang malingap at mapanuri, at linangin ito sa paraang magiging mabisa ang mga ideya ng katarungan at kasarinlan sa bawat kilos at gawa. Kung paano ito maisasagawa, ay depende sa partikular na sirkonstansya ng bawat isa. Walang absoluto’t monolitikong gabay sa pag-ugit ng mobilisasyon ng kolektibong lakas. Bawat pagkakataon ay humihingi ng bagong analisis, paghimay ng kongkretong pagsalabat ng sapin-saping determinasyon, at patakaran, estratehiya at taktika sa pagresolba ng mga kontradiksiyon. Bawat okasyon ay may sariling kontradiksiyong dapat masinop na suriin, timbangin, kalkulahin, at kilatesin upang mahagilap kung saan mabisang maisisingit ang interbensiyon ng nagkakaisang lakas ng produktibong masa, ang ahensiya/subhetibidad ng bansang ipinapanganak.

Masahol daw ang suliranin ng ating lipunan, ayon sa ilang dalubhasa. Ang dahilan daw ay ito: nakabilanggo tayo sa pribadong spero ng buhay, nakasentro sa pamilya, kabarkada, sa makitid na espasyo ng ating tahanan, nayon, rehiyon. Hindi ito nakasudlong sa publikong lugar. Samakatwid, mahina o wala tayong publikong diwa, “civil society,” sanhi sa personalistikong daloy ng ating pakikipagkapuwa. Kaya atrasado ang bansa dahil sa “damaged culture,” umiiral ang pagkakanya-kanya, kompetisyon ng mga dinastiya, oligarkong pangkat, atbp. Tumpak ba itong palasak na diyagnosis ng ating pangkalahatang problema? Lumang tugtugin ba ito na dapat isaisantabi na upang makaakyat sa mataas na baytang ng pagsulong?

Upang maliwanagan ang sitwasyong ito, sa palagay ko, kailangan ang imbentaryo ng bawat buhay, isang kolektibong pagkukuwenta. Una’y balik-tanawin ang ating kasaysayan, mula kina Legaspi at Sikatuna, Dagohoy at Hermano Pule, Burgos at Propagandista, hanggang sa panahon nina Duterte at NDF/NPA. Ano ang mga kontradiksiyong hindi nalutas, na sumukdol sa kasalukuyang krisis? Saan nakadisposisyon ang pwersang reaksyonaryo’t pwersang progresibo? Anong bagong ahensiya o suhetibidad ang mabisang makakapag-iba ng obhetibong sitwasyon, ng itinakdang pag-aayos ng mga pwersang nangingibabaw at pwersang kontra-gahum? Ito ang mga katanungang dapat nating harapin–ang asignaturang kailangang bunuin upang maisakatuparan ang tungkulin ng sining at kultura sa transpormasyon ng buong lipunan. Handa na ba tayong suungin ang hamon ng kasaysayan?
Narito ang mapanuksong repleksiyon ni Apolinario Mabini sa kanyang napakamakabuluhang akda, “Ang Rebolusyong Filipino”: “Sumuong tayo sa digmaan sa paniniwalang atas ng tungkulin at dangal natin ang magsakripisyo sa pagtatanggol ng ating kalayaan hangga’t makakaya natin sapagkat kung wala ito, sadyang hindi mangyayaring magkaroon ng panlipunang pagkakapantay-pantay sa pagitan ng naghaharing uri at ng katutubong mamamayan at hindi mapapasaatin ang tunay na katarungan….Sa bisa ng likas na kalakaran ng mga bagay, nasa sambayanan mismo ang lahat ng kapangyarihang nakasasaklaw rito….Kung nasa pagtutugma ng katwiran at karanasan ang katotohanan, nasa pagtutugma ng teorya at praktika ang birtud..”
Pagmuniin natin ang proposisyon ng dakilang bayani bilang magkasudlong na interpretasyon at pagsubok baguhin ang ating kapaligiran–“not only interpret the world but change it.”–###

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

Introduction to Carlos Bulosan’s THE PHILIPPINES IS IN THE HEART by E. San Juan, Jr.


INTRODUCTION to Carlos Bulosan’s THE PHILIPPINES IS IN THE HEART (Ateneo U Press, 2017) by E. SAN JUAN, Jr. The passage of Carlos Bulosan from colonial Philippines to the U.S. metropole marks an axis of multiple historic transitions. He died at the height of the Cold War, 11 September 1956, the year of the […]

via Introduction to Carlos Bulosan’s THE PHILIPPINES IS IN THE HEART — THE PHILIPPINES MATRIX PROJECT

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

E. San Juan, Jr., INTRODUCTION TO CARLOS BULOSAN’S The Philippines Is in the Heart (Ateneo U Press, 2017)


INTRODUCTION TO

THE PHILIPPINES IS IN THE HEART by Carlos Bulosan

by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

The passage of Carlos Bulosan from colonial Philippines to the U.S. metropole marks an axis of multiple historic transitions. He died at the height of the Cold War, 11 September 1956, the year of the independence of Sudan, Tunisia and Morocco. It was a year after the Bandung Conference of Asian and African leaders, birthplace of the “third world.” It was also the year when Martin Luther King initiated the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, the beginning of the stormy Civil Rights struggles in the United States that transformed the era before September 11, 2001. In that decade, only about 70,000 Filipinos resided in the U.S., compared to four million today.
When Bulosan was born in the Philippines in 1911, two years after the Payne-Aldrich Act of 1909 defined the geopolitical role of the islands as a dependent, peripheral formation, the Philippines was a full-fledged colony of the U.S. empire. Filipinos (first recruited by the Hawaiian plantations and Alaskan canneries) were classified as colonial subjects or “nationals,” not immigrants seduced by the American “dream of Success.” This is a fact ignored by virtually all commentators on Bulosan’s writings, a basic error that leads to peremptorily assuming the neocolonial Philippines today as a fully sovereign nation-state. Without comprehending this asymmetrical relationship, all attempts to interpret and evaluate Filipino cultural expression in the United States, including Bulosan’s, remains flawed and deleterious in influence. It is complicit in the agenda of perpetuating US “Exceptionalism,” then articulated as“Manifest Destiny” under whose banner over one million natives were killed. Thereafter, the rebels were pacified and disciplined into docile subjects by the rifles and cannons of McKinley’s program of “Benevolent Assimilation” (Miller 1982).
Bulosan arrived in Seattle in 1930, just after the worldwide collapse of finance-capitalism. It was also marked by the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines whose leaders were all jailed the year after (Richardson 2011; Saulo1990). The onset of the “Great Depression” was heralded by the racist vigilante attacks on Filipino farmworkers in Watsonville, California, and Yakima Valley, Washington, in 1928 and 1930. Violence thus greeted Bulosan’s welcome to the promised land of liberty, democracy, and brotherhood.
Mapping the Barricades

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, Bulosan summed up his years of experience as a labor organizer and nomadic journalist, in a letter to a friend: “Yes, I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And the crime is that I am a Filipino in America” (Feria 1960, 199). Rather than being perceived as part of the “yellow horde,” Filipino workers acquired the stigma of troublemakers when they led or participated in strikes. Among these were the January 1920 and September 1924 strikes in Hawaii; in the latter, sixteen workers were killed and one of the organizers, Pablo Manlapit, was deported to the Philippines. In a letter to a friend dated December 7, 1935, Bulosan confessed that “I have become a communist” (Babb 1928-2005).
Objective conditions quickly catalyzed the agencies of change. In 1933 and 1934, thousands of Filipino workers in Salinas, Stockton and Monterey country formed the Filipino Labor Union and staged several damaging strikes. From the thirties to the forties, Filipinos belonging to the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), Federated Agricultural Laborers Association, and the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) mounted nationwide actions against agribusiness and industrial corporations, protesting corruption, low wages, and degrading labor conditions. The image of the Filipino in the United States in the thirties up to the 1965 grape strike in Delano, Califonira (which led to the founding of the United Farmworkers Union), established the image of this southeast Asian ethnic group as a “disturber of the peace” (to use James Baldwin’s phrase).
After his ordeal as itinerant field hand in Washington and Oregon, Bulosan joined his brothers Dionisio and Aurelio in Los Angeles. He became friends with Chris Mensalvas, a union organizer of the UCAPAWA. In 1935, Filipinos in the US confronted the threat of deportation by virtue of the Repatriation Act of 1935. From 1934 to 1937, Bulosan was a publicist for the proletarian resistance. And as editor of The New Tide, a bimonthly worker’s magazine, he entered the circle of such artists as Richard Wright, William Saroyan, John Fante, Paul Robeson, and others. The radical artist Sanora Babb and her sister Dorothy served as the “life-maintainers” of Bulosan as a patient in the Los Angeles County Hospital from 1936 to 1938, through the years of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of fascism in Europe. The indefatigable Babb sisters sustained his efforts to educate himself by reading in the Los Angeles Public Library. He absorbed a provocatively intense constellation of ideas through the works of Theodore Dreiser, James Farrell, Pablo Neruda, Nazim Hikmet, John Steinbok, Maxim Gorky, Agnes Smedley, Lillian Hellman, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Snow, and others. His apprenticehip in progressive thinking and dialogue (he reflected later on) “opened all my world of intellectual possibilities—and a grand dream of bettering society for the working man” (cited in San Juan 1994, 256). His return to Seattle as editor of the ILWU 1952 Yearbook, defending the popular nationalist poet Amado V. Hernandez who was indicted as a communist, and denouncing the fascist violence under the Quirino regime, completed the itinerary of his radicalization (Bulosan 1995).

Encounter and Discovery

The defeat of the US and Filipino forces in Bataan and Corregidor brought the Philippines into the world’s public consciousness, especially the U.S. audience. The colony offered a space for the exile’s imagined return to native grounds. Earlier, a veteran of the Hawaii strikes, Pedro Calosa, returned to Bulosan’s province, Pangasinan, and led the 1931 Tayug uprising vividly recounted in the first half of Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart (AIH). This is often forgotten since most commentators narrowly focus on the Depression episodes (see, for example, the selection in Paul Lauter’s The Heath Anthology of American Literature). During his convalescence from lung-and-kidney operations in the late thirties, Bulosan wrote stories based on Philippine folklore, later assembled in The Laughter of My Father (1944), a best-seller disseminated to American soldiers during World War II. The stories about Uncle Sator included here (first issued in 1978; hereafter PIH) served as an integral counterpoint to the comic role of the father, a donor/villain function in the morphology of Bulosan’s contrived folktales (Propp 1958).
The outbreak of World War II provided the moralizing epilogue to the anti-picaresque chronicle of wandering Filipino laborers in Bulosan’s ethnobiography, America Is in the Heart (AIH). It began with a confession of ignorance, unawareness of “the vast social implications of the discrimination against Filipinos.” He surmised that most of his compatriots suffered from “a misconception generated by a confused personal reaction to dynamic social forces.” But for him, “my hunger of the truth had inevitably led me to take an historical attitude” (Bulosan 1946, 144). As part of this endeavor to historicize experience, Bulosan edited and collaborated on three more books after The Laughter: Chorus for America (1942), Letter from America (1942), and The Voice of Bataan (1943). Two years later, with Bulosan’s “Freedom from Want” manifesto exhibited in the Federal Building, San Francisco, in 1943, The Laughter was followed by AIH in 1946. President Quezon offered Bulosan a job in the exiled Commonwealth government (where compatriots like Jose Garcia Villa and Arturo Rotor worked), but he politely declined. Meanwhile, he outlined at the end of AIH his vision encompassing the dying old world and the new world being born “with less sacrifice and agony on the living.”
Antonio Gramsci (1971) once warned that in between the demise of the old and the emergence of the new, we are confronted with dreadful morbid symptoms. Bulosan wrestled with his monsterns in his novel The Cry and the Dedication, written in the last five years of his life. He engaged the problem of change and sudden metamorphosis, of dying in order to be reborn, which also pervades the stories in PIH. Composed in the years after his sojourn in the Los Angeles County Hospital and his years with the ILWU at the height of the McCarthyist witchhunts of the Cold War, these stories form part of his project of regeneration. In January 1950, he wrote to Jose de Los Reyes: “What I am trying to do…is to utilize our common folklore, tradition, and history in line with my socialist thinking…We are pooling our knowledge together for a better understanding of man and his world; not to deify man, but to make him human, that we may see our faults and virtues in him. That is the responsibility of literature and the history of culture”(Feria 1960, 261). Beyond this general framework of ethico-political intent, Bulosan articulated the aesthetic rationale of the folkloric renditions of The Laughter a year before his death. This was in response to formalist New Critics who dismissed it as a potboiler selling local color, and foisting on an unsuspecting public “the oversimplified image of the Filipino as Peter Pan or as the lovable village idiot, everyman’s eccentric uncle” (Casper 1966, 70). Such a tendentious judgment testifies to the caustic, demystifying impact of Bulosan’s Juvenalian satire.
Following the wrongheaded fatuous view of Filipinos as immigrants obsessed with the “American Dream of Success,” a postmodern notion is fashionable nowadays to bracket Bulosan as a transnationalist, at best a cosmopolitan or planetary intellectual. In effect, this diasporic recasting seeks to transcend boundaries and barriers, abandoning the alleged parochialism of his peasant origin and the provincial ethnic heritage so as to fashion some all-embracing, universally cogent work of art. To refute this illicit abstraction, one may cite as a point of departure Bulosan’s overriding motivation. In a letter prior to his death, he reiterated the politico-economic motivation behind his poetry and fiction. In particular, he reaffirmed his view to Florentino B. Valeros that The Laughter “is not humor; it is satire; it is indictment against an economic system that stifled the growth of the primitive, making him decadent overnight without passing through the various stages of growth and decay. The hidden bitterness in this book is so pronounced in another series of short stories, that the publishers refrained from publishing it for the time being….” (Feria 1960, 273). That time has elapsed, the censor is gone; in front of you, unveiled, is the bitterness of the stories that other editors refused. These narratives somehow elude the shock of recognition that satire, with its techniques of burlesque, parody, lampoon and travesty, usually trigger in the empathizing sensibility.
For the purpose of this brief introduction, it would be useful to provide a general framework within which the stories here can be understood and appreciated in the context of Bulosan’s life and his milieu.

Generic Demarcations

Northrop Frye, Robert Elliot and other scholars have theorized the genre of satire as rooted in magic, ritual and archaic modes of production and reproduction. Its normative effect is therapeutic, simultaneously conservative and subversive. Elliot believes that the power of satire, even the sophisticated modern type, inheres in the magical, ritualistic connotations of words (1960, 282). Frye categorizes irony and satire as “the mythos of winter”: “Satire is militant irony” which assumes standards against which the grotesque and absurd are measured…Satire demands at least a token fantasy, a content which the reader recognizes as grotesque, and at least an implicit moral standard” (1957, 223-24). Often, as in “The Lonesome Mermaid” and the two ghost stories, fantasy and morality coalesce felicitously. The satirist may seek to arouse contempt on deviations from orthodox, received norms, foibles or vices due to human frailty; sarcastic innuendoes and scornful invective convey the censure and ridicule. At times, the satirical protest acts to sublimate and refine indignation against the evils usually observed: cupidity, hypocrisy, avarice, fatuous complacency, gluttony, and so on. Such derisive rhetoric, caricature, or lampoon, no matter how bitter or acerbic, do not trigger outright offense because, as Jonathan Swift noted, “satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own” (Cuddon 1979, 602; see Hodgart 1969). This may refer to the genial Horatian style, not to the harsh Juvenalian caustic attack on social excesses. In periods of violent instability and change, the satiric mode becomes difficult to sustain unless exaggerated to the level of hyperbolic caricature and cynical parody in the style of Petronius’ Satyricon.
Comic absurdities prevail over satiric invectives in Bulosan’s stories. Even in the violence-field incidents in “The Way of All Men” and “The Son of Uncle Sator,” the narrator focuses on the comedic quality inhering in the mechanical gestures and movements of flat characters (following Henri Bergson’s definition of humor [1960, 49]) that spring from the rigid conformism of conduct in hierarchical peasant culture. One encounters a Brechtian alienation-effect in the juxtaposition of illusory belief and discordant reality in scenarios that Bulosan sets up where the Father or Uncle Sator preaches about the virtues of a morality that directly contravene their own burlesqued sordid conduct. This is obvious in “The Wisdom of Uncle Sator,” “The Bandit and the Tax Collctor, “ or “The Homecoming of Uncle Manuel.” Examples of caricatured speech and grotesque behavior abound in these stories, as well as in The Laughter , especially in the predictable, mechanical reactions of characters. But Bulosan disrupts this pattern, as in the ambivalent and erratic behavior of the central protagonists in “The Angel in Santo Domingo,” “A Servant in the House,” “The Great Lover,” and in the stories revolving around music and Dionysian figures of trumpeters and guitarists where fantasy, the mode of romance, and the supernatural eclipse the criticism of manners.
In the comic world of Bulosan’s imagination, the satire is tempered by the needs of the body and the material welfare of the collective. In “The Son of Uncle Sator,” the first-person narrator claims to “make commentaries on human affairs.” He describes his mileiu as “the morally petrified tribe of brigands, thieves, jailbirds, gamblers, inebriates, imbeciles, louts, and liars” (1978, 72). Because of the “ageless naivete” of this tribe, their imbecility is neither tragic nor laughable” —it is an unpredictable, mixed world where night and day interpenetrate. It is inhabited by hybrids, “ghostly humans” and “humanlike ghosts” (as the stranger observes in “Return of the Amorous Ghost”) and enigmatic, supernatural happenings reminiscent of folklore, as in “The Rooster’s Egg, ” “The Angel in Santo Domingo,” and the three ghost stories. It is a world of mercantile/feudal alienation, farmers-artisans robbed of the value produced by their labor-power, totally fallen into a nihilistic realm of money/commodity-fetishism supervised by corrupt bureaucrat-politicians, police, rich compradors, and criminal opportunists.
The strong libidinal predilection to indulge in romance/fantasy is curbed by Bulosan’s empiricist drive. Lived, carnal experience is paramount. Gratification of the appetites supervenes over any particular folly or vice personified by individuals. This is vividly illustrated in the town festivities and ribald exuberance of drinking and eating found in every encounter of uncles and aunts, children and parents. The organic body of the folk comprised of carousing, pleasure-loving, sentimental individuals springs to life in the anonymizing revelry. We are initiated into the time/space of carnival that abolishes boundaries between private and public, performers and spectators, destroying the social hierarachies that underlie official culture. Entailed by this construction of a pastoral milieu, sometimes camouflaged by irony or parody, is the translation of the complex totalilty into intelligible elements accessible for problem-solving by the unlettered folk, a paradigm for proletarian art proposed by the codifier of ambiguities, William Empson (1950). A visionary utopian fable lies immanent in the crude naturalist surface of uncouth swindlers and vulgar outlaws. This accords with the essence of all art, the simplification of a dense heterogenous reality based on conventions, which reveals to us that lived reality is far more complex than any single view of it, just as the manifold of inter-subjective experience is richer than any theorizing of it (Berger 1972). Praxis/communal activity always trumps individualist theorizing founded on Cartesian intuition.

Incarnation Poetics

Analyzing Rabelais’ universe of discourse and its intertextuality, Mikhail Bakhtin was the first to theorize the carnivalesque motivation in art. This is a nuanced, historically substantiated rearticulation of Empson’s pastoral genre. Originating from the Roman festival of the saturnalia, the carnival world-outlook stages an inverted order that mockingly challenges the legitimacy of established authority. It is essentially debunking, suspicious, deconstructive. By canceling doctrinaire pieties, it demystifies the customary rules and norms that define outsiders and insiders, who is acceptable and who is not, thus leveling unequal strata and classes. For Julia Kristeva, the carnivalesque logic of the Bulosan narrative posits a homology between the body, dream, linguistic syntax and structures of desire; it plays with distances, relationships, analogies, non-exclusive oppositions and ambivalences, the structural dyads of carnival: “high and low, birth and agony, food and excrement, praise and curses, laughter and tears” (1986, 48-49).
Carnival originally re-enacted traditional cults of fertility and rebirth. It celebrated bodily pleasures, foregrounding eating and excreting, taking away the repulsive quality from gluttony, lust, and other libidinal pleasures in the hope that this celebration of vital functions will renew the world. Carnival thus represents the popular force of transformation and renovation, forecasting the advent of a quasi-utopian realm of freedom, spontaneity, and abundance suggested here in scenes of mayhem, convulsive gatherings, and rowdy logomachia, as in the confounding mischief in “The Betrayal of Uncle Soyoc” and “The Betrayal of Uncle Roman.” In this dialogic cosmos, the idea of rupture is dramatized as a modality of revolutionary transformation occuring in the midst of crisis—the transition of the archaic tributary, patrimonial mode of production to a comprador/capitalist-bureaucratic one, a deeply chaotic, disaggregated process.
Instead of simply illuminating Bulosan’s stories as satire or humorous vignettes, it woud be more fruitful to articulate them as examples of carnivalesque discourse in Bakhtin’s dialogic criterion. We are therefore not confined to isolating Juvenalian harangue or Horatian sermons. The series revolving around Uncle Sator and his brothers illustrates Bulosan’s use of the populist-anarchist predispositions in folk-culture. In “The Widom of Uncle Sator,” the contrast between the official worship of money (Uncle Sator representing the rentier/comprador mode of production) and the sensuous use-value of the fat hens and suckling pigs paid as fees to the Father’s school of music, is sharply drawn: “And the accommodating parents obliged Father willingly, until all their animals and fowls were killed in our kitchen…Uncle Sator kept all the money, of course, because Father was interested only in his stomach. He thought a slaughtered pig was more immediate and important than money in his pocket” (1978, 62). In “The Homecoming of Uncle Manuel,” Uncle Sator himself indulges in culinary fantasies: Uncle Sator’s “mouth watered from describing the imaginary suckling pig, or carabao meat, or whatever it was in his mind. Father’s salive was dripping down his shirt. His yellow tongue was hanging out of his black mouth, his red eyes popping like guavas” (1978, 92). The bacchanalia goes on until Uncle Manuel finds himself the victim of Uncle Sator’s swindling art, an absurd comic peripeteia. Such situations approxime the target of Menippean satire against mental atttitudes in which people are “handled in terms of their occupational approach to life as distinct from their social behavior” (Frye 1957, 309).
We are imperceptibly ushered into a capsized unmoored world, obliquely alluding to the era of U.S. violent pacification of the islands and of turbulent worldwide Depression. With the family disintegrated, the uncles all cheat one another; kindred actors engage in fraudulent gambling, banditry, extortions, blackmailing and bribing their way through the feudal/mercantile hierarchy. The official Establishment and its patrimonial guardians are travestied by the routine violation of laws and regulations. In “A Servant in the House,” while the merrymaking is going on, the servant cleverly plans his own racket.
Given the absence of limits or their precarious definition, ghosts and angels infiltrate the public domain. Magical powers and charismatic agents creep into the allegorical, farcical play. In “The Lonesome Mermaid” and “The Rooster’s Egg,” the temporal-spatial coordinates are dissolved. offering a glimpse of a parallel antithetical cosmos. Angela, the “Angel in Santo Domingo,” becomes a commodity clamed by the priest, the landlord, Mayor, etc. Before she could be sold to a gambler, she disappears—proof that the spirit indeed trumps the letter. In “The Marriage of Cousin Pedro,” we encounter a town where mothers, not fathers, know who their children are. Patriarchy is dethroned, but not in order to put the matriarch in charge, contrary to the theorists of matriarchal/matrilineal ascendancy. Juxtaposition of the sordid and sublime, the serious and grotesque, is designed to subvert the conventional standard of values and mores. It intends to shatter the obscurantist ceremonies of the priestly castes and empower the pariahs and outcasts. In “The Great Lover,” the polar opposites are cleverly if ambiguously aligned in “the night that lives within and without us.” Social conflict is thus reduced to futile, aleatory psychomachia.

Uncanny Calculations

We call attention to Bulosan’s elaboration of the role of the trickster/impersonator and its counterpart, the ghost/mermaid. The magic power of this uncanny protagonist proceeds to defy the antinomy of death and rebirth (for the trickster-artist archetype, see Jung 1969), exemplified by Silent Popo in “The Summer of Beautiful Music,” by “Timbucto” in “The Son of Uncle Sator,” and the stranger in”The Lonesome Mermaid.” Wherever we confront the incongruous and discrepant, the polarized qualities of the customary and the strange, the harmonious and dissonant, we face the absurd that triggers laughter or ironical self-reflection. This conjunction resembles the medieval laughter that Rabelais designated as the “social consciousness of all the people,” We experience the flow of time in the festival crowd and marketplace as members of a “continually growing and renewed people. This is why festive folk laughter presents an element of victory not only over supernatural awe. over the sacred, over death; it also means the defeat of power, of earthly kings, of the earthly upper classes, of all that oppresses and restricts…Laughter liberates not only from external censorship but first of all from the great interior censor…It liberates from the fear of the sacred, of prohibitions, of the past, of power. It unveils the material bodily principle in its true meaning. Laughter opened men’s eyes on that which is new, on the future” (1968, 92, 94).
The carnivalesque principle accentuating the body, laughter and physical action, is revolutionary par excellence. It is the method and form of the folkloric artifices here and in The Laughter. Reconstituted from the mixed genealogy of folk tradition, it exists side by side with the culture it parodies and somehow contains it, hence its ambivalent status. It affords space for eccentricity, variegated play, a counter-cultural syndrome opposed to the bureaucratic, hierarchical system comprised of dominant-subordinate poles. But what stands out in the carnivalesque theatrical disposition is the body of the people “aware of its unity in time… It is conscious of its uninterrupted continuity in time, of its relative historic immortality…the uninterrupted continuity of their becoming and the ceaseless metamorphosis of death and renewal” (quoted in Clark and Holquist 1984, 303). The amorphous, perverse image of the carnivalesque body, for Bakhtin, is flesh as the site of becoming, metamorphosis, evidenced by changes in its nature through eating, evacuation, sexual intercourse, etc. This ever-renewing body is symbolized by Uncle Sator’s “cavernous mouth” as he devours a chicken drumstick while he discusses his last will and testament with his nephew and the mother who prepared the meal (Bulosan 1990, 55). It is embodied in the buoyant and cyclical appearance of Uncle Sator, the father, Orphic musicians, ghosts, and other commedia dell arte personalities on this tropical stage.
It is no surprise to find Bulosan’s high esteem of indigenous folklore consonant with Bakhtin’s conceptualization of the carnivalesque anatomy and its mutations. Other stories here demonstrate the discombobulating efficacy of popular music, the Orphic motif of the saturnalia, in “The Power of Music,” “The Summer of Beautiful Music,” etc. Images, smells, noise concordant and dissonant all indiscriminately blend in a Menippean dialogism that relies more on analogy and a logic of relations rather than on substance and inference, as Kristeva (1986) describes it in connection with the intertextual novelistic discourse of Doestoevky’s fiction.
In 1941, three years before the publication of The Laughter, Bulosan paid homage to Walt Whitman”s “orphic celebration of the masses, his outlandish but healthy love for the body,” his despising “all unhealthy traditions: the repression of mind and body” (Feria 1960, 200). In 1950, after the tributes given to the book, Bulosan wrote to a friend that he had been trying in his work “to utilize our common folklore, tradition and history in line with my socialist thinking” (Feria 1969, 261). In his 1951 essay “The Growth of Philippine Culture,” he identified the constant revitalization of native culture originally based on a communal economy by writers returning to “their social roots—the peasantry and the proletariat—and [who] began to weave the threads of their folklore with the national tradition” created by revolutionary heroes like Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Isabelo de los Reyes, and others (1995, 122-23). People, art, nation were indivisible in Bulosan’s counterhegemonic aesthetics.
We might recall the origin of this insurgent aesthetics. The carnivalesque body in Bulosan’s art first materialized in the person of Apo Lacay, the old man from the mountains surrounding the village of Mangusmana, a mythical figure like the sage Lao Tzu. The wisdom of this old storyteller derives from the communal practices of farming, hunting, and diverse craftwork. Its organic scaffold is the natural environment to which the exile will never return, except by remembrance, the reservoir of experience (as Walter Benjamin construed it [1989]). After an unexplained hiatus, Bulosan returns to say goodbye before he departs for America. He tells Apo Lacay that he will perform as oral transmitter of the old man’s tales, the source of the “wisdom of the heart” that guarantees the authentic homecoming of the prodigal son and the body’s regeneration: “ Then it seemed to me, watching him lost in thought, he had become a little boy again living all the tales he had told us about a vanished race, listening to the gorgeous laughter of men in the midst of abject poverty and tyranny. For that was the time of his childhood, in the age of great distress and calamity in the land, when the fury of an invading race [United States] impaled their hearts in the tragic cross of slavery and ignorance.… But this man who had survived them all, surviving a full century of change and now living in the first murmurs of a twilight and the dawn of reason and progress, was the sole surviving witness of the cruelty and dehumanization of man by another man, but whose tales were taken for laughter and the foolish words of a lonely old man who had lived far beyond his time” (1983, 25-26). Remembrance then becomes prophetic and heuristic.
After the old storyteller’s death, death as the authorizing seal of narrative art, Bulosan meditates on the fusion of their utterances, origin dissolving in the sharing of the stories with others: “And now, in America, writing many years later, I do not exactly know which were the words of the old man of the mountains and which are mine. But they are his tales, as well as mine, so I hope we have written stories that really belong to everyone in that valley beautiful beyond any telling of it” (1983, 26). This resonates with the theme of the artist’s education and the ironic ethics found in “The Betrayal of Uncle Soyoc”: “Now as I listened to mytwo uncles, who had run the gamut of human confidences and secrets, who had divested themselves of all illusions and regarded honesty as a sure sign of weakness, I became a man among men without a childhood” (1978, 82). The boy matures with the weapon of ironic laughter, participating in life as “a great adventure,” watching “the progression of truth” in the midst of entanglements among “beautiful women and gentle men.”

What Is to be Done?

Ultimately, the burden of the Uncle Sator cycle of stories is the task of the carnivalesque satirist: the demystification of colonial domination. It is the destruction of the pastoral mirage of harmonious, happy village life pacified by U.S. civilizing missionaries. If there is something comic in the situations drawn here, it involves in general the contradiction between the personal (the subugatd colonial subaltern) and the universal (the principles of human dignity) that does not involve the reader/spectator in suffering or pity. No such involvement occurs because the narrator exercises some power of detachment from what is going on (Potts 1966, 154). W. H. Auden believes that satire cannot deal with serious evil and suffering such as, for example, the genocidal killing of 1.4 million Filipinos resisting U.S. occupation between 1899 and 1913. Auden asserts that “in public life, the serious evils are so importunate that satire seems trivial and the only suitable kind of attack prophetic denunciation” (1960, 115). Eloquent criticism of racist violence may be found in Bulosan’s AIH, The Cry and the Dedication; in stories like “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow,” “I Would Remember,” in the poems “Waking in the 20th Century,” “Letter in Exile,” and in many personal letters to American friends and compatriots (Bulosan 1983).
In the genre of carnivalesque discourse outlined here, these stories include prophetic excoriation of folly as one aspect of satire. Greed, apathy, lust and other symptoms of human depravity are historically linked to commodity-fetishism, the cash nexus, in effect the whole system of capitalist exploitation based on private ownership of social wealth and the elite monopoly of power. From this angle, this cycle of adventures with Uncle Sator and his ilk may be read as the allegory of the destruction of private property (and inherited privilege) represented by the patriarchal surrogate, Uncle Sator and his accessories; or its expropriation for distribution and enjoyment by everyone. At least, the boy dreams of depriving the Uncle of his ill-gotten wealth. We confront this social wealth as the collective body’s members divided and shared by everyone. The scenes of gambling, town festivals, squabbles, and so on, represent the indispensable ceremony of saturnalia, the hours of liberation from toil and celebration of the community’s liaison with Nature. Extrapolating from the example of Menippean satire, Rabelais, and European folklore, Bakhtin theorized the popular-democratic principle invested in serio-comic art, the unity-in-diversity of mixed genres and styles, as illustrated in Popular-Front art (see Denning 1997)—and in the coalescence of legend, fact, and invention found in The Laughter and in this collection.
Although Bulosan is now a canonical icon of multiethnic United States literature, he has not been adequately given his due in the archives of Filipino culture. This is a symptom of neocolonial subordination. In the process of gaining respectable status, however, his radical edge was blunted, his subversive qualities muted in the name of neoliberal multiculturalism. Given the marginalized position of the Filipino diaspora in the U.S., we need to recover the submerged, repressed strand in their history sedimented in Bulosan’s testimonial texts. This book is an attempt to excavate those oppositional, counterhegemonic impulses in his works by re-contextualizing them in our durable anticolonial tradition dating back from the 1896 revolution against Spain and U.S. occupation, the peasant insurrections up to the Huk rebellion, and renewed insurgencies during the Cold War up to the present. Re-inscribed in its proper historical milieu and geopolitical force-field, Bulosan’s entire body of work acquires a profound contemporary resonance. This is so because Filipinos (in this post-9/11 racialized-fascist polity) have been stigmatized as possible terrorists, suspected of harboring seditious contraband. This evokes in the collective memory the persecution of union leaders in the Hawaii plantations, California farms, and Seattle wharves.
We are engaged today in an anti-postcolonial project of reading Bulosan against the grain, from a rigorous historical-materialist viewpoint affording resources for strategies of resistance and emancipation. A future task for critics and cultural activists anywhere is to figure out how these stories can help us grasp the complex vicissitudes of the Philippines as a contested neocolony of the US empire, even as the worsening crisis of the bankrupt global-capitalist hegemony and its terrorist drones explode into a planetary meltdown, overwhelming both its masters and its predatory caretakers. Can the subaltern “wretched of the earth” still speak truth to power while laughing, and in the carnivalesque insurrection of the multitudinous body dare overcome the legacy of over a hundred years of imperial barbarism?
REFERENCES

Auden, W. H. 1960. “Notes on the Comic.” In The Comic in Theory and Practice. Ed. John J. Enck, Elizabeth Forter, and Alvin Whitley. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc.
Babb, Sanora. 1928-2005. Sanora Babb Papers 1928-2005. Harry Ransom Humanities Center, University of Texas, Austin. Series V.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1968. Rabelais and His World. Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press.
Benjamin, Walter. 1989. “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nicolai Leskov.” In Contemporary Critical Theory. Ed. Dan Latimer. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Bulosan, Carlos. 1983. Bulosan: An Introduction with Selections. Manila: National Book Store.
——. 1995. On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan, ed.E. San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Casper, Leonard. 1966. New Writing from the Philippines. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
Denning, Michael. 1997. The Cultural Front. New York: Verso.
Elliott, Robert C. 1960. The Power of Satire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Feria, Dolores, ed. 1960. “The Sound of Falling Light—Letters in Exile.” The Diliman Review (Jan-September): 185-278.
Freud, Sigmund. 1963. “Humor.” In Character and Culture. New York: Collier Books.
Frye, Northrop. 1957. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers.
Hodgart, Matthew. 1969. Satire. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.
Holquist, Michael and Katerina Clark. 1984. Mikhail Bakhtin. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Kristeva, Julia. 1986. The Kristeva Reader. New York: Columbia University Press.
Lauter, Paul, ed. 2006. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 5th edition. Boston: Heath and Co.
Miller, Stuart Creighton. 1982. Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Potts, L.J. 1966. Comedy. New York: Capricorn Books.
Propp, V. 1958. Morphology of the Folktale. Bloomington, IND: Research Center in Anthropology, Folklore and Linguistics.
Richardson, Jim. 2011. Komunista. Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.
San Juan, E. 1994. “Carlos Bulosan.” In The American Radical, ed. Mary Jo Buhle, Paul Buehl and Harvey Kaye, 253-59. New York: Routledge.
——. 1998. “Filipinos.” In Encyclopedia of the American Left, ed. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, 224-26. New York: Oxford University Press.
Saulo, Alfredo. 1990. Communism in the Philippines: An Introduction. Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.

Posted in AESTHETICS, DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS, FILIPINO, SOCIOCRITICISM, UNTIMELY OBSERVATIONS

Introduction to Carlos Bulosan’s THE PHILIPPINES IS IN THE HEART


 bulosan-for-jacketcoverINTRODUCTION to Carlos Bulosan’s THE PHILIPPINES IS IN THE HEART (Ateneo U Press, 2017)

by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

 

The passage of Carlos Bulosan from colonial Philippines to the U.S. metropole marks an axis of multiple historic transitions. He died at the height of the Cold War, 11 September 1956, the year of the independence of Sudan, Tunisia and Morocco. It was a year after the Bandung Conference of Asian and African leaders, birthplace of the “third world.” It was also the year when Martin Luther King initiated the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, the beginning of the stormy Civil Rights struggles in the United States that transformed the era before September 11, 2001. In that decade, only about 70,000 Filipinos resided in the U.S., compared to four million today.
When Bulosan was born in the Philippines in 1911, two years after the Payne-Aldrich Act of 1909 defined the geopolitical role of the islands as a dependent, peripheral formation, the Philippines was a full-fledged colony of the U.S. empire. Filipinos (first recruited by the Hawaiian plantations and Alaskan canneries) were classified as colonial subjects or “nationals,” not immigrants seduced by the American “dream of Success.” This is a fact ignored by virtually all commentators on Bulosan’s writings, a basic error that leads to peremptorily assuming the neocolonial Philippines today as a fully sovereign nation-state. Without comprehending this asymmetrical relationship, all attempts to interpret and evaluate Filipino cultural expression in the United States, including Bulosan’s, remains flawed and deleterious in influence. It is complicit in the agenda of perpetuating US “Exceptionalism,” then articulated as“Manifest Destiny” under whose banner over one million natives were killed. Thereafter, the rebels were pacified and disciplined into docile subjects by the rifles and cannons of McKinley’s program of “Benevolent Assimilation” (Miller 1982).
Bulosan arrived in Seattle in 1930, just after the worldwide collapse of finance-capitalism. It was also marked by the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines whose leaders were all jailed the year after (Richardson 2011; Saulo1990). The onset of the “Great Depression” was heralded by the racist vigilante attacks on Filipino farmworkers in Watsonville, California, and Yakima Valley, Washington, in 1928 and 1930. Violence thus greeted Bulosan’s welcome to the promised land of liberty, democracy, and brotherhood.
Mapping the Barricades

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, Bulosan summed up his years of experience as a labor organizer and nomadic journalist, in a letter to a friend: “Yes, I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And the crime is that I am a Filipino in America” (Feria 1960, 199). Rather than being perceived as part of the “yellow horde,” Filipino workers acquired the stigma of troublemakers when they led or participated in strikes. Among these were the January 1920 and September 1924 strikes in Hawaii; in the latter, sixteen workers were killed and one of the organizers, Pablo Manlapit, was deported to the Philippines. In a letter to a friend dated December 7, 1935, Bulosan confessed that “I have become a communist” (Babb 1928-2005).
Objective conditions quickly catalyzed the agencies of change. In 1933 and 1934, thousands of Filipino workers in Salinas, Stockton and Monterey country formed the Filipino Labor Union and staged several damaging strikes. From the thirties to the forties, Filipinos belonging to the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), Federated Agricultural Laborers Association, and the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) mounted nationwide actions against agribusiness and industrial corporations, protesting corruption, low wages, and degrading labor conditions. The image of the Filipino in the United States in the thirties up to the 1965 grape strike in Delano, Califonira (which led to the founding of the United Farmworkers Union), established the image of this southeast Asian ethnic group as a “disturber of the peace” (to use James Baldwin’s phrase).
After his ordeal as itinerant field hand in Washington and Oregon, Bulosan joined his brothers Dionisio and Aurelio in Los Angeles. He became friends with Chris Mensalvas, a union organizer of the UCAPAWA. In 1935, Filipinos in the US confronted the threat of deportation by virtue of the Repatriation Act of 1935. From 1934 to 1937, Bulosan was a publicist for the proletarian resistance. And as editor of The New Tide, a bimonthly worker’s magazine, he entered the circle of such artists as Richard Wright, William Saroyan, John Fante, Paul Robeson, and others. The radical artist Sanora Babb and her sister Dorothy served as the “life-maintainers” of Bulosan as a patient in the Los Angeles County Hospital from 1936 to 1938, through the years of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of fascism in Europe. The indefatigable Babb sisters sustained his efforts to educate himself by reading in the Los Angeles Public Library. He absorbed a provocatively intense constellation of ideas through the works of Theodore Dreiser, James Farrell, Pablo Neruda, Nazim Hikmet, John Steinbok, Maxim Gorky, Agnes Smedley, Lillian Hellman, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Snow, and others. His apprenticehip in progressive thinking and dialogue (he reflected later on) “opened all my world of intellectual possibilities—and a grand dream of bettering society for the working man” (cited in San Juan 1994, 256). His return to Seattle as editor of the ILWU 1952 Yearbook, defending the popular nationalist poet Amado V. Hernandez who was indicted as a communist, and denouncing the fascist violence under the Quirino regime, completed the itinerary of his radicalization (Bulosan 1995).

Encounter and Discovery

The defeat of the US and Filipino forces in Bataan and Corregidor brought the Philippines into the world’s public consciousness, especially the U.S. audience. The colony offered a space for the exile’s imagined return to native grounds. Earlier, a veteran of the Hawaii strikes, Pedro Calosa, returned to Bulosan’s province, Pangasinan, and led the 1931 Tayug uprising vividly recounted in the first half of Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart (AIH). This is often forgotten since most commentators narrowly focus on the Depression episodes (see, for example, the selection in Paul Lauter’s The Heath Anthology of American Literature). During his convalescence from lung-and-kidney operations in the late thirties, Bulosan wrote stories based on Philippine folklore, later assembled in The Laughter of My Father (1944), a best-seller disseminated to American soldiers during World War II. The stories about Uncle Sator included here (first issued in 1978; hereafter PIH) served as an integral counterpoint to the comic role of the father, a donor/villain function in the morphology of Bulosan’s contrived folktales (Propp 1958).
The outbreak of World War II provided the moralizing epilogue to the anti-picaresque chronicle of wandering Filipino laborers in Bulosan’s ethnobiography, America Is in the Heart (AIH). It began with a confession of ignorance, unawareness of “the vast social implications of the discrimination against Filipinos.” He surmised that most of his compatriots suffered from “a misconception generated by a confused personal reaction to dynamic social forces.” But for him, “my hunger of the truth had inevitably led me to take an historical attitude” (Bulosan 1946, 144). As part of this endeavor to historicize experience, Bulosan edited and collaborated on three more books after The Laughter: Chorus for America (1942), Letter from America (1942), and The Voice of Bataan (1943). Two years later, with Bulosan’s “Freedom from Want” manifesto exhibited in the Federal Building, San Francisco, in 1943, The Laughter was followed by AIH in 1946. President Quezon offered Bulosan a job in the exiled Commonwealth government (where compatriots like Jose Garcia Villa and Arturo Rotor worked), but he politely declined. Meanwhile, he outlined at the end of AIH his vision encompassing the dying old world and the new world being born “with less sacrifice and agony on the living.”
Antonio Gramsci (1971) once warned that in between the demise of the old and the emergence of the new, we are confronted with dreadful morbid symptoms. Bulosan wrestled with his monsterns in his novel The Cry and the Dedication, written in the last five years of his life. He engaged the problem of change and sudden metamorphosis, of dying in order to be reborn, which also pervades the stories in PIH. Composed in the years after his sojourn in the Los Angeles County Hospital and his years with the ILWU at the height of the McCarthyist witchhunts of the Cold War, these stories form part of his project of regeneration. In January 1950, he wrote to Jose de Los Reyes: “What I am trying to do…is to utilize our common folklore, tradition, and history in line with my socialist thinking…We are pooling our knowledge together for a better understanding of man and his world; not to deify man, but to make him human, that we may see our faults and virtues in him. That is the responsibility of literature and the history of culture”(Feria 1960, 261). Beyond this general framework of ethico-political intent, Bulosan articulated the aesthetic rationale of the folkloric renditions of The Laughter a year before his death. This was in response to formalist New Critics who dismissed it as a potboiler selling local color, and foisting on an unsuspecting public “the oversimplified image of the Filipino as Peter Pan or as the lovable village idiot, everyman’s eccentric uncle” (Casper 1966, 70). Such a tendentious judgment testifies to the caustic, demystifying impact of Bulosan’s Juvenalian satire.
Following the wrongheaded fatuous view of Filipinos as immigrants obsessed with the “American Dream of Success,” a postmodern notion is fashionable nowadays to bracket Bulosan as a transnationalist, at best a cosmopolitan or planetary intellectual. In effect, this diasporic recasting seeks to transcend boundaries and barriers, abandoning the alleged parochialism of his peasant origin and the provincial ethnic heritage so as to fashion some all-embracing, universally cogent work of art. To refute this illicit abstraction, one may cite as a point of departure Bulosan’s overriding motivation. In a letter prior to his death, he reiterated the politico-economic motivation behind his poetry and fiction. In particular, he reaffirmed his view to Florentino B. Valeros that The Laughter “is not humor; it is satire; it is indictment against an economic system that stifled the growth of the primitive, making him decadent overnight without passing through the various stages of growth and decay. The hidden bitterness in this book is so pronounced in another series of short stories, that the publishers refrained from publishing it for the time being….” (Feria 1960, 273). That time has elapsed, the censor is gone; in front of you, unveiled, is the bitterness of the stories that other editors refused. These narratives somehow elude the shock of recognition that satire, with its techniques of burlesque, parody, lampoon and travesty, usually trigger in the empathizing sensibility.
For the purpose of this brief introduction, it would be useful to provide a general framework within which the stories here can be understood and appreciated in the context of Bulosan’s life and his milieu.

Generic Demarcations

Northrop Frye, Robert Elliot and other scholars have theorized the genre of satire as rooted in magic, ritual and archaic modes of production and reproduction. Its normative effect is therapeutic, simultaneously conservative and subversive. Elliot believes that the power of satire, even the sophisticated modern type, inheres in the magical, ritualistic connotations of words (1960, 282). Frye categorizes irony and satire as “the mythos of winter”: “Satire is militant irony” which assumes standards against which the grotesque and absurd are measured…Satire demands at least a token fantasy, a content which the reader recognizes as grotesque, and at least an implicit moral standard” (1957, 223-24). Often, as in “The Lonesome Mermaid” and the two ghost stories, fantasy and morality coalesce felicitously. The satirist may seek to arouse contempt on deviations from orthodox, received norms, foibles or vices due to human frailty; sarcastic innuendoes and scornful invective convey the censure and ridicule. At times, the satirical protest acts to sublimate and refine indignation against the evils usually observed: cupidity, hypocrisy, avarice, fatuous complacency, gluttony, and so on. Such derisive rhetoric, caricature, or lampoon, no matter how bitter or acerbic, do not trigger outright offense because, as Jonathan Swift noted, “satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own” (Cuddon 1979, 602; see Hodgart 1969). This may refer to the genial Horatian style, not to the harsh Juvenalian caustic attack on social excesses. In periods of violent instability and change, the satiric mode becomes difficult to sustain unless exaggerated to the level of hyperbolic caricature and cynical parody in the style of Petronius’ Satyricon.
Comic absurdities prevail over satiric invectives in Bulosan’s stories. Even in the violence-field incidents in “The Way of All Men” and “The Son of Uncle Sator,” the narrator focuses on the comedic quality inhering in the mechanical gestures and movements of flat characters (following Henri Bergson’s definition of humor [1960, 49]) that spring from the rigid conformism of conduct in hierarchical peasant culture. One encounters a Brechtian alienation-effect in the juxtaposition of illusory belief and discordant reality in scenarios that Bulosan sets up where the Father or Uncle Sator preaches about the virtues of a morality that directly contravene their own burlesqued sordid conduct. This is obvious in “The Wisdom of Uncle Sator,” “The Bandit and the Tax Collctor, “ or “The Homecoming of Uncle Manuel.” Examples of caricatured speech and grotesque behavior abound in these stories, as well as in The Laughter , especially in the predictable, mechanical reactions of characters. But Bulosan disrupts this pattern, as in the ambivalent and erratic behavior of the central protagonists in “The Angel in Santo Domingo,” “A Servant in the House,” “The Great Lover,” and in the stories revolving around music and Dionysian figures of trumpeters and guitarists where fantasy, the mode of romance, and the supernatural eclipse the criticism of manners.
In the comic world of Bulosan’s imagination, the satire is tempered by the needs of the body and the material welfare of the collective. In “The Son of Uncle Sator,” the first-person narrator claims to “make commentaries on human affairs.” He describes his mileiu as “the morally petrified tribe of brigands, thieves, jailbirds, gamblers, inebriates, imbeciles, louts, and liars” (1978, 72). Because of the “ageless naivete” of this tribe, their imbecility is neither tragic nor laughable” —it is an unpredictable, mixed world where night and day interpenetrate. It is inhabited by hybrids, “ghostly humans” and “humanlike ghosts” (as the stranger observes in “Return of the Amorous Ghost”) and enigmatic, supernatural happenings reminiscent of folklore, as in “The Rooster’s Egg, ” “The Angel in Santo Domingo,” and the three ghost stories. It is a world of mercantile/feudal alienation, farmers-artisans robbed of the value produced by their labor-power, totally fallen into a nihilistic realm of money/commodity-fetishism supervised by corrupt bureaucrat-politicians, police, rich compradors, and criminal opportunists.
The strong libidinal predilection to indulge in romance/fantasy is curbed by Bulosan’s empiricist drive. Lived, carnal experience is paramount. Gratification of the appetites supervenes over any particular folly or vice personified by individuals. This is vividly illustrated in the town festivities and ribald exuberance of drinking and eating found in every encounter of uncles and aunts, children and parents. The organic body of the folk comprised of carousing, pleasure-loving, sentimental individuals springs to life in the anonymizing revelry. We are initiated into the time/space of carnival that abolishes boundaries between private and public, performers and spectators, destroying the social hierarachies that underlie official culture. Entailed by this construction of a pastoral milieu, sometimes camouflaged by irony or parody, is the translation of the complex totalilty into intelligible elements accessible for problem-solving by the unlettered folk, a paradigm for proletarian art proposed by the codifier of ambiguities, William Empson (1950). A visionary utopian fable lies immanent in the crude naturalist surface of uncouth swindlers and vulgar outlaws. This accords with the essence of all art, the simplification of a dense heterogenous reality based on conventions, which reveals to us that lived reality is far more complex than any single view of it, just as the manifold of inter-subjective experience is richer than any theorizing of it (Berger 1972). Praxis/communal activity always trumps individualist theorizing founded on Cartesian intuition.

Incarnation Poetics

Analyzing Rabelais’ universe of discourse and its intertextuality, Mikhail Bakhtin was the first to theorize the carnivalesque motivation in art. This is a nuanced, historically substantiated rearticulation of Empson’s pastoral genre. Originating from the Roman festival of the saturnalia, the carnival world-outlook stages an inverted order that mockingly challenges the legitimacy of established authority. It is essentially debunking, suspicious, deconstructive. By canceling doctrinaire pieties, it demystifies the customary rules and norms that define outsiders and insiders, who is acceptable and who is not, thus leveling unequal strata and classes. For Julia Kristeva, the carnivalesque logic of the Bulosan narrative posits a homology between the body, dream, linguistic syntax and structures of desire; it plays with distances, relationships, analogies, non-exclusive oppositions and ambivalences, the structural dyads of carnival: “high and low, birth and agony, food and excrement, praise and curses, laughter and tears” (1986, 48-49).
Carnival originally re-enacted traditional cults of fertility and rebirth. It celebrated bodily pleasures, foregrounding eating and excreting, taking away the repulsive quality from gluttony, lust, and other libidinal pleasures in the hope that this celebration of vital functions will renew the world. Carnival thus represents the popular force of transformation and renovation, forecasting the advent of a quasi-utopian realm of freedom, spontaneity, and abundance suggested here in scenes of mayhem, convulsive gatherings, and rowdy logomachia, as in the confounding mischief in “The Betrayal of Uncle Soyoc” and “The Betrayal of Uncle Roman.” In this dialogic cosmos, the idea of rupture is dramatized as a modality of revolutionary transformation occuring in the midst of crisis—the transition of the archaic tributary, patrimonial mode of production to a comprador/capitalist-bureaucratic one, a deeply chaotic, disaggregated process.
Instead of simply illuminating Bulosan’s stories as satire or humorous vignettes, it woud be more fruitful to articulate them as examples of carnivalesque discourse in Bakhtin’s dialogic criterion. We are therefore not confined to isolating Juvenalian harangue or Horatian sermons. The series revolving around Uncle Sator and his brothers illustrates Bulosan’s use of the populist-anarchist predispositions in folk-culture. In “The Widom of Uncle Sator,” the contrast between the official worship of money (Uncle Sator representing the rentier/comprador mode of production) and the sensuous use-value of the fat hens and suckling pigs paid as fees to the Father’s school of music, is sharply drawn: “And the accommodating parents obliged Father willingly, until all their animals and fowls were killed in our kitchen…Uncle Sator kept all the money, of course, because Father was interested only in his stomach. He thought a slaughtered pig was more immediate and important than money in his pocket” (1978, 62). In “The Homecoming of Uncle Manuel,” Uncle Sator himself indulges in culinary fantasies: Uncle Sator’s “mouth watered from describing the imaginary suckling pig, or carabao meat, or whatever it was in his mind. Father’s salive was dripping down his shirt. His yellow tongue was hanging out of his black mouth, his red eyes popping like guavas” (1978, 92). The bacchanalia goes on until Uncle Manuel finds himself the victim of Uncle Sator’s swindling art, an absurd comic peripeteia. Such situations approxime the target of Menippean satire against mental atttitudes in which people are “handled in terms of their occupational approach to life as distinct from their social behavior” (Frye 1957, 309).
We are imperceptibly ushered into a capsized unmoored world, obliquely alluding to the era of U.S. violent pacification of the islands and of turbulent worldwide Depression. With the family disintegrated, the uncles all cheat one another; kindred actors engage in fraudulent gambling, banditry, extortions, blackmailing and bribing their way through the feudal/mercantile hierarchy. The official Establishment and its patrimonial guardians are travestied by the routine violation of laws and regulations. In “A Servant in the House,” while the merrymaking is going on, the servant cleverly plans his own racket.
Given the absence of limits or their precarious definition, ghosts and angels infiltrate the public domain. Magical powers and charismatic agents creep into the allegorical, farcical play. In “The Lonesome Mermaid” and “The Rooster’s Egg,” the temporal-spatial coordinates are dissolved. offering a glimpse of a parallel antithetical cosmos. Angela, the “Angel in Santo Domingo,” becomes a commodity clamed by the priest, the landlord, Mayor, etc. Before she could be sold to a gambler, she disappears—proof that the spirit indeed trumps the letter. In “The Marriage of Cousin Pedro,” we encounter a town where mothers, not fathers, know who their children are. Patriarchy is dethroned, but not in order to put the matriarch in charge, contrary to the theorists of matriarchal/matrilineal ascendancy. Juxtaposition of the sordid and sublime, the serious and grotesque, is designed to subvert the conventional standard of values and mores. It intends to shatter the obscurantist ceremonies of the priestly castes and empower the pariahs and outcasts. In “The Great Lover,” the polar opposites are cleverly if ambiguously aligned in “the night that lives within and without us.” Social conflict is thus reduced to futile, aleatory psychomachia.

Uncanny Calculations

We call attention to Bulosan’s elaboration of the role of the trickster/impersonator and its counterpart, the ghost/mermaid. The magic power of this uncanny protagonist proceeds to defy the antinomy of death and rebirth (for the trickster-artist archetype, see Jung 1969), exemplified by Silent Popo in “The Summer of Beautiful Music,” by “Timbucto” in “The Son of Uncle Sator,” and the stranger in”The Lonesome Mermaid.” Wherever we confront the incongruous and discrepant, the polarized qualities of the customary and the strange, the harmonious and dissonant, we face the absurd that triggers laughter or ironical self-reflection. This conjunction resembles the medieval laughter that Rabelais designated as the “social consciousness of all the people,” We experience the flow of time in the festival crowd and marketplace as members of a “continually growing and renewed people. This is why festive folk laughter presents an element of victory not only over supernatural awe. over the sacred, over death; it also means the defeat of power, of earthly kings, of the earthly upper classes, of all that oppresses and restricts…Laughter liberates not only from external censorship but first of all from the great interior censor…It liberates from the fear of the sacred, of prohibitions, of the past, of power. It unveils the material bodily principle in its true meaning. Laughter opened men’s eyes on that which is new, on the future” (1968, 92, 94).
The carnivalesque principle accentuating the body, laughter and physical action, is revolutionary par excellence. It is the method and form of the folkloric artifices here and in The Laughter. Reconstituted from the mixed genealogy of folk tradition, it exists side by side with the culture it parodies and somehow contains it, hence its ambivalent status. It affords space for eccentricity, variegated play, a counter-cultural syndrome opposed to the bureaucratic, hierarchical system comprised of dominant-subordinate poles. But what stands out in the carnivalesque theatrical disposition is the body of the people “aware of its unity in time… It is conscious of its uninterrupted continuity in time, of its relative historic immortality…the uninterrupted continuity of their becoming and the ceaseless metamorphosis of death and renewal” (quoted in Clark and Holquist 1984, 303). The amorphous, perverse image of the carnivalesque body, for Bakhtin, is flesh as the site of becoming, metamorphosis, evidenced by changes in its nature through eating, evacuation, sexual intercourse, etc. This ever-renewing body is symbolized by Uncle Sator’s “cavernous mouth” as he devours a chicken drumstick while he discusses his last will and testament with his nephew and the mother who prepared the meal (Bulosan 1990, 55). It is embodied in the buoyant and cyclical appearance of Uncle Sator, the father, Orphic musicians, ghosts, and other commedia dell arte personalities on this tropical stage.
It is no surprise to find Bulosan’s high esteem of indigenous folklore consonant with Bakhtin’s conceptualization of the carnivalesque anatomy and its mutations. Other stories here demonstrate the discombobulating efficacy of popular music, the Orphic motif of the saturnalia, in “The Power of Music,” “The Summer of Beautiful Music,” etc. Images, smells, noise concordant and dissonant all indiscriminately blend in a Menippean dialogism that relies more on analogy and a logic of relations rather than on substance and inference, as Kristeva (1986) describes it in connection with the intertextual novelistic discourse of Doestoevky’s fiction.
In 1941, three years before the publication of The Laughter, Bulosan paid homage to Walt Whitman”s “orphic celebration of the masses, his outlandish but healthy love for the body,” his despising “all unhealthy traditions: the repression of mind and body” (Feria 1960, 200). In 1950, after the tributes given to the book, Bulosan wrote to a friend that he had been trying in his work “to utilize our common folklore, tradition and history in line with my socialist thinking” (Feria 1969, 261). In his 1951 essay “The Growth of Philippine Culture,” he identified the constant revitalization of native culture originally based on a communal economy by writers returning to “their social roots—the peasantry and the proletariat—and [who] began to weave the threads of their folklore with the national tradition” created by revolutionary heroes like Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Isabelo de los Reyes, and others (1995, 122-23). People, art, nation were indivisible in Bulosan’s counterhegemonic aesthetics.
We might recall the origin of this insurgent aesthetics. The carnivalesque body in Bulosan’s art first materialized in the person of Apo Lacay, the old man from the mountains surrounding the village of Mangusmana, a mythical figure like the sage Lao Tzu. The wisdom of this old storyteller derives from the communal practices of farming, hunting, and diverse craftwork. Its organic scaffold is the natural environment to which the exile will never return, except by remembrance, the reservoir of experience (as Walter Benjamin construed it [1989]). After an unexplained hiatus, Bulosan returns to say goodbye before he departs for America. He tells Apo Lacay that he will perform as oral transmitter of the old man’s tales, the source of the “wisdom of the heart” that guarantees the authentic homecoming of the prodigal son and the body’s regeneration: “ Then it seemed to me, watching him lost in thought, he had become a little boy again living all the tales he had told us about a vanished race, listening to the gorgeous laughter of men in the midst of abject poverty and tyranny. For that was the time of his childhood, in the age of great distress and calamity in the land, when the fury of an invading race [United States] impaled their hearts in the tragic cross of slavery and ignorance.… But this man who had survived them all, surviving a full century of change and now living in the first murmurs of a twilight and the dawn of reason and progress, was the sole surviving witness of the cruelty and dehumanization of man by another man, but whose tales were taken for laughter and the foolish words of a lonely old man who had lived far beyond his time” (1983, 25-26). Remembrance then becomes prophetic and heuristic.
After the old storyteller’s death, death as the authorizing seal of narrative art, Bulosan meditates on the fusion of their utterances, origin dissolving in the sharing of the stories with others: “And now, in America, writing many years later, I do not exactly know which were the words of the old man of the mountains and which are mine. But they are his tales, as well as mine, so I hope we have written stories that really belong to everyone in that valley beautiful beyond any telling of it” (1983, 26). This resonates with the theme of the artist’s education and the ironic ethics found in “The Betrayal of Uncle Soyoc”: “Now as I listened to mytwo uncles, who had run the gamut of human confidences and secrets, who had divested themselves of all illusions and regarded honesty as a sure sign of weakness, I became a man among men without a childhood” (1978, 82). The boy matures with the weapon of ironic laughter, participating in life as “a great adventure,” watching “the progression of truth” in the midst of entanglements among “beautiful women and gentle men.”

What Is to be Done?

Ultimately, the burden of the Uncle Sator cycle of stories is the task of the carnivalesque satirist: the demystification of colonial domination. It is the destruction of the pastoral mirage of harmonious, happy village life pacified by U.S. civilizing missionaries. If there is something comic in the situations drawn here, it involves in general the contradiction between the personal (the subugatd colonial subaltern) and the universal (the principles of human dignity) that does not involve the reader/spectator in suffering or pity. No such involvement occurs because the narrator exercises some power of detachment from what is going on (Potts 1966, 154). W. H. Auden believes that satire cannot deal with serious evil and suffering such as, for example, the genocidal killing of 1.4 million Filipinos resisting U.S. occupation between 1899 and 1913. Auden asserts that “in public life, the serious evils are so importunate that satire seems trivial and the only suitable kind of attack prophetic denunciation” (1960, 115). Eloquent criticism of racist violence may be found in Bulosan’s AIH, The Cry and the Dedication; in stories like “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow,” “I Would Remember,” in the poems “Waking in the 20th Century,” “Letter in Exile,” and in many personal letters to American friends and compatriots (Bulosan 1983).
In the genre of carnivalesque discourse outlined here, these stories include prophetic excoriation of folly as one aspect of satire. Greed, apathy, lust and other symptoms of human depravity are historically linked to commodity-fetishism, the cash nexus, in effect the whole system of capitalist exploitation based on private ownership of social wealth and the elite monopoly of power. From this angle, this cycle of adventures with Uncle Sator and his ilk may be read as the allegory of the destruction of private property (and inherited privilege) represented by the patriarchal surrogate, Uncle Sator and his accessories; or its expropriation for distribution and enjoyment by everyone. At least, the boy dreams of depriving the Uncle of his ill-gotten wealth. We confront this social wealth as the collective body’s members divided and shared by everyone. The scenes of gambling, town festivals, squabbles, and so on, represent the indispensable ceremony of saturnalia, the hours of liberation from toil and celebration of the community’s liaison with Nature. Extrapolating from the example of Menippean satire, Rabelais, and European folklore, Bakhtin theorized the popular-democratic principle invested in serio-comic art, the unity-in-diversity of mixed genres and styles, as illustrated in Popular-Front art (see Denning 1997)—and in the coalescence of legend, fact, and invention found in The Laughter and in this collection.
Although Bulosan is now a canonical icon of multiethnic United States literature, he has not been adequately given his due in the archives of Filipino culture. This is a symptom of neocolonial subordination. In the process of gaining respectable status, however, his radical edge was blunted, his subversive qualities muted in the name of neoliberal multiculturalism. Given the marginalized position of the Filipino diaspora in the U.S., we need to recover the submerged, repressed strand in their history sedimented in Bulosan’s testimonial texts. This book is an attempt to excavate those oppositional, counterhegemonic impulses in his works by re-contextualizing them in our durable anticolonial tradition dating back from the 1896 revolution against Spain and U.S. occupation, the peasant insurrections up to the Huk rebellion, and renewed insurgencies during the Cold War up to the present. Re-inscribed in its proper historical milieu and geopolitical force-field, Bulosan’s entire body of work acquires a profound contemporary resonance. This is so because Filipinos (in this post-9/11 racialized-fascist polity) have been stigmatized as possible terrorists, suspected of harboring seditious contraband. This evokes in the collective memory the persecution of union leaders in the Hawaii plantations, California farms, and Seattle wharves.
We are engaged today in an anti-postcolonial project of reading Bulosan against the grain, from a rigorous historical-materialist viewpoint affording resources for strategies of resistance and emancipation. A future task for critics and cultural activists anywhere is to figure out how these stories can help us grasp the complex vicissitudes of the Philippines as a contested neocolony of the US empire, even as the worsening crisis of the bankrupt global-capitalist hegemony and its terrorist drones explode into a planetary meltdown, overwhelming both its masters and its predatory caretakers. Can the subaltern “wretched of the earth” still speak truth to power while laughing, and in the carnivalesque insurrection of the multitudinous body dare overcome the legacy of over a hundred years of imperial barbarism?
REFERENCES

Auden, W. H. 1960. “Notes on the Comic.” In The Comic in Theory and Practice. Ed. John J. Enck, Elizabeth Forter, and Alvin Whitley. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc.
Babb, Sanora. 1928-2005. Sanora Babb Papers 1928-2005. Harry Ransom Humanities Center, University of Texas, Austin. Series V.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1968. Rabelais and His World. Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press.
Benjamin, Walter. 1989. “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nicolai Leskov.” In Contemporary Critical Theory. Ed. Dan Latimer. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Bulosan, Carlos. 1983. Bulosan: An Introduction with Selections. Manila: National Book Store.
——. 1995. On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan, ed.E. San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Casper, Leonard. 1966. New Writing from the Philippines. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
Denning, Michael. 1997. The Cultural Front. New York: Verso.
Elliott, Robert C. 1960. The Power of Satire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Feria, Dolores, ed. 1960. “The Sound of Falling Light—Letters in Exile.” The Diliman Review (Jan-September): 185-278.
Freud, Sigmund. 1963. “Humor.” In Character and Culture. New York: Collier Books.
Frye, Northrop. 1957. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers.
Hodgart, Matthew. 1969. Satire. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.
Holquist, Michael and Katerina Clark. 1984. Mikhail Bakhtin. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Kristeva, Julia. 1986. The Kristeva Reader. New York: Columbia University Press.
Lauter, Paul, ed. 2006. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 5th edition. Boston: Heath and Co.
Miller, Stuart Creighton. 1982. Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Potts, L.J. 1966. Comedy. New York: Capricorn Books.
Propp, V. 1958. Morphology of the Folktale. Bloomington, IND: Research Center in Anthropology, Folklore and Linguistics.
Richardson, Jim. 2011. Komunista. Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.
San Juan, E. 1994. “Carlos Bulosan.” In The American Radical, ed. Mary Jo Buhle, Paul Buehl and Harvey Kaye, 253-59. New York: Routledge.
——. 1998. “Filipinos.” In Encyclopedia of the American Left, ed. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, 224-26. New York: Oxford University Press.
Saulo, Alfredo. 1990. Communism in the Philippines: An Introduction. Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.

.

 

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS | 1 Comment

DUTERTE’S KILLING FIELDS & NATIONAL-DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION


PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE’S KILLING FIELDS & PEOPLE’S WAR IN THE

PHILIPPINES

Interview with E. San Juan, Jr. by Andy Piascik..DSC_0405 [Desktop Resolution]
1.) Who is President Rodrigo Duterte and who and what does he represent?

For 22 years, Duterte was mayor of Davao City, the largest urban complex in Mindanao island, Philippines. TIME magazine dubbed him “the Punisher” for allegedly organizing the death-squads that eliminated drug dealers and petty criminals via “extra-judicial killings” (EJK)—no arrests or search warrants were needed, the suspects were liquidated on the spot. That’s the modus operandi today. If Davao City became the safest or most peaceful city in southeast Asia, it was also called “the murder capital” of the Phiippines.

Drug addiction is rampant in the Philippines. Previous administrations either turned a blind eye or coddled druglords, often police and military officials, infecting poor communities and generations of unemployed and unschooled youth. My relatives in Manila and friends in the provinces have complained that their children have been corrupted by the drug culture in neighborhoods and schools, so that when Duterte ran for president last May, he got 16 million votes (39% of total votes cast), 6.6 million votes ahead of the closest rival, Mar Roxas, a grandson of Manuel Roxas, the first president of the Republic in 1946. This implies that people want a govt leader who can rid the country of the drug menace.

2. News reports described Duterte’s victory as an upset, like Trump’s win over highly favored Hillary Clinton. It seems that voters simply want a change, regardless of the substance of the candidates’ platforms. Is that correct?

While the U.S. set up the electoral system in the Philippines, the feudal/comprador classes manipulate it so that personalities, not ideology, and bribery determine the outcome. Democracy in the Philippines is actually the rule of the privileged minority of landlords, bureaucrat capitalists, and business partners of foreign mega-corporations (called compradors) over the majority.

All presidential candidates promise change for the better. In the last two decades, the popular demand has been: get rid of corruption, drugs, rapes, wanton murders, etc. Over 75% of 130 million Filipinos are impoverished, sunk in palpable misery. Consequently, over 12 million have travelled to all continents to earn bare subsistence—about 5,000 OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) leave everyday for Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, North America, Europe, etc.

Scarce decent jobs, starvation wages for contractual labor, unaffordable housing, lack of adequate medical care and schooling—symptoms of terrible underdevelopment—have pushed millions out of the country, or driven them into the hills and forests to take up arms against an unjust, exploitative system whose military and police are trained and supplied by Washington-Pentagon, IMF-World Bank, and global capitalist powers. The country has been a basket-case in Asia since the Marcos dictatorship in the seventies, outstripped by smaller nation-states like Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, etc.

Relatively unknown to the MetroManila political milieu, Duterte’s reputation as a scourge of druglords was glamorized to the point that he became a harbinger of change. His slogan was: “Change is coming.” The public responded to this propaganda. Although unlike Roxas and his group, among them the Aquino-Cojuangco clan and Makati (Manila’s Wall Street) corporate moguls, Duterte does not belong to the traditional elite dynasties, his campaign was supported by some of the biggest corporate stakeholders, such as the Floirendo agribusiness, and by billiionaire investors (Uy, Te, Alcantara, Villar) engaged in mining, public utilities, construction with huge government contracts, etc.

We cannot underestimate the Marcos family’s contribution, which added to the P375 million that Duterte allegedly spent. This fact explains why Duterte allowed the controversial burial of the Marcos cadaver in the National Heroes’ Cemetery. Duterte’s father, & other relatives in Cebu, collaborated with the Marcos martial-law regime.

Duterte thus belongs mainly to a hitherto excluded fraction of the comprador-bureaucrat capitalist class, with links to the patrimonial landlord families. He now serves as a “populist” front of the parasitic oligarchy that has dominated the class-conflicted order of this dependency since the U.S. direcly ruled the country from 1899 to 1946 as a classic colony, and a pacified neocolony during the Cold War up to now. Duterte’s regime prolongs the moribund structure of colonial institutions and practices that feed off the labor of the peasantry, workers, middle stratum, women, Moros, and the Lumads (indigenous) communities—these last two are now mobilized to oppose this predatory status quo.
2.) What is your assessment of Duterte’s intent of becoming more independent of the United States and the moves he’s made in that direction thus far?

This was a burning topic before the US elections, when the Cold War was being revived. Duterte got the cue. His move to invoke his youthful experience with the nationalist movement during his student days was a smart one. Tactically, he beguiled the leaders of BAYAN (the major anti-imperialist legal opposition) and their parliamentary footsoldiers to join him against the lethargic Roxas-Noynoy Aquino fraction of the oligarchy. Obviously he needed symbols of radical change monopolized by BAYAN, which reinforced the outsider image.

Part of his strategy is to firm up his base in the Mindanao-Visayas elite and consolidate his hold on the ideological State apparatus controlled by holdovers from the previous reactionary administrations. He has been doing this when Obama, the US State Dept., and the UN entered the scene and began scolding him for his murderous method of amplifying EJKs, his jettisoning of the Philippine Constitution’s Bill of Rights and various UN covenants guaranteeing the right to life and due process for all citizens. Karapatan (a human-rights monitoring NGO), church groups, and civil-society associations blasted Duterte for the “brazen impunity” shown by the orgy of police violence and State terrorism.

Cognizant of those criticisms, Duterte offered to renew peace talks with the National Demorcratic Front Philippines (NDFP) and its military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA) which, up to now, is still stigmatized by the US State Dept. as terrorist. This broke the long stalemate in the peace talks during the Arroyo and NoyNoy Aquino regimes. Duterte made a token release of 18 political prisoners involved in the talks and promised to grant amnesty to 434 jailed dissenters. This was hailed by the local media as constructive and a promising sign of change-maker.

At the same time, Duterte also made noises about meddlesome US military presence in Mindanao, the annual U.S.-Philippines “Balikatan” exercises, and the US intervention in the China Sea prior to his visit to China and Japan. This triggered heavy media coverage, projecting Duterte as a Latino anti-imperialist crusader like Fidel Castro or Chavez.

4. For a while, there were rumors of a CIA plot to kill Duterte. When former president Fidel Ramos berated Duterte for his anti-US polemics and withdrew his support, was there a symptom of some crisis in the regime?

No, it was a calculated publicity technique to divert attention away from the bloody police-vigilante blood bath. Duterte’s complaint was mere grumbling, blowhard gestures of the bully in the hood. His “pivot to China” may have calmed down the turbulent waters of the South China Sea, with the US fleet continuing to maneuver from its bases in Hawaii, Guam, and Okinawa. Obama dismissed Duterte as uncouth, ignorant of diplomatic niceties. Vietnam and Japan rolled out their red carpet to the cursing Leviathan of what academics designated as “Hobbesian” Philippines. Poor Hobbes, maybe Machiavelli’s Borgia would have been the more appropriate analogy.

Nothing to worry about for Washington and Pentagon. The US military presence all over the islands, legitimized by the 1947 Mutual Assistance Agreement and the 1951 Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty, plus the recent Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, (EDCA), insure the continued stranglehold of Washington-Pentagon on Duterte’s military, police, and various security agencies. With Trump’s condoning of Duterte’s “killing fields,” Duterte has proved himself a wily demagogue whose touted popularity, however, is fast eroding on the face of mammoth protests all over the islands, and in the Filipino diaspora around the world.

5.) Are we likely to see a decrease in the U.S. military presence in the Philippines soon?

Not at all. First of all, as I already mentioned, all the onerous treaties that subordinate the Philippine State security agencies are safe and stable. Even the Supreme Court and the trial courts follow US protocols, as laid down initially by two well-intentioned civilizing missionaries, Justice George Malcolm and anthropologist David Barrows. Legal scholar Eric A. San Juan has clearly documented this fact in a recent essay, “Cultural Jurisprudence” (Asian Pacific Law & Policy Journal, 2013). In short, we have been thoroughly Americanized according to the racialized, utilitarian bourgeoise standards of the industrialized metropole.

Of course, the entire ideological state apparatus, including the military- police, court and prison system, was systematically crafted by the U.S. colonial administrators for surveillance and repression of those unruly natives, as proven by Prof. Alfred McCoy’s research, Policing America’s Empire. Incidentally, Prof McCoy has also documented the role of the pro-U.S. military in the People Power revolt against Marcos in 1986 and the subsequent coups against Corazon Aquino marked by the assassination of radical militants Rolando Olalia and Lean Alejandro.

Duterte’s cabinet reflects the conjunctural alignment of class forces in society today. Vice-president Leni Robredo represents the Roxas-Aquino oligarchy which (except for Robredo, whose victory is now challenged by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Duterte’s patron) lost the May elections. Except for three progressive ministers, all the officials in Duterte’s Cabinet are pro-US, chiefly the Secretary of Defense General Delfin Lorenzana and the Foreign Affairs Secretary Alfredo Yasay.

More revealing of Duterte’s retrograde bent is the newly appointed Chief of Staff of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Eduardo Ano, the notorious architect of summary killings and abductions of activists in the last decade. He is the prime suspect in the kidnapping of activist Jonas Burgos, among others. The party-list youth group KABATAAN called Duterte’s appointment of this blood-stained general a signal for more massacres of civilians, forced disappearances of critics, and military occupation of the countryside. This is in pursuit of US-inspired counterinsurgency schemes launched from the time of President Corazon Aquino and intensified by the Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino regimes.

Like General Fidel Ramos, who succeded Corazon Aquino, all the military and police officials in the Philippines follow U.S.-ordained training, ideological indoctrination, and political goals. Their logistics, weaponry and operating procedures are transplanted wholesale from the Pentagon and US State Dept., following treaty regulations. Military aid to the Philippines rose during the Carter and Reagan administrations in support of the beleaguered martial-law Marcos regime. From 2010 to 2015, the US military aid totalled $183.4 million, aside from other numerous training and diplomatic exchanges, for example, the active presence of CIA and FBI agents interrogating prisoners at Camp Crame police headquarters.

Given the masssive archive of treaties, ideological control, customary habits, and various diplomatic constraints, only a radical systemic change can cut off U.S. stranglehold on this neocolony. At least, that’s a first step in changing people’s minds, dreams, and hopes.

6. Will President-elect Trump water down Obama’s “Asian pivot” in view of his isolationist impulse, instead of allowing Duterte to assert a more “independent” foreign policy?

That remains to be seen. As of now, there is no real sign of a foreign invasion from China or anywhere else—it’s the U.S. that has re-invaded several times. There’s no sign of a brewing confrontation in the South China Sea today. The threat to the global capitalist system comes from the masses of oppressed workers and peasants, women, Lumads, and especially the formidable forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which Duterte has to address by diplomatic means before long. From Marcos up to Noynoy Aquino, for over four decades now, the Moro people have resisted total subjugation and genocide. It would be foolish, if not suicidal, for Duterte to persist implementing a militaristic approach—unless the U.S. (via his generals) needs to dispose of surplus weapons following the imperatives of the profiteering military-industrial complex.

For all his braggadocio and macho exhibitionism, Duterte is unable to halt the attacks of the dwindling Abu Sayyaf group, the al-Qaeda-inspired gang of kidnap-for-ransom Moros in Basilan and Sulu. Like drug addiction, the Abu Sayyaf is a symptom of a deep and widespread social and political cancer in society. Studies have shown that its followers have been paid and subsidized by local politicians, military officials, businessmen, and even by U.S. undercover agents. Only a radical transformation of class-race relations, of the hierarchy of power linked to property and economic opportunities, can resolve the centuries-long grievances of the BangsaMoro peoples.

7. ) Will you address Duterte’s crackdown on drug dealing and drug use, the one thing about him people in the U.S. are likely to have heard about?

This is probably the only issue that preoccupies the infotainment industry eager for high ratings/profits. The international media (e.g.,Telesur, Al-Jazeera, UK’s Guardian, CNN worldwide) does not allow a day to pass without headlining or commenting on the new “killing fields” in the Philippines. The New York Times, Dec. 7 issue, devoted a long elaborate video/print special to this topic, in English and in Filipino(in YOUTUBE), entitled “They are Slaughtering Us Like Animals.” This equals in visual power the TIME report “The Killing Season: Inside Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs” (October 10) that provoked Duterte’s wrath. Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and social media have blanketed the atmosphere with Duterte’s EJK performance.

Right now, however, reports of Russian meddling in the US elections have marginalized Duterte’s antics, overshadowing even the horrible war in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. We might have a reprieve on the carnage in that remote outpost of the Empire.

The New York Times reporter Daniel Berehulak counted 54 victims of police raids in the 35 days he accompanied the guardians of law-and-order in the urban complex of MetroManila.

Filipino addicts and small-time pushers inhabit impoverished squatter areas in suburban Caloocan, Pandacan, Tondo, outside the gated communities of the rich in Makati or Forbes Park. As of now, the total victims of police and vigilante violence of Oplan Tokhang (the rubric for the drug war) has reached 5,800 suspects killed: 2000 by the police, the rest by vigilante or paramilitary groups. According to the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters, there has been 35,600 arrests that netted 727,600 users and 56,500 pushers. Duterte himself initially said he will kill another 30,000 enough to fill the waters of Manila Bay and to make funeral parlors thrive. This represents a new level of ruthlessness that has converted the country into “a macabre house of mourning.”

Most of the victims are part of the vulnerable, marginalized sectors of society. Curtailing their basic rights to a life of dignity, denying them due process and equal treatment under the law, will surely not solve addiction. Everyone recognizes that Duterte’s plan is an insane program of solving a perennial socio-economic malady. Scientific studies have shown that drug addiction springs from family and social conditions, contingent on variable historical factors. Only education in healthcare, a caring and mutually supportive social environment, as well as support from government and health agencies, can reduce the havoc wrought by this epidemic. Not by stifling human lives, no matter how damaged or dysfunctional. But as we’ve remarked, the hegemnic norms of a class-divided society does not allow this consensus to prevail.

8. So there is another motive or underlying purpose behind this terrible war against drugs?

Surely there is a larger political intent: dividing your enemy, splitting communities, demoralizing the angry citizenry. To some degree the climate of fear and terror has sown animosities among members of the middle class, and incited antagonisms among the lumpen and ordinary citizens toward the relatively well-off and those who welcome authoritarian policies and security in exchange for liberties. Meanwhile, the police rides roughshod over everyone, and so far there is no sustained legislative or court opposition to the relentless executive coercive power behind this unconscionable outrage.

Karapatan chairperson Tinay Palabay has acutely seen through the smokescreen of this drug campaign: the State’s program to pursue counterinsurgency under cover of a hitherto well-meaning campaign. The AFP has labelled national-democratic militants as drug suspects, such as the case of anti-mining activist Joselito Pasaporte of Compostela Valley, Davao.

Under cover of the drug war, Oplan Bayanihan, the counter-insurgency low-intensity war of the AFP, proceeds in the form of civic action-peace and development programs. During Duterte’s 100-days in office, Palabay’s group has documented 16 victims of political murder, 12 frustrated killings, two cases of torture, and nine victims of illegal arrest and detentions, mostly involving indigenous peoples in Sumilao, Bukidnon, and farmers massacred in Laur, Nueva Ecija. Today, Dec. 12, the NDFP has documented 18 activists killed, 20 survived from attempted assassination, and 13,000 persons victimized by forced evacuations from their homes. Consider also 14,000 cases of schools, clinics, chapels and civilian infrastructure being used as military barracks in violation of peace agreements on respect for human rights signed by both the government and the revolutionary NDFP.

Irked by Karapatan, Duterte has vowed to kill all human rights activists. His agents are already doing their best to sabotage and abort the peace talks. If he dares to carry out this pompous threat, he might drastically shorten his own tenure and stimulate the opposite of what he wants: mass fury against tyrannical rule and police-state barbarism.

9.) What is the state of the revolutionary armed struggle that has been going on in its modern form since 1969?

As of last week, the revolutionary elan has peaked with huge nationwide mass demonstrations against Duterte’s decision to allow the burial of Marcos in the National Heroes Cemetery. This has politicized millenials and a whole generation otherwise ignorant of the horrendous suffering of the people during the Marcos dictatorship. It has mobilized anew the middle strata of students, professionals, workers, women, urban poor, as well as Lumads, Moros, and the peasantry who constitute the majority of the citizenry. The anti-Marcos-dictatorship resurgence has diminished Duterte’s popularity, exploding the myth of his supposed incorruptibility and pro-change posture. It’s more of the same, and even worse.

It’s a mixed picture that needs to be viewed from a historical-dialectical perspective. While the size of the NPA has declined from about 25,000-30,000 fully armed guerillas in the 1980s to less than 15,000 today, its influence has increased several times. This is due to deteriorating socioeconomic conditions since the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship. Thanks also to the immiseration of workers’ lives and the pain inflicted by the vicious rampage of the military and police in the countryside. Large areas in Mindanao, Luzon and the Visayas are under the sway of partisan units of the NPA. Meanwhile, the MILF continues to preserve and defend its liberated zones from AFP incursions.

Meanwhile, the character of people’s war has changed in its quality and direction. The shift to political and diplomatic tactics within the strategy of protracted war (following Mao’s teaching) has made tremendous gains in organizing women, students, urban poor, and Lumads.

Various cultural and social formations engage in pedagogical and agitational campaigns to expose the chicanery and deception of the Duterte regime. Not a single perpetrator of human-rights violations has been arrested and punished, such as the soldiers guilty of the Lianga and Paquibato massares, the murders of personalities such as Romeo Capala, Fernando Baldomero, Fr. Fausto Tentorio, William Geertman, Leonardo Co, Juvy Capion, Rebelyn Pitao, Emerito Samarca, and hundreds more. Meanwhile General Jovito Palparan, who murdered many activists, continue to enjoy army custody instead of regular civilian detention. The scandalous “culture of impunity” is flourishing in the killing fields of the tropical neocolony.

Many disappeared activists (among them, Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeno, Luisa Dominado-Posa, and others) have not been accounted for by the State, while martial law victims and their famiies have not been idemnified. All these existing anomalies may explain the belief that given the corrupt bureaucracy and justice-system, the only feasible alternative is to join the armed struggle against the rotten, inhuman system. This is why the communist-led insurgency cannot be defeated, given its deep roots in the 1896 revolution against Spanish tyranny and the resistance against U.S. imperial aggression from 1899 up to the present.

10.) What is your assessment of Duterte’s overture to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro insurgency?

As I noted earlier, Duterte’s overture was hailed as a positive step to solve a durable, national-democratic insurgency dating back to the sixties, when the Communist Party of the Philippines was re-organized and the NPA founded. The peace talks began with Corazon Aquino’s recognition of the role played by the underground resistance in overthrowing Marcos and installing her. Similarly, Duterte implicitly recognized the political traction of the left-wing representatives in Congress in the last few years. While Duterte welcomed the unilateral ceasefire declaration of the NDFP, lately he declared that he would not grant amnesty nor release any more prisoners unless the NDFP stop fighting and submit to the government’s dictates. The severely punished prisoners are now pawns in Duterte’s gambit to coopt the subversives. Duterte’s mandate has been changed to: One step forward, two steps backwad.

Duterte allows his military and police to terrorize the citizenry. No substantive reform of those decadent institutions has been carried out. Criminalization of political activities still continues with the AFP arresting Lumad teacher Amelia Pond and peace advocate John Maniquez, charging them with murder, illegal possession of firearms, etc.—the usual alibi of detaining activists which proved utterly barbaric in the case of the Morong 45 during Macapagal-Arroyo’s tenure. Rape, torture, robbery, threat of assassination, and warrantless arrest of innocent civilians remain the State’s formula for safeguarding peace and order in society.

No tangible step has been made to seriously confront the Bangsamoro insurgency—unless Duterte’s attempt to cement his friendship with Nur Misuari, leader of the other Moro group, the Moro National Liberation Front, is a tactic to divide the enemy. That may be his Achilles’ heel.

On this arena of diverse antagonisms, with fierce class war raging all over the country, Duterte finds himself in dire straits. Sooner or later, he will be compelled to either defy the pro-U.S. imperialist hierarchy of the AFP and the fascist PNP if he is sincere in challenging the status quo, or suppress a rebellion from within his ranks. He has to reckon also with the opposition of the more entrenched, diehard cabal of the Ayalas, Cojuanco-Aquino, the comprador owners of malls and export industries, as well as the traditional warlords and semifeudal dynasties that depend on U.S. moral and financial support. That will be the day when Duterte’s fate as “Punisher” will be decided. Meanwhile, the struggle for national liberation and social justice continues, despite the trumped-up charges inficted on anyone denouncing Duterte and his friend, president-elect Donald Trump.—#

____________

E, San Juan is professorial lecturer at Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila, and author of recent books US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines, In the Wake of Terror, Between Empire and Insurgency, and Working Through the Contradictions. He was previously a fellow of the W.B.Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, and the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin; and emeritus professor of Ethnic Studies, Comparative Literature, and English.

Andy Piascik writes for Z, Znet and many other publictions and websites. His novel In Motion was published earlier this year by Sunshine Publishing (www.sunshinepublishing.org)

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS