SINING KONSEPTWAL, PANITIKANG POST-KONSEPTWAL: Estetika, Politika, Rebolusyon ng Masa–ni E. San Juan, Jr.


 SINING-KONSEPTWAL, PANITIKANG POST-KONSEPTWAL:  BAKIT KAILANGAN ANG PERMANENTENG REBOLUSYON?

ni E. San Juan, Jr.

 

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

—Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks

The class struggle, which is always present to a historian influenced by Marx, is a fight for the crude and material things without which no refined and spiritual things could exist…. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.

—Walter Benjamin, These on the Philosophy of History

 

     Malubhang sitwasyon ng kulturang kontemporaryo—sintomas ng masahol na kondisyon ng kabuhayan sa Pilipinas. Bagamat maitatambuli na tayo’y nakarating na sa saray ng mga modernisadong kalinangan sa panahon ng globalisasyon at paghahari ng neoliberlismong kapital, nakalubog pa rin tayo sa piyudal at neokolonisadong kumunoy, Hindi lamang ito totoo sa ekonomiya at pulitika. Kaagapay rin ang pagkabimbin sa lumang tradisyon ng burgesiyang pananaw, kaakibat ng mapagsunurang gawing minana sa kolonyalismong Espanyol. Magkatuwang ang pagkakulong sa lumang pananampalataya—utos/ritwal ng simbahang Katoliko ang nananaig—at indibidwalistikong asta at malig ng pagkilos. Hindi ko tinutukoy ang atrasadong teknolohiya kundi ang inaaliping mentalidad/saloobin ng mga mamamayang sa neokolonyang sinakop dito sa Timog-Silangang Asiya.

Mapanghamong tanong: maaari kayang malunasan ang di-pantay na pagsulong kung babaguhin natin ang kamalayan? O lagi ba itong tagasunod lamang sa ekonomiyang pagbabago, ayon sa nakasanayang modelo ng “base/superstructure”? Idinaramay ko rito hindi lamang mga alagad-ng-sining at intelihensiya kundi lahat ng mamamayang nag-aangkin ng budhi at pintig ng pagkalinga sa kapwa-tao (San Juan 2016).

Subukan nating ipanukala ang pag-aaral at paghalaw ng ilang leksiyon sa konseptwalisting kaisipan na sumibol sa Kanluran noong dekada 1960 & 1970, hanggang sa post-konseptwalistang epokang isinaad ni Peter Osborne sa kanyang The Postconceptual Condition (2018). Ang mga pagbabagong naganap matapos ang Digmaang Pandaigdig 2 (WW II) ay kaalinsabay ng mga kilusang Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, at pakikibaka ng mga kabataan at kababaihan na sumukdol sa Paris 1968 rebelyon. Sumiklab rin ang anti-imperyalistang giyera sa Aprika, Palestine, at Latino-Amerika (Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada), at sa Pilipinas sa paglunsad ng Bagong Hukbong Bayan at paghuhunos ng Partido Komunista sa ilalim ng Kaisipang Mao-Tsetung. Hindi maihihiwalay ang materyalistikong basehan ng mga pulitiko-ideolohiyang pagsulong na taglay ang diyalektikang (hindi tuwirang) pagtutugma. Gayunman, dapat isaloob na masalimuot ang ugnayan ng mga elemento sa totalidad ng anumang politiko-ekonomiyang pormasyon.

Krisis ng Sistema, Sigalot sa Kaluluwa

Pangunahing nawasak ang banghay ng modernisasyong sekular (alyas kapitalismong pampinansiyal). Isiniwalat ng 1917 Bolshevik Revolution ang di-mapipigilang pagbulusok ng kapitalismo-imperyalismong orden. Lumala ang krisis nito sa 1929 Wall Street bagsak, at pagkatapos ng WW II, ang pagtamo ng kasarinlan ng dating kolonisadong bayan, pati na Vietnam at Cuba. Nabuwag ang naratibo ng walang-taning na pag-unlad ng kapitalismong naka-sentro sa kompetisyon ng bawat indibidwal, sa walang patid na akumulasyon ng tubo (surplus-value) at dominasyon ng Kalikasan. Kaagapay nito ang pagtakwil sa ilang paniniwalang aksyomatiko sa larang ng sining, tulad ng: 1) Isang tiyak na hiyerarkya ng kahalagahan nakabatay sa isang matatag na kaayusang global; 2) dogma na nakasalig ang sining sa pagsalamin/pagkopya sa realidad; 3) pag-aari ng artista/manlilikha ang isang galing/birtud, talino at kasanayang inaruga sa disiplinang personal; 4) namumukod ang artistang henyo, kaakuhang taglay ang mahiwaga’t banal na imahinasyon/dunong; 5) ang diskurso sa sining ay nakasalig sa tatlong kategoryang magkalangkap: artista, likhang-sining, awdiyens.

Sa kanluran, ang paglunsad ng kilusang avantgarde laban sa modernismo (binansagang postmodernismo, dekonstruksiyon, poststrukturalismo) ay tumingkad sa taong 1966-1972. Panahon ng “dematerialization of the art object,” hinalinhan ang romantikong aura/fetish ng obra-mastra  (mula Michelangelo hanggang Cezanne,Picasso, Pollock) ng idea/information art, sa kalaunan, conceptual art. Naging isang tipo ng art-labor ang pagmumuni o pagninilay na inilaan sa interogasyon ng problema ng sining (Corris 2013). 

Kung tutuusin, ang kaisipang tinutukoy ay pagsisiyasat at pag-analisa sa kondisyon, haka-haka, pala-palagay, prehuwisyo na namamahala sa pagyari, sirkulasyon at pagpapahalaga sa sining. Mithiin nito ang buwagin ang modernismong pangitain (Weltanschauung) katalik ng burgesyang ideolohiya’t ekonomyang pampolitika. Kalakip ng burgesyang modernidad ang malubhang alyenasyon at reipikasyong bunga ng pagsikil sa uring manggagawa at pagsasamantala sa mayorya. Adhikain nitong wasakin ang hangganang humahati sa araw-araw na ordinaryong buhay at katas-diwa ng sagradong sining—ang pinakabuod na hangarin ng makaproletaryong avantgarde sa kasayayan. Huwag kalimutan na mayroon ding reaksyonaryo’t pasistang avantgarde (Marinetti, Dali), kaya dapat kongkretong analisis sa masalimuot na pagsalikop ng mga puwersa sa iba’t ibang antas ng galaw ng lipunan sa tiyak na yugto, hindi mekanikal na paghimay sa habi ng historya (Morawski 1978).

Kongkretong Imbestigasyon sa Milyu

Matutunghayan ang mga paniniwalang nabanggit sa kasalukuyang dominanteng panlasa ngayon. Kalagayang neokolonyal pa rin bagamat nayanig na ang status quo sa 1986 Pebrero, “People Power” rebelyon at masiglang pagbanyuhay ng pambansang-demokratikong pakikibaka. Mistulang hindi naaapekto ng sunod-sunod na krises pampolitika ang mga guwardya ng elitistang istandard . Ihanay natin ang ilang ebidensiyang kalunos-lunos.

Sa pambungad ni Virgilio Almario sa kanyang Hiyas ng Tulang Tagalog, inatupag lamang ang  kaibahan ng tema o paksang naghihiwalay kina Teo Baylen at Amado Hernandez, walang puna sa tunggalian ng mga puwersang historikal. Makitid at mababaw rin ang makasektaryang pagwari sa tatak modernismo dahil gumagamit ng “malayang taludturan…at kaisipang pribado’t indibidwalista” (2015, xxv). Sa kabilang dako, ayon kay Rene Villanueva, ang dula “ay laging nagtatangkang isaayos ang isang tiyak na karanasan upang mapaghanguan ng manonood o mambabasa ng mga pananaw tungkol sa buhay” (2000, 103). Lumalayo sa moralistikong tingin ni Villanueva si Gary Devilles sa pinamatnugutan niyang antolohiya, Pasakalye. Mapagwawari na ang talinghaga ng paglalakbay, punto at kontrapunto, ay liberalismong pagsukat sa “muhon ng panitikan” na hindi maikukulong sa simbolo ng transportasyon o hulagway hango sa teknolohiya. 

Hindi pa tumatalab ang kuro-kurong radikal ng mga Minimalista’t konseptwalista. 

Isang parikala na masisinag natin ang estetika ng mga sinaunang pantas (tulad nina Inigo Regalado, Lope K. Santos, Julian Cruz Balmaseda (Zafra 2013) na hango sa klasikong modelo nina Aristotle at Horace sa militanteng panunuri ni Bienvenido Lumbera. Sinuyod ni Lumbera ang pagsulong ng kritisismo mula sa pormalistikong pananaw hanggang sa realismong sosyal. Itinakwil na ang tradisyonal na ng pamantayan ng “ganda,” “lalim” o “kinis,” subalit kay Lumbera, mas importante ang “bisa” ng pagpapahayag o pagpapadama, “pagtatampok sa nilalaman” (2017, 36), na di tinitiyak kung sa anong layon o adhika nakatutok ang bisa, at  kung anong kontekstong historikal nakaangkla ang nilalaman. Sina Isagani Cruz at Soledad Reyes ay nagpatuloy sa kanilang empirisistikong talaan ng mga awtor na marunong makibagay sa kalakaran, tulad nina Nemesio Caravana at A.C. Fabian na batid “kung paano pawiwilihin ang mga taong basahin ang kanilang mga akda” (1984, 258).   Lahat ng nabanggit na opinyon ay nakasandig pa rin sa lumang tatsulok ng artista, likhang-sining, awdiyens—ang padron ng aprubadong panulat.

Oryentasyong Pangkasaysayan

Uminog at umalimbukay ang kosmos ng diskursong mapanuri sa epoka ng neoliberalisasyon. . Pagkaraang lagumin ang tradisyonal na konsensus tungkol sa mga katangian ng likhang-sining, kuro-kuro ni Stefan Morawski na hindi esensyal na sangkap ang ekspresyon, techne, at porma: “Conceptualism is but the final step on the journey ‘beyond’ art” (1974, 120)—ibig sabihin, iyong tipong nakagawian. Ilang bagong pangyayari ang “theatricalization” sa sining, ang ritwalistikong paglalaro sa “performance art,” collage sa pelikula (Godard) at musika (Stockhausen). Salungat naman ang dulang walang dulaan nina Jean Genet at Beckett, sampu ng mga nobela nina Robbe-Grillet, Butor, Calvino, Garcia Marquez—ang estruktura nito ay bunga ng partisipasyon ng mambabasa o nanonood. 

Tigmak ng ikonoklastikong hakbang ang postmodernistang improbisasyon. Dito lumantad na ang politika ng distribusyon ng “sensibles,” dalumat at danas, na tinalakay ni Jacques Ranciere sa The Politics of Aesthetics (2004), ay makatuturan pa rin bagamat ang tuon ng pansin ay nailipat sa yugto ng kaisipang humihikayat at umaantig patungong praktika/aksyon.

Umabot na tayo sa nagpagkasunduang punto. Ang prinsipyong umuugit sa bisa ng representasyon sa iba’t ibang midiya at sa nakasentrong-sabject sa rason/katwiran ay inusig, nilitis, at hinatulang walang silbi sa pagpapaliwanag sa krisis ng modernismo. Hindi lumaganap ito. Nakakulong pa rin ang akademikong teksbuk nina P. Flores at Cecilia de la Paz (1997) sa pagdiin sa pormalistikong paradigm kung saan “teknik at imahinasyon” ang nakatampok. Bagamat nakadawit sa panlipunang usapin, mahigpit pa rin ang bigat ng subhetibong pagkiling mula kina Kant kung saan ang hatol-estetika “cannot be other than subjective (1963, 4; tingnan din si Collingwood 1953). Napapanahon na ang paghuhunos. Kailangang sariwain ang kamalayang pangkasaysayan upang matalikuran ang dogmatikong ugali ng sistemang umuugit sa paninindigang makasarili at pananalig sa batas ng negosyo’t pamilihan.

Simula pa ng kilusang Dada, suryalismo, Constructivism, Cubismo, hanggang Pop Art, Fluxus (kabilang na si Yoko Ono) at Minimalism, unti-unting naagnas ang pagtitiwala sa isang ordeng matiwasay kahit nambubusabos. Sumalisi ang udyok ng aksidente at pagbabakasakali kaakibat ng anarkiya ng walang regulasyon sa kalakal. Sumaksi ang pagtutol sa estetisismo at komoditi-petisismo nina Yves Klein, Robert Rauschenberg, atbp. Ibinasura na ang prinsipyong expresyonista nina Bosanquet at Croce mula pa nang ipanukala nina Walter Benjamin at Lewis Mumford (circa 1930) ang mapanghamong kalidad ng makina sa reproduksiyon ng art-object. Pinagtibay din ng mga saliksik hinggil sa sining ng Silangan at primitibong kabihasnan na kailangan lamang ng ulirang halimbawa, huwarang balangkas at panuntunan upang makayari ng artipak/bagay na makasasapat sa depinisyong napagkasunduan hinggil sa likhang-sining.

 Argumentong Magkatumbalik

Dumako tayo sandali sa yugto ng Minimalism (Battcock 1968) na tumiwalag sa naghaharing Abstract Expressionism ni Pollock. Tanyag na halimbawa ang “Lever” ni Carl Andre, “Series A” ni Sol Lewitt, ang mga “Untitled” Nina Robert Morris at Donald Judd, potograpiya ni Dan Graham, atbp. Kalakip ang tendensiyang anti-expressionist, sumubaybay din sila sa konstruktibistang inhinyera ng naunang Bauhaus at Proletkult. Dagling bumulas ang konseptwalismo upang paigtingin ang depersonalisadong padron/paradigma ng konstruktibismo’t mapanirang ugali ng Dada at mapagbirong Fluxus. Hindi nagtagal, isinusog ng konseptwalistang artista na ang kanilang aktibidad/gawa ay isang pagsisiyasat sa magusot at malabong katayuan ng sining. Sumbat nila sa elitistang alipores na humuhubog ng kodigo: wala kayong katuwiran kundi puwersa ng kombensyon at minanang ugali. Tumalikod sila sa palengke/pamilihan at publikong nagumon sa konsumerismo, nakaugat sa hedonismong mapinsala—rahuyong pinakaubod sa pusod ng problematikong pangitaing burgis sa mundo ngayon.

     Balangkasin natin ang trajektorya ng konseptwalismo sa apat na bugso ng pakikipagsapalaran nito. Una, pinalawak nito ang aralin hinggil sa kaisahan at materyalidad ng obhetong tinaguriang sining. Karugtong ito ng self-reflexivity ng modernismng pumoproblema’t tumitimbang sa iba’t ibang salik at sangkap ng sining.  Pangalawa, tinanggihan nito ang kostumbreng biswal ng praktikang pansining. Isinaisantabi na ang isyu ng midya. Pangatlo, inilapat ang sining sa lugar at konteksto ng pagbilad nito sa publiko. Pang-apat, sinipat ang kalagayan ng uri ng distribusyon at pakikibahagi ng sining sa lipunan—ang usapin ng demokrasya’t pagkakapantay-pantay.

Tunay na masalimuot ang hibla ng pinagbuhatan ng konseptwalismo, pati na ang estratehiyang pagbabago nito. Buhat pa nang itanghal ni Marcel Duchamp ang kanyang urinal at iba pang “ready-made” bilang art-object simula 1913, gumana na ang generic modernismong humiwalay sa pribilehiyong midya. Wala nang espesyal na katas-diwang estetiko; impormasyon, dokumentasyon, at iba pang determinadong negasyon ng institusyonalisadong sining ang itinataguyod sa sari-saring praktikang dinudukal sa kasalukuyan. Walang partikular na materyales o pamamaraan ang iniririserba para sa paghubog sa likhang-sining.

Ikintal natin dito ang ilang tagpo sa naratibo ng konseptwalismo.  Mag-umpisa muna sa lingguwistikong palitang-kuro nina Joseph Kosuth at ang Art & Language Group sa UK circa 1968-69. Itinakwil nila ang talinong teknikal sa pagyari ng bagay na taglay ang integral na kalidad. Naglaho ang materyal na bagay na nakikita, ang biswal na produkto na nagdulot ng kabuluhan sa pagsasanib ng tiyak at alanganing sangkap nito. Binalewala na ng “readymade” ni Duchamp ang morpolohiyang artipak nina Cezanne, Manet, atbp. Idiniin ang konsepto ng kahulugang hindi nakaangkla sa reperent. Ang sining ay isang analitikong proposisyon, hindi sintetikong hugot sa karanasan—proklama ni Kosuth. Sa sipat nina Atkinson at Baldwin, ang sining ay pagdeklara ng kontekstong pansining sa metalingwistikang metodolohiya. Sinibak ang pormalismo at kognitibong biswalidad ng tradisyonal na sining, dagling pinalitan ng impormasyon/dokumentasyon at iba pang hulmahang hiram sa pinagtambal na kodigong analog/digital.

Gunitain ang proseso ng reduksiyon o demateryalisasyon ng bagay na binansagang “art-object “(Lippard & Chander 1999). Tulad nang nabanggit, nailunsad ito sa paglagay sa galerya ng mga bagay na nagsasarili. Pagkatapos, inilapat iyon sa pook o lugar hanggang ito’y mawala. Sa kalaunan, idiniin ang lamang-isip o konsepto sa halip na ituon ang atensiyon sa masasalat na sisidlan na kinaluluklukan ng kahulugan. Hindi pagmasid kundi pagkapa at paghinuha ng kahulugan mula sa anumang bagay na dinanas. Matindi’t mabalasik ang mga argumento sa diskursong metalingwistikal hinggil sa sining; ang gamit sa wika bilang makahulugang materyal/laman ay bininyagang ideya-sining.

Sining Bilang Kabatiran/Wari

Sapagkat laging sinisipi ang dokumentong “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” (1967) ni Sol Lewitt, nais kong talakayin ang ilang tema nito. Kabilang ang mga kagrupong Mel Bochner, Hann Darhoven at iba pa, si LeWitt ay hindi sang-ayon sa “linguistic conceptualism” nina Kosuth at Art-&-Language. Binura ni LeWitt ang namamatyang bagay at ibiniling ang sipat sa prosesong konseptwal na kaiba sa expresyonistang atitudo na nakabatay sa anyong biswal. Pinupukaw at inuuntag ang isip, hindi mata, ng konseptwalistang artista na nakapokus sa ideya/hinagap ng dinamikong makinang yumayari ng sining. Lahat ng pagpapasiya tungkol sa kung paano lilikhain ang bagay ay naisakatuparan na sa proseso ng pag-iisip/pagninilay. Hindi na kailangan ang intuwisyon o pangangatwiran dahil naiilatag na ang lohikang susundin, ang tinaguriang “OS” (Operating System). 

Sa iskemang apriori, wala nang papel na gaganapin ang henyong indibidwal, ang saloobing personal, na dinakila ng mga romantikong pilosopo (Coleridge, Goethe, Schiller, Croce).  Pahayag ni LeWitt: “To work with a plan that is pre-set is one way of avoiding subjectivity…The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product….Those that show the thought-process of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the finished product” (1999, 13-14; sa paksang ito, konsultahin din ang kuro-kuro ni Osborne 2013). Napalitan ang kamalayang interyor ng prosesong mala-matematika na gumitaw sa ulirat, may angking lohikang nag-uudyok sa mambabasa o nanonood na lumahok sa pabrikasyon ng danas.

Sa pagkilatis ni Fredric Jameson, ang espasyo/lunan ang importante sa konseptwalistang kadalubhasaan: “Conceptual art may be described as a Kantian procedure whereby, on the occasion of what first seems to be an encounter with a work of art of some kind, the categories of the mind itself—normally, not conscious, and inaccessible to any direct representation or to any thematizable self-consciousness or reflexibity—are flexed, their structuring presence now felt laterally by the viewer like musculature or nerves of which we normally remain insensible, in the form of those peculiar mental experiences Lyotard terms paralogisms” (1991, 157). Pakiwari ko’y mali ang positistikong akala ni Jameson. Limitado ni Kant ang ideya sa palapag na penomenal, kaya di makaakyat sa kongkretong yunibersal ng sining. Dapat intindihin na hindi ang anatomya o biyolohiya ng utak ang nakataya rito kundi ang proseso ng hinuha (inference) na mahuhugot sa nailahad na direksiyon/instruksiyon ng artista. 

Pagkawala ng rasyonalistikong sabjek/awtor, sumupling ang depersonalisadong sining sa danas at panlasa ng nakararaming tao. Malaya na ang sinumang nais magpahalaga at magpakahulugan sa anumang bagay o pangyayari na pwedeng kabitan ng etiketa, “sining ito.”

Dalawang halimbawa ang maiuulat dito. Sa Following Piece (1969) ni Vito Acconci, yumari ng isang listahang naglalarawan ng publikong pagsubaybay ng isang taga-lungsod sa sinuman hanggang makarating ito sa kanilang destinasyon. Tila prinsipyong apriori ang metodo ng pagsunod sa isang iskema kasangkot ang katawan ng artista ay tuwirang notasyon ng ilang insidente. Walang naratibo, komposisyon, o pagpapasiya ng saloobin ang mamamalas dito. Sinuman na nasa lungsod ay makagaganap ng papel ng artista kung susundin ang tagubilin at panutong nailahad.

Isa pang makatuturang dating ng konseptwalistang paraan ay mamamasid sa demokratikong pagpapalaganap ng sining sa nakararaming tao, sa pagbuo nito at pagtanggap ninuman. Mapapatunayan ito sa sining ni Lawrence Weiner. Sa halip na lumikha ng mararamdamang bagay, pinahayag lamang niya ang impormasyon tungkol sa sining na aayusin. Matris ng proyekto ang mga pangungusap niya na nagtatakda ng estrukturang materyal at metodo ng paggawa. Halimbawa, “One hole in the ground Approximately 1’ x 1’ X1’  One Gallon Water-based White Paint Poured into this Hole.” Ginamit ang pandiwaring pasado sa patalastas upang ipahiwatig ang pagkatiyak ng paglalarawan at posibilidad ng pagsasaktuparan nito sa hinaharap. Ang serye ng mga ginawa ni Weiner sa Statements (1968) ay siya mismong nakadispley na sining sa exibisyon. Kahalintulad nito ang mga avant-garde iskor, “Three Aqueous Events” (1961)  sa musika ni George Brecht ng Fluxus (tungkol sa  Le Magasin de Ben ni Ben Vautier, tingnan si Kearney [1988]), o mga notasyon sa musika ni John Cage. Kahawig din ang mga iniulat na “happenings” ni Yoko Ono sa Grapefruit, pinaka-pioneer ng sining-konseptwalkasabay sa pag-unawa sa patalastas o habilin ang performans/pagsasadula nito. 

Kahit tagubilin pasalita, o kilos na inirekord sa dokumento, ang naisagawa ay isang kawing lamang sa isang mahabang kadenang metonimiko. Dapat unawain ang sinkroniko’t diyakronikong galaw hitik ng indeks-senyas at sagisag. Kasangkot doon ang komunikasyong oral, ang inilathalang instruksiyon, ang proseso ng paglabas ng deklarasyon, ang kinahinatnan, ang dokumentasyong potograpiko,  atbp. Sa maikling salita, iba’t ibang anyo o hugis pisikal ang maaaring manipestasyon ng konsepto. Nararapat ikabit dito ang kasaysayan ng sining, hindi estetikang ideyalistiko ni Kant o Lyotard. Pagnilayin ang matatag na “declaration of intent” ni Weiner na modipikasyon ng simulaing ipinahayag ni Lewitt:

      1. The artist may construct the piece
      2. The piece may be fabricated
      3. The piece need not be built

Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist, the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership. (Sinipi ni Alberro 1999, xxii)

Simbiyotika ng Teorya & Praktika

Higit na radikal kaysa kina Kosuth at Lewitt ang panukala ni Weiner. Bukod sa pagbaklas sa mito ng paglikhang depende sa awtoridad ng awtor/artistang bukal ng orihinalidad, ang pagkasangkot ng awdiyens, ang demokratikong paglahok ng tumatanggap/nakatanggap ng sining, ay nakabuwag sa tradisyonal na pananaw. Lumalim at tumalas ito sa sumunod na uri ng konseptwalismo nina Daniel Buren, Hans Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers. Pinuntirya nila ang kondisyong ideolohikal ng institusyong pansining (museo, galerya, midyang sosyal), ang mga regulasyon at batas, ang kanonisadong doktrinang upisyal na nagpapasiya kung anong bagay ang ituturing na sining. Halimbawa, sa Gallery-Visitors-Profile, isiniwalat ni Haacke ang sistemang nagtatakda kung ano ang kahulugan at kabuluhan ng bagay na tinaguriang likhang-sining (Godfrey 1998). 

Alalahanin na iba ang sitwasyon ng Global South sa Global North. Asymetrikal ang tayo ng neokolonyang Pilipinas kumpara sa industriyalisadong Europa o Norte Amerika.  Sa Latino-Amerika, iniangkop ang “Media Art” sa krisis ng lipunan.  Halimbawa, ang Grupo de Artistas de Vanguardia sa Argentina ang nagpropaganda sa “Nasusunog ang Tucuman,” kung saan ang pagtipon ng impormasyon at pagpapalaganap nito sa midya (tungkol sa panunupil at pagsikil sa mga taga-Tucuman) ay magkabuklod na praktika sa sining at politika. Ibinunyag nila ang kasinungalin ng Estado. Isinakdal ang institusyon ng pag-aaring indibidwal, pati na ang ilusyon ng aliw at kariktan mula sa pambihirang art-object. Pwedeng gawing modelo ang aksyon ng mga aktibista sa Argentina. Ngunit dapat tandaan o isaalang-alang na ang sitwasyon ng neokolonyang Pilipinas ay kaiba sa iba pang bansang hindi sinakop ng imperyalismong U.S. at nagtamasa ng biyaya ng industriyalisasyon at repormang pang-agraryo.

Nang pumasok ang dekada 1970-1980, isinaisantabi na ang linguwistiko-analitikong konseptualismong nauna. Yumabong ang tipo ng postkonseptualismo nina Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Mary Kelley, at iba pa, na nagproblema sa palasak na pormalistikong relasyon ng imahen/wika/suhetibidad. Pinuna sila ng grupo nina Martha Roseler, Alan Sekula, atbp. Ipinaliwanag ng huli na ang ideolohiyang identidad ay hindi hiwalay sa lenggwaheng ginagamit. Kaya kung natanggal man ang ahensiya o kalooban ng ulilang artistang nasukol ng puwersa ng kapaligiran at nabalaho sa bangin ng “art-for-art’s sake,” pwede pa ring bumuo ng estratehiya ng interbensiyon. 

Bukod sa masidhing performans ni Adrian Piper na nakasentro sa sabwatang rasismo/machismo sa Norte Amerika’t Europa, magandang halimbawa ang “The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems” (1974) ni Martha Rosler. Maimpluwensiya pa rin ang reduktibismo’t reflexibidad-sa-sarili, mabisa pa rin ang”readymade” sa Pop Art at Minimalism. Ngunit ang pangunahing tagumpay ng  konseptualismo, sa pangkalahatan, ay naisuma ng dalubhasang Benjamin Buchloch (1999) sa kritika ng institusyon, ang demistipikasyon ng burgesyang pananaw tungkol sa midya, impormasyon, publisidad, at sining. Anumang sitwasyon ay tigib ng sapin-saping kontradiksyong nagsisilbing motor sa pagsulong ng kasaysayan.

Pagbuno sa Palaisipan & Suliranin

Sa pagbabalik-tanaw sa kasaysayan ng konseptwalismo sa sining, idiniin ni Craig Dworkin, na impresario ng konseptwalistang panulat, ang pagpanaw ng awtor, ang imbentor ng orihinal na likhang-sining (naibalita na nina Roland Barthes at Michel Foucault ang pagkamatay ng awtor). Naipasinaya ng pagburol ng malikhaing awtor ang pagsilang ng “uncreative writing” sa bagong milenyo, sa epoka ng “War on Terrorism” pagkaraan ng pagsabog ng Twin Tower sa Nueba York, USA, noong ika-11 Setyembre 2001.

Sa gayon, nararapat iangkop ang tendensiya ng panulat sa daloy ng kapaligiran. Halaw sa eksperimentasyon sa wika nina Dan Graham, Mel Ramsden, Robert Barry at John Baldessari, naisuma ni Dworkin ang ilang katangiang gagabay sa makabagong panulat: hindi na kailangang magsikap tumuklas ng orihinal na gawa. Tratuhin ang wika bilang datang mabibilang, materyal na limbag. Pwedeng kumopya o gumagad ng ibang teksto na magiging iba o bago dahil iba o bago na ang konteksto—isang takdang panahon at lugar—ng artistang sumusunod sa isang procedure o iskema. Kaya ng minakinilya muli ni Kenneth Goldsmith sa kanyang Day ang isang isyu ng New York Times, ang tanskrispyon ay pagsasakatuparan ng kanyang ideya/konsepto ng sining.  Kahambing ito ng After Walker Evans ni Sherrie Levine, o ang mga collage Nina Richard Prince, Andy Warhol, atbp. 

Appropriation/pag-angkin, pagkumpiska/pang-aagaw, ang namamayaning estilo at modo ng pagkatha ngayon sa literaturang nangunguna. Sa milyung umaapaw ng kompyuter, elektronikong teknolohiya, sumagan’t kumalat ang “remix culture” ng hip-hop, global DJ kultura, sampling, mash-up, montage’ cut-up, atbp. Ginagagad ng manunulat ang “database logic” ng bagong midya,” ayon kay Dworkin, “wherein the focus is no longer on the production of new material but on the recombination of previously produced and stockpiled data. Conceptual poetry, accordingly, often operates as an interface—returning the answer to a particular query; assembling, rearranging, and displaying information; or sorting and selecting from files of accumulated language according to a certain algorithm” (2011, xlii). Ayon kay Walter Benjamin (1969), sa reproduksyong mekanikal ng modernong kabihasnan, natanggal ang “aura” sa mga pribadong pag-aaring signos ng pribilehiyo/kapangyarihan, at diumano’y naging demokratiko ang pagtatamasa ng ligayang dulot ng sining. Totoo ba ito?

Kung tutuusin, walang panganib o hamong nakasisindak sa status quo ang konseptwalismong lumaganap at hinangaan.. Nasaring nga ni Robert Smithson na naging aliporis ng sistemang kapital ang dating avantgarde: ginawa ni Warhol ang kapitalismo bilang isang alamat/mito pagsuob sa “production for production’s sake” (1999, 285). Yumaman ang mga artistang dating pariah sa Establisimyento. Samantala, ang “uncreative writing” ni Goldsmith ay nagtamo ng mayamang tagumpay, naging bantog at kinilalang sopistikadong biyaya ng pambihirang moda. Pinarangalan sila. Pihikang panlasa?  

Hintay, isang araw, inanyayahan si Goldsmith na bumigkas ng isang tula sa isang program sa Brown University, ang “The Body of Michael Brown,” na dagling naging kontrobersiyal. Hintay muna…. Pinantindi ang reaksyon sa balita na nagbunsod ng umaatikabong tuligsa, pati banta ng pagpatay sa makata. Pakli ni Goldsmith: “There’s been too much pain for many people around this, and I do not want to cause anymore” (Flood 2015). 

Sa dagling pagtaya, ang performans ni Goldsmith ay simple lamang. Ito’y pagbasa ng ilang talatang sinipi sa autopsy report ng pulisya ng Ferguson, Missouri, na pumaslang kay Michael Brown, Aprikano-Amerikanong lalaking 18 taon gulang, noong Marso 13, 2014. Pumutok ang maraming demonstrasyon sa buong bansa laban sa awtoridad. Sa itaas ng entablado ng unibersidad pinaskil ang malaking graduation photo ni Brown. Walang emosyon ang pagbasang tumagal ng 30 minutes, walang imik ang nakinig. Pagkaraang kumalat ang balita sa Internet, umarangkada ang batikos at tuligsa: “tacky,” “new racist lows,” “white elite institutions pay…another white man holding the corpse of a black child, saying “Look at what I’ve made” (Flood 2015). Pinag-initan ang Puting pagsamsam sa kahirapan ng mga Itim, ang paghamak at pagkutya sa kamatayan ng isang inosenteng biktima ng marahas na paghahari ng White Supremacy.

Masusing pag-aralan ang matapang at mahayap na komentaryo ni Anne Waldman: “I was not present, but by all reports what we seem to have is a solipsistic clueless bubble of unsupportable ‘art’ attitude and privilege.  What was Kenny Goldsmith thinking? That it’s okay to self-appoint and perform the autopsy report of murdered black teenager Michael Brown and mess with the text, and so “own” it and get paid for his services? No empathy no sorrow for the boy, the body, the family, ignorant of the ramifications, deaf ear to the explosive demonstrations and marches? Reeks of expoitation, of the ‘racial imaginary.’  Black Dada Nihilismus is lurking on the lineaments of the appropriated shadow of so much suffering” (2015).

Alingawngaw sa Kaharian ng Arte

Dagling nawala ang pretext ng kontrobersiya. Biglang nurong ni Goldsmith ang tula sa Web, at pinalitan ng isang pagtatanggol (sa Facebook) ng signature estilong pagkopya, pagputol, pagdikit, pag-angkin ng digital text mula sa cyberspace. Ikinatwiran ang ethos ng sampling, reblogging, mimesis, replikasyon, procedure ng pagmanipula, paglilipat at pakikibahagi ng impormasyon na primaryang imbakan ng konseptwalistang panulat. Maingat nating pagliripin ang paliwanag (hindi apologia) ni Goldsmith sa kanyang pagsala, paghimay at pagsasaayos ng isang publikong dokumento na pinamagatang “The Body of Michael Brown”—pinagsamantalahang ipuslit ang autopsy report upang makaani ng pansariling “symbolic capital” :

In the tradition of my previous book Seven American Deaths and Disasters, I took a publicly available document from an American tragedy that was witnessed first-hand (in this case by the doctor performing the autopsy) and simply read it.  Like Seven American Deaths, I did not editorialize. I simply read it without commentary or additional editorializing. Many of you have heard me read from Seven American Deaths. This reading was identical in tone and intention. This, in fact, could have been the eighth American death and disaster. The document I read from is powerful. My reading of it was powerful. How could it be otherwise? Such is my long-standing practice of conceptual writing: like Seven American Deaths, the document speaks for itself in ways that an interpretation cannot. It is a horrific American document, but then again it was a horrific American death (Flood 2015).

Pagtugis sa Katunayan at Kabulaanan

Masinop na imbestigasyon ang kailangan. Kabulaanan ang igiit ni Goldsmith na hindi niya binago ang dokumento. Tandisang litaw na pinili niya, sinipi at niretoke ang ilang detalye ng post-mortem examination at ipinasiyang magwakas sa maselang bahagi. Narito ang nakasulat sa report: “Male Genital System: There is foreskin present near the head of the penis. The remaining male genitalia system is unremarkable” (galing sa Office of the Medical Examiner, Dr Gershom; 2014 # 5143)  Bakit dito piniling huminto ang akda ni Goldsmith? 

Bukod sa pihikang komentaryong inilagay ni Goldsmith sa Facebook, ang pagbigkas noon ng isang puting Amerikano, sa kontekstong wala pang napagkasunduang pagsisiyasat at paglilitis kung makatarungan ang pagpaslang sa kanya, ay mapupuna. Lumalabas na editorializing at panghihimasok ang ginawa. Ipinasiya ni Goldsmith na idaos ang teatro niya sa Brown University, isang ivy-league institusyon na dating pasimuno’t yumaman sa tubo ng kalakal ng mga esklabong Aprikano noong siglo 1700-1800. Batid din ni Goldsmith na magulo’t matinik pa ang usapin tungkol sa karahasan ng pulisya—hindi maiwawaglit ang kontekstong ito, na sa tahasang asersyon ni Goldsmith, ay personal na pag-ani ng “cultural capital” (1999, xviii). Tunay na hindi makatotohanan ang pangangatwiran ni Goldsmith. Maiging suriin ang dugtong niya;

I altered the text for poetic effect. I translated into plain English many obscure medical terms that would have stopped the flow of the text; I narrativized it in ways that made the text less didactic and more literary. I indeed stated at the beginning of my reading that this was a poem called “The Body of Michael Brown”: I never stated, “I am going to read the autopsy report of Michael Brown.”  But then again, this is what I did in Seven Deaths and Disasters.  I always massage dry texts to transform them into literature, for that is what they are when I read them. That said, I didn’t add or alter a single word or sentiment that did not preexist in the original text, for to do so would be to go against my nearly three decades’ practice of conceptual writing, one that states that a writer need not write any new texts but rather reframe those that already exist in the world to greater effect than any subjective interpretation could lend. Perhaps people feel uncomfortable with my uncreative writing, but for me, this is the writing that is able to tell the truth in the strongest and clearest wa possible.

Ecce homo.  Behold the man.

Walang pasubali, hindi ito salitang humihingii ng paumanhin. Sa katunayan, isang rasyonalisasyon ito sa pagtatanggol sa kanyang tipo ng panulat. Samakatwid, ang “reframing” o pagmasahe sa dokumento ni Goldsmith ang nakataya rito. Sa malas, talaga bang na-defamiliarize ang Estadong rasista’t pasista, ang layunin ng makata na ipahayag ang katotohanan sa pinakamabisang paraan? 

Umuukilkil ang ilang tanong hinggil sa dating, sa impak ng impormasyong naipaabot. Binago niya, amin ng makata, upang magkaroon ng bisang matulain. Anong kahulugan o kabuluhan ng estetikang naipahatid nito? Ito ba ang birtud ng pagkamakatotohanan ng konseptwalismo? Katunayan ba kaninuman, sa lahat ng oras, saanmang lugar? Anong damdamin, atitudo, saloobin, ang inaadhika ng “unoriginal genius” ng makata? Kung ilalapat natin ang haka o hinuha nina Vanessa Place at Robert Fitterman na “Conceptual writing is allegorical writing” (2013,13), anong klaseng mensaheng literal at matalinghaga ang isinadula ni Goldsmith sa pagkasangkapan niya ng post-mortem report—barokong alegorya, hybrid simulacra, o tusong pagkukunwari?o

Sa anu’t anoman, mahirap maipaghiwalay ang interogasyong pang-estetika sa politikal, etikal at moral na suliraning bumabagabag sa publikong konsiyensiya.

Diskurso ng Pagkilala o Pagwalang-pansin

Tulad ng nabanggit na, binatikos si Goldsmith, ang poet laureate ng Museum of Modern Art, ng maraming kolega at manunulat sa Website ng Poetry Foundation (Conrad 2015) at iba pang lugar sa Internet at lathalain. Sa marahas na bintang na ang akda ni Goldsmith ay dokumento ng “white supremacy poetics,” kung saan naroon ang “white power dissecting colored body,”  sulyapan ang Website ng “Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo”: “The murdered body of Mike Brown’s medical report is not our poetry, it’s the building blocks of white supremacy, a miscreant DNA infecting everyone in the world. We refuse to let it be made literary” (sinipi ni Wilkinson 2015).

Kaunting repaso. Magsimula muli tayo sa pagtutugma ng sining at situwasyon ng mundo, ang yugto ng krisis ng kapitalismong global/neoliberal. Masahol ang kalagayan ng mga taong-may-kulay, lalo na ang Aprikano-Amerikano sa mga nabubulok na urbanidad ng pasistang U.S. Mapanganib na rin ang lagay ng petiburgesyang edukado; walang trabaho karamihan ng graduweyt sa humanidades, sampu ng mga manunulat-artista, atbp. Ginagamit ang sining bilang investment, tulad ng pagtitinda ng mga likha nina Warhol, Francis Bacon, Cy Twombly, Gerhard Richter sa Sotheby at iba pang organo ng komodipikasyon. Hinirang na propesor sa University of Pennsylvania, si Goldsmith ay isa sa mga mapalad na konseptwalistang awtor na kinilala ng Establisimyento (naimbita pa ni dating Pangulong Obama sa White House).

Mapaparatangan bang nagkasala si Goldsmith sa komodipikasyon ng bangkay ni Brown? Nagkasala ba siya sa pagbebenta ng tekstong ninakaw sa Internet, at pagpuslit ng simbolikong kapital bilang “meme macho” (Goldsmith 2014)? Ano ang kahulugan ng pangyayaring ito sa larangan ng politikang digmaan sa U.S. at ligalig na dulot ng krisis internasyonal sa pagtutunggalian ng kapitalistang bansa?

Sa perspektibang historiko-materyalistiko, matatarok na may tatlong panig ang problemang hinarap ni Goldsmith (kahit hindi niya ito dama o alam). Una, ang kontradiksiyon ng pagkatao ng Aprikano-Amerikanong grupo (si Brown ay kinatawan nila) at paglait sa bangkay (“quantified self” ni Brown). Nananaig pa rin ang aparatong ideolohikal ng Estado sa pagpapanatili ng rasismo/makismo. Pangalawa, sa harap ng dumaragsang memes, bulto-bultong dami ng datos digital, labis-labis na “disposable data-basing,” blogging, identity ciphering, mabilisang programing, paano maisasaayos ng makata ang kumplikadong penomena upang magkaroon iyon ng halaga sa buhay natin?  Pangatlo, paano malulutas ang hidwaang nabanggit kung ang paraang konseptwal ay makina-ng-ideyang walang silbi, hindi utilitaryan, matipid, mahigpit ang paghawak, nais lamang pukawin ang isip, walang balisa sa pagsasakatuparan ng konsepto? Tatlong problemang dapat lutasin upang makahulagpos sa bilanggo ng burgesyang orden. 

Sa gitna ng ating pagkalito, iginiit ni Goldsmith: “Arbitrary or chance decisions would be kept to a minimum, while caprice, taste and other whimsies would be eliminated from the making of the text” (2013).  Sa gayon, hindi awtomatikong collage, pastiche, o transkripsyon ang ginanap na pagbigkas ni Goldsmith. Tunay na iyon ay interbensiyong marahas, wangis gahasa ng puting lahi sa bangkay ng aliping kulay-itim, tanda ng barbarikong nekropilya. Sa tatlong kontradiksiyong nabanggit, anong pinili’t hinulmang paraan ang sinubok ng awtor sa paglutas ng inilatag na suliranin?

Totoong hindi niyutral o walang pakialam ang manunulat sa paraan at estilo ng paglalahad. Puna ni Marjorie Perloff, masinop si Goldsmith (tulad ni Duchamp) sa paghakot at pagsasalansan ng inilipat na tekso sa kanyang Traffic: “What Goldsmith wants us to see is what the world live in is actually like” (2013, 160). Bilang isang pormang ideolohikal, nakapaloob sa kathang binigkas ni Goldsmith ang paglalarawan ng lohika ng rasistang lipunan bilang oposisyon ng kantidad (abstraktong pagkilatis sa bangkay ni Brown gawa ng Estado) versus makataong pagtransporma ni Goldsmith sa paraan ng satirikong pagmasahe sa autopsy report. Samakatwid, lumabag siya sa mungkahi ng kasamang Dworkin na ang konseptwalisting bricolage ay nakapako sa “recontextualizing language in a mode of strict citation” (2011, xlvii).

Maselan ang detournement o paghuhugis ng nakumpiskang teksto sa Internet. Hindi naiba ng “re-framing” ang konteksto ng diskursong kumbensyonal. Nakapokus din sa reduksiyon ng liping Aprikano sa sukat ng genitalia, kaya ipinabulaanan ni Goldsmith ang stereotype sa pagwakas ng kanyang pag-ilit sa medikong ulat na normal lamang ang seks ni Brown—“unremarkable” genitalia (Wilkinson 2015).  Sa mismong pag-uulit ng rasismong kategorya, salungat sa kanyang tangka, dinulutan ng positibong bantas ang gawing rasista: ang tao ay katumbas ng kanyang anatomy/biyolohiya. 

Subersiyong Radikal o Kompromisong Liberal? 

Kakatwa ang kinalabasan sa ronda ng impormasyong kumalat. Sa kumpas ng diumano’y pagdaramay ni Goldsmith sa trahedyang pagkabaril sa inosenteng sibilyan, nabigyang-buhay rin ang liberalismong ideolohiya ng burgesyang uri—isang ironikal na pagbalikwas ng balak, parikalang di tangka. Ipinagtibay ang teorya nina Balibar at Macherey na ang literatura ay “imaginary solution of ideological contradictions” (1996, 285). Nadulutan ni Goldsmith ng isang tanghalan, mise en scene, ang di-malulutas na kontradisiyon ng burgesyang lipunan sa paraang huwad: ang rasismo ay bunga lamang ng teknolohiya/abstraksyon, na maireresolba sa humanistikong pagtingin kay Brown bilang ordinaryong tao. Mapinsalang ilusyon ito. Alalaong-baga’y hindi kailangan ang transpormasyon ng institusyon, ang di-makatarungang paghahati ng poder at yaman, ng karapatan at katungkulan, sa lipunang naghihiwalay sa mga may-ari ng kapital/produktibong kagamitan at pulubing uri ng mga trabahador, pati gitnang-uring petiburgis. Samakatwid, pinaikot lamang ni Goldsmith ang neokonserbatibong doktrina ng mga panginoon ng sistemang kapitalismong global.

     Sa perspektibang ideyalistiko/metapisikal, maituturing na repormista ang prinsipyo ni Goldsmith (sampu nina Dworkin at mga kapanalig) sa pagtutol sa ortodoksiya ng romantiko’t mistikal na pagkilala sa awtor. Ang tipo ng mapanghamig na suhetibidad ay batayan ng burgesya-kapitalistang orden. Makatwiran din ang tatlong negasyon (ng obhetibidad ng likhang-sining, ng midyum biswal, at ng autonomiya ng art-object) na iniulat ni Osborne (2002, 18). Nagbunga iyon ng uri ng sining/panitikan na gumagamit o kumakasangkapan sa umiiral na diskurso/teksto sa midya upang mabago ang mga institusyong pang-araw-araw. Kabilang si Goldsmith sa pag-repunksiyon at sirkulasyon ng normatibong doxa tungkol sa identidad at karapatang pantao na masasagap sa cyberspace. 

Ngunit, sanhi sa limitadong kaalaman, natigil doon sa produksiyon para sa sariling kapakanan. Nasaksihan ang kaunting “defamiliarization,” birtud ng mapanghimagsik na kritika, pero walang pagtakwil sa institusyon at estrukturang pampolitika. Walang pasubaling may simpatiya si Goldsmith sa protesta ng mga biktima ng karahasan ng pulisya. Ngunit hindi magkapareho ang sinulat na preskripyon at ang aktwal na pagsasagawa nito.  Hindi nagampanan ni Goldsmith ang tungkuling isinabalikat nina Rosler, Haacke, at iba pang sumuri, gumalugad, at kumilatis sa di-makatarungang relasyon ng kapangyarihang nakapaloob sa sistema ng institusyong nangagasiwa’t kumokontrol sa sining/panitikan, sa buong aparato ng kultura/ideolohiya. Naibunyag na ni Charles Harrison ang “utopian fantasy” (2001, 38) ng rebolusyonaryong programa ng avantgarde kilusan na nagsimula pa kina Andre Breton, Duchamp, Mondrian, Joseph Beuys, Minimalism, Fluxus, hanggang kina Adrian Piper, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, atbp.

Mapanganib na suliranin ang pagkaligta sa mediyasyong diyalektikal ng gawaing manwal at intelektwal. Walang direktong korespondensiya ang transpormasyon sa literatura at sa ekonomyang pampulitika. Maisusulit dito na ang malaking kamalian nina Dworkin at Goldsmith, pati na rin ang kanilang taga-suportang si Marjorie Perloff, ay walang pakundangang pananatili sa burgesyang kuwadrong humahatol: ang awtor bilang “unoriginal genius,” at wika/diskursong kumbensyonal bilang niyutral o sariwang salik/sangkap na maihuhugis sa anumang direksiyon, di alintana ang nagtatakdang kasaysaya’t ideolohiyang nakabuklod doon. 

Bukod dito, partikular din na hindi iniuugnay ng konseptwalismong aprubado ang institusyon ng museo, galerya, mass media, at akademyang makapangyarihan sa pagtakda ng paghahati ng lakas-paggawa ayon sa means-ends rasyonalidad ng burgesyan orden. Ito nga ang dahilan ng bangguwardyang pagsisikap na siya ring nagtutulak sa konseptwalistang eksperimento (Burger 1992). Sa kabilang dako, maihahalintulad ang transisyonal na katangian ng kalakarang ito sa trahedyang Griyego na, sa loob ng reaksyonaryong porma, sinikap nina Aeschylus, Sophocles at Euripedes na ipasok doon ang pinakarasyonal, demokratiko’t materyalistikong paninindigan ng progresibong uri ng panahong iyon (Thomson 1974). Masinop na pagliripin ang diyalektikang pagsusulit na matutuklasan sa mga nobela nina Lope K. Santos, Faustino Aguilar, Amado Hernandez, Lazaro Francisco, Efren Abueg, Lualhati Bautista, Jun Cruz Reyes, atbp (San Juan 2004b).

Tungo sa Palatuntunan ng Pananagutan

Siyasatin natin ang ibang semiotika bukod kay Saussure at mga dekonstruksyonista. Ang malaking pagkukulang ng kritikang institusyonal ay isang bagay na mapupunan kung susundin ang pragmatikong tagubilin ni Charles Peirce hinggil sa kahulugan ng konsepto/ideya:  “a conception, that is, the rational purport of a word or other expression, lies exclusively in its conceivable bearing upon the conduct of life; so that, since obviously nothing that might not result from experiment can have any direct bearing upon conduct, if one can define accurately all the conceivable experimental phenomena that the affirmation or denial of a concept could imply, one will have therein a cmplete definition of the concept” (1998, 264; iniksamin ang kumplikadong semantik ng konsepto ni Lewis [1929, 411). Ipinag-uugnay nito ang teorya at praktika, udyok na pumapatnubay din sa avantgardistang awtor  Nakaugat din ito sa paniwalang ang sining na buod ng mapanlikhang simbuyo’t kakayahan ng tao ay hindi mauunawaan sa pagkahumaling sa intuwisyon, bisyon, organikong porma ng ekspresyon, atbp. Sa halip, dapat idiin ang konsepto/ideya ng sining bilang “polysignificant language dealing with specific types,” at walang silbi ang dakdak tungkol sa porma/anyo/hugis kung walang “eidos or dianoia or idea or concept,” susog ni Galvano della Volpe (1972, 180). 

Sa Pilipinas, bukod sa nasubukan nina Angelo Suarez at kapanalig, pambihirang makakita ng masugid na pagdukal sa konseptwalistang teritoryo.  Ipauubaya ko sa iba ang pag-ulat sa iba pang pagsubok post-konseptwal. Magkasya na munang banggitin dito ang ilang proyekto ng awtor sa gilid ng pagsasalaysay sa naratibo ng konseptwalismong Kanluran, na baka makatulong sa kilusan laban sa imperyalismo’t oligarkyang kasabwat nito (San Juan 2004b).  

Malayo na ang nalakbay natin mula sa katipunang Alay Sa Paglikha ng Bukang-Liwayway (2000). Alinsunod sa panukala nina Peirce at Della Volpe, sinikap naming umpisahan ang konseptwalismong pakikipagsapalaran sa ilang tula sa koleksiyong Sapagkat Iniibig Kita (2004a) at Kundiman sa Gitna ng Karimlan (2014), at lubos na nilinang sa Ambil (2017; tingnan ang rebyu ni Labayne [2018]) at sa Wala (2018). Tinasahan din ang paraang Oulipo sa kathang “Trahedya/Komedyang Moro-Moro sa Mamasapano” (Wala, edisyong 2016, limbag ng Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press, pahina 47-51). Mula sa panghihimasok sa typograpikal na bihis ng tula (imitasyon ng praktika ng concrete poetry, Mallarme, Weiner), suryalismong eksperimentasyon, at iba pang sinubukang palatuntunan, tumawid tayo sa paghiram/pagkumpiska sa mga salawikain at sampling ng bugtong, pati na modipikasyon ng ilang kanonikal na akda. Sa paraan ng alegorikong montage, sinubok ding ilapat ang minimalistikong metodo ng serye o reduksiyon, parikalang pagputol sa kanonisadong teksto, pagkopya ng dokumento ng isang biktima ng tortyur at pagsipi sa midya at diskursong antropologo (tungkol sa alegorikong pahiwatig, konsultahin si Buchloch (2006; Godfrey 1998). 

Mailap ang dating/resepsiyon sa neokolonya. Puna ng ilang guro na mahirap mabatid ang pinakabagong eksperimentasyon ng mga estudyanteng nasanay sa sukat at tugma nina Jose Corazon de Jesus, Ildefonso Santos, Baylen, Hernandez, Abadilla, Antonio, at iba pang putahe sa mga teksbuk. Ibig sabihin, nagumon sa tradisyonal at makalumang sining/panitik ang lasa’t ulirat ng kasalukuyang awdiyens sa paaralan, huwag nang idamay ang hain ng Anvil Publishing Co., at iba pang lathalaing pangkomersiyal. Sintomas ito ng malaking agwat sa pagitan ng libo-libong kabataang sanay sa Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, at mayoryang nakaabot lamang sa elementaryang 4th grade.  Bantog tayo sa texting at malling sa buong mundo. Sanay na tayo sa blogging, remix, plagiarism, pagmudmod ng “fake news” ng rehimeng Duterte. Nasa gitna na tayo ng “postconceptual condition,” ayon kay Osborne (2018) kung saan ang kinabukasang virtual ay narito na sa aktwalisasyon ng karanasang umiigkas. Nahihimbing pa rin ang madlang kamalayan sa ilusyon ng malahimalang espiritu ng guniguni, ng malayang imahinasyon, ng biayaya ng mga anghel at dwende, ng kalikasang walang maliw… Magdasal at magtiwala sa kapalaran, sa mapanuksong tadhanang magpapadala ng remitans mula Saudi, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Hong Kong, Los Angeles.… Subalit paano tayo makaaahon mula sa kumunoy ng gawi’t ugaling mala-piyudal at burgis, palasuko at taksil sa bayan?

Ano Ngayon ang Dapat Gawin?

Makitid at mababaw pa ang kabatiran sa proseso ng avantgardistang sining tulad ng matutunghayan sa saliksik nina Burger, Poggioli, Raymond Williams, Berger, atbp. Postmodernistang pakulo ang hilig ng mga intelektwal sa U.P., Ateneo, De La Salle University, at iba pang babaran. Dumulog tayo sandali sa forum ng Daluyan (Espesyal na Isyung Pampanitikan 2016) tungkol sa “Mga Proseso ng Paghagilap sa Bago at Eksperimental.” Hinagap nating makatagpo ng ilang manunulat na interesado sa konseptwalismong pagsubok sa gitna ng pagkarahuyo sa Internet, elektronikong midya, Visprint, naglipanang workshops. Nabigo kami, tila nasayang ang pagkakataong iyon. 

Sari-saring life-style/fashion ang pinagkakaabalahan liban na sa krisis ng neokolonyang lipunan. Pinagtuunan ng pansin ang elektronikong midya at kontra-gahum na estilo. Hindi iniugnay ang praktika ng sining/panulat, at institusyon ng gobyerno, akademya, atbp. sa sitwasyon ng bansa (liban na sa nakahiligang pagsambit sa programa ng Kaliwa). Sumasalamin ito sa limitasyong nasulyapan sa praktika ni Goldsmith. Hinimay ni Roland Tolentino ang hanay ng mga sektaryang grupo o barkada  (Rejectionists, Reaffirmists) ng mga ilang pribilehiyong nilalang sa daloy ng pakikibaka, pero walang diagnosis kung bakit nagkaganoon, at ano ang nararapat gawin upang makabuo ng kontra-hegemonyang mobilisasyon ngayon. 

Naipayo nina Marx at Engels na ang kasaysayan ay “tendentious” bunga ng engkwentro ng sala-salabid na puwersa—katambal ng homo faber ang homo ludens sa mga larong panglinggwistikang sinubaybayan ni Wittgenstein (Morawski 1973, 46).  Kaya kung realistikong reporma ang kailangan, hindi ito nangangahulugan na itatakwil o magbubulag-bulagan sa mga bumubukong pagsisikap bumalikwas sa kalakaran. Kailangan ng realismo ang propetikong bugso ng mapagpalayang sensibilidad. Napatunayan na sa diskursong historikal-materyalistiko ni Max Raphael (1980; naisakatuparan sa mga dula ni Bertolt Brecht) na diyalektikal, hindi tuwiran, ang pagsulong ng kasaysayan at ang trajektorya ng mapanlikhang dunong ng tao. Bagamat sa analisis nina Marx at Engels hinggil sa “tipikal” na sitwasyon (isang kongkretong yunibersal, susog ni Georg Lukacs [1970]), hindi singkronisado ang katotohanang relatibo sa partikular na bagay at ang absolutong katotohanan na sumasaklaw sa malawak na bahagi ng kasaysayan. Resulta nga ang sumablay na neoavantgardismo ni Goldsmith (Weibel 2013) at postmodernistang art-komoditi na inilalako sa Sotheby, Amazon.com, Bloomingdale, at Facebook.

Sa pangwakas, ang lokal na artikulasyon ng postkonseptwalistang proyekto, sa palagay ko, ay nabuhos sa masang pagkilos—demo laban sa kontraktwalisasyon, EJK, drug war, pagbomba sa Lumad, atbp.—maliban sa namumukod na akda ni Angelo Suarez, Philippine English (Beckwith 2015). Gayunpaman, hindi masasagkaan ang daluyong ng transpormasyong lumalaganap, sa ekonomya, politika, kultura. Maaring walang katubusan sa ating panahon. Paurong ang ibang saray, pasulong ang iba—sa magulong prosesong umaandar, ang triyadikong elemento ng realidad, senyas/signifier, at interpretant (signified) na bumubuo ng kahulugan sa komunikasyon (ayon sa semiotika ni Peirce [Short 2007), ay muli’t muling magbabanyuhay at magdudulot ng panibagong pagkilala sa praktika ng sining katugma sa bagong sitwasyon ng buhay. Kasaysayan at kolektibong pagsisikap ng sambayanan ang magtatakda sa direksiyon ng kasalukuyang pakikipagsapalaran at destinasyon sa kinabukasan.

Sanggunian

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Balibar, Etienne and Pierre Macherey.  1996. “On Literature as an Ideological Form.” Nasa sa Marxist Literary Theory, pinamatnugutan Nina Terry Eagleton & Drew Milne. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

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Contemporary Global Capitalism and the Challenge of the Filipino Diaspora

By E. San Juan, Jr

Professorial Chair, Polytechnic Universiy of the Philippines

They kept saying I was a hero…a symbol of the Philippines.  To this day I keep wondering what it is I have become….

—Angelo de la Cruz, kidnapped Filipino worker in Iraq

The Philippine nation-state often gets world attention only when calamities—such as the recent typhoon Ondoy’s unprecedented flooding of metropolitan Manila, with thousands of homes destroyed and several hundreds killed, due to government neglect; or the nearly 100,000 refugees created by the Arroyo regime’s indiscriminate bombing campaign against the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front—hit the headlines. The Maguindanao massacre of 57 unarmed civilians by a local warlord is the latest calamity .  Meanwhile, news about the plight of twenty Filipina domestics abused as sex slaves in Saudi Arabia,  or the brutalization of several hundred Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) detained in Middle-Eastern jails, hardly merit notice. Meanwhile, the recently elected president Benigno Aquino III confronts the long neglected plight of about 100 cases of Filipino migrant workers on death row in the Middle East, 50% of the cases involving OFWs arrested in China (Migrante-Middle East 2010).  Despite propaganda about concern for OFWs, the previous Arroyo regime miserably failed to translate the $17.3 billion 2009 remittance –one-tenth of the country’s gross domestic product—into self-sustaining well-paid jobs due to flagrant corruption and sheer neglect (Jimenez 2010). OFW remittance last year represented 15 times more than new foreign direct investments, a symptom of the addictive dependency of the Philippine economy on the global capitalist system’s iniquitous division of social labor and the distribution of its value/products.

A review of the political economy of the Philippines might shed light on this facet of the global predicament of  200 million people (according to UN estimates) migrating for work outside their impoverished native lands, “spurring heated debates over national identity and border security, and generating suspicion, fear and hatred of the ‘other’ “ (Bencivenni 2008, 1). This phenomenon concretely demonstrates what Samir Amin calls “polarization on a world-scale, … the most violent permanent manifestation  of the  capital-labour contradiction  in the history of the expansion of capitalism” (2003, 25)

Three thousand four hundred Filipinos leave daily for work abroad, over a million a year, to join the nearly ten million Filipinos (out of 90 million) already out of the Philippines, scattered in more than 197 countries. It is the largest postmodern diaspora of migrant labor next to Mexico, the highest exporter of labor in Southeast Asia relative to population size. 75% of migrants are women, mainly domestics and semi-skilled contract workers, seeking decent livelihoods, for their family’s survival (Pagaduan 2006). Two thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day (The Economist 2009, 107). Over four million more leave, without proper/legal travel and work permits, for unknown destinations. About 3-5 coffins arrive at the Manila International Airport every day–not as famous as Flor Contemplacion, Maricris Sioson, and other victims of neoliberal policies. According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, chair of Migrante International, at least fifteen “mysterious deaths” of these government “milking cows” (her term for OFWs) remain unsolved since 2002, with more harrowing anecdotes brewing in the wake of the U.S.-led war of “shock and awe” against anyone challenging its global supremacy. This relentless marketing of Filipino labor is an unprecedented phenomenon, rivaled only by the trade of African slaves and Asian indentured servants in the previous centuries. How did Filipinas/os come to find themselves suddenly burdened with this collective misfortune, forced into the traffic of selling their bodies, nay, their selfhoods?  

Public records show that OFWs contribute more than enough to relieve the government of the onerous foreign debt payments to the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (WB/IMF)  and financial consortiums. 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 averaged $5 billion (Tujan 2007). Throughout the 1990s, they remitted over 5 percent of the national GNP, not counting the billions of pesos collected by the Philippine government in exorbitant taxes and processing fees. In 2004, OFWs sent $8.5 billion, a sum equal to half of the country’s national budget. In 2006, the OFW remittance was five times more than foreign direct investment, 22 times higher than the total Overseas Development Aid, and over more than half of the gross international reserves (De Lara 2008). In 2007, they sent $14.45 billion and $15.65 in 2008. For this they have been celebrated as “modern day heroes” by every president since the export of “warm bodies” was institutionalized as an official government policy.

OFW earnings suffice to keep the Philippine economy afloat and support the luxury and privileges of less than 1 percent of the people, the Filipino oligarchy. They heighten household consumerism, disintegrate families, and subsidize the wasteful spending of the corrupt patrimonial elite. They are not invested in industrial or agricultural development (IBON 2008). Clearly the Philippine bureaucracy has earned the distinction of being the most migrant- and remittance-dependent ruling apparatus in the world, by virtue of denying its citizens the right to decent employment at home. OFW remittances thus help reproduce a system of class inequality, sexism, racism, and national chauvinism across the international hierarchy of core and peripheral nation-states.

Historical  Orientation

After three hundred years of Spanish colonialism, the Filipino people mounted a revolution for national independence in 1898 and established the first constitutional Republic in Asia. But the United States destroyed this autonomous republic in the Filipino-American War of 1899-1913, with 1.4 million Filipinos killed and the islands annexed as a US territorial possession up to 1946, when nominal independence was granted (Miller 1982). The US conquest perpetuated the feudal landlord system by co-opting the propertied elite that, together with comprador/middlemen traders and new cadres of well-tutored intelligentsia, served as the colonial, and later neocolonial, administrators (Constantino 1978). The Philippines offered abundant natural and human resources, together with what US policy-makers originally desired: strategic military bases for trade with China and a geopolitical outpost in the Asian-Pacific region. By 1946, thoroughly devastated by World War II, the Philippines emerged as a reliable U.S. dependency, with its political, economic and military institutions controlled directly or indirectly by Washington. Up to today, the Philippine army operates as an appendage of the Pentagon, its logistics and war-games supervised by Washington via numerous treaties and executive agreements, as witnessed by ongoing joint U.S.-Philippines “Balikatan” war exercises, legitimized by the anomalouos Visiting Forces Agreement (Diokno 1980; IBON 2005; CENPEG 2009). Despite official denials, the US exercises hegemonic sway over a neocolonial formation so thoroughly Americanized that many Filipinos today believe that moving to the U.S. metropole is the true fulfillment of their hopes and dreams. 

The U.S. nation-state after September 11, 2001 remains alive and well. US imperialism today might not have formal colonies in the old European sense of territorial possessions (Pease 2000), but (as Eric Hobsbawm [1994] recently pointed out), nation-based finance-capital practiced “the collective egoism of wealth” that coalesced vestiges of “national self-determination” with the new politics of ethnic identity that characterized the transition from the “Age of Catastrophe” (from World War I to World War II) to the “crisis decades” of the Cold War and beyond. Even the cosmopolitan electicism of Saskia Sassen (2008) which extolled cyberspace as “a more concrete space for social struggles than that of the national formal political system” (2008, 90), could not explain the sudden disappearance of the once legendary Sub-Comandante Marcos’ Zapatistas from the transnational arena, nor the place-based national-liberation movements (the Maoists in Nepal, Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution; Evo Morales and indigenism in Latin America; the New People’s Army and the Moro struggles in the Philippines, etc.). So much for the anathematization of national-liberation struggles in a time when NATO and US military continue to inflict genocidal havoc in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, and other countries in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

With the Cold War unfolding in IndoChina, and the worsening of economic stagnation and lower rate of accumulation  in the core capitalist countries by the seventies, the Marcos dictatorship worsened the country’s underdevelopment. Structural problems, such as unemployment, inflation, chronic balance of payments deficits, onerous foreign debt, and widenening social inequality are symptoms of the persisting US stranglehold.  For over half a century, the US established the legal and political framework that transformed the country into a raw-material exporting economy and a market for consumer goods, with a semi-feudal land system and a bureaucrat-comprador-landlord governing bloc subservient to U.S. dictates (Villegas 1983; Bauzon 1991; Pomeroy 1992). The import-substitution scheme briefly tried in the fifties and sixties quickly gave way to an export-oriented development plan at the behest of the WB/IMF.  In the latter 70s, IMF-imposed structural adjustment programs to promote “free-market capitalism” (such as tourism, export-oriented light industries in Export Processing Zones, currency devaluation, etc.) imposed by the latter agencies and the state’s local technocrats plunged the country into a profound crisis (Schirmer and Shalom  1987, esp. Chs. 7-8; Klein 1999). Because of the severe deterioration in the lives of the majority and serious foreign-debt problems, Marcos initiated the “warm body export”—the Labor Export Policy (LEP)—with Presidential Decree 442 in 1974,  followed by the establishment of the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in 1983 and the mandatory sending of remittances through the Philippine banking system—a stop-gap remedy for a world-systemic crisis of profit/capital accumulation.

For the last four decades, the Philippines has been plagued by accelerated  impoverishment as a result of the decline in wages, severe chronic unemployment, rising cost of living, inflation, and huge cutbacks in social services.  Neoliberal policies known (“the “Washington Consensus”) maintained the cycle of crisis and systemic underdevelopment, rooted in the iniquitous class structure and the historical legacy of political, economic and military dependence on the U.S.  These provide the framework for the increased foreign penetration and control over the national economy, the unremitting dependence on raw material exports and (since 1970s) of human resources (Fast 1973; IPE 2006), coupled with the deteriorating manufacturing and agricultural sectors caused by ruinous trade and investment policies. “Free market” development schemes packaged with “trickle-down” reformist gimmicks implemented by successive regimes after Marcos have precipitated mass hunger (Lichauco  2005).  As Pauline Eadie (2005) has cogently demonstrated, the role of the Philippine state in perpetuating poverty and aggravating  the exploitation of Filipino citizens cannot be discounted, no matter how weak or “failed” in its function as a mediator/receiver  of supposedly neutral global market compulsion.

By 2007, there were 9.2 million Filipino workers scattered in 197 countries,  over 9% of of the total labor force. Permanent OFWs are concentrated in North America and Australia, while those with work contracts or undocumented are dispersed in West Asia (Middle East), Europe, East and South Asia, and as sea-based workers (roughly 250,000). The situation of Filipino migrant workers in the United States has been adequately explored in various studies (San Juan 1998, 2009; Espiritu 2003).  Grace Chang (2000) has investigated the plight of Filipina caregivers, nurses, and nannies in North America. A recent write-up on the horrendous condition of  smuggled Filipino caregivers in Los Angeles, California, may illustrate one form of modern slavery (Alimurung 2009). Why do Filipinas easily succumb to labor traffickers?  About 700,000 men, women and children are being trafficked to the U.S., but OFWs are quite unique in that the Filipino’s deeply colonized mentality/psyche privileges America as “the dream destination,” an intoxicating way out of poverty. 

Most OFWs today (46.8%) are service workers: household or domestic helpers, maids or cleaners in commercial establishments, cooks, waiters, bartenders, caregivers and caretakers (IBON 2008). Although most are professionals with college degrees, teachers, midwives, social workers, etc., they are generally underpaid by the standards of their host countries—a sociopolitical, not purely economic, outcome of core-periphery inequity. OFWs work in the most adverse conditions, with none or limited labor protections and social services otherwise accorded to nationals. Whether legal or undocumented, OFWs experience racism, discrimination, xenophobic exclusion, criminalization; many are brutalized in isolated households and in the “entertainment” industry (Komite 1980). They are deprived of food and humane lodging, harassed, beaten, raped, and killed (Bultron  2007; Taguba 2002). Meanwhile, the families left behind suffer from stresses and tensions in households lacking parental guidance; often, marriages break up, leaving derelict children vulnerable to the exigencies of a competitive, individualist-oriented environment (Arellano-Carandang et al 2007). These are all symptoms of the logic of class and national inequality operating in a hierarchical world-system, not objective, neutral effects of a temporary dis-equilibrium of the free market due to illegitimate political and social interference.

Victimization of Filipinos (via insults, beating, starvation, rape, quarantine, murder) by employers from Europe to the Middle East to Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan have been documented in detail since the seventies when the export of “warm bodies” started. The fates of Flor Contemplacion, Sarah Balabagan, Maricris Sioson, and others—several hundred OFWs languish today in jails in the Middle East, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc.–have become public scandals and occasions for venting mass indignation. But the Philippine government officials either refuse to do anything substantial, or deliberately ignore the reports, dismissing them as untypical or trivial.  Consequently, on April 8, 2009, the UN Committee for the Ratification of the Migrants Convention deleted the Philippines from the list of model states complying with the UN Convention mandating countries to protect the rights of their migrant citizens.

Agony of Deracination

Amid the tide of barbarization attendant on the putative benefits of flexible, neoliberal capitalism, we have witnessed a paradigm-shift among scholars of the emergent Filipino diaspora. Critical intelligence has been hijacked to serve vulgar apologetics: for example, the employment of Filipina women as domestics or nannies to care for children, old people, the chronically infirm or disabled, and so on, has been lauded as altruistic care, embellished with a philanthropic facade. With most female domestics coming from impoverished, formerly colonized societies, it is clear that the traditional structure of global inequality among nation-states operates as a crucial determining factor. One can no longer deny that the buying and selling of “third world” bodies is a legacy of the unjust and unequal division of international labor in both productive and reproductive spheres (Petras 2007).. This “global care chain” (household work managed as a profit-making industry) has been described by, among others, Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Hochshild (2006). But their picture is vitiated by a telling omission: the status/rank of the Philippines as a neocolonial dependency, without the capability to enforce its sovereignty right and safeguard the welfare of OFWs.

     The stark disparity is sharply delineated by Bridget Anderson in her penetrating critique, Doing the Dirty Work? Opposing scholars who streamline if not euphemistically glamorize the job of caring, Anderson exposes how domestics from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and other subaltern nations function as “legal slaves.” Anderson  shows how this came about through the economic conquest of third-world societies by the profit-driven industrialized North. This has given the middle class of the First World “materialistic forms of power over them” (2000, 149). She deploys Orlando Patterson’s conceptual distinction between the pre-modern personalistic idiom of power and the materialistic idiom of power under capitalism. She defines the employer/domestic relation as a master/slave relation. The employer exercises both forms of power: “the materialistic because of the massive discrepancy in access to all kinds of material resources between the receiving state and the countries of origin of migrants; the personalistic because the worker is located in the employer’s home—and often dependent on her not just for her salary but for her food, water, accommodation and access to the basic amenities of life. The employer uses both these idioms of power, and both idioms are given to employers and reinforced by the state” (2000, 6).  Viewed systemically, the global capitalist structure enables the exploitation of poor countries by the rich ones, and the exploitation of the citizens of poor countries by citizens  of the global North (either male or female) through immigration legislation, even criminalizing migrants who assert their human rights.  Earlier, institutionally imposed norms of race, nationality, and gender served to naturalize the migrant worker’s subjugation. But in the new field of globalized capital, the lack of citizenship rights and the status of subordinated or inferiorized nationality/ethnicity both contribute to worsening the degradation of third-world workers. 

     But there is something more pernicious that eludes the orthodox scholastic. What Anderson argues is that domestic work commodifies not only labor power—in classic political economy, labor power serves as the commodity that produces surplus-value (profit) not returned to or shared with the workers–but, more significantly, the personhood of the domestic. Indentured or commodified personhood is the key to understanding what globalization is really all about. Consequently, what needs to be factored in is not only an analysis of the labor-capital relation, but also the savage asymmetry of nation-states, of polities that hire these poor women and the polities that collude in this postmodern slave-trade. Economics signifies nothing without the global sociopolitical fabric in which it is historically woven (Munck 2002). Brutalized migrant labor throughout the world thrives on the sharpening inequality of nation-states, particularly the intense impoverishment of “third world” societies in Africa, Latin America, and Asia ravaged by the “shock doctrine” of “disaster capitalism” (Klein 2007). 

Race, national and class forces operate together in determining the exchange-value (the price) of migrant labor. The reproduction of a homogeneous race (in Europe, North America, Japan) integral to the perpetuation of the unjust social order is connected with the historical development of nation-states, whether as imagined or as geopolitically defined loci. Historically, membership in the community was determined by race in its various modalities, a circumscription that is constantly being negotiated. It is in this racialized setting that European women’s positioning as citizen acquires crucial significance. This is the site where third-world domestics play a major role, as Anderson acutely underscores: “The fact that they are migrants is important: in order to participate like men women must have workers who will provide the same flexibility as wives, in particular working long hours and combining caring and domestic chores” (2000, 190). This is the nexus where we discern that care as labor is the domestic’s assignment, whereas the experience of care as emotion is the employer’s privilege.  The distinction is fundamental and necessary in elucidating the axis of social reproduction rooted in socially productive practices. Such a vital distinction speaks volumes about migrant domestic labor/care as the key sociopolitical factor that sustains the existing oppressive international division of labor. This crucial distinction undermines all claims that globalized capitalism has brought, and is bringing, freedom, prosperity, and egalitarian democracy to everyone.

The political economy of globalized migrant labor involves the dialectics of production and reproduction. Following an empiricist line of inquiry, Rhacel Salazar Parrenas  examines the racial and class dimensions of OFWs in what she quaintly terms “the international transfer of caretaking” in Rome and Los Angeles (2005, 113).  While she calls attention to the gendered system of transnational capitalism, she downplays the racialist component and scarcely deals with subordination by nationality. This is because  Parrenas construes “class” in a deterministic, economistic fashion.  Her focus on the “patriarchal nuclear household” displaces any criticism of colonial/imperial extraction of surplus value from enslaved/neocolonized reproductive labor. Indeed, the fact of the caretakers’ national origin is erased, thus evading the issue of national oppression (for an eclectic view ignoring U.S. imperial reach, see Santos 2009). The slavish condition of indentured reproductive labor scrutinized by Anderson is not given proper weight. We need to examine how the dynamics of capital accumulation hinges on, and subtends, the sustained reproduction of iniquitous social relations and exploitative inter-state relations.  Unlike academic experts, Anderson foregrounds social reproduction at the center of her inquiry, allowing her to demonstrate how gender, race, and nation are tightly interwoven into the mistress/domestic class relationship. In effect, the Filipina domestic is what enables European/North American bourgeois society and, by extension, the relatively prosperous societies of the Middle East and Asia, to reproduce themselves within their nation-state domains and thus sustain capital accumulation with its horrendous consequences. 

     

In Quest of Filipino Agency

Postmodernist scholars 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 (Sassen 1996). Are concepts such as the nation-state and its exclusive territoriality, sovereignty, nationality, and their referents obsolete? Whatever the rumors about the demise of the nation-state 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 of the global North, with the United States as its military spearhead, have all reaffirmed their civilizing nationalism—disguised as humanitarian intervention–with a vengeance. 

In this epoch of preemptive counter-terrorism, the local and the global find a meeting ground in the transactions among nation-states and diverse nationalities while the sharing of hegemony is negotiated among the metropolitan powers. Their instrumentalities—the World Trade Organization, NATO, IMF/WB, and assorted financial consortia—are all exerting pressures on poor underdeveloped nations. They actualize the “collective imperialism” of the global North (Amin 2003; Martin and Schumann 1996; Engel  2003). Citizenship cards, passports, customs gatekeepers, and border patrols are still powerful regulatory agencies. Given the power of the nation-states of the U.S., Japan, UK, France, Germany, among others, to dictate the terms of migrant hiring, and the administered circulation of wages, passports, rent, and other instrumentalities, the Philippines cannot rescue millions of its own citizens from being maltreated, persecuted, harassed, beaten up, raped, jailed, and murdered (Africa 2009). Violence enacted by the rich nation-states and their citizens hiring OFWs prevail as the chief control mechanism in regulating the labor-market, the flows of bodies, money, goods, and so on.

My interest here is historically focused: to inquire into how the specific geopolitical contingencies of the Filipino diaspora-in-the-making can problematize this axiomatic of multiple identity-creation in the context of “third world” principles of national emancipation, given the persistent neocolonial, not postcolonial, predicament of the Philippines today (San Juan 1996; 2006). Suffice it here to spell out the parameters of this transmigrancy, an evolving transit narrative of neocolonials: the profound impoverishment of millions of Filipino peasants and workers, the extremely class-fissured social order managed by local compradors, landlords, and bureaucrat-capitalists who foster systematic emigration to relieve unemployment and defuse mass unrest, combined with the hyped-up attractions of Hong Kong and other newly industrializing countries, and so on. The convergence of complex global factors, both internal and external, residual and emergent,  has been carefully examined by numerous studies sponsored by IBON, GABRIELA, Center for People’s Empowerment and Governance (CENPEG), and others. We may cite, in particular, the studies on 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”  (Pineda-Ofreneo and Ofreneo 1995; Yukawa  1996; Chang 2000).  In addition to the unrelenting pillage of the public treasury by the irredeemably corrupt oligarchy with its retinue of hirelings and clientele, the plunder of the economy by transnational capital has been worsened by the “structural conditionalities” imposed by the WB/IMF (Villegas 1983; De Dios and Rocamora 1992; Quintos 2002). 

Disaggregation of the economy has registered in the disintegration of ordinary Filipino lives (preponderant in rural areas and urban slums) 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, nonsynchronies, and shifting subject-positions of the non-Western “Other” inscribed in the liminal space of subjugated territory. Capital accumulation is the matrix of unequal power (Hymer 1975, Harvey 1996; Yates 2003) between metropolis and colonies. The time of alienated daily labor has so far annihilated the spaces of the body, home, community, and nation for OFWs. The expenditure of a whole nation-people’s labor-power now confounds the narrative of individual progress in which the logic of capital and its metaphysics of rationality have been entrenched since the days of John Locke and Adam Smith.

Gatherings and Dispersals

 In the 1980s and 1990s, diaspora studies emerged as a revision of the traditional sociological  approach to international migration and the national process of modernization (Cohen 2008). Because of globalizing changes in the modes of transport and communications (electronic mail, satellite TV, Internet), diaspora communities appear to be able to sustain their own distinctive identities, life-styles, and economic  ties to their homelands. Accordingly, the static territorial nationalisms of the past are deemed  to have given way to a series of shifting or contested boundaries, engendering  notions of transnational networks, “imagined communities,” “global ethnospaces,” “preimmigration crucibles,” etc. (Marshall 1998, 159). These notions emphasize the complexity, fluidity, and diversity of migrant identities and experiences, foregrounding personal narratives and the popular culture of diasporic communities rather than structural, unidirectional economic and political influences.

The term “diaspora” usually designates “a minority ethnic group of migrant origin which maintains sentimental or material links with its land of origin” (Esman1996, 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 an idiosyncratic consciousness that carries out a collective sharing of space with others, purged of any exclusivist ethos or proprietary design. These communities might embody a peculiar sensibility and enact a compassionate agenda for the whole species that thrives on cultural difference (Keith and Pile 1993; Clifford 1997). 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 also betray symptoms of compulsion if analyzed within a global political economy of labor and interstate political rivalries.  Immanuel Wallerstein (1995) suggests that labor migrants (like OFWs) 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 function as a reserve army of cheap labor wholly dependent on the unpredictable fortunes of business, isn’t the expectation of their rebelliousness exorbitant? Like ethnicity, diaspora 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. 

One sociologist argues that OFWs are revolutionizing Filipino society, pushing the political system “toward greater democracy, greater transparency and governance” (David 2006), a foolish judgment given the corruption and inequities attendant on this labor-export program acknowledged by everyone. Lacking any dialectical  critique of the dynamics of colonialism and imperialism that connect the Philippines and its people with the United States and the rest of the world, mainstream academic  inquiries into the phenomenon of recent Filipino immigration and dislocation are all scholastic games, at best disingenuous exercises in Eurocentric/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. What I want to stress is the centrality of waged/commodified  labor assessed and valued within the global political economy of commodity exchange  (Garnham  1999). In the field of current globalization studies, the Global North-Global South duality has not extinguished the crucial theoretical role the concept of the nation/nationality plays, in particular the asymmetries of nation-states and the varying role the state plays in regulating the economy and planning/implementing social policies within specific territories (Nixon 1997; Sader 2010).

Has the world really become a home for OFWs,  for indigenes who inhabit a group of 7,100 islands, “one of the world’s most strategically important land masses” (Demko 1992)?  Globalization has indeed facilitated the mobility of goods, services, information, ideas, and of course peoples. It has proceeded to the extent that in our reconfigured landscapes, now grasped as liminal or interstitial, old boundaries have shifted and borders disappeared.  Everyone has allegedly become transculturized due to Americanization or Disneyfication in actuality or in cyberspace.  Representations of transnationals or transmigrants materialize as mutations of expatriates, refugees,  exiles, or nomadic travelers (such as Filipino “TNTs,” fugitive undocumented Filipinos). Given these transformations, the reality and idea of the nation and of national sovereignty have become contentious topics of debate and speculation (Ebert and Zavarzadeh 2008).  They constitute a theoretical force-field  comprised of notions of identity and their attendant politics of difference,  normative rules of citizenship, nationality, cosmopolitanism, belonging, human rights, and so on. It is in this context of globalization, where ethnic conflicts and the universal commodification of human bodies co-exist in a compressed time-space of postmodernity, that we can examine  the genealogy and physiognomy of this process called the Filipino diaspora, the lived collective experience of  OFWs.

Encountering  OFW  Singularities

At the beginning of this millennium, OFWs have become the newest diasporic community in the whole world.  They endure poorly paid employment under substandard 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 conquered  and occupied by Western powers (Spain, United States) and remains colonized 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 untutored, recalcitrant strangers, they are lumped with familiar aliens: Chinese, Mexicans, Japanese, Pacific Islanders, and so on. Newspaper reports have cited the Philippines as the next target of the US government’s global “crusade” against terrorism—tutelage by coercion. Where is the sovereign nation alluded to in passports, contracts, and other identification papers? How do we conceive of this “Filipino” nation or nationality, given the insidious impact of US disciplinary forces and now, on top of the persistent neocolonizing pressure, the usurping force of quantifying capital and its reductive cash-nexus ? 

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 and degrading 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 viable alternatives for these expatriates, quasi-refugees and reluctant exiled sojourners? 

The reality of “foreignness,” of “otherness,” seems ineluctable. Alienation, insulting treatment, and racist violence prevent their permanent resettlement in the “receiving societies,” due to implicit genetic or procedural norms of acquiring citizenship. Or to a traditional ethos of purist self-privileging. OFWs are thus suspended in transit, in the process of traversing the distance between coordinates of their journeys. Because the putative “Filipino” nation is in the process of formation in the neocolony and abroad, OFWs have been considered transnationals or transmigrants—a paradoxical turn since the existence of the nation is problematic or under interrogation, whereby the “trans” prefix becomes chimerical.  This diaspora then faces the perennial hurdles of racism, ethnic exclusion, inferiorization via racial profiling, and physical attacks. Can Filipino migrant labor mount a collective resistance against globalized exploitation and racialized ostracism? In what way can this hypothetical diaspora serve as a paradigm for analyzing and critically unsettling the corporate-led international division of labor and the consolidation of reified ethnic categories as the decline of hegemonic bourgeois rule  unfolds? 

At this juncture, I offer the following propositions for further reflection and elaboration. My paramount thesis on the phenomenon of the Filipino dismemberment is this: Given that the Philippine habitat/dwelling-place has never cohered as a genuinely independent nation—national autonomy continues to escape the Filipino people subjected to a repressive tutelage—Filipinos are dispersed from family or kinship webs in villages, towns, or provincial regions first, and loosely from an inchoate, even “refeudalized,” polity. This dispersal is primarily due to economic coercion and disenfranchisement under the retrogressive regime of comprador-bureaucratic (not welfare-state) capitalism articulated with tributary institutions and practices. The network of patriarchal clans/dynasties in a partly nationalized space unravels when women from all sectors (peasantry, ethnic or indigenous groups, proletariat) alienate their “free labor” in the world market. They are inserted into a quasi-feudal terrain within global capitalism. While the prime commodity remains labor-power (singularly measured here in both time and space especially for lived-in help), OFWs find themselves frozen in a precarious, vulnerable status between  serfhood and colonizing pettybourgeois households, or incarcerated as slaves in Japan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. These indentured cohorts are thus witnesses to the unimpeded dismemberment of the inchoate Filipino nation and the scattering of its traumatized fragments to various state-governed policed territories around the planet. 

From a postmodern perspective, migration is sometimes seen as an event-sequence offering the space of freedom to seek one’s fortune, experience the pleasure of adventure in libidinal games of resistance, sojourns sweetened by illusions of transcendence. For OFWs, this ludic notion is inappropriate. For the origin to which the OFW returns is not properly a nation-state but a barangay (neighborhood), a quasi-primordial community, kinship network, or even a ritual family/clan. Meanwhile, civic solidarities are gradually displacing the old ones. In this context, the Philippine state-machinery (both sending and receiving  states benefit from  the brokerage transaction) actually operates as a corrupt exploiter, not representative of the masses, a comprador agent of transnational corporations and Western imperial powers, enabling the infliction not simply of feminicide but genocide. The Philippine ideological state-apparatus in effect functions as an accomplice of the U.S. prison-industrial complex with its multinational accessories and connections. 

What are the myths enabling a cathexis  of the homeland as collective memory and project? They derive from assorted childhood reminiscences 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 Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and latter-day celebrities like singers, movie stars, athletes (the boxing champion Pacquiao), charismatic TV personalities, and so on. Indigenous food, dances, and music can be acquired as commodities (epitomized by the ubiquitous “balikbayan” [returnee] boxes) whose presence temporarily heals the trauma of removal; family reunification can resolve the psychic damage of loss of status for those enduring lives of “quiet desperation.” In short, rootedness in autochthonous habitat does not exert a commanding sway; it is experienced only as a nostalgic mood. Meanwhile, language, religion, kinship, the sacramental resonance of neighborhood rituals, and common experiences in school or workplace function invariably as the organic bonds of community. Such psychodynamic cluster of affects demarcates the boundaries of the imagination but also release energies  that mutate into actions serving ultimately national-popular emancipatory projects. 

Alienation in the host country is what unites OFWs, a shared history of colonial and racial  subordination, marginalization, and struggles for cultural survival through heterogeneous forms of covert resistance and open rebellion. This is what may replace the nonexistent nation/homeland,  absent the political self-determination of the Filipino masses. In the 1930s, the expatriate activist-writer Carlos Bulosan (1995) once observed that “it is a crime to be a Filipino in America.” Years of union struggle, united-front agitation, educational  campaigns, and political organ

izing in interethnic and interracial coalitions have blurred if not complicated that stigma. Accomplishments in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s have provided nourishment for communal pride. And, on the other side, impulses of “assimilationism” via the “model minority” umbrella have aroused a passion for eclectic multiculturalism divorced from any urge to disinvest in the “possessive investment in whiteness” (Lipsitz 1998). However, compared to the Japanese or Asian Indians , 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 now disappeared welfare-state pie. Dispossession of sovereignty leads to moral and ethical shipwreck, with the natives drifting rudderless, some fortuitously marooned in islands across the three continents. Via strategies of communal preservation and versatile tactics of defining the locality of the community through negotiations and shifting compromises, diasporic subjects might defer their 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 bona fide residents (as in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and elsewhere) and a permanent danger of arrest, detention, and deportation–the disavowed terror of globalization. 

 In general, OFWs will not return permanently (except perhaps for burial)  to the site of misery and oppression—to poverty, exploitation, humiliated status, despair, hunger, and lack of a future with dignity. Of course, some are forcibly returned: damaged, deported, or dead. OFWs 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, Canada, and so on. Or even in places of suffering and humiliation, provided there is some hope or illusion of relief and eventual prosperity. Utopian longings can mislead but also reconfigure and redirect wayward travels sojourns, and adventures—historical moments connecting specific trends and actualizing the concrete dynamic totality of a world freed from inherited necessity (Ilyenkov 1977). 

Filipino nationalism blossomed in the late 1960s and 1970s, but suffered attenuation when it was rechanelled to support the populist elitism of Aquino and Ramos, the lumpen populism of Estrada, and the thoroughly corrupt Arroyo regime. With the re-appointment of the Arroyo-holdover Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and do-nothing bureaucrats in the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration, President Aquino III signaled its determination to uphold the free-market neoliberal status quo the keystone of which is this unconscionable labor-export policy (Migrante International 2009). The precarious balance of class forces at this conjuncture is subject to shifts in political mobilization and calculation, hence the intervention of Filipino agencies with emancipatory goals and socialist principles is crucial and strategically necessary. Especially after September 11, 2001, and the Arroyo sycophancy to the Bush regime, the Philippines (considered by the US government as the enclave/haven of homegrown “terrorists” like the Abu Sayyaf) may soon be transformed into the next fertile “killing field” after Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Recently, a coalition of migrant workers and professionals called Migrante International together with other sectors organized rallies in Manila and other cities to protest government neglect of OFWs. (Makilan 2007; Elllao 2009; De Jsus and Hongo 2009; Olea 2009). This front mobilized millions in the Middle East, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and cities in Europe and North America. Millions denounced U.S. diplomatic and military interventions (covert action, low-intensity warfare, and its attendant atrocities of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of ordinary citizens) against the Filipino people’s struggle for self-determination and social justice—a united-front praxis distinguishing the cumulative strategy of winning hegemony via the praxis of historic blocs.

 

Identity Matters

 In this time of emergency, the Filipino collective identity is going through ordeals, undergoing the vicissitudes of political metamorphosis and elaboration. The Filipino diasporic consciousness is without doubt 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 gradually being tied more to a symbolic homeland indexed by kinship or sutured to organic mores and communal practices that it tries to transplant abroad in diverse localities. In a moment of Babylonian captivity, as it were, dwelling in “Egypt” or its postmodern 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 possibility of differences becoming contradictions, subject to the revolutionary transformations enveloping the Philippine countryside and cities. It is susceptible also to other radical changes in the geopolitical rivalry of capitalist interests based on nation-states. But it is not an open-ended “plural vision” characterized by arbitrary border-crossings, ludic alterities, and contingencies. There is indeed deferral, postponement, or waiting. Meanwhile, history moves on in the battlefields of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao where a people’s war (with its Moro component) rooted in a durable insurrectionary 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, London, Paris, Milan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, or Sidney. It will certainly disturb the peace of those benefiting from the labor and sacrifices of OFWs who experience the repetition-compulsion of uneven development and suffer the recursive traumas of displacement, marginalization, and dispossession. 

Caught in the cross-currents of global upheavals, one can only conclude with a very provisional and indeed temporizing epilogue to a narrative still unfolding. Filipinos in the United States and elsewhere, mis-recognized by a hegemonic Western dispensation, are neither “Oriental” nor “Hispanic,” despite their looks and names; they are nascent citizens of a country in quest of genuine self-determination. They might be syncretic or cyborg subjects with suspect loyalties. They cannot be called ambivalent “transnationals” or flexible trans-status agents 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 historically racialized polities.  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, national identities articulated with immigrant status, denigrated culture, 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 laissez-faire corporate schemes—the vampires of the despotic past continue to haunt the cyber-domain of finance capital and its brutalizing 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 US but, in a dialectical sense, on the fate of the struggle for autonomy and popular-democratic sovereignty in the Philippines. We find autonomous zones in Manila and in the provinces where balikbayans (returnees) still practice, though with increasing trepidation sometimes interrupted by fits of amnesia, the speech-acts and durable performances of pakikibaka (common struggle), pakikiramay (collective sharing), and pakikipagkapwa-tao (reciprocal esteem). Left untranslated, those phrases from the philosophical vernacular address a gradually vanishing audience. Indeed, the register of this discourse itself may just be a wayward apostrophe to a vanished dream world—a liberated homeland, a phantasmagoric refuge—evoking the utopias and archaic golden ages of prehistoric myths. Wherever it is, however, 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. She envisions a future distinguished by “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 scenario, ‘as radical as reality itself’ ” (Buck-Morrs 2000, 278; Fischer 1996). 

          Homelessness and uprooting characterize the fate of millions today—political refugees, displaced persons, emigres and exiles, stateless nationalities, homeless and vagrant humans everywhere.  Solidarity acquires a new temper. In the postmodern transnational restructuring of the globe after the demise of the socialist experiments in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, the Philippines has been compelled to experience a late-capitalist diaspora of its inhabitants. Diasporic labor exchange, a novel sociopolitical category (preponderantly female) transported to the markets of various nation-states, in particular the Middle East, is the new arena of hegemonic contestation.  Drawn from petty-bourgeois, peasant, and proletarian roots, OFWs are leveled  by their conditions of work (de Guzman 1993). Unilaterally enforced labor contracts partial to the employer—the matrix of this inferiorized alterity–defines the identity of Filipino subalterns vis-a-vis the master-citizens. They are the proles and plebeians of the global cities. 

Meanwhile, the urban centers of the global North, also cognized as the putative space of flows (of bodies, commodities, money, intellectual property, and so on), prohibits these subalterns from carving a locale for their sociality. For these deracinated populations, their nationality signifies their subalternity within the existing interstate hierarchy of nation-states (emasculated but not yet fungible nor defunct) while money (yen, petrodollars) permits them the prestige of cosmopolitan status. This auratic profile is reinforced by the whole ideological apparatus of consumerism, the ironically betrayed promise of enjoying appearances or semblances (Haug 1986). The commodity’s promise of future bliss never materializes, remaining forever suspended in giant billboard advertisements, in TV and cinema screens, in fantasies, in the passage of “balikbayan” boxes. For foreign observers, the almost but not yet globalized city of MetroManila exudes an illusion of consumerist affluence, sporting the postcolonial mirage of hybrid spectacles in megamalls and carceral Disneylands amid the ruin of fragmented families in squalid quarters,  swamped with petty crimes, drugs, prostitution, and other degrading symptoms of anomie. OFWs congregating in the malls, public squares, and railroad stations, may be the most intriguing parodic spectacle of this new millennium prefigured by Guy Debord’s (1983)  “society of the spectacle.”  In their alienation and deprivation, Filipina  “slaves” of  uneven combined development may constitute the negativity of the Other, the alterity of the  permanent crisis of transnational capital.  This position does not translate into the role of an international proletarian vanguard, but simply intimates a potentially destabilizing force—OFWs act as dangerous alien bacilli, eliciting fear and ressentiment— situated at the core of the precarious racist order. They also sometimes march under left-wing anti-imperialist slogans and socialist platforms. If the Other (of color) speaks, will the disguised slave-owner/ “master” from the global North listen? 

Extrapolating  Agendas

What needs urgent critical attention today is the racial politics of the transnational blocs to which we have been utterly blind, obsessed as we have been with “classism.”  This approach construes “class” in deterministic fashion, congeals it as an attitudinal modality replete with the nuances of patron-client interaction, with amor propio, and so on (on gender struggles, see Eviota 1992; Aguilar 2000).  Filipinos have been victims of EuroAmerican racializing ideology and politics, but characteristically we ignore it and speak of our racism toward Moros, Igorots, Lumads, etc.  Race and ethnicity have occupied center-stage in the politics of nationalist struggles in this postCold War era.  OFWs need to inform themselves of the complex workings of racism and chauvinism subsumed in the paternalistic Establishment pluralism of  the industrialized states.  On this hinges the crucial issue of national autonomy, pivoting around the question of whether a dependent formation like the Philippines can uncouple or delink from the predatory world-system in order to pursue a different, uniquely Filipino kind of non-competitive sustainable growth and a radically liberatory kind of national project.  Perhaps the trigger for a new mass mobilization can be the awareness of racial politics (articulated with nationality) as a way of restaging the national-democratic struggle in the new framework of neoliberal market discourse–unless there emerges in the global North a powerful socialist/communist challenge to the corporate elite. The prospect of radical social change remains uncharted, criss-crossed with detours, beguiling traps, and blind alleys where signs of the future are perpetually spawned.

. Since  my primary intent here is to offer heuristic propositions on the nature of the Filipino diasporic subject and its capacity for transformative agency, I will hazard to conclude with large generalizations and hypotheses.  

By virtue of its insertion into transitional conjunctures—from Spanish feudal-mercantilist colonialism to U.S. monopoly-capitalist domination—the Filipino diasporic subject is essentially a historic bloc of diverse forces.  Inscribed within the socio-historical context sketched broadly earlier, this bloc/subject is necessarily contradictory, a product of uneven and combined development. Its trajectory may be inferred from the layered dimension of its historic rootedness in a semi-feudal, comprador-sponsored, bureaucratic formation and its exposure to the dictates of the neoliberal market.  Such dictates, as we’ve noted earlier, ushered this neocolonized subject-bloc to situations of indentured servitude, serfhood, or  virtual slavery, as witnessed by Sarah Balabagan’s ordeal, Flor Contemplacion’s hanging, and the fate of “entertainers” owned by criminal syndicates such as the Japanese Yakuzas  (Beltran And Rodriguez  1996; Torrevillas 1996).  One may speculate that this collective subject manifests a constructive negativity as it struggles to free itself from quasi-feudal bondage and from slave-like confinement. Given the uneven, disaggregated  process of diasporic mutations suffered by OFWs–a removal first from a semi-feudal, tributary formation to a capitalist regime that commodifies their personhoods—the struggle of this bloc (OFWs and their allies) will have to undergo a popular-democratic phase of renewal: regaining migrant-workers’ liberties as persons with natural rights (as defined by the UN Charter, UN Convention on Migrants, etc.). After all, their cause is fundamental: to regain their right of livelihood expropriated by a minority privileged elite. But this stage coalesces with the struggle to assert the right to collective self-determination and representation, either as a national/popular bloc or political community defined by common principles and goals (San Juan 2007; 2009).  This assertion is the struggle for popular-democratic hegemony in the Philippines and in places wherever OFWs may be found or discovered. 

Uneven and combined development distinguishes this struggle. This has been foreshadowed by Karl Marx’s multilinear social dialectic that has been distorted by bourgeois and orthodox into a dogmatic economic determinism, as recently argued by Kevin Anderson (2010). The essentially contested concept of globalization, and its corollary notions of postcolonial transnationalism, civic cosmopolitanism, Eurocentric hybridity, and kindred scholastic bromides cannot expunge the realities of class and third-world origin from local and cross-border conflicts (Callinicos 2003; Dirlik 2007). It is in the context of this ideological debate that I have framed my speculative reflections here on the adaptive and creative nature of Filipino nationalism, a political force whose dynamic élan is responsive to the changing alignment of political and social forces in the Philippines and around the world where about 10 million OFWs are scattered and mobilizing every day. 

Amid the sharpening rivalry among capitalist states/blocs and the upsurge of anti-immigrant racism and neofascist populisms in Europe, North America, and newly industrialized regions, one may discern two contradictory impulses are unified in the Filipino nationalist project of countering imperial hegemony: the separatist one of national independence,  and the integrationist one of unity with universal secular progress/world socialist revolution (see Genovese 1972). This process of engagement  would be historically contingent on the fluctuating crisis of global capitalism. Essentially, Filipino dislocation on both levels—as a people colonized by US imperial power, and as a quasi-nation subordinated to global capital, in the process of uneven development (Mandel 1983)—constitutes the horizon of its project of  affirming its identity as a historic bloc of multisectoral progressive forces. This bloc will play its role as a revolutionary protagonist in the political terrain of a united front against disciplinary neoliberalism (Gill 2009), in an era when US hegemony (political + military) is yielding to a multipolar global arrangement. Filipino nationalism thereby acquires critical universality as part of a universal anti-capitalist trend with a long internationalist record of struggle (Lowy 1998).  Perhaps the Filipino people, claiming their sovereign right to a historically specific position in the civilizational arena, would then become  equal, active participants in a worldwide coalition of forces against monopoly finance capital and its local agents, be they labor recruiters, neocolonized bureaucratic states, financial consortiums, or transnational institutions like the IMF/WB, WTO, or even a supra-national entity like the UN controlled by wealthy industrialized elites. Only in this process of active solidarity with other subordinated or excluded  peoples will OFWs, given their creative integrity and commitment to self-determination, be able to transcend their deterritorialized fate in a truly borderless world without classes, races, or nationalities. We envisage germinating from the combined ideas and practices of OFW struggles an alternative, feasible world without the blight of  class exploitation and gendered racialized oppression—the concrete totality of an emancipated, commonly shared planet satisfying human needs and wants.

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Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

THE FILIPINO DIASPORA: Emblem & Symptom by E. San Juan, Jr.


 

Speculations on the Filipino Diaspora:
Recognizing Ourselves in OFWs; or Progress Over Our Dead Bodies

E. San Juan, Jr.
Polytechnic University of the Philippines

In the era of “post-truth” and “alternative facts,” can we still talk intelligibly about 12 million Filipinos scattered abroad? And multiplying by the hour? Over four million reside in the United States (not including the million or so TNTs or undocumented aliens, which count among others the famous Jose Antonio Vargas). Other Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are distributed as follows (these figures need constant updating): Saudi Arabia: 1,029,000; United Arab Emirates: 477,000; Canada: 820,000; Japan: 226,000. The main source of remittances, now totaling $29 billion (about 10% of GDP), are Ger- many, Hong Kong, Japan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, UK, and the United States (IBON).

Since Pres. Corazon Aquino’s administration, these remittances have functioned as “mana” of a fabled cargo cult for us. It has solved the perennial foreign-debt burden, allowed the oligarchic few to continue to live in luxury, and the rest of 103 million folks to submerge/sublimate their misery in spending the money sent by their parents, children, relatives, in endless malling, consumption of mass-produced goods and the illusions (films, telenovelas, etc.) manufactured by the global culture industry (San Juan, “Over- seas”). Aside from myriad cults and New Age panaceas, the repeated artifacts of techno- cratic advertising in social media and films, act now as the proverbial opium of the mass- es. Supplemented with the police and army, the coercive agencies of class-divided soci- ety, they function as the efficient instrument of political control and moralizing discipline.

This tally of the diaspora is forever incomplete, given the uninterrupted dispersal of Filipino labor-power around the world. I am quite sure there are Filipinas in Africa, Latin America, the Russian Federation, India, and other parts of the world, not to mention thousands of Filipino seafarers circulating around the world’s oceans—we have met them in cruises to Alaska, Hawaii, the Baltic, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and wherever laboring bodies and their intellectual byproducts are needed for corporate profit accumulation. They are needed also to reproduce the asymmetrical social relations in the various soci- eties, as well as the geopolitical inequity in the hierarchy of nation-states.

We know at least some of them, our overseas relatives or friends or acquaintances, residing in some corner of North America, the Middle East, Europe, Hong Kong, Singa- pore, Taiwan, Japan or other parts of Asia and Africa, including hundreds of cruise ships. We find them as far as the North and South Poles, working, living, surviving. I personally encountered some of them in Rome, Italy; Tripoli, Libya; Thessalonica, Greece; Taipei, Taiwan, and all over the United States, thousands of miles away from their homes in

Metro Manila, Ilocos, Cebu, Iloilo, Samar, Leyte, Davao, Sulu, etc. from any of our 7,000 islands (San Juan, “Toward Filipino”).

In Quest of the White Whale?

In Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick, one encounters specimens of the colo- nized Indios such as Fedallah sprung from the “watery prairies of Asia, near the Manilla isles” (Takaki, 288-289). In that microcosm of racialized U.S. society, the Pequod, where class and caste defined the place of the crew members, the despotic Ahab, in pursuing the fetishized whale, the profit-wired “machine-like monster,” dooms the whole society. It is an allegory of industrial capitalism in its adventurist booty phase, a few years before Theodore Roosevelt compared the Filipino insurrectos to the savage Apaches during the Filipino-American War (1899-1913). Today, Filipino seamen dominate the intercontinen- tal marine thoroughfares, serving the white-supremacist corporate Empire, while being victimized by pirates and druglords. There are rumblings of mutiny and other rebellions, smoldering beneath the deck of cruise ships and cargo tankers.

About 3-4,000 Filipinos leave every day, according to IBON reports. Over a mil- lion per year decide to cast their lot by traveling and residing somewhere else, as domes- tics, caregivers, or seafarers. About 3-5 coffins of these OFWs arrive at the Manila air- port, with others suffering mysterious deaths. The latest I read was Felma Maramag from Tuguegarao, Cagayan, who was killed by two Jordanians. Of course, the famous victim of this practice was Flor Contemplacion, followed by others less celebrated: Sarah Bal- abagan, Maricris Sioson, and others executed for defending themselves or framed by criminals—Mary Jane Veloso is the latest—with hundreds languishing in foreign jails (Pineda-Ofreneo and Ofreneo; Parreñas).

In 2008, according to media tabulations, OFWs remitted $15.65 billion; in less than 10 years after, the figure rose to $29.7 billion, about 10% of the gross domestic product (Migrante International). It is more than enough to sustain the economy where the privileged patrician minority enjoys their power and wealth over the staggering poverty and misery of the majority. The genie of this modern “cargo cult” sprang from Filipinas in Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Republic, UK, and the U.S.

We don’t need to rehearse the origin of this phenomenon, a scattering and disper- sal of part of the “body politic,” diaspora conceived as “hemorrhage” of a disrupted body. Is any emergency triage possible? Whence this symptom of a problem that, in its classic provenance, was ascribed to victims of the Roman Empire, the original Jewish diaspora? When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the inhabitants were driven out, violently deracinated, and deported to other parts of the Empire.

We also don’t need to rehearse the dull, somewhat eviscerated “facts” of its origin. The Marcos dictatorship started the flow of migrant workers in 1974 with its Labor Ex- port Policy (LEP). From then on, the neocolonial State institutionalized this last-minute escape of people from dire straits to solve the unemployment problem and provide a safe- ty valve from angry, desperately anguished citizens (Beltran and Rodriguez). We have now entrenched bureaucracies in the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and other State agencies. Henceforward, the flow has been managed according to scientific, updated Taylorizing schemes. It has been systematized, bureaucratized, technologized. We have systematic compilation and accumulation of data about them—”alternate facts”? “Post-truth” veri- ties? Or just the humdrum signs and emblems of Foucault’s famous “biopower” rolling along in streamlined, computerized, cauterized fashion?

Within a global business platform, the exchange and circulation of migrant labor/ bodies have been more intensively subjected to administrative, regulatory biopower. This is chiefly in the interest of plotting market prices and currency exchanges, part of the at- tempt to rationalize an inherently anarchic market. In the age of Trump, terrorism, Brexit and the fear of refugees from the wars in Syria, Africa, and elsewhere, have triggered the frenzied call to purge the US body politic of illegal immigrants, prohibit the entry of pol- luting virus, and build a wall to ward off Mexicans. This is a symptom that migrancy of populations is a global problem (Anderson). The much-touted speed-up of communica- tion and travel, the uncircumvented flow of money, bodies, etc., have now struck a moral nerve at the heart of the Empire. Or has it?

Mapping Driftwood, Salvaging Driftwords

In the first chapter of my book Learning from the Filipino Diaspora (2016), I tried to explore some of the thematic cultural ramifications of the OFWs. We cannot con- tinue to console ourselves with Cory Aquino’s praise of OFWs as “mga bagong bayani.” This is the anodyne for the national predicament, the ideology of pride in being “global servants” or most trustworthy subalterns of the Empire. Can we continue to suffer this patronizing rubric? Is it bribery and ironic blandishment for an embarrassing if not shameful emergency that has become a national disaster?

In retrospect, the haunting question is: How did we come to find ourselves scat- tered to the four corners of the earth and somehow forced to sell our bodies, nay, our selfhoods as commodities in the world market? How can we continue to lament our plight by the rivers of Babylon? Perhaps the ethical-aesthetic implications of this topic can be epitomized by Angelo dela Cruz (Gorospe 118). If you will recall, he was the truck driver who was kidnapped in Iraq during the US invasion, which led then Pres. Arroyo to ban travel in that war-torn country after 9/11. Many defied the ban and said they would rather dare travel to Iraq to work and be killed instantly, rather than suffer a slow death by hunger in their beloved homeland.

Does this existential quandary evoke Thoreau’s reference to “lives of quiet des- peration”? The pathos of this national predicament is captured by Angelo dela Cruz’s re- sponse after his release by his kidnappers in July 2004 and catapulted to world-renown by the mass media and Internet. This is what our “bagong bayani”/new hero confessed to the media: “They kept saying I was a hero… a symbol of the Philippines. To this day I keep wondering what it is I have become.” It is a cry of existential poignancy—what can be more painful than deracination, uprooting of your body from the ground that sustains you? It evokes the testimony of one OFW who confessed that parting from one’s children moments before he flew away is like gutting out your entrails, literally a disemboweling. It resembles birth, the trauma of separation from the nourishing matrix. Such is the agony of the desterrado, uprooted, deracinated, unmoored, shipwrecked, flotsam and jetsam (Arellano-Carandang et al.).

It is indeed a national predicament, and a personal worry for some—perhaps a happy relief for many who continually wait for mana from abroad. In any case, it is now more central than incest (the Oedipal syndrome) or family feuds intervening with roman- tic couples (Romeo and Juliet). It confronts us more ubiquitously, demanding urgent ex- planations. Why engage with this historical phenomenon or process of the Filipino dias- pora in literary and cultural studies? Do we consider it a theme, subject or topic, of liter- ary works (novels, essays, poems, plays)?

Or do we use it as a conceptual framework in which to re-think the questions of meaning, nature, identity, psyche, the relation of private to public experience, and our na- tional destiny? Is the idea or theme of the diaspora a more effective way to do “genealog- ical analysis,” that is, interrogating common sense and naturalizing norms so as to expose them as historical/discursive constructions? Why diaspora instead of national-democratic revolution, anticolonial struggles, desire for true autonomy and genuine independence?

It is not a question of either/or. Rather, it is a question of handling a new genre of interdisciplinary studies. By the nature of its historical parameters, its thrust is analytical and speculative. Its fundamental aim is a critique of common sense, normative values, naturalized categories about citizenship, national identity and destiny. It seeks to unravel the given social meanings and received paradigms that construct the truth of human be- ings, the truth of experience and social life. It challenges the hegemony of the business/ comprador elite based on the cash-nexus, the alienation fostered by the objectification of all human ties and by instrumentalizing everything. In short, it is a new pedagogical ap- proach to re-orient scholarly and creative inquiries in literary and cultural studies (San Juan, “Reflections”; Aguilar).

Triangulating the Pedagogical Terrain

Actually I would propose using the theme of the diasporic experience as a way of connecting all these other topics about nation, travel, transculturation, etc. so as to pro- voke an alternative way of criticizing and valuing our reading and writing experience. We may hope to engage with diaspora as a heuristic device to stimulate alternative approach- es to the orthodox Establishment pedagogy that repeats the same institutional norms over and over, deadening our critical faculties and defeating the purpose of learning and think- ing critically about ourselves and our relations. We need to transcend the limited formal- ist, purely aesthetic or moralistic modes of reading and interpreting in order to situate the literary work/art-work in the context of the lived experience of authors, readers, and communities of interpreters. The urgent task is to perform a cognitive mapping of the subtexts of those real-life contradictions given symbolic/imaginary resolutions in literary artifices and other cultural artifacts. We need to grasp the “structure of feeling” that en- ables the art-work to exert its own efficacy, its singular resonance in our lives (Jameson; Williams).

But before giving suggestions for curriculum development, it is necessary to frame this within the context of the educational institutions in our country and the posi- tion of the Philippines in the international polarization of intellectual labor.

We are a neocolonial formation defined by the contradiction between the exploit- ing minority elite and the exploited majority. We suffer from dire underdevelopment, whose symptom—unemployment/underemployment—stems from the lack of industrial- ization, failure of land reform, immiseration of the countryside, and thus the escape to countries abroad for work and even permanent settlement. We suffer from severe social inequality due to the historic legacies of colonialism, the preservation of an oligarchic system of property relations, and hence the unequal distribution of wealth and power (Constantino; Lichauco). We have not acquired true independence and established gen- uine democratic institutions and processes.

The escape via Marcos’ Export Labor Policy from the nightmare of the historic colonial legacy is agonizing, a tearing-apart of families, marriages, communities. It is tragic, painful, infuriating, and hopefully transformative. One is reminded of the Rizal family being evicted from their homes in Calamba at the end of the 19th century, out of which El Filibusterismo evolved, as well as the Katipunan. We recall many revolutionary heroes (such as Apolinario Mabini, Isabelo de los Reyes, and others) banished to Guam, Marianas, Hong Kong, and other prisons or quarantines for desterrados outside the Philippines.

Crisis of the Neocolonial Formation

By its inner logic, the capitalist market of international labor proceeds through cyclical crisis, devolving to fascist, militarized barbarism. After the disaster of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere, this business of warm-body-export

has become more acute because of the precarious “underdevelopment” of the country. We are dependent on an erratic global labor-market subject to unpredictable disruptions. We are vulnerable because of our unstable socioeconomic situation. We live in a violent over- determined formation where profound socioeconomic inequalities prevail (for a recent survey, see Miranda and Rivera; also regular socioeconomic reports from IBON).

President Duterte’s regime is a symptom of these manifold inequalities. We have, among others, a serious drug problem whose current militaristic-authoritarian solution has led to over 12,000 Filipinos killed, half of whom are victims of vigilante or police criminality; there seems to be no justice for them (Coronel; Dalangin-Fernandez). We have violent confrontations between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (oriented to fol- lowing U.S. dictates) and the New People’s Army, between the government and various Muslim groups, foremost of which is the Abu Sayyaf. But all these are symptoms of what I have already mentioned: the persisting social injustice and inequalities inherited from our colonial/neocolonial history (Sison). These contradictions can only be resolved by promoting the counter-hegemony—that is, the moral-intellectual leadership of the pro- gressive bloc of nationalist, people-oriented forces—over against the conservative, reac- tionary bloc of landlords, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, and fascist military and po- lice.

On the topic of violence, I am not referring to conflicts between individuals, among psychologically troubled persons resorting to force to resolve quarrels. We have, overall, the legacy of structural violence due to unresolved grievances and historic penal- ties imposed on Lumads, non-Christian groups, and of course the contractual workers, poor peasants and fishermen, and slum dwellers—millions of our citizens, victims of con- tinuing structural violence due to unemployment, lack of housing, medical care, educa- tion, and other vital needs necessary for humane existence. What can academic studies on diaspora contribute to understanding and elucidating the causes of this pervasive violence in our society?

Beleaguered Ivory Towers

In this setting, our educational system, configured by the colonial and neocolonial pressures of U.S. political-cultural hegemony, has been geared to supplying other coun- tries with trained personnel: doctors, nurses, engineers, architects, lawyers (our lawyers and tax accountants function like call-center personnel, doing work for offices abroad). Our educational institutions do not match the needs of our economy; they serve to pro- duce human labor-power for other countries in line with the unequal distribution of power and wealth among nation-states as a result of historical rivalries.

All over the world, including the Philippines, the emphasis on science and tech- nology has marginalized courses in the humanities, history, and other social sciences. General education for civic responsibility and rationality has been subordinated to a qua-

si-vocational training, or training to acquire specific skills needed to perform technologi- cally defined tasks in business society. We need to resolve the contradiction between the alienating individualist business ethics dominating our lives and the humanist, emancipa- tory ideals of our revolutionary tradition (Lanuza).

Commodified scientism has trumped the humanities in the academy. This applies to cultural and language studies in general. The teaching of English, within the larger de- partment of literary or cultural studies, is now geared to producing teachers for high school and colleges to prepare youth for work abroad, or for employment in prestigious local corporations or bureaucratic careers. No one would be insane enough to say we are preparing them to be scholars in our own literature (either written in English, Filipino, or the various languages). Previously the nationalist tendency in University of the Philip- pines and elsewhere was to encourage M.A. and Ph.D. students to focus on local authors and local cultural traditions in art, music, theater, etc. No longer is this the case, for a long time now, since I took my Bachelor of Arts degree in 1958.

Toward Conscientization

For this occasion, I limit myself to reflecting on the possible academic usefulness of exploring this historic conjuncture in our country. Here are a few reasons that we can discuss regarding why the historical phenomenon of the diaspora (in this case, the OFW as contemporary reality) can be useful in revitalizing literary/cultural studies in the Philippines. We can engage in arguing how a critical pedagogy can be developed by way of deliberating on the problems of OFWs. The following observations might schematize for the benefit of those unfamiliar with this topic the ethico-political implications of the modern diaspora problematic:

1. Diaspora unsettles what is taken for granted, deemed natural or normal, cus- tomary, respectable. It purges habitual conformism, devotion to stereotypes, and fixation on group-thinking. What do migrants, expatriates, émigrés, refugees, and exiles have in common? Distance from the homeland, the natal surroundings, and the taken-for-granted habitat.

Removal from the customary space/place of living is certainly distressful and dis- orienting. Being put in prison was a common experience for rebels like Balagtas, the Cavite mutineers, the Propagandistas (Marcelo del Pilar, Lopez Jaena) and the deport- ed—Rizal, among others, together with thousands during the Spanish colonial period. When the United States conquered the islands, those who refused to swear allegiance to the United States were deported to Guam, the famous ones being Gen. Ricarte and Apoli- nario Mabini who produced his immortal memoirs, La Revolucion Filipina. One can treat Rizal’s two novels as works of exile, just as Villa’s poems and fiction, and Carlos Bu- losan’s entire body of work, particularly America Is in the Heart, as well as many short

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stories by Bienvenido Santos, NVM Gonzales, and other exiled artists (San Juan, Be- tween Empire).

2. Diaspora interrogates the idea/discourse of homeland as a fixed territory. It generates a new subjectivity or agency, the nomadic in the process of imagining and re- fashioning a new habitat. It lends significance to the notion of deterritorialization, made famous by Deleuze and Guattari’s treatises, Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus.

In this context, our present homeland is a neocolonized one, conquered at the cost of over a million Filipinos killed, quarantined and exploited since 1899. Is there another space/time one can designate as homeland? The Albania of Balagtas? Rizal’s forest or wilderness where the tulisanes retreated? We also encounter this in many novels from Francisco Lacsamana’s Anino ng Kahapon to Macario Pineda’s Makiling to Amado V. Hernandez’s Bayang Malaya and Jun Cruz Reyes’ Etsa Puwera. If the homeland is a utopian future, what is the present Philippines comparable to? Can it be prefigured or condensed in a negative trope of the “Pearl of the Orient Seas,” its flamboyant and osten- tatiously hygienic malls as an image of dystopia?

3. Diasporas evoke the power of imperial occupation—the Roman Empire for the Jewish, European colonialism for African slaves transported to the New World; imperial inroads into China, India, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, etc. Wars, pogroms, fascist programs of internal ethnic cleansing—they all foreground the saliency of racism/racializing ideology, white supremacy, as justification for occupation and subjugation of non-white popula- tions. Our current diaspora is a product of imperial subjugation by the United States, and by the modernizing impact of global capitalism and its neoliberal ideological agencies, in particular the liberalized labor-market and its stockpiling of mass-produced consumer goods and services.

The recruitment of Filipino workers for the Hawaiian plantations is the inaugural moment. We were neither citizens nor aliens. Called “nationals,” Filipino bachelor-work- ers drifted from place to place, establishing solidarity with other ethnic/racial groups via strikes, collective resistance, networks of cooperation for survival and fighting back. Un- able to return, most Filipinos settled in the United States and Canada, just as many today are settling in Italy, UK, Germany, and countries allowing temporary stays and/or family reunification.

4. Diaspora foregrounds the phenomenon of moving commodities—body ex- ports—embodying labor-power for the global capitalist market. Diaspora thus introduces into our theater of critical analysis and judgment the nature of commodifying bodies and personhoods, as well as psyches, dreams, illusions, the unconscious. Quanta (quantity) replaces qualitas (quality) as measure of value, in that exchange-value acquires para- mount import over use-value, or at least eclipses the latter on which it is parasitic.

Identity Perplex

Filipino domestics and/or caregivers have replaced biological mothers of the host employer, becoming surrogates and maternal Others in which Filipino nationality/colo- nial speakers of English become valued as contributors of symbolic capital. The Singa- porean film, Iloilo, can be viewed in this light. We do not yet have something like Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives that would portray Filipino nannies as singular actants or character types in a new genre of Menippean satire. The latest imbroglio surfaced con- cerning an expatriate’s remorseful revelation that the family’s maid called “Lola” who lived with them for many years was actually a slave, though others claimed that (follow- ing Michel Foucault) she maintained her dignity and self-respect all along (Solow). Shades of the lord-bondsman dialectic in Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit?

There are indie media films or documentaries already dramatizing this Filipina predicament, including those on Flor Contemplacion. However, we are also swamped with sentimental melodramas like Milan, Dubai, and various commercialized replica- tions. But in truth, these confections are narcotics to distract us. The Filipino diaspora is not a stage for compounding dreams and fantasies. For one, it is definitely not a transcul- tural or transgendered dilemma but, rather, a labor-capitalist dialectic with a classic class- conflict matrix. Thus this particular loci resonates with universal consequences and world-historical ramifications.

5. Both sexuality and racial identity are brought into the stage when embodied in diasporic characters/figures. Diaspora heightens our awareness of the significant role that racial markers and gender makers play in configuring our role and place in the in- ternational setting. This explodes the homogeneity of the Filipina as exotic Malayan/His- panic subject of patronizing discourse—as in mail-order bride advertisements—made so- phisticated by Eurocentric scholars, whether Filipinos, American, etc. The fashionable rubric of “transnationalism” acquires poignant ambiguity in the case of Filipinas meta- morphosing into syncretic, hybrid or ambidextrous protagonists in social encounters far from the homeland.

6. The actant or performative role of diasporic Filipinas in literary and cultural discourse reminds us again that humanistic studies today (aesthetic, ethical inquiries) are no longer compartmentalized into strict taxonomic categories. They are by historical ne- cessity interdisciplinary complex speculations, blending historical, sociological, political, anthropological, linguistic, philosophical, etc. They challenge the old positivistic, narrow- ly empiricist philology, as well as the once dominant formalist New Critical approach.

Reconstructive Cartography

In the United States and Canada, the Civil Rights struggles in the Sixties and Sev- enties, together with the feminist, youth and multiethnic struggles, forced a drastic revi-

sion of the canon. They unsettled scholastic categories inherited from the Victorian era. They destroyed the entrenched white-supremacist standards of quality, ushering in au- thors/readers from ethnic, gendered and racialized outsiders. Filipino scholars were of course influenced by these trends; but they simply expanded the offerings and authors. They did not effectively change the formalist/individualist approach that excluded politi- cal readings and historicist critiques. We still await canon revision and reflexive dia- logues on methods and procedures to synchronize what we are doing in the classrooms with what is happening to our students and teachers in the larger society outside the acad- emy.

Again, the aim of introducing this framework of the Filipino diaspora is to reori- ent our vision/sensibility regarding our individual responsibility in society. It is to initiate a re-thinking about ourselves as a people and as citizens of a nation-state with a specific history. It is to kindle a conscientization of our minds and loobs/souls beyond the rigid paradigms of traditional patriarchal-feudal society (Eviota).

In reflecting on the export of souls/bodies, a postmodern version of the Faustian wager, we are forced to scrutinize the inventory of our national identity as a palimpsest of codes, the key to which has been lost and must be found, invented or recast. Antonio Gramsci wrote this thought-provoking passage about the problem of self, identity, ethos in his Prison Notebooks (1929-1935), which we need to ponder as the propaedeutic slo- gan for the day:

The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. Therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inven- tory (324).

A corollary to this proposition is Gramsci’s notion of culture not as a simple ac- cumulation, or indeed a dry-as-dust inventory of facts, dates, information culled from li- braries, etc. We pride ourselves in being cultured, being knowledgeable or well-informed about a million facts, items summarized in tomes and whole archives. But this hoarding, as those familiar with Paulo Freire’s teaching know, is nothing but the banking system of education, thoroughly based on the logic of accumulation in business society, our present- day neoliberal free-market global order.

In contradistinction, Gramsci proposes an entirely radical definition. He contends that 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” (324-25). Fundamental to this is the acquisition and cultivation of a historical awareness, a historicizing sensibility, attuned not just to our

personality but to our place and participation in our specific time and place, in our soci- ety. This awareness will be actualized in the narratives we construct of our journey to- ward national independence, exercising genuine sovereignty.

In my view, reflection and inquiry into the discourse of diaspora, the investigation of discursive practices of what we may call the habitus of diaspora, can induce in us that historical awareness and reflexivity required to usher us into what Immanuel Kant called the age of autonomy, when we no longer need tutors and can think for ourselves and ac- cept responsibility for our choices and actions. This thinking will be realized in our di- verse narratives of homecoming. Can this solve the dispersal, scattering, disruption of our body politic? Can this provide jobs for millions so that they do not have to leave their families and homes? Will this solve the wound of division, heal the fissures and cracks in the body politic?

But, on second thought, in the neocolonial situation, the body politic has never been really unified or homogenized—except through consumerist regimentation and the vicarious fulfillments induced by State ideological apparatuses. But somehow a visceral urge surfaces in the diaspora. When Filipinos meet in the plazas of Rome, Hong Kong, Taipei, Los Angeles, or Singapore, they incorporate the lost homeland in their exchanges, rituals of eating, singing, playing, the repertoire of bayanihan and pakikisama, etc. They perform the communicative utopia that Habermas dreamed of recreating in the European Community. For them, any moment or any fissure in the continuum of time, the Messiah may appear.

As the Messiah tried to console his companions before his final departure, we may follow in his wake. The Messiah will be there when one or two of his comrades gather wherever and whenever they find themselves—remembrance materializes in such encounters and thus reconstitutes the dismembered body. Diaspora may trigger these acts of remembrance and ultimately deliver collective redemption. The study of diasporic writing may be construed as an act of remembrance and collective deliverance.

Rhizomatic Analysis in Action

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 Filipino, the national language. Consider this an experiment in symptomatic hermeneutics (see Balibar and Macherey). Fanny Garcia 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 nondescript compatriot, Vicky (Vicenta), who slowly confides to Nelly her incredible experience of physical hardship, loneliness, and frustrat- ed 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 pos- sibility 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 estab- lished 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 ac- count 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 puting papel na nakapatong sa mesa, naisip ni Nel- ly, 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 Bis- ing.]

In the triple personas of Vicky nurtured in the mind of Nelly, we witness the liter- al and figurative diaspora of the Filipino nation in which the manifold layers of experi- ence occurring 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 OFW is suspended in thrall, a helpless fragment in the nexus of com- modity circulation (for a postmodernist gloss on this story, see Tadiar). Terror in capitalist society re-inscribes boundaries and renews memory.

Beyond the Binary of Self and Others

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? Loading space with dizzying motion, collapsing it into multiple vectors and trajectories, may be one subversive strategy. In Garcia’s story, the time of the nationalizing imagina- tion 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. Geopolitics trumps transnational hybridity or am- bivalence when the production of space is articulated with habits, customs, daily routine of the female worker (for this insight, see Rose).

We see that the routine life of the Filipino community is defined by bureaucra- tized space that seems to replicate the schedule back home; but the chronological itin- erary 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 di- reksiyon, 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 mikro- pono’y magsasalita’t magdadasal, at matapos ang kanyang basbas, sila’y magkakanya-kanyang grupo sa paglisan. Karaniwa’y sa mga parke ang tu- loy. 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 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 pag- papaunlak 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 isko- lar ng kani-kanilang order. Sa Ingles at Pilipino ang misa, mga awit at ser- mon. 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 tinutu- luyan…. (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 micro- phone, 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 movie houses, until around midnight they will go their separate individual ways to wherever they are staying.]

Resignation is premature. This surface regularity conceals fissures and discontinu- ities that will only disclose themselves when the death of Vicky shatters the peace and complicates the pathos of indentured domesticity. Thus we find ourselves mourning our sister, the mother of all migrants and exiles in our shrunken, suddenly claustrophobic planet when computer-armed Ahabs, now in their apocalyptic terrorizing mode, still roam and plunder the core and the peripheries of the post-anthropocene world.

Works Cited

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Arellano-Carandang, Maria Lourdes et al. Nawala ang Ilaw ng Tahanan. Anvil Publish- ing Co., 2007.

Beltran, Ruby and Gloria Rodriguez. Filipino Women Migrant Workers: At the Crossroads and Beyond Beijing. Giraffe Books, 1996.

Constantino, Renato. Neocolonial Identity and Counter-consciousness. M.E. Sharpe, 1978.

Coronel, Sheila. “A Presidency Bathed in Blood.” Democracy Journal, 29 Jun. 2017,https://democracyjournal.org/arguments/a-presidency-bathed-in-blood/. Accessed 29 Jun. 2017.

Dalagin-Fernandez, Lira. “Worst Yet to Come: Opposition Aghast as PH Ranks Worse in Impunity Index.” InterAksyon, 22 Sept. 2017, http://www.interaksyon.com/worst- yet-to-come-opposition-aghast-as-ph-ranks-worst-in-impunity-index/. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.

Eviota, Elizabeth. The Political Economy of Gender. Zed Press, 1992.
Garcia, Fanny. “Arrivederci.” In Ang Silid na Mahiwaga, edited by Soledad Reyes.

Anvil Publishing Co., 1994.

Gorospe, Arthena. Narrative and Identity: An Ethical Reading of Exodus 4. Brill, 2007.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selection from the Prison Notebooks, edited by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. International Publishers, 1971.

IBON. “OFWs, Remittances, and Philippine Underdevelopment.” IBON Facts and Figures (Special Release), vol. 31, no. 9-10, May 2008, pp. 1-22.

Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious. Cornell UP, 1981.
Lanuza, Gerry. “Neo-liberal na Atake sa Mundo ng Paggawa at Panunupil sa

Karapatan ng Manggagawa: Hamon at Paglaban.” Pingkian, 2014, pp. 9-102.

Lichauco, Alejandro. Hunger, Corruption and Betrayal: A Primer on U.S. Neocoloniallism and the Philippine Crisis. Citizens Committee on the National Crisis, 2005.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Penguin Books, 2010.

Migrante International. Migrant Workers Human Rights Research. IBON, 2009.

Miranda, Felipe and Temario Rivera. Chasing the Wind: Assessing Philippine Democracy. Commission on Human Rights, Philippines, 2016.

Ofreneo-Pineda, Rosalinda, and Rene Ofreneo. ”Globalization and Filipino Women Workers.” Philippine Labor Review, vol. 29, no. 1, Jan-June 1995, pp.1-34.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. “Migrant Filipina Domestic Workers and the In- ternational Division of Reproductive Labor.” In Pinay Power, edited by Melinda de Jesus. Routledge, 2005.

Rose, Gillian. “Some notes towards thinking about the spaces of the future.” InMapping the Futures, edited by Jon Bird et al., Routledge, 1993.

San Juan, E. “Overseas Filipino Workers: The Making of an Asian-Pacific Diaspora.”

The Global South, vol. 3, no. 2, Winter 2010, pp. 99-129.
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Indigenization in the Philippines.” TOPIA, 2013, pp. 155-175. – – –. Between Empire and Insurgency. U of the Philippines P, 2015.

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– – –. Learning from the Filipino Diaspora. University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2016.

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[Forthcoming in UNITAS 2018 (University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines]

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

CRITIQUE OF IMPERIAL CULTURAL STUDIES TODAY–by E.San Juan, Jr.


REFLECTIONS ON IMPERIAL CULTURAL STUDIES AND THE PROBLEM OF INDIGENIZATION IN THE PHILIPPINES

By E. San Juan, Jr.
Dept of English,  University of the Philippines

The re-election of Barack Obama to a second term as president of the United States signals a need to rethink the overpowering influence of that metropolis on the Philippines as formally an independent nation-state but in reality still a neocolonial domain of the declining Empire. The Obama presidency recently reasserted U.S. geopolitical power in Asia and the Pacific by reinforcing its troop and navy deployment in the Philippines in view of increasing tensions over territorial disputes in the China Sea and adjacent areas by multiple parties (China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines).
Meanwhile, despite its weakened economic stature, the predominance of U.S. media fashions and pedagogical norms enables the eclectic, neopragmatist style of Cultural Studies (CS) to deflect critical attention from urgent social problems: rampant pauperization of the majority of over a hundred million Filipinos, the endemic violation of human rights, ethnic/racial degradation of indigenous communities, the inferiorization of women, unprecedented ecological disasters, and the reduction of the whole nation-people to a globally subservient role: as supplier of cheap migrant labor (mainly women domestics) to the global capitalist market, including regional power-centers as Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. One may ask: can CS of Western provenance be reconfigured to serve a democratic and egalitarian constituency beyond that served by its traditional practitioners in Europe and North America? In brief, can CS establish a more democratic. egalitarian community of practitioners in both Global North and South?

For A Re-cognitive Mapping

A historical overview of its genealogy may be useful here. The academic discipline of CS originating from UK and refined in North America focuses on the complex relations of “power” and “knowledge” (knowledge-production) at a specific historical conjuncture (Seventies and Eighties). Its axioms include the rejection of Enlightenment modernity/progress, metanarratives (paradigms; world-views), and universals premised on the rational subject. Symptomatic of the alienation of Western intellectuals from technocratic market-society during the Cold War, CS reflects the crisis of finance/monopoly capitalism in its imperialist stage. It seeks to transcend reified systems by way of privileging the differend or differance (Lyotard; Derrida), diffuse power (Foucault; Deleuze), life-world and quotidian life (Habermas; de Certeau) inspired by Nietzsche, Heidegger, Freud, and Saussure.
To be sure, that epitomizing portrait elides nuances, shades, and subtle differences immanent in CS’s complex history and theoretical lineage which has been fully surveyed in Chris Barker’s Cultural Studies Theory and Practice (2003), among others. But the main thrust coincides with his central narrative. Barker traces CS’s trajectory from the Gramscianism of Stuart Hall and early progenitors, Raymond Williams and E.P. Thompson, to the post-structuralist moment signalled by Laclau and Mouffe’s articulation theory and Tony Bennett’s deployment of Foucault’s notion of “governmentality.” Taking account of critiques of discourse-oriented CS, Barker notes the multiperspectival approaches proposed by Jim McGuigan (1996) and Douglas Kellner (2006) as well as the attendant cultural policy debates. Overall, cultural politics centered on the struggle over and within meaning, difference, articulation, representation, and so on, away from a dialectical organon of political economy (Rochberg-Halton 1986) or a totalizing realist critique of global-capitalist culture (for example, Ebert 2009).
Qualifications can be inserted here. In his recent introduction to A Companion to Cultural Studies, Toby Miller has assured us that today an “organic disciplinarity” among the humanities, arts, sciences, and communication/media studies is thriving due to CS practitioners who blend political economy and CS. CS combines the humanities’ criteria of quality and meaning with the social sciences’ focus on socio-political norms. Miller’s prognosis of the future of CS’ “nimble, hybrid approach,” addressing the vital question of who benefits, who complains, and for whose good is culture, functions as a countervailing riposte to my reservations (2006, xxii-xxiii).
On the other hand, Chris Rojek cautions against reliance on statistics and innovative technologies. Privileging personal experience, on-location practice, embodiment, emplacement and context, he revalidates the study of ideology, coding, theming and representation. Rojek believes CS has gone successfully beyond the issues of national/popular (Gramsci), textual/representational (Williams; Althusser), Global/Post-Essentialism (Hall; Lyotard), and Governmentality/Policy (Foucault, Bennett) and returned to “culturally enmeshed” personal experience (2007, 5). His foregrounding the themes of culture as hegemonic authority (elite narratives of legitimation) and as agency of resistance and opposition by the oppressed dovetails with my own emphasis here on the inequality of power among cultural regions/blocs, the power imbalance encapsulated in the overdetermined dynamics of uneven-and-combined development pervading the Global South as contrasted with the Global North. Both Miller and Rojek forecast a renaissance of CS, one I would eagerly concur with provided that the preoccupation with the “field of cultural production” and consumption or the “market of symbolic goods” (to use Pierre Bourdieu’s terms) do not expunge the power of the economy and the political apparatuses/institutions that traverse both interacting field and market (Bourdieu 1993).

Triangulating the Terrain

Orthodox CS identifies modernity with capitalism, hence its postmodernist temper. The principle of indeterminacy, undecidability or contingency seems to reign supreme. Despite acknowledging the historicity of the discipline, postmodernist academics (Geertz, Grossberg, Clifford) give primacy to “the flow of social discourse” and the “essentially contestable” genealogy of culture. Engaged with the singularity of events centering on love, sentiments, conscience, and the existential or ethical moment in order to “bring us in touch with strangers,” with Others, postmodern CS seeks to interrogate the foundational aims of linguistics (Jakobson), psychoanalysis (Freud), philosophy (Kant, Hegel) and political economy (Marx) by substituting the ambivalence, contingency, and hybridity of “lived experience” for labor/social praxis as the focus of investigation. Focused on what escapes language and discursive ratiocination, CS has fallen into the dualism it ritualistically condemns, complete with the mystique of a neoliberal individualism enabled by presumably value-free, normative “free market” absolutism–either Stuart Cunningham’s (1993) social democratic citizenship or Richard Rorty’s neopragmatic conformism (2007).

Anti-foundationalism and anti-metanarrativity distinguish orthodox CS operating on a neopositivist, nominalist (as contradistinguished from a critical realist) platform. Rejecting classical scientific reason, CS refuses any grounding in political action for system-change deemed as a perversion of knowledge for the ends of power. Valuing negative critique as an antidote to ideology, CS leads up to a fetishism of the Void, the deconstructive “Sublime” as a substitute for a thoroughgoing critique of the authority of received values and institutions. Decentered authority eludes materialist critique. By various ruses of irony, uncanny cynicism and “sly mimicry,” It ends up apologizing for the status quo. Anti-authoritarianism is trivialized in careerist anecdotes, and CS becomes reduced to conferences and publicity about fantasies of truly radical, subversive social movements. Such observations have been made already by others (Denning 1992; Jameson 1993), lately by Paul Smith (2006) and Simon During (2010), but I recast them with a more anti-ethnocentric provocative edge in the wake of the 2008 collapse of finance-capital and the abortive “Occupy Wall Street” insurrection.
Are we trapped in some mirror-stage of CS’ postmodern self-reflexiveness? Submerged and eventually displaced, the critical dimension of CS drawn from Western Marxism (Gramsci, Althusser, Barthes, Frankfurt Critical Theory) seems to have disappeared in the neoconservative tide that began with Reagan/Thatcher in the Eighties. This neoconservatism unfortunately continues to this day under the slogan of the “global war on terrorism.” Meanwhile, attention to racism, gender, sexism and other non-class contradictions, particularly in the colonized and peripheral formations, sharpened with the Civil Rights struggles in the US, the youth revolt, and the worldwide opposition to the Vietnam war and the current if precarious hegemony of the Global North. Sub-Commandante Marcos and Osama bin laden are gone, but the furies of the Syrian civil war and the Islamic explosions in Libya and Mali may portend sharper political and socioeconomic catastrophes.

Approaching a Conjunctural Transition

Establishment or mainstream CS today (notwithstanding the qualifications cited earlier) focuses preponderantly on consumption, audience response, Deleuzian desire, affects, irony, together with a refusal to interrogate systematically neoliberal ideology, the culture industry, and the unequal division of social labor throughout the planet. For all its sharp critical insights, Simon During’s (2010) expurgated version of CS retreats to a nostalgic individualism whose innocence about the bloody origins of democracy in chattel slavery and booty colonialism vitiates its denunciation of capitalism’s excesses. However, heterodox versions of CS invoke Simone de Beauvoir, Fanon, CLR James, W.E.B.Du Bois, Rosa Luxemburg, Paulo Freire and other “third world” activists in an effort to renew its original vocation of contributing to fundamental structural transformation. Its retooled notion of “specific intellectuals” addressing a “conjunctural constituency” may call attention to the need to address state violence and hegemonic apparatuses of public control and repression already foreshadowed by Foucault’s disciples engaged in feminist and anti-racist campaigns.
The Philippines as a neocolonial social formation remains singular in having gone through at least three epochs of subjugation by Western powers. The Spaniards ruled the country from 1561 to 1899, disciplining the natives to the normative operations of theocratic Catholicism; from 1899 to 1946, the United States “Americanized” the christianized natives and Muslims, installing a cacique or oligarchic democracy based on a hegemonic bloc of feudal warlords, compradors, and bureaucrat capitalists (Agoncillo & Alfonso 1967; Constantino 1975). While the Japanese troops conquered the Philippines in 1942, their instrumentalist Pan-Asian “Co-Prosperity Sphere” failed to de-Westernize the majority except for some elite collaborators whose opportunism dates back to the days of William McKinley’s “Benevolent Assimilation.” With the return of U.S. control in 1945 and its refunctioning as the master-tutor behind the scenes, especially after suppressing the Communist-led Huk uprisings in the late forties and early fifties, the United States continues to exercise paramount influence in the state ideological apparatuses, esp. education, mass media, security agencies, etc. Cultural policies and research in the Philippines virtually replicate or imitate those in the US, even including the influence of the Indian subaltern historians on local scholars (in particular, Reynaldo Ileto) filtered through their English-speaking (Australian; Singaporean) disciples.
The publication of Chen Kuan-hsing’s Asia As Method: Toward Deimperialization (2010) has been hailed as a breakthrough toward reorienting CS toward a recovery of its original roots in left-wing radicalism. He calls for decolonization, de-imperialization and “de-Cold War” of knowledge production. His colleague Prasenjit Duara praises Chen’s project of re-inventing Asia as “desiring imagination,” no longer a mere cartographic identity but a “transcendent signifier, partly taking the place of disappointed ideals from the Enlightenment such as communism, nationalism and democracy, which in turn took over the role of religious transcendence, at least for intellectuals. In a transcendent position, Asia allows us to imagine a different future, one which can draw selectively from global historical resources in order to shape a more just society” (2011). I hope the hubris of this Asian-izing “method” will overcome the barbaric legacies of “Orientalism” and imperialism that Edward Said (1994) tried to expose and extirpate throughout his life.
To be sure, who would refuse an interdependent and integrated Asia as a product of “critical syncretism”? So far this target subject-position is not located on any physical map, as yet, since its ideal-typical status elevates it into a Messianic end-goal. It seems to be a prophetic metaphor or trope for the good, true and beautiful. Syncretism can go any which way, depending on who has command of the whole research program and resources for implementation. Moreover, isn’t this reconfiguration of a heterogeneous network of cultures, peoples, histories a throwback to the stigmatized totalization syndrome (alias metanarratives, essentialism, logocentrism, etc.) that mainstream CS scholars have rejected from the start? Let there be no mistake; personally I appreciate Chen’s criticism of all the evils condensed in colonialism and imperialist Cold War realpolitik, including the triumphalism of the ”Asian Tigers.” However, other countries cannot be so easily conflated tout court with Taiwan or Singapore. As many commentators (among others, William McCord 1996) have discerned, the economic leap of Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea to “tigerhood” was enabled by the draconian tactics of the Cold War and the despotic bureaucrats-technocrats of each society which ironically established the breeding-ground for their cosmopolitan dissidents. Shouldn’t the critical method of these intellectuals now address the excesses of their respective sub-imperialist bourgeoisie as well as their patrons in Washington DC and the Pentagon?
Filipino Exceptionalism?

Like Bangladesh or Indonesia, the Philippines was left behind when those “Tigers” took off in the late sixties; Philippine per capita GNP is scarcely a tenth of Taiwan in the last decade (Chant & McIlwaine 1995, 46) and far far behind affluent Hong Kong and Singapore. Two revolutionary movements of long standing, the 40-year old New People’s Army insurgency, and the more massive Moro guerilla groups (after years of fierce resistance, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has forced the government to negotiate), have effectively challenged the neocolonial State with its U.S. backers (San Juan 2008b). Overall, the Philippines functions as a parodic image of Taiwan. Precisely because Chen’s putative model is Taiwan (by extension, Singapore) for reconstituting a new collective subjectivity, this paradigm-shift should give us pause and open up more dialectical, self-reflexive dialogues. Otherwise, it will just be self-serving rhetoric designed to coax token recognition of their uncanny symbolic capital from their sponsors in the Global North. Here I can imagine Chen charging me guilty of Nietzschean ressentiment and even petty-bourgeois bad faith.
My personal memories of visiting Taiwan on more than half a dozen occasions (as lecturer at the Academia Sinica and other universities) have always confirmed Taiwan’s position as a wealthy industrializing country on par with its neighbors South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore, with their variegated sub-imperialist policies. In Taiwan’s airport, one cannot miss the long lines of bedraggled Filipino and Thai workers hired by Taiwanese companies as cheap migrant labor. My visit to a prison outside Taipei showed the barbaric condition in which Filipino, Indonesian and African workers with visa problems were treated. Flor Contemplacion, the domestic worker unjustly hanged in Singapore in 1995, continues to be a rallying point (together with numerous victims of Japanese and Hong Kong employers) for Filipino nationalism.
While Chen’s valorization of local knowledge and mass mobilizations within what Habermas calls “public sphere” is salutary, his apriorist rejection of all nationalisms (classified into nativism and civilizationism) without historical specificity and ethical nuancing contradicts precisely his wish that “societies in Asia can become each other’s points of reference” (2010, 212). This is a noble ideal of regional harmony and ecumenical cooperation, but it flies in the face of the injustice of “uneven-and-combined development” fully theorized by Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, David Harvey, etc. and substantively documented in all non-Establishment critical discourse on globalization (for a recent example, see Medley and Carroll 2011; also Hoogvelt 1997; Jameson and Miyoshi 1999). The not so hidden trade wars, disputes over immigration, and territorial conflicts attest to the fact that Asia as “desiring imagination” remains a transcendental aspiration.
In Chen’s utopianesque Asia, the Philippines looms behind as a weird specter, an enigmatic sport. While geographically located in Asia, the Philippines has not exactly fitted the subalternist, homogenizing paradigm of Asia that Global North theorists such as Gayatri Spivak, Aihwa Ong and Rey Chow have privileged in their mandarin discourses about transnationalization and cosmopolitanism. The uncomfortable reason is that the Philippines remains a neocolony of the imperial powers, chiefly the United States and subimperial allies (Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore) and thus evokes the ghosts of nineteenth and early 20th century aborted or coopted revolutions.

A Return to Foundations?

One of the early inspiring slogans of CS is Raymond Willliam’s statement, “culture and education are ordinary” (1989, 18), culture grasped as lived experience and institutions cognized as “structures of feeling.” CS pioneers intended to “view the whole complex of social change from the point of culture, ‘to make intelligible the real movement of culture as it registered in social life, in group and class relations, in politics and institutions, in values and ideas” (Macey 2000, 77). The focus on the theme of change and transformation entails cognitive historicizing maneuvers. Like any global trend, CS can be adapted to Philippine situations (in short, “Filipinized”) by the creative application of its original critique of ideology, the demystification of structural norms or “common sense” habits in official and mass/popular cultures as contingent, complicit with particularistic interests and power blocs.
Various forms of CS, as mediated by “subalternists” and other “third world” conduits, have influenced Filipino cultural critics and historians concerned with the marginalized Others (peasants, women, gays and lesbians, religious and ethnic communities, etc.). But except for the Latin American “theology of liberation” as a form of CS, they have all wrongly assumed that the Philippines is no longer a neocolonial, dependent formation, replete with diverse contradictions centering on the oligarchic-comprador domination of the majority of the people (workers, peasants, middle strata, Moros and other indigenous groups). The question of a singular Filipino modernity—genuine national sovereignty, autonomous individuals free from Spanish or American tutelage, a public sphere inhabiting the zone between state and civil society—persists as a problematic site of contestation. This is so despite attempts to muddle and transmogrify it by insidious postmodern mystifications legitimized by the illusory promise of emancipation by avid consumption and participation in the Internet’s pleasure-filled Celebrity bazaar. In a way, CS’ openness to populist eclecticism has almost displaced the omnipresent profit-centered culture industry, valorizing subcultures and kitsch that undergirds the consumerist ethos and allows the hegemonic power bloc to dictate the “laws” of the “free market” (the stakes are spelled out in Storey 1993).
Clearly what is needed is a selective appropriation of CS methods and repertoire of interdisciplinary tools in consonance with the project of decolonization and national liberation in the Philippines. To be sure, this is not a new order or discovery. One of my students, Virgilio Enriquez (1977) initiated such a process in psychology by situating the essentially behavioristic discipline of U.S. provenance in the crisis of the Sixties which culminated in the brutal Marcos dictatorship supported by the United States. Inspired by “third world” resistance in IndoChina, Latin America and Africa in the Sixties and early Seventies, Enriquez was catalyzed by the nationalist resurgence of the Fifties spearheaded by Senators Claro Recto and Lorenzo Tanada, by historians Teodoro Agoncillo and Renato Constantino, and Marxist intellectuals such as Jose Lansang, Amado V. Hernandez, and Jose Maria Sison. After surveying the limits of cross-cutural experiments in psychology during the Cold War, Enriquez
urged that “psychology has to be rewritten so as to reflect the different bodies of psychological knowledge, formal or informal, found in the different cultures of the world” (1977, 15). At the same time, he underscored the need to use the local languages and cultures in constructing a flexible indigenizing theory, method and praxis suited to the historical needs of the community. The aim of this emergent Filipino CS is not alien to the standards of Eurocentric humanities and social sciences: generalizability of findings and testable, fallibilistic hypotheses applicable to the urgent problems of the working masses (San Juan 2006; 2008).
Enriquez’ theoretical strategy (by hypothesis and induction) was not entirely unprecedented in the Filipino setting. The exemplars of what I consider the inventors of Filipino cultural studies—Jose Rizal (in “The Indolence of Filipinos” and “The Philippines a Century Hence”), Isabelo de los Reyes (folklore and ethnic studies), countless vernacular novelists, poets, and playwrights; and memoir-writers (Mabini, veterans of 1896 and the Huk uprising)—applied criticial principles derived from Europe to the specific political and socioeconomic situations in the colony/neocolony. In the process, the power/knowledge complex acquired concrete elaboration in terms of how “everyday life”—culture as ordinary habits or patterns (Raymond Williams)–cannot escape its over-determination by the historical institutions and practices imposed by the colonial powers and mediated by regional/local ruling blocs. Time and space offer intelligible meanings by way of the contradictions between the colonial/neocolonial hegemonic institutions and the acceptance/resistance of the colonized natives. Such meanings can be found in the narratives of individuals/collectives in which the notion of subjectivity defined by various levels of contradictions (Filipino versus American, patriarchal power versus women, “civilized” versus indigenous,etc.) can be discerned embedded in the totality of social relations at specific historical moments. I am thinking of a “knowable community” with institutions and habitual practices and dispositions, constellations of power relations, not just a “structure of feeling” constituted by heterogeneous experiences.

From Method to Praxis

The Filipino national hero Jose Rizal is distinguished for engaging in a polemical CS that harnessed historically situated ethnography for political ends. He was not infected with the value-free claim of Weberian inquiry. His essay “On the Indolence of Filipinos” recounted the testimonies of Spanish explorers and witnesses to demonstrate the incommensurable gap between the past and the present, arguing that colonial subjugation stood in between. Anatomizing the cause of the lethargic body politic is only a propaedeutic for invoking a cure: “The lack of national sentiment brings with it another evil, which is the absence of opposition to any of the measures that are harmful to the people and the non-existence of any intiative for their own good. The man in the Philippines is a mere individual, and not a member of a nation. He is deprived of, and denied the right of association, and thus he is weak and motionless” (1979, 83; for elaboration on Rizal’s historical dialectics, see San Juan 2011). The historian Ambeth Ocampo (1998) ascribes an intuitive prophetic rigor to Rizal’s method of suturing of past and present strands of Philippine history in order to mobiize the victims and reconstitute them as thinking subjects. Critique combines with analysis to produce a partisan CS, a generator of a liberatory agency, a “conscienticized” (to use Paulo Freire’s term) transformative subject.
Another specimen of early Filipino CS (mediated through folklore) may be found in Isabelo de los Reyes’ inventory of local habits and practices in Ilocos during the latter part of Spanish rule. As Benedict Anderson sums it up, Reyes’ ethnology had three aims: 1) provoke a local cultural renaissance among the colonized natives; 2) subvert the dominance of the reactionary Church; and 3) engage in political self-criticism. Anderson describes this latter task:

Isabelo wrote that he was trying to show, through his systematic display of el saber popular, those reforms in the ideas and everyday practices of the pueblo that must be undertaken in a self-critical spirit. He spoke of his work as being about “something much more serious than mocking my paisanos, who actually will learn to correct themselves once they see themselves described.” In this light, folklore would be a mirror held up before a people, so that, in the future they could move steadily along the road toward human emancipation. It is clear, then, that Isabelo was writing for one and a half audiences: Spanish, whose language he was using, and his own pueblo, whose language he was not using, and of whom only a tiny minority could read his work” (2005, 20).

Reyes was not just an adventurous eclectic scholar. He was imprisoned for his sympathy with the masses who demanded independence, expulsion of the friars, and basic civil rights. He participated vigorously in European progressive and anarchist propaganda when he was released from the Barcelona prison. What needs to be recalled here, aside from the intertextuality of Reyes’ discourse, is his involvement in the popular revolution against Spain, his alliance with Father Gregorio Aglipay to form a grass-rooted popular-national church, and his efforts as journalist and public intellectual to organize the first militant unions with a socialist program during the early American occupation. His practice of folkloric-directed CS was an outgrowth and response to the position of the organic intellectual active in the daily mobilization of the masses, in sustained pedagogical and agitational activities, addressing and interacting with both the local public and an international multilingual audience (for another appraisal of Reyes’ career, see Mojares 2006).

The Centrality of Language

Both Reyes and Jose Rizal wrote in Spanish in order to appeal to the Filipino ilustrado (educated) class and the Spanish-speaking world. That was a deliberate communication strategy. Learning Spanish was a divisive tactic of dividing the ruled; the American colonial administrators pursued the same policy, with the English language (as medium of business and government) separating the nationalist generation of Rizal and Reyes from a new generation whose mentalities would promote individualist competition and a consumerist ethos. Speaking English would function as symbolic capital both for assimilation to the colonial order and separation from the proletarian and plebeian masses.
In Philippine CS, English versus the vernacular languages, more precisely the evolving Filipino lingua franca, becomes symptomatic of the whole field of culture as fraught lived experience (San Juan 2007b). Indigenizing psychological inquiry, as Enriquez found out, required giving primacy to the vernacular, the speech-acts of public and private language-games. The question of language assumes primacy because intellectual discourse and exchanges cannot sidetrack the problem of conversing with and influencing the larger public. Democratizing the means of communication is an integral part of the process of overthrowing the oligarchic elite and the reproduction of class and gender inequality. Such a public needs to be developed by the pedagogical program of an evolving CS curriculum responsive to disenfranchised speakers and inferiorized learners/practitioners. The prevalence of English as an elite marker/imprimatur of privileged status will prevent a dialogic public sphere from emerging. Linked to this is the position of a plebeian, vernacular culture which has always radicalized CS by eliminating the divide between the elite/canonical culture and the marginalized culture of impoverished peasants and workers–the majority of citizens. Control of the means of communication and agencies of dissemination needs to be addressed as well as the participation of a wider public in academic dialogues and other intellectual exchanges.
The lesson is clear. CS, if it aspires to actualize its critical transformative potential for specific socioeconomic formations needs to address consistently the salient economic-political contradictions of each society within a differentially, asymmetrically ordered planet. In the Philippines if not in other peripheral formations of the Global South, the neoliberal market ideology that pervades everyday life militates against the growth of a critical sensibility and the development of the faculties of the species. The inordinately toxic effect of consumerism and the spectacle has consigned what Jacques Ranciere (2006) calls “the distribution of the sensible” to a police order determining those included and excluded. In this damaged milieu, CS needs to focus its analytic instruments on the commodification of the life-world and everyday life by the culture industries and international agencies of the oligopolistic capitalist order. In the Philippines, the unprecedented diaspora of domestics and overseas contract workers around the world constitutes the prime specimen for empirical inquiry and structural critique (see, for example, Anderson 2000; Aguilar 2000; San Juan 2007b). This involves not only the symbolic violence of language use but also the material violence of hunger, disease, State-sanctioned torture and extra-judicial killings in a “culture of impunity.”

Problematizing Knowledge-Production

We are challenged by both the obscurantist legacies of the past and the humanitarian emergencies of the present. In a critique mainly focused on the aborted promise of academic CS, it is neither wise nor propitious to describe in detail what the adaptation–or indigenization, if you like–of a Eurocentric paradigm would look like attuned to the needs and demands of neocolonized subjects in the Global South. Parts of that description may be examined in my previous works (San Juan 1996; 2000; 2009). It would certainly require a longer, sustained mapping of the sociopolitical terrain of six decades after the Philippines’ formal independence in 1946. A political economy of group consensus and habits of belief such as, for example, the inventory of contradictions drawn up by social scientist Kenneth Bauzon (1991), would be useful to calculate the scale and degree of continued Filipino mimicry of technocratic social-engineering models to perpetuate inequity, clientelist subservience to foreign corporations, and starkly unsustainable exploitation by transnational capital and its autocratic agencies.
My task here is circumscribed: to indicate in broad strokes the limitations and inadequacies of CS’ pedagogical framework for subjugated, dependent constituencies of the Empire. It is foolhardy to undertake this task until we have cleared up crucial theoretical hurdles. The first is the problem of naming the would-be candidates for nation-forming agency. Obviously the identification of “Filipino” and “Filipino nation” proceeds experimentally, pursuing an unsettled and intractable course. The narrative script constituting the nation remains sedimented in fragments of scenarios from memory, customary rituals, idiomatic speech-acts, recursive practices. At best we can only handle the “interpretants” (construed in Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotic perspective) of those signifiers provisionally, until the coordinates are specified. This is so because not only the existence of heterogeneous components of that hypothetically signified subject-position labeled “Filipino” remains to be verified and agreed upon, but also because the whole ethos (moral, aesthetic, evaluative) of Filipino culture, not to speak of its cognitive and existential aspects, remains inchoate, susceptible of diverse inflections, suspended in the undecided battlefields of an ongoing national-democratic, anti-imperialist revolution. Mutating modes of inclusion and exclusion of group actors prevail. We can only stipulate our parameters of discourse in the light of what has been accomplished so far in liberating ourselves, commodified and reified subjects, from imperialist political, sociocultural, economic strangleholds.

Beyond Populist Identity Politics

For now, suffice it to remark on the need to adhere to the axiom of historical specificity (Korsch 1971) and a measure of radical hope in defining such parameters. Above all, the question of ideology and the political economy of knowledge-production cannot be ignored. We cannot escape both the rules of our own communities and that of the totalizing diplomatic-technological state apparatuses of empire that modify, coopt and sublimate those rules. The uncharted laws (call them trends or tendencies) of motion of interlocked asymmetrical nation-states cannot be dismissed as simply reactive or aprioristic.
In this light, as already mentioned, Enriquez’s project of inventing sikolohiyang Pilipino during the nationalist resurgence of the 1960s and early 1970s was both spontaneous and expected. It may be symptomatically read as a culmination of all previous decolonizing initiatives (from Rizal and the Propagandistas to Recto, Constantino, and Sison) to articulate a program and world-view for the masses struggling for social justice, popular democracy, and genuine independence. It was institutionally predictable but also serendipituous and prefigured by the writers already mentioned earlier.
An analogous clarification can be offered for the roles that Filipino historians adopted before, during, and after the Marcos dictatorship. While inspired by Indian subalternist historians (laboring under the aegis of post-structuralist theory) to de-center what was perceived as bourgeois-oriented chronicles such as those by Teodoro Agoncillo and Renato Constantino, Rafael Ileto (1998) succeeded to some extent in re-valorizing the role of popular culture (the pasyon, etc.) and other marginal practices in the construction of a “non-linear” narrative of Filipino events before and after the 1896 revolution. It is doubtful whether Agoncillo or Constantino really pursued a linear, one-directional bias.
Nevertheless, this revisionist method of invoking the input of the plebeian masses is not an original “native” discovery. Even before the late-twentieth century diaspora, the Filipino intelligentsia (such as Rizal, Reyes, and others) has been open-minded, highly susceptible to global influences. Subalternist historiography is the product of a long record of countering the positivist, Comte-Rankean version of historicism, from the British social-history tradition (Samuel 1981) to the French Annales school and its evolutionist/functionalist offshoot in the Alfred McCoy-Ben Kerkvliet interventions in re-writing Philippine history in a more sophisticated way than Stanley Karnow’s apologetic product, In Our Image (1989).
Meanwhile, the Marcos Establishment chronicler Zeus Salazar tried to retool Enriquez’s sikolohiya by purging it of its liberatory impulse and anchoring a populist version of the past in an evolving Filipino idiom via his pantayong pananaw scheme. It may be premature to judge the reformist efficacy of this effort in rehabilitating the fields of local historiography and moribund anthropology. Salazar’s disciples seem resigned to the Cold War-era patronage system of the post-Marcos order, ensconced in the commerce of fabricating idiosyncratic terminology for neoconservative, even reactionary, ideas.

We Versus They?

The problem of thematizing local knowledge offers both theoretical and political conundrums. Ramon Guillermo (2003) has provided us a useful inventory of Salazar’s heroic effort, together with proposals for improving its method and scope. But both Salazar and Guillermo have so far sidestepped the fundamental issue (which transcends the old emic/etic binary) of how the notion of rationality–communicative action, in another framework–central to the intellectual metier of a global community of scientific inquirers to understand and appraise cultures can be surpassed or transcended. This issue has been elaborated in the volume Rationality (Wilson 1970)—just to cite one compilation–in which a survey of the conflicting arguments prompted Alasdair MacIntyre’s observation that “the understanding of a people in terms of their own concepts and beliefs does in fact tend to preclude understanding them in any other terms” (1970, 130). One-sidedness cannot be corrected by simply inverting the poles of the binary, or establishing a pseudo-reconciliatory equilibrium.
MacIntyre does not fully endorse the functionalist view that institutions must be grasped not in terms of what they mean for the agents, but in terms of what necessary needs and purposes they serve; however, he does not fully agree with Peter Winch’s untenable belief that communities can only be properly understood and judged in terms of their own internally generated norms and beliefs–a proposition that pantayong pananaw advocates seem to favor, despite earnest denials (see Sta. Maria 2000). But obviously responsibility cannot be shirked in the face of brutal consequences.
The problem is one of rigidly counterposing interpretation (subjectivist) and explanation (objectivist) without any dialectical mediation. Even assuming that isolated communities in a capitalist-gobalized world is possible, long after Max Weber took time off from “value-free” pursuits to distinguish explanation from interpretation, proponents of the primacy of hermeneutic understanding still need the benefit of analytic explanation if they want to avoid circularity and self-serving solipsism. After all, why bother understanding Others? Oppositional American thinkers such as Marcus Raskin, Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Susan Buck-Morss and others have begun to engage with the antinomies of knowledge-production faced earlier by the British in the context of the challenges of the postmodern era (Raskin 1987), an engagement coopted by the debates on terrorism, Islamophobia, and other alibis of Empire.
My own position strives to be a historical-materialist stance that privileges multidetermined specificity and counterhegemonic imperatives on the question of adapting ideas originating from other sources (San Juan 2007). This is not the same as the multiperspectivist metatheoretical approach suggested by Douglas Kellner (2006) far removed from the arenas of life-and-death struggles. In my view, language is only one of the criteria for hypothesizing the nation as “imagined community,” more precisely the nation conceived as a solidarity actualized or performed in communal practices and communicative acts. However, the quest becomes more problematic when the language at issue, “Filipino” based on Tagalog, is still a matter disputed by other participants of the polity such as disgruntled Cebuanos, assorted Moro groups, and by the U.S.-fixated English-speaking intelligentsia and bureaucracy.
More seriously, it is not possible to conceive of the notions of “pantayo” and “pangkami” without the whole dynamic network of differences first outlined by Saussure but complicated by the wide-ranging semiotic modalities explored by C.S. Peirce, Lev Vygotsky, Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco, and Roman Jakobson, far beyond the findings of Whorf, Sapir, Humboldt, Frobenius, etc. The linguistic symbol, as Jakobson reminds us, is not only a vehicle of the sedimented past (icons) or the present (indices) but also of the future. He quotes Peirce’s speculation premised on the triadic theory of the sign: “The being of a symbol consists in the real fact that something surely will be experienced if certain conditions be satisfied….The value of a symbol is that it serves to make thought and conduct rational and enables us to predict the future” (1987,427). A CS research program based on Peirce’s semiotics with its drive toward a coherent and concrete reasonableness appears as a more promising alternative to the current deconstructivist (Deleuze, Lyotart) and neopragmatic (Rorty) alternatives, or the moralizing biographical excursion suggested by patrician sage, Fred Inglis (1993), at the tail-end of the Cold War and the advent of the Middle East turmoil.
Language is, to be sure, only one signifier of national identity, not an absolute qualifier, whose correlation with other practices and collective actions needs delicate orchestration (Yinger 1976, 200-02). Earlier (San Juan 2008), I registered my discomfort with the logocentric tendency in Enriquez’s otherwise conscientious indigenization attempt. In the total program of liberating the majority of Filipinos (workers, peasants, women) from market exploitation and alien oppression, an emancipatory platform should prioritize the act of foregrounding democratic national rights and collective welfare. Hence we need an internationalist worldview such as that provided by a historical materialist theory such as Marxism (articulated, of course, to our specific conditions) with its universalistic, critical position grounded on a “concrete universal,” with all the richness of the particular social-formation in the Philippines, in creating a sense of Filipino nationhood (Lowy 2000).
We can begin to hypothesize with more intelligibility the linguistic parameters of this indigenization project if viewed as part of a global ecumenical conversation on intercultural understanding. Filipinizing CS thus requires not merely linguistic readjustment but, more importantly, reconceiving the sense of rationality, justice, equality and democratic participation that cannot be circumscribed within the bounds of a single Filipino language-in-the-making. This reconceptualization involves reconstructing habits of conduct geared toward “concrete reasonableness” (Peirce 1998) within a humanist-socialist framework.
My firm conviction is that no indigenization project in the Philippines will fully succeed unless it includes a program of systematic decolonization, particularly an uncompromising indictment of U.S. colonialism/neocolonialism in its totality, together with its complicit transnational allies. Neither postcolonial hybridity, managerial technocratic pragmatism, nor transnational pluralism and multiculturalism will do. We need a measure of dialectical cunning and a bricoleur’s resourcefulness in taking advantage of what our forebears–Rizal, Mabini, Recto, Agoncillo, Constantino, Hernandez, and others–have already won for us. After all, the enemy can also speak in Filipino and even dance the tinikling and sing “Dahil sa Iyo” in more seductive, self-ingratiating ways. We need to combine specifics and universals in both strategic and tactical modalities that precisely cannot be learned at this time from institutionally entrenched CS and its postcolonial. transnationalist variations.

Alternative Cultural Politics

A tentative summing-up is in order. Conceived as a reaction to capitalist high culture in the late twentieth century, CS initially challenged Cold War norms and the more flagrantly racist and sexist aspects of Western hegemony. It promised a democratic, even radical, renaissance of thought and sensibility inside and outside the academy. Its early practitioners drew heavily from the secularizing Enlightenment tradition and its radical critics. But when it became institutionalized in the Eighties and Nineties, CS distanced itself rapidly from mass political struggles in the metropoles and the “third world.” It reverted to ethical individualism, aestheticism, Nietzschean performative displays, and the fetishism of differences/hybridity, becoming in the process a defensive ideology for predatory finance capitalism and technocratic globalization. The reasons for the change are complex but comprehensible, as demonstrated by many commentators in numerous anthologies, among others Grossberg, Nelson and Treichler (1992), Storey (1996),During (1998), Miller (2006), and others.
At the outset of the millennium, Terry Eagleton registered his complaint against the postmodernist inflection of CS toward identity politics and other narrow culturalist concerns. He blames mainstream CS for its anti-universalism: “Cultural studies today, writes Francis Mulhern, ‘leaves no room for politics beyond cultural practice, or for political solidarities beyond the particularisms of cultural difference.’ It fails to see not only that not all political issues are cultural, but that not all cultural differences are political. And in thus subordinating issues of state, class, political organization and the rest to cultural questions, it end up rehearsing the prejudices of the very traditional Kulturkritik it rejects, which had little enough time itself for such mundane political matters” (2000, 43). This objection has been repeated often. If CS tried out, for example, Bourdieu’s (1984) attempt to dialectically fuse the hermeneutic (subjectivist) and structural (objectivist) approaches, perhaps the inflation of culture to encompass everything would have been prevented. Or if the analysis of consumption of cultural products/practices took into account W.F. Haug’s (1986) theory of commodity aesthetics, the sphere of political economy would have been factored in the evaluation of pleasure, performative reception, etc. Situated in this wider context, our endeavor to indigenize EuroAmerican CS is not a campaign for multiculturalist identity politics but an attempt to renew its universalist impulse of demystification and humanist reclamation of creative agency, rationality and informed caring.
Should one hundred million Filipinos care about the plight of CS? If we want CS to be meaningful to the majority, not just the educated sector, it needs to address the urgent realities of Philippine society and contribute to the democratic and egalitarian ideals of its revolutionary history. In the Philippines and other subordinated formations, CS can be regenerated by renewing its anticolonial, popular and democratic inspiration and re-engaging in a radical, transformative critique of oligopolistic corporate power, the legitimizing ideology of global finance capital and its commodified/commodifying culture. It can endeavor to challenge US imperialism and its accomplices in its current modality of warring against “terrorism”or extremism (codewords for anti-imperialists) by returning to, first, the primacy of social labor; second, the complex historical articulations of the mode of production and social relations; and, third, the importance of the materialist critique of norms, assumptions and premises underlying existing inequalities, injustices, and oppressions.

Agendas and Prospects

We still have to reckon with the contradictions between the Global North and the Global South in view of the looming debt crisis in Europe, the antagonism toward Iran and the continuing war on whoever the US State Department and NATO label as “extremists.” The shocking official policy of torture by many governments, and execution of citizens without trial, by unmanned drones and other clandestine ways, still remains terra incognita for future CS scholars.
In the Asian geopolitical theater, we have to take into account an emergent nationalism in the People’s Republic of China in the wake of border conflicts with its neighbors, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines. In assessing the continuing hegemonic influence of the Western tradition, notwithstanding its dissenting faction in Frankfurt Critical Theory or Latin American liberation theology, Filipino scholars and intellectuals have to address the persistent domination of the whole society and culture by the inherited U.S. model of competitive individualism and market logic overlaid over a residual but sturdy feudal/authoritarian pattern of social interaction. This complex milieu cannot be ignored as simply socioeconomic or factored in as implicitly given parameters of discourse and exchange.
To Filipinize CS is to reconfigure the modality and thrust of CS (complicit in its origins with patriarchy and white supremacy) in order to address the persistent, urgent problems of the exploitation of Filipino labor worldwide, the lack of genuine sovereignty and national independence, and the profound class, gender and ethnic inequalities that have plagued the country for so long. What is needed is the invention of new forms of praxis of knowledge-production and pedagogy that can generate meaningful change based on justice, accountability, dignity and ecological sustainability. Stephen Gill urges public intellectuals not to be constrained by “the horizons of necessity” that seek to limit thought to imperial and neoliberal common sense. Paraphrasing Gill’s recommendation, CS scholars “should operate according to ‘horizons of desire,’ collectively imagining to be desirable, necessary and possible what had previously been thought to be politically impossible” (2012, 520). Extrapolating this insight to the whole field of cultural production and its forms of habitus (as Bourdieu [1993] understood the discipline), intellectuals engaged in CS need to situate their practice and vocation in the actual conflicted society that underwrites their labor and provides it with some measure of intelligibility and significance. Otherwise, they will continue to serve the interests of global capital and undermine their own claims to integrity and independence, not to speak of “academic freedom,” humanistic ideals, and even the truth-claims or “warranted assertibility” of their pronouncements.

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ABSTRACT

From a Filipino perspective, this speculative commentary ventures a brief critique of Eurocentric Cultural Studies by examining its theoretical premises and their ideological resonance. The resurgence of “third world” resistance with its focus on racial/gender negativity (as evidenced in multiethnic writing by people of color within and outside the United States and Europe) has exposed the limitations of the academic discipline. Indigenization attempts may signal a return to the original radical vision of Cultural Studies. However, such indigenization (as exemplified by the Philippine example) requires a separate critique that would reinvigorate the dialectical interface of local subaltern practice and the concrete universal of an anti-capitalist liberation project that would connect the crisis of the global North with the emancipatory aspirations of the global South.

SHORT BIODATA

E. SAN JUAN, Jr. is currently humanities fellow of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin; he was recently fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University; and Fulbright professor of American Studies, Leuven University, Belgium. He is emeritus professor of English, Comparative Literature and Ethnic Studies from several U.S. universities. His recent books are IN THE WAKE OF TERROR (Lexington), CRITIQUE AND SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION (Mellen), CRITICAL INTERVENTIONS (Lambert), BALIKBAYANG SINTA; AN E. SAN JUAN READER (Ateneo U Press) and US IMPERIALISM AND REVOLUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES (Palgrave). He is completing a book on the singularlity of Charles Sanders Peirce’s pragmaticist semiotics.

Posted in AESTHETICS, COMMENTARY ON CURRENT EVENTS, CRITICAL THEORY, DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS, Race & Ethnic Studies, SOCIOCRITICISM, SPECULATIVE PROVOCATIONS, UNTIMELY OBSERVATIONS

TRANSKRIPSYON / TRANSCRIPTION– by E. San Juan, Jr.


DemoTRANSKRIPSYON NG ILANG BYTES NG KOMPYUTER NG NASA, WASHINGTON, DC,USA

—“Everyone in the planet is under total surveillance today.” –Edward Snowden

–“Nothing is meaningless….”  –Sissi, sa pelikulang The Princess & the Warrior

 Gising ka na ba?  Anong gumagapang na hayop sa silong? Bakit makulimlim?  Naramdaman mo ba?  Masakit ba? O nakakikiliti?  Malambot ba? O matigas? May kumakatok ba? Nariyan na ba sila? Bakit may agunyas sa bukang-liwayway?  Gusto mo ba?  Ayaw mo? Barado ba ang tubo ng kubeta?  Inaalimpungatan ka ba?  Anong ginagawa ko rito?  Nabasa mo ba si Kierkegaard?  Malapit ba o malayo?  Biro ba lang? Makibaka ba, huwag matakot? Nilabasan ka ba?  Kailan tayo tutugpa?  Sino iyang nakamaskara?  Peks man? Sino ang nagsuplong?  Swak na swak ba?  Dapat ba nating dalhin ang kargada?  Mabigat ba o magaan?

Sino si Yolanda?  Liku-liko ba ang landas ng mahabang martsa?  Bakit kasing-pait ng apdo?  Doon ka ba nakatira?  Anong kulisap ang katulad ko? May kurakot ba sa mga pulong inaangkin?  Sino’ng nagtatanong? Nasaan ang I-pad mo? Sino ka ba sa kanila?  Iyon ba ang burol o lambak?  Nakarating na ba tayo? Bakit mababa ang lipad ng kalapati?  May kilala ka ba sa Abu Sayyaf?   Nasaan ang hanggahan ng bughaw at luntian?  May umutot ba?  Paano ang hapunan?  Iyon ba ang pulang sagisag? Papasok na tayo o lalabas? Magkano ba ang suhol?  Puwede ka bang sumagot?  Pinupulikat ka ba? Anong ibig mong sabihin?  Bakit nag-alapaap ang salamin? May naamoy ka ba? Paano tayo makatatakas?  Bakit bumaligtad? Na-etsa puwera ba sila?  Ano ang kahulugan nito? Masaklap ba ang nangyari?   Nasaan na ba tayo? May serpyenteng nagpugad sa dibdib mo? Bakit tumitibok ang bukong-bukong?  Anong ginagawa ko rito?  Malinaw ba ang kahulugan ng babala?  Kinakalawang ba ang tulay na bakal sa Camp Bagong Diwa? Ano ang talaangkanan ng diskurso?  Sino ang humihiyaw ng “saklolo”?  May apoy ba sa butas ng karayom?  Susi, anong susi?  Bakit nagkanulo? Naipit ba ang bayag mo paglundag? Bumubulong ka ba?  Ano ang kulay ng sinegwalas?  Ano ang katuturan? Bakit nakunan kundi buntis? Mainit ba o malamig? Paano bubuksan ito? May napinsala ba?  Bawat bagay ba ay kailangan? Puwede na ba tayong umuwi? May hinala ba sa nagpatiwakal? Kilala mo ba si Ludwig Feuerbach? Bakit walang asin ang sinigang?  Paano tayo makalulusot?  Bumulong ka ba?  Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa? Nasa loob daw ang kaharian? Magaspang ba? Bakit may apog sa kalingkingan? Bingi ba ako? Mangyayari kaya ito?  Kung magunaw ang mundo, mapapawi ba ang utang natin?  Sindak ka ba? Hanggang saan mo malulunok ito? Bakit tayo narito? Mas gusto mo ba ng sopas o salada?  Tanga ba ako? Bangungot ba ito o panaginip? Bakit mahapdi ang lalamunan ko? Malamig ba ang hipo ni Lazaro?  Bakit tapos na?  Inis at yamot ka ba? Bakit may nangangaluluwa? Nais mong dumalaw sa bunganga ng sepulkro? Magkano ba? Pag-ibig ba raw ang makalulutas ng lahat? Niloloko ba tayo? Akin na ang sukli?  Bawal bang mag-alis ng kulangot?  Bakit buhay-alamang? Puwede bang umihi rito?  Bakit walang pinto o bintana? Malikmata ba ito? Bakit wala kang imik?

 ______________________________________________________________________________________

Picasso-Les Demoiselles d'AvignonTRANSCRIPTION OF SELECTED  BYTES FROM A NASA COMPUTER IN WASHINGTON, DC

Translated from the original Filipino by E. San Juan, Jr.

Are you awake? What animal creeps under the floor? Why is it darkening? Did you feel it? Was it painful? Or ticklish? Soft? Or hard? Is someone knocking? Are they here? Why are bells tolling for the dead this morning? Do you like it? You don’t? Are the toilet pipes choked? Are you drowsy? What am I doing here? Have you read Kierkegaard? Is it far or near? Only a joke? Struggle, don’t be afraid? Did you come out? When are we departing? Who is that wearing a mask? Really? Who snitched?  Just awesome? Should we carry our luggage? Light or heavy? Who is Yolanda? Is the path of the long march crooked? Why is it bitter as bile? Are you living there? What insect resembles me? Is there any loot in the islands we are claiming? Who is asking? Where’s your i-Pad? Who are you among them? Is that the hill or valley? Have we arrived?  Why are the doves flying low? Do you know anyone with the Abu Sayyaf? Where is the boundary between blue and green? Who farted? How about supper? Is that the red symbol? Are we entering or exiting? How much is the bribe? Can you respond? Are we having cramps? What do you mean? Why did the mirror get foggy? Do you smell anything? How can we escape? Why did it turn topsy-turvy? Were they ostracized? What’s the significance of this? Are you chagrined by what happened? Where are we now? Is there a serpent nursing in your breast? Why is there throbbing in my ankle? What am I doing here? Is the import of the warning clear? Is the steel bridge to Camp Bagong Diwa rusting? What is the genealogy of discourse? Who is crying for help? Is there fire in the eye of the needle? Key, what key? Who betrayed? Were your testicles crushed by your leap? Are you whispering? What is the color of sinegwelas? What is valuable? Why miscarriage when there was no pregnancy? Cold or hot? How do we open this? Was there any damage? Is every object necessary? Can we go home now? Was there a suspect among the suicides? Do you know Ludwig Feuerbach? Why is there no salt in the broth? How can we squeeze through? Did you murmur? If not now, when? They say the kingdom is within? Is it rough? Why is there lime between the toes? Am I deaf? Will this possibly happen? If the world perishes, will our debts be wiped out? Are you terrified? How far can you swallow this? Why are we here? Do you like soup or salad better? Is this dream or nightmare? Why is my throat painful? Was Lazaro’s touch chilly? Why is it over now? Are you irked or angry? Why is there grieving? You want to visit the mouth of the sepulcher? How much? They say love will solve everything? Are we being fooled? Can I have the change? Is it forbidden to pluck dried snot from my nose? Can I pee here? Why is there no door or window? Is this a sleight of hand? Why are you mute?–###

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

WOMEN’S LIBERATION IN THE PHILIPPINES (circa 2007)


Picasso-Les Demoiselles d'AvignonWOMEN’S LIBERATION IN THE PHILIPPINES: A Balikbayan’s Report (circa 2007)

By E. San Juan, Jr. , Fellow, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin

…Power resides in the people. What we did was our heritage… We decided to rebel, to rise up and strike down the sources of power…No uprising fails. Each one is a step in the right direction.

–Salud Algabre

We will fight for gender equality and rights of women in all levels of governance and livelihood in society.

–MAKABAYAN Coalition Platform, 2009-2010

In 1952, the distinguished writer Carmen Guerrero Nakpil published a now classic essay on the character of “The Filipino Woman” which dilated on her variety and heterogeneity by reason of history and cultural provenance. While acknowledging the persistence of traditional habits, Nakpil projected a postmodern image with a split personality: “sorely confused and uncertain, trying to balance the well-insulated goodness of the age of Victoria with the hard-boiled honhomie of the jitterbug era, always groping toward self-realization”. Perceived as a “mongrel contradiction,” the Filipino woman might eventually crystallize into “a clear, pure, internally calm, symmetrical personality.” But, Nakpil concludes, when that occurs, she “will have lost the infinite unexpectedness, the abrupt contrariness, the plural predictability which now make her both so womanly and so Filipino” (1980. 18).

Can reality measure up to this enigmatic persona? It is difficult to distinguish whether this portrait can still apply to the case of Suzette Nicolas, better known as “Nicole,” who was raped by a United States Marine on November 1, 2005, near the former Subic Naval Base—one of many Filipino women victimized by U.S.-Philippines “special relations” (Schirmer 1996). Or whether it applies to Maria Lorena Barros, Cherith Dayrit, Kemberley Jul, martyred combatants of the Communist-led New People’s Army; or to ordinary women, such as Annaliza Abanador-Gandia, Cathy Alcantara, Victoria Samonte, or Rebelyn Pitao, all killed by para-military agents on suspicion of being insurgents or communist subversives (Asian Legal Resource Center 2007)? The Victorian figure of “Maria Clara” idealized by Jose Rizal in his novel Noli Me Tangere has now been superseded not by a mimicry of the modern American woman but by a new generation of activist, intelligent and resourceful women who are neither thoroughly conflicted nor homogenized because they are responsive to the changing pressures of everyday life, sensitive to the constantly altering balance of forces, needs and demands of the social constellation which defines her. Both the raw materials offered by history, culture and nature have converged to shape the dynamic, complex but fully articulated situation of the Filipino women at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

While the history of the Filipino women’s struggles for equality and dignity date back to Gabriela Silang and the myriad revolts against Spanish colonial rule, the core of the demands involved can be condensed to the present conjuncture. Indeed, Filipina women’s full emancipation cannot be divorced from the Filipino people’s struggle for popular democracy and genuine independence. Let us start from a crucial turning point by invoking the people’s opposition to the Philippines’ current woman president. May 14, 2004, election day in the Philippines, may signal a historic turning-point in its political devolution since the February 1986 “people power” revolt overthrew the U.S.-backed Marcos dictatorship. The prospect is grim. Either the country declines into unprecedented barbarism—so far, international monitors (Amnesty International, World Council of Churches, UN investigators) have documented thousands of victims of extra-judicial killings, forcible “disappearances,” torture and massacres exceeding those committed by Marcos—or President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is impeached by a majority of elected representatives for treason, violation of the Constitution, corruption, etc. This may temporarily stop the “impunity” for State-affiliated criminals. This legal route of redress of grievances is by no means a revolution; it can be aptly described as an in-house purging of decay and rot. Either way, this ritualized election of local officials and Congresspeople will prove a veritable test-case for the country’s neocolonial, oligarchic institutions and the status quo of class inequality that have been, in one way or another, fostered by the United States, its former colonizer, for over a century now.

Fraud as Spectacle and Testimony

Elections in the Philippines, designed by the U.S. colonial government, began as a way of preserving the power of the moneyed, privileged elite within a monopolized party system offered as an alternative to armed resistance by Filipinos. Since formal independence in 1946, the elite bloc of landlords, compradors and bureaucrat-capitalists has partitioned power among their ranks, with personalities overshadowing any ideological differences, if any. Any progressive, radical challenge to elite hegemony, such as that posed by Claro Recto and Lorenzo Tanada in the fifties, or by the progressive party-list today (among them, BAYAN MUNA, ANAKPAWIS, GABRIELA, KABATAAN, MIGRANTE), has been stigmatized as “communist” or “terrorist.” Just as in many “third world” dependent societies characterized by flagrant class conflict, electoral democracy in the Philippines has been distinguished by large-scale bribery of voters, corruption of officials, systematic violence—this time with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the national police engaged in campaigning for the incumbent administration. The question of legitimacy or accountability is thus decided by the old formula of “guns, goons and gold.”

In a recent commentary, the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, a think-tank based at the University of the Philippines, concludes that “fraud is an endemic disease that has been institutionalized by a political system—the government, executive and legislative structures, political parties—that remains dominated by political dynasties” (Issue Analysis, No. 7, May 2007). Prior to the elections, a group of retired military and police officers revealed a devious plan of Arroyo’s adviser, General Hermogenes Esperon, AFP Chief, to hijack 14 million votes in 4 regions and 12 provinces to insure the victory of Arroyo’s team. This electoral rigmarole follows the routine set up by the U.S. colonial system since the Commonwealth government headed by Manuel Quezon in the thirties and forties.

It is instructive to cite here a recent Social Weather Station survey of citizens’ attitudes to the coming elections. The survey found that 40% of Filipinos expect the government will cheat, while 69% believe that the votes will be stolen by the Arroyo regime through “flying voters,” coercion and other means used during Arroyo’s election in 2004 in which the officials of the State’s Commission on Elections (COMELEC) manipulated the counting of votes in Arroyo’s favor. Arroyo unwittingly admitted her fraudulent tenure in the widely publicized “Hello Garci” phone expose.

During the Cold War, the Philippines was touted as a “showcase” of U.S.-style democracy in Asia. Elected politicians toed Washington’s “free world” party line. With the help of the CIA and the Pentagon-supervised and -trained AFP, a surrogate army of U.S. finance capital, the puppet president Ramon Magsaysay defeated the Communist-led Huk uprising in the fifties. Today the Philippines is hailed as the second “battlefront” in George W. Bush’s “global war on terror.” The U.S. State Department has labeled the 38-year-old insurgent New People’s Army (led by the Communist Party of the Philippines) as a “terrorist” organization, along with the CIA-built and AFP-coddled Abu Sayyaf bandit-group. While the country in the fifties was barely recovering from the enormous devastation of World War II, today, the economy is in shambles: 80% of 87 millionFilipinos are struggling to survive on $2 a day, below decent living standards, while 46 million Filipinos do not even meet their 100% dietary energy requirement (IBON Media Release, 4 April 2007).

Mapping the “Killing Fields”

Just like her predecessors, Arroyo has sacrificed the Filipino people’s welfare by implementing neoliberal globalization policies (privatization, deregulation) imposed by the World Bank, Inerrnational Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. The result is a humanitarian disaster. Filipino economist Alejandro Lichauco has documented unprecedented mass hunger throughout the country in his book Hunger, Corruption and Betrayal (Manila, 2005). Three thousand Filipinos leave every day to join 10 million Filipinos working in hundreds of countries around the world, remitting $12 billion to keep the economy afloat—indubitable proof that the Philippines has plunged from relative prosperity in the fifties to the wretched “basket-case” of Asia in this new millennium of global capitalism.

Meanwhile, the elite desperately clings to power by consumerist propaganda and violence. So ruthless is the carnage in the “killing fields” of the Philippines that it has alarmed some U.S. lawmakers, among them Senator Barbara Boxer and recently Congresswomen Ellen Tauscher (Inquirer.net, April 26, 2007) who urged Arroyo to prevent more murders of left-wing political activists by “prosecuting those responsible for the crimes.” The US Senate Foreign Relations committee is inquiring into the link of U.S. foreign aid with Arroyo’s brutal counterinsurgency program that has caused such unconscionable massive atrocities.

One such case recently highlighted in the media is that of Angelina Bisuna-Ipong. Ipong was a former teacher and peace advocate based in Mindanao. After studying at the Ateneo de Naga University, Ipong worked as a missionary with the Mission Society of the Philippines; she was invited gy the Marykoll priests in Tagum City, Davao del Norte, to work at the Christian Formation Center. She took an active part in the consultation meeting with women’s and farmers’ groups concerning the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law, which was agreed upon by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front-Philippines during the peace talks in Europe. Ipong was abducted on March 8, 2005, by agents of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group belonging to the Southern Command, in Aloran, Misamis Occidental. She was taken by helicopter to the Southern Command headquarters in Zamboanga City. There soldiers and officers alternated in humiliating and sexually abusing Ipong. She was declared missing for 13 days before she was presented to the media by Arroyo’s military. She was charged with rebellion and other trumped-up criminal offenses including arson and homicide (National Council of Churches 2007). After two months of her surfacing, General Emmanuel Cayton, commander of the 202nd Brigade, declared that Ipon “was not tortured” (Tupas 2009). At age 65, Ipong is the Philippines’ oldest political detainee, a living testimony to the beleaguered condition of women who dare to challenge an unjust, morally bankrupt, dehumanizing system.

Last March 2008, UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, who (at the end of his February 2007 visit) accused the government’s counterinsurgency scheme of encouraging or facilitating the killings, presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council a copy of the secret AFP “Order of Battle” document which converts soldiers as combatants in a “political war” against civilians. Arroyo and the military were not just in a “state of denial.” They were and are deeply involved in vilification of anyone critical of the Arroyo regime and complicit in the summary executions of those they label as “enemies of the state.” The party-list group BAYAN MUNA and allied organizations like BAYAN, for example, have been targeted as “communist fronts” by Arroyo’s Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security. At present, 130 members of BAYAN MUNA (approximately 356 activists from various civic organizations) have succumbed to extra-judicial murder, abduction, arbitrary arrest, harassment and torture by State terrorist agents and paramilitary death-squads.

Dr. Carol P. Araullo, chairperson of BAYAN, has called the plan of extra-judicial killings, abductions, and torture a scarcely concealed “state policy” (see “Streetwise,” Business World 9-10, 16-17 March 2007). Last April, Human Rights Now, a Japanese human rights organization, concluded its fact-finding mission with the appeal to Arroyo “to immediately stop the policy of targeting civilization organizations and individual activists,” and to respect its obligation to follow the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which the government has ratified. It will lobby the Japanese government to suspend all loan agreements “until it recognizes the human rights situation and accountability mechanism have clearly improved” (Press Statement, 21 April 2007). This was reinforced by the prestigious InterParliamentary Union’s statement denouncing the arrest of Rep. Crispin Beltran and the harassment of the “Batasan 6” party-list representatives.

Earlier, on March 25, the Permanent People’s Tribunal handed down a verdict of “guilty” against Arroyo and Bush for “crimes against humanity.” Based on substantial evidence, testimonies, etc., the killings, torture and forced disappearances “fall under the responsibility of the Philippine government and are by no means justified in terms of necessary measures against terrorism.” Not only is the AFP involved in “the majority of the scenarios of human rights violations,” but it functions as “a central component and instrument of the policy of the ‘war on terror’ declared jointly by the Philippine and U.S. governments” that is being used to justify the political killings and impunity of both governments. Filipino Senator Jamby Madrigal, who testified at the People’s Tribunal against the Arroyo-Bush partnership’s ecological havoc, opined that Arroyo’s de facto “martial rule” has already turned the Philippines into a virtual “killing field.”

Encountering Coni Ledesma

During that historic March session of the People’s Tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands, I was fortunate in meeting again Ms. Coni Ledesma, a member of the Negotiating Panel of the National Democratic Front-Philippines (NDFP) in peace talks with the government of the Republic of the Philippines. My first meeting with Coni took place over twenty years ago, in Rome, Italy, which I visited after I had chaired and participated in an international cultural symposium in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, in 1981. At The Hague, Coni was as vibrant as ever, knowledgeable and generous, open-minded particularly in relation with diasporic intellectuals from the “belly of the beast” like the present expatriate. I decided then that it would be a useful and rare opportunity to conduct this dialogue with an exemplary personality on themes and issues of general interest to a global audience.

To give a framework to this interview, I recapitulate the main events in Coni’s political history. Coni traces her politicization in the 1970s during the mass demonstrations in the Philippines against the Marcos regime which was then collaborating with the United States in the imperialist war in IndoChina. After some legal political seminars and activities, she went underground and became one of the founders of the Christians for National Liberation, a significant formation of church people that initiated a pathbreaking Filipino version of the “theology of liberation.” In August 1972, she was captured and detained for a year until she was released with the help of the Catholic bishops and the National Council of Churches (as Frank Cimatu reports in KASAMA, April-June 1998). She continued working with sugar workers in Negros, at which time (September 1973) she met her future husband Luis Jalandoni, who is now chair of the NDFP Negotiating Panel.

Aside from her role in the NDFP, Coni is also the international spokesperson of MAKIBAKA, an underground revolutionary organization of women, which has spearheaded the fight for women’s rights and collective well-being in the Philippines. MAKIBAKA, for the record, is not a feminist (in the Western academic construal of the term) but a nationalist women’s group concerned with women’s liberation in a neocolonial “third world” setting, allied with the NDFP. It has roots in the complex debates on “the woman question” in the sixties and seventies (see my book Filipina Insurgency, Giraffe Books, 1999) and in the militant participation of numerous women combatants in the revolution such as Maria Lorena Barros, Cherith Dayrit, Judy Taguiwalo, and Vicvic Justiniani, to cite only a few names.

In my view, Coni’s role in the national-democratic struggle has been immense and substantial, her experience a rich and dynamic reservoir of wisdom for use by solidarity groups everywhere. Thus I feel that her insight into what’s going on may afford us a perspective not available from other sources. My encounter with Coni at The Hague, at a time and place that fused the urgency of the crisis in the human-rights situation in the Philippines with the combative elan of the witnesses at the People’s Tribunal, the impasse of the anti-war efforts here in the metropolitan wasteland, and, above all, the realization that this wild and savage May election may be the pivotal turning-point in our national political life, has prompted this interview (conducted via the Internet from April 23 to May 8.)

Interview with Coni Ledesma

ESJ: The May election is crucial for Arroyo’s survival. What is your reading of the situation today, before the elections on May 14? What is your prediction should massive cheating be exposed and the public becomes infuriated?


CL: Although the May elections is not a presidential election, it is crucial for the survival of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She has survived two impeachment charges initiated in the House of Representatives, because she was able to buy the votes of the majority of the Congressmen, or because they were administration Congressmen and so voted against the impeachment.

If the opposition is to get at least one third of the seats of the lower house and a majority in the Senate, Congress could bring corruption and other charges against Arroyo and this could lead to her impeachment. She needs to ensure her hold on power and preserve the rotten and bankrupt system especially because she wants to conceal her crimes against the people.

She is already taking drastic steps to ensure the victory of administration candidates by using the Commission on Elections, the military and buying votes. Although the the law prohibits the AFP from electioneering, there are reports that General Esperon sent a radio message to all personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to rig the results of the elections and ensure a 12-0 victory for the administration’s senatorial candidates. AFP personnel are supporting and setting up campaign posters for the party list of General Jovito Palparan (also known as “the Butcher of Mindoro”). AFP elements attacked the residence of religious leader, Eddie Villanueva, because of his anti-GMA stand (one of his sons is running for mayor in one of the cities of Mindoro, and another son heads the party-list Cibac). Former President Corazon Aquino recently discovered that her telephone is being bugged. And most recently, Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, who is also the president of the opposition party, United Opposition, was ordered suspended and was ordered to vacate City Hall. Supporters of Binay filled the City Hall, making it impossible for the police to send him out. Binay is running for reelection and is expected to win against the Malacanang candidate, Lito Lapid.

It is expected that there will be “dagdag-bawas” (add-subtract) during the counting of the votes. This means, adding votes for the administration candidates and taking away votes from the opposition. This was the method used to make Arroyo “win” the presidency in 2004.

The increase in extra-judicial killing and enforced disappearance, especially of leaders and members of progressive political parties and organizations, is also a desperate and futile attempt of the Arroyo government to scare and disenfranchise these parties and organizations.

What would happen if the massive cheating is exposed and the public becomes infuriated? The public is already infuriated. Arroyo’s popularity rating is very low. She is considered an illegitimate president because of massive cheating used to get her elected. A possible reason why she still hasn’t been ousted is because of the question of who will take her place as president. The logical constitutional succession would be the current Vice President, Noli de Castro. But the large majority does not think he is qualified to be president.

Yet, an incident could ignite the people’s anger so much that it can lead to mass actions which can lead to Arroyo’s ouster. This was the case with Ferdinand Marcos, and later, with Joseph Estrada.

ESJ: Should Arroyo’s group win and dominate the Batasan, do you agree with some observer’s opinion that Arroyo will implement the anti-terrorism law and suppress BAYAN and other opposition groups, including the party-list political formations – in other words, heighten de facto martial rule?


CL: Even without the anti-terrorism law, Arroyo is already trying to disqualify progressive party-lists like Bayan Muna, Anak Pawis and Gabriela Women’s Party. But the passing and implementation of the anti-terrorism law is important not only as an instrument to help Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stay in power, but also to preserve the interests of US imperialism. The US “war on terrorism” is actually a war against national liberation movements, anti-imperialist forces and against those who pose a threat to US interests.

But the Filipino people are challenging the law and continuing to fight for their democratic rights.. They are holding mass actions, protests, and moving to have the law declared unconstitutional.

ESJ: What is your forecast of the next year or two of Arroyo’s presidency, assuming she will win a majority in the Congress? If she doesn’t, will impeachment unseat her?


CL: If Arroyo stays as president until 2010, and if her current dependence on the military continues, and if she will continue to enjoy the backing of the US, the gross violations of human rights will continue and even worsen. She will implement the anti-terrorism law, or as it is euphemistically called “Human Security Act of 2007.” She will continue with the implementation of Operation Bantay Laya II (Operation Freedom Watch II).

Bantay Laya II is a continuation of the failed Bantay Laya I, a military campaign to crush the revolutionary movement, carried out in 2002-2006. Bantay Laya II is aimed at wiping out the revolutionary movement in five years. It is more vicious than Bantay Laya I, especially in its attacks against unarmed civilians and political activists living in the cities and towns. Death squads who kill or forcibly “disappear” anyone who opposes the regime is part of Bantay Laya II.

At the same time, Arroyo is faced with many problems which she has neither will nor capacity to solve. She could be impeached if the opposition takes the majority in both houses of Congress. She is isolated and unpopular. The AFP is wracked by deep divisions within its ranks due to corruption and complicity in criminal activities. The economy is in chronic crisis. It is being held afloat by massive borrowing and through the remittances of overseas Filipinos. Meanwhile, the mass movement continues to grow. A people’s movement could oust her.

ESJ: The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal Second Session on the Philippines pronounced a verdict of guilty on the US- Arroyo collusion. Please assess for now the impact of this historic conference.


CL: The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal is a court of international opinion and independent from any State authority. The importance and strength of its decisions rest on the moral weight of the causes and arguments to which they give credibility and their recognition in the UN Commission on Human Rights. The jurors are persons prominent in their respective fields of work. The PPT itself has prestige within the United Nations and among NGOs.

The Second Session on the Philippines was held on March 21-25, 2007, in The Hague, the Netherlands. It was held shortly after the Melo Commission and UN Special Rapporteur for Extra-judicial Executions, Philip Alston, came out with their respective reports finding the military responsible for the torture, extra judicial killings and disappearances of hundreds of leaders and members of progressive people’s organizations.

The Tribunal judged the governments of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and of George Walker Bush, accountable “ for crimes against humanity, with all the consequences for the persons who are responsible for them.” It also stated that “such violations must be stopped immediately.” The Tribunal connected the human rights violations with the interests of the United States. It gave a more comprehensive and deeper analysis of the Philippine situation.

The appeal, indictment and verdict can be used as guides in studying the situation in the Philippines. They are also important documents for solidarity groups and organizations in planning activities and campaigns for the Philippines. The Tribunal denounces as unacceptable the inclusion of the Philippine government in the UN Human Rights Council. A campaign should be launched to call for the removal of the Philippines from the Council.

ESJ: Please give a brief survey of the European attitude to Arroyo’s bloody human rights record.


CL: With the increase in gross violations of human rights, more and more European governments and inter-governmental bodies have spoken out to condemn and call a stop to these violations. In a forum in Oslo, Norway, a representative of the Norwegian government expressed concern about the human rights violations in the Philippines. No official of a European country has voiced such a concern in the past.

During the ASEM meeting in Helsinki, on September 10-11, 2007, the President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, raised the issue of political killings during Arroyo’s official call on her. The Finnish Foreign Minister later said, “We also want to see an end to the political killings which still form a harsh reality of that country”. Shortly after that, when Arroyo visited Belgium, European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso reminded Arroyo that the political killings in the Philippines were a matter of concern to the European Commission.

The European Commission’s chief envoy to the Philippines, Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, expressed shock over the human rights abuses that have become a daily occurrence in the country.

The European Parliament, in a plenary meeting in Strasbourg, passed a resolution expressing “grave concern at the increasing number of political killings that have occurred in recent years in the Philippines”, and urged “the Philippine authorities to make the necessary investigations in a timely, thorough and transparent manner and to bring those responsible to justice.” The Inter Parliamentary Union has expressed concern about the continuing repression of six members of the Philippine Congress, Congressmen Satur Ocampo, Crispin Beltran, Liza Maza, Joel Virador, Rafael Mariano, and Teddy Casino and called for the release from detention of Crispin Beltran.

After conducting its own fact-finding mission on the human rights situation in the Philippines, the World Council of Churches issued a statement on September 2006 condemning the extra-judicial executions and called an end to the killings. An international fact-finding mission of lawyers (from the groups, Lawyers for Lawyers, Lawyers Without Borders, and International Association of Democratic Lawyers) went to the Philippines last June 2006 to specifically investigate the killings of lawyers and judges. After the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, in late April 2007, the Amnesty International campaign coordinator said the Philippines’ image has become that of “ a land of lawlessness.”


ESJ: What role have Filipino migrants in Europe and elsewhere performed and accomplished in the task of confronting the political killings and massive corruption of the Arroyo regime? Are there new signs of political mobilization on their part?


CL: Filipino migrants in different parts of the globe have formed human rights organizations and have set up forums and other public events to inform the people of the host country about the situation. They are participating in the different actions because their families back home are affected by the policy of killings by the Arroyo government and the military. During forums held, they share the experience of their families and friends who have become victims of human rights violations.

And now, after the Tribunal, Filipino organizations are holding forums and symposia to talk about the verdict of the Tribunal and call for more actions against ongoing human rights violations in the Philippines.

ESJ: Finally, what is your assessment of the gains of the national democratic movement so far, and what are the problems it faces in the future?


CL: In the Philippines, we have the legal national democratic movement composed of legal and open people’s organizations. And we have the 17 allied organizations of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the millions of the revolutionary masses they lead, undertaking national democratic revolution through people’s war.

Both the legal and the underground revolutionary movements accept the analysis that the root causes of the problems in Philippine society are US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. They also accept that a change in the present system is necessary. Both aspire for a society where the Philippines will be free from US domination, where the feudal mode of production and values are replaced with genuine land reform, and peasants will be given land of their own to till. Where the natural wealth of the Philippines will be owned and managed by Filipinos. Where there will be national industrialization. And bureaucrat capitalism will be replaced with a government free of corruption, where the vast majority of Filipinos (workers, peasants, fisherfolk and petty bourgeoisie) will be adequately represented. A system where there will be real democracy.

The Arroyo regime calls the legal people’s organizations “front” organizations of the CPP and the NDFP. They are not front organizations of the CPP and the NDFP. These legal organizations subscribe to and are guided by their own constitutions, organizational principles, and programs.

The national democratic organizations comprise the legal mass movement which has been the most consistent in the anti-imperialist and democratic legal struggle in the country. It has a strong mass movement. It has members in parliament. It is creative in using all forms of struggle to push for reforms and fight against the ongoing exploitation and oppression in the country. It organizes and mobilizes hundreds of thousands in different organizations and is deeply rooted among the Filipino people.

Of the substantial gains and achievements of the national democratic movement since the 1960s, I will only mention the following: One significant achievement of the national democratic movement has been its politicalization of the Filipino people as a whole. There is now a greater awareness of US imperialism’s hold on Philippine political, economic and cultural life than there was twenty or thirty years ago. For example, the broad mass movement was instrumental for the Senate voting the bases out of the Philippines in 1991.

The national democratic movement played a most crucial role in ousting two presidents, Marcos and Estrada, and by doing so has weakened the neocolonial system.

Major achievements have also been the two major Rectification Movements of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The first rectification movement was in the 1960’s. It repudiated the errors of the Partido Kommunista ng Pilipinas and led to the re-establishment of the Communist Party in 1968. The Second Great Rectification Movement was in 1992. The Central Committee took a strong position to analyze the major errors in the ideological, political and organizational line of the Communist Party and correct them. The rectification movement of the CPP influenced other national democratic organizations to look into their work and to undertake major corrections. The growth and vigor of the national democratic movement today is the result of this rectification movement.

The NDFP, the CPP and the New People’s Army organize mainly in the countryside. Organs of political power and revolutionary organizations of women, youth and peasants are continually being established and strengthened. Mass campaigns such as health, education and economic programs that benefit hundreds of thousands of women, youth, peasants, settlers, and indigenous peoples are taking place in over 120 guerrilla fronts throughout the country. Implementation of the minimum program of agrarian reform such as lowering of land rent, increase of farm wages and farm gate prices, lessening of usury and establishment of cooperatives, is benefiting the peasant masses.

One of the gains of the national democratic movement has been the growth in political awareness and participation in the struggle of women. Women in their numbers have joined national democratic organizations. They have been elected to positions of responsibility and are among the most militant in defending their rights.

MAKIBAKA (Makabayang Kilusan ng Kababaihan / Patriotic Movement of Women), a revolutionary women’s organization and a member of the NDFP, draws its membership from peasant, worker and women of petty bourgeoisie in the cities. Many MAKIBAKA members have joined the NPA and have shown excellence in the field. Many have given up their lives in the struggle. What problems will the national democratic movement face in the future? Because of the crisis of the present system, the national democratic movement can expect more repression from the reactionary state. And so, the national democratic forces have to be prepared for this.


After Melancholia, a Testimony to the Filipina Gaze


          By way of illustrating Coni Ledesma’s arguments, I want to focus on a cinematic rendition of the plight of OFW’s with a review of Hella Wender’s small cinematic masterpiece, Mirasol released in Berlin, Germany in 2009. It is a “first-world” response to the gospel of neoliberal globalization which, instead of spreading wealth and promoting a just redistribution of goods, has proved more predatory and destructive by intensifying the feminization of poverty around the world. As I have noted in the previous chapter, the rise of the Filipino diaspora may be traced to the enclosure of the third-world “commons” reminiscent of that in England in the epoch prior to industrialization in the 18th and 19th centuries—a diaspora of uprooted peasants and proletariat of the global South driven to seek work in the imperial metropoles.

We live supposedly in the era of the global commons, but very few have actually met their neighbors—except as subalterns: household maids, hotel service-workers, nannies, most likely college-educated women from the Philippines. The ubiquitous phenomenon of Filipina domestics and overseas contract workers (almost ten million), known also as Overseas Filipino workers (OFW), has become a tedious and soporific topic for cynics and skeptics. Scholars have categorized them as modern indentured servants of the global ecumene. If you mention that at least five OFW cadavers/coffins arrive everyday at the Manila International Airport, a big yawn greets you: “So what else is new?” Those still awake may prod: “Why? How did this happen?”

Like millions around the world devastated by global capitalism’s meltdown, the lives of migrant Filipinas/as have become redundant or disposable. This began in the 1970s. The Marcos dictatorship, supported chiefly by the United States and the IMF-World Bank, institutionalized the export of “warm bodies” to the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. In the neoliberal global market, the nationality label “Filipino” quickly became equivalent to “servant” or “maid” in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and elsewhere. After 9/11, the terrorist Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines may have eclipsed the OFWs. But with the continual brutalization of Filipinas in Okinawa, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the “Nicole” scandal (“Nicole” is the Filipina raped by an American soldier subsequently convicted but “kidnapped” by the US Embassy while his case is on appeal), with hundreds in jail or awaiting execution, their plight will continue to haunt the conscience of “the pillars of society.” It may even disturb the sleep of State functionaries whose salaries depend on OFW remittances.

Marisol’s Sister: The Hanged Woman

One example is Flor Contemplacion whose case is well-known in the Philippines, but not in the global North. Accused of killing a fellow worker and a Singaporean child, and despite witnesses testifying to her innocence, Contemplacion was hanged in March 1995 by the Singaporean government. Instantly she became a national heroine. She continues to symbolize the unconscionable plight of Filipinas abused, raped, and killed by their bosses. Then president Fidel Ramos, threatened by a groundswell of sympathy for the victim, intervened; but given the historic subservience and bankruptcy of the Philippine nation-state, OFWs will continue to endure barbaric humiliation and exploitation. The fate of Flor Contemplacion stands as a haunting sign of what awaits Filipinos–unless they organize, refuse this intolerable status quo, and help liberate the country from imperial oppression and poverty.

The current Arroyo regime and its predecessors have survived chiefly due to the $12-14 billion OFW remittance. That is more than enough to cover the huge foreign debt and subsidize the obscene privileges of the tiny local oligarchy and the corrupt military/police. At least 1.3 million families, 7.9% of the total 16.5 families of 90 million Filipinos (most of whom survive on $2 a day), rely on OFW earnings for their survival. With the global economic downturn, a small drop in their household incomes will produce extreme hunger, criminality, and untold social upheavals. At least half a million OFWs work in Europe today, with at least 54,000 in Germany alone. The European Union’s new immigration policy will target undocumented migrants by penalizing their employers. What happens to OFWs in Europe and in the diaspora around the world, will deliver an impact with profound consequences. This is why this film about the agonizing plight of a Filipina domestic in Berlin, Germany, serves as an emblematic alarm-signal, a wake-up call, a portentous omen of things to come.

Marisol, the protagonist of Hella Wender’s short film, easily proves herself the uncanny half-sister of Flor Contemplacion. We wonder how a film can depict the structural situation of Filipino poverty driving thousands of wives/mothers to seek work abroad and preserve their integrity/sanity amid abuses, isolation, and uncertain future. One way is to condense the complex total social situation into the experience of a typical individual, into one or two representative episodes. It’s a challenge that Hella Wenders takes up, with intriguing success.

Her film is itself a “balikbayan” box we have to unpack. It uses the predicament of an illegal Filipina domestic in Berlin struggling to support her family (Luis, her husband, and two children, Jason and Lizelle). She thinks of them everyday and wants to go back home—she even orders a plane ticket under a false name. She holds up chiefly because her sister Wena, a domestic in Hong Kong, reminds her of their dream of one day becoming free, owning a store back home.

The normal routine is disrupted. One day Marisol’s husband calls to tell her that her sister Wena is dead. We expect Marisol to collapse, but except for one traumatic instant of abjecthood, she holds up. What happens to her dream of rejoining her family? She is undeterred. We saw her earlier taking care of two German children and cleaning windows. The film then focuses on Marisol—wife, mother, sister, family provider–filling her “balikbayan” box with commodities, gifts lovingly itemized as though they were fragments cut off from her body. Somehow she succeeds in paying for the shipping of her dead sister Wena: a “balikbayan” with a cruel twist. At the end, together with German friends and compatriots, Marisol vicariously participates in the burial of her sister via the computer’s Internet screen.

Media Seduction Vs. Aura of the Balikbayan Box

Will the dead rest in her grave? Is everyone pacified then, assured that Marisol will eventually realize the dream she shared with her “sacrificed” sister? Having hurdled this ordeal, will she move on to dare take other moves? What are her alternatives? These are a few questions aroused by Wender’s film. How about us, the audience: Do we learn anything? While OFW families are disrupted by their country’s neoloconial underdevelopment, migrants re-imagine their community/fictive family with the help of prosthetic devices such as cellphones and electronic mail, satellite TV, internet, that help sustain identities and lifestyles across shifting or porous boundaries. Technology extends and trains the human sensorium for survival in a dis-integrated anomic world, or in contested terrains. In postmodern jargon, these fluid and hybrid identities of OFWs inhabit the crucible of global ethnoscapes; presumably their psyches, if not their bodies, are able to elude bureaucratic definitions and traditional judgments. Do they?

The theme of a Filipina mother working abroad, without valid documents, is one pregnant with sentimental and melodramatic possibilities. No messianic guardian comes to the rescue. Wenders is able to deepen this figure by sophisticated camera work and nuanced framing of scenes and their calibrated sequencing. On first acquaintance, we are impressed by Marisol’s lively but sober demeanor. The upbeat foreward looking tonality of the film is conveyed by the introductory shots: sailors/working gracefully doing gymnastics, smooth transition from ship to flowing traffic overlapping with Marisol’s buoyant address to her sister: “Dear Wena….” Her voice-over evokes the dominant affect of the film. It centers on motherhood indexed by the “balikbayan” box. The leitmotif of sending/receiving packages, plus the recollection of two sisters over their mother’s love, sutures the montage of departure/removal, a transition from Manila to Berlin that easily folds us into the cinematic narrative.

Throughout the film, the “balikbayan” box operates as the central unifying trope: it connects dispersed family members, like the umbilical cord. Though separated, Marisol and Wena are united by memory of their mother and a dream of freeing oneself from serfhood to take up an independent pettybourgeois life—the dream of millions. Marisol is shown cleaning windows, symbolizing both aspiration and blockage; she cooks and minds the German children, a surrogate fulfillment of what her family and society expects. Unlike the child in the theme-song “Anak,” Marisol did not disobey her parents by indulging in wicked vice only to repent later. No pathos here, no melodrama, no tears—except shouting at the vacant urban landscape, a protest against some existential injustice or malice sprung on her from above. The film is very quiet, disturbingly reticent. Is this a deliberate provocation, a Brechtian estrangement-effect, challenging us to complete the film which ends with a medium-shot focus on Marisol’s face?

Dialectic of Speaking and Listening

One alternative is offered by the film: utterance. And access to the facilities of communication. Language unites and divides, but here the Filipino/Tagalog sutures episodes of loneliness and painful endurance. We soon discover that Marisol’s sister Wena lives a double-life: her poetic efforts overshadow her bondage to household chores. Through a phonecall, Wena transmits her prophetic message of a monsoon outburst veiled by the overheated afternoons, allowing them to “fly to the moon.” The power of poetic language supplements, more exactly prescinds, electronic media. Their conversations dissolve the physical and temporal distance that separates them, compensating for their drab alienating circumstances. How long can this last? And can illusory relief by art/communication—the talking cure in which Wena becomes the analysand, Marisol the mute analyst–resolve material, historically structured adversities in our everyday life?

For OFWs, despite kinship networks, the danger of individualist solutions always proves seductive in a competitive global marketplace. There are now organizations like MIGRANTE that provide support (emotional, legal) to make up for government apathy or hostility. However, Marisol and many others are exposed to hazardous psychic injuries on top of physical harms. How do we handle sudden turns of fortune—actually, what’s more horrible than death are marital infidelities–allegorized by interruptions of phone calls, sudden Internet fadeouts, silence? Unexpectedly Wena dies—not an accident but a homicide. No one else can help pay for her return home except Marisol whose precarious status exposes her to possible arrest and deportation. Will she resort to extreme, law-breaking measures? Marisol is already a lawbreaker. But her plight encapsulates risk, alienation, and hope. Her contact with her German employer is defined solely by the money-wage (captured by a brief scene). In Berlin, Marisol’s life-world is inhabited by children, women friends, cellphone, computers, and money. She seems never to engage in any pleasurable leisurely act—except videoke conviviality with other Filipinas and their German friends in a club. Apparently she has no one to replace Wena, someone with whom she can regularly communicate or confide to, linking past and present with the future.

Of course there is the ubiquitous Filipino priest who represents the absent family, homeland, parents. He is shown consoling an illegal OFW (Rica Santos), betrayed by another Filipino, jailed and about to be deported. She personifies the possible future of Marisol and countless others. It is Rica Santos to whom Marisol later confides outside “Gigi’s Meeting Point,” their common predicament establishing their fictive kinship, while other Filipinas and their German friends sing the song “Anak” about a child who repents for having ignored her parents and strayed from the straight and narrow path. Should Marisol repent being an OFW?

Using “Anak” seems a deftly ironic choice here. Poviding continuity to several scenes in the film, this popular song underscores the importance of parents and the need of children to heed their counsel lest disaster overtakes them. It warns children not to strike on their own without the guidance of authority, esp. the father. But the father in the film is starkly undercut, glimpsed only in the unstable computer-screen, eclipsed by the strong mother-figure of Marisol, the lawbreaker. The film interrupts Marisol’s conviviality with the news of Wena’s “suicide” (several Filipina maids who fell from buildings in Hong Kong were really murdered by their employers). Marisol protests, suggesting that Wena should be put in a “balikbayan” box—a fulfillment of her mother’s desire cited at the beginning. Fast foreward and we see Marisol confiding to Rica the sister-surrogate, reflecting on their own somehow intertwined, “weird” fates: one wants to stay but cannot, and the other wants to go home but cannot.

Jump-Cuts and Syncopations

Marisol is a parent without power. Her reliance on electronic media—cellphone, computers, Internet—as a way of preserving contact with her husband and children is contingent on her budget, her free time, and access to such prosthetic devices. Despite this electronic prophylactic, Marisol’s distance from her family is underscored by the fact that she cannot really maintain long exchanges with her children—in one scene, the scream of the German child cuts off her connection with her family. Moreover, her customary deference to the husband insures that she will always be at the receiving end of the line, unable to initiate action except as a response to his call for help. In short, Marisol’s agency seems undercut, annulled, diminished. When her sister Wena, at the start of the film, reminds her of their dreams, based on their mother’s sacrifice as an OFW herself, Marisol is unable to release pent-up feelings except by shouting to the anonymous space outside, to blank windows facing her apartment—a poignant image of frustration and helplessness.

Where or who is the Other who can listen to Marisol? In the process of grappling with this crisis, Marisol is driven by an imperious need to express herself, defying external law or inner prohibition. It is this need to communicate that the film foregrounds, an emergency appeal. This, I submit, is the film’s over-riding purpose: to compel us to listen, to understand. It’s a powerful challenge hurled to cyberspace and the open market, in quest of a responsive audience/viewers.

Solitude is conceivable only because of its opposite: community, solidarity. After the news of Wena’s death, Marisol is faced not only with the tragic deprivation of her other self. Wena incarnates Marisol’s submerged speaking self, the poet-rhetor who reminds her of their common dream. It is the erotic Other that is sacrificed so Marisol can go on. The reality-principle dictates that she defer her return so that the sister can return—literally, Wena’s homecoming in a coffin as the other “balikbayan box.” Marisol rhetorical question to the empty urban space: “What do you want me to do?” is really addressed to the audience, the others who care. She demands from Luis (via cellphone) to talk to her sleeping children; but her “load” aborts communnication. The camera switches to Marisol walking the Berlin thoroughfare like a somnambulist, one of the few close-up shots—except for the cellphone/computer screen faces of her sister and family. She counts and wraps the money to send, via her friend, as though praying in her kitchen-sanctuary.

In one of the most dramatic moments of the film, with images of gleeful playing children alternating with shots of the WESTERN UNION office, Marisol runs in front of two policemen whom she served earlier. She wants to be arrested, interrogated. Her muteness is a desperate appeal for help—to be deported and sent home. However, her friend suddenly intervenes, wresting her away before the police can demand her ID and thus authenticate her identity: Marisol the mother/outlaw. Fast forward and we see Marisol repeating Wena’s poetic utterance—“Where did you come from? Where are you going?….bruised, struggling, crawling on all fours out of the abyss, craving for bliss without end,” demanding more from her compatriots, from those who are watching and witnessing this film.

The film itself offers German women’s solidarity. It concludes with prayers for Wena’s soul by Marisol’s friends, via computerized tele-screens attending Wena’s burial. A gesture to acknowledge Filipino mores is made: the Filipino priest, smiling, consoles Marisol with the remark that Wena has been bumped “first class” on her flight to heaven. This quasi-religious ceremony in secular Europe, the quiet camaraderie and unobtrusive solidarity, the calculatedly subdued ending—all these displace our anxiety about the crime, leaving us with Marisol’s thoughtful, handsome face. We surmise that she will resume her normal life with possibly more awareness of the injustice and danger that lurk behind the civilized facades of the wealthy employing nations. Is there surplus vision or needs accumulated in her consciousness that calls for collective action?

The Dreamer Sacrificed

More questions are triggered by the film’s somewhat abrupt end: Is Marisol, as shown in this film, a pathetic example of the helpless OFW? Postcolonial scholars are anxious to counter the stereotype belief that subalterns like female domestics don’t have agency. They disagree with the view that OFWs are totally victims of patriarchal discourse and masculinist violence. They argue that Marisol has agency: she invents a fictional person, “Olivia Flores,” that orders one-way ticket. She shouts that one day she will reveal her real name, fulfill her dream of doing what she wants (as the song “Anak” hints, without repentance). Her maternal and nurturing power is fully demonstrated by her ability to calm the screaming German child in her care, even though that task also confirms her distance from her family.

Here are the partial answers. When the film opens, we see sailors and workers exercising in harmony in front of a ship about to embark. City landscape smoothly blends with the recollection of Marisol’s mother and her balikbayan box peppered with kisses, imagining herself contained in the box sent to her children. This “balikbayan” box that holds gifts, token commodities, etc. functions as the chief synthesizing trope, the allegorical synapse or synergistic node of the film. While we observe Marisol packing her “balikbayan” box, ensuring the safety of its delivery, we also keep in mind what is not shown—the absent montage of her sister’s body being deposited as in a cargo container for shipping home, paid for by Marisol’s savings. We never see Marisol’s own box being shipped, but we see the coffin of her sister being laid to rest in her grave, surrounded by her mourning relatives—“bumped first class” in a flight to heaven. Our last image is of Marisol’s melancholy, thoughtful face, as the camera focuses on her, somewhat distanced from her community, replicating her earlier pose at the food-shop as she ponders giving up to the police. The solitary domestic is left bereft of companionship, isolated, even though we remain aware that it is there in the margins. Do we allow the priest to have the last word, the last “joke”?

Probably not. The film’s intent is to arouse questions and disturb our peace. The film’s style of articulating closed and open spaces succeeds in dramatizing Marisol’s dilemma between “risk-taking” and “security-maximizing,” to use sociological jargon. The arrangement of the scenes is meant to stage the dilemma all OFWs face: one between striking on your own, daring to struggle against customary prohibitions—as the theme song “Anak” warns against—or opting for safety behind law, patriarchal authority, and the opium of religion. It’s a classic existential situation.

What stands out, however, is a nexus of loaded signifiers. Marisol’s situation of risk and maternal resolve is a play on the motifs of the homely and the unhomely, both condensed in the German word “heimlich” which Freud made famous in his essay, “The Uncanny.” Marisol’s homeland (embodied in the electronic images of husband, children, Wena) becomes a cyberspace mirage, fading in and out, charged with frightening possibilities, destroying the bourgeois ideology of privacy and monogamous, heterosexual normativity. Meanwhile, Marisol’s network of friends/compatriots serves as a linkage to the emergent community of Migrante International, allowing the sisters of Gabriela Silang and of Rosa Luxemburg to meet. In this sense Marisol’s female gaze becomes uncanny, answering the misogynist question—“What does a woman want?”—with the threat and promise of slaying the patriarchs: the capitalist State, Hong Kong criminal employers, predatory transnational agencies, and the entire corrupt, unredeemable Filipino bureaucracy/oligarchy parasitic on OFW remittances, colluding with U.S. imperialism in keeping the country impoverished and subservient since the end of the Filipino American War of 1899-1913.

Marisol, stricken with anxiety and desperation, nearly surrendered to authority. That trauma-filled episode in which Marisol’s identity was at stake, dissolved quickly with her friend’s swift snatching of her body from the clutches of the State. Marisol is the mother who displaces the absent father—subaltern fathers have been emasculated by the neocolonial Arroyo state, obeisant to the imperial behest of the U.S. and predatory finance capital. While the paternal German welfare-state harbors threats such as the police and alienated employers, it permits temporary escape from enclosures such as the workplace (bar, house with German children to attend). It is also outside Gigi’s restaurant/bar where Wena’s poems are recited–a cry for help, an assertion of the right to happiness with loved ones, the right to self-fulfillment with others. In antithesis, some enclosure are hospitable: Gigi’s Meeting Point, the church-like place where balikbayan boxes are stored and confidential exchanges with the Filipino priest takes place, Marisol’s bedroom, her friend’s car. The Filipino priest serves as the index of the traditional homeland, accessible as listener to illegal migrants, a native counterpart to the Western psychiatrist/psychoanalyst, filling in for the absent authoritarian Filipino State.

For Whom the Bells Toll?

Art, cinema, surely cannot take the place of everyday working life or dominate it. But it’s useful for understanding oppressive institutions and imagining alternatives. Without it, we will remain victims of commodifying capital, money, and consumer goods dictating the content of our souls. Is it enough to be thankful to Hella Wenders and her co-workers for this richly compressed film and take pleasure in the character of Marisol, in her quiet fortitude, her patience, her dignified forbearance amid such paralyzing ordeal? After all, it is her sister, not her children or her husband or mother, who dies in this film.

As I have suggested earlier, Wena symbolizes Marisol’s authentic self, the exuberant twin-soul, who articulates her dreams and the future for her, as well as for millions of OFWs—for the whole dispossessed and diasporic Filipino nation. There is no chain migration here, only the extended family held together in a web or network of virtualized kinship and solidarity, enabled by modern means of communication, specifically cellphones, computerized television, etc. Despite geographical dispersal, communal and familial bonds are precariously maintained, affections sustained despite interruptions and reifying noises. Wena’s transmission is sometimes delayed, so that the unfolding of time is never linear, often recursive, sometimes anachronistic. This message of the film concerning the unpredictable dialectic of proximity and distance, past and future, open and closed spaces, necessity and accident, which escapes commodification by commercial establishments represented here by WESTERN UNION/ASIA IMBISS, is perhaps the most profound lesson to be inferred: organization and political consciousness-raising are needed.

Perhaps we can rescue Wena from the dead and make her speak to her sister again. She might say to Marisol that she needs to break out of her routine and question the condition of her life together with others, such as the OFW group, Migrante International, is doing. We do not need the cheap consolation of evangelical religion, the escape that Sarah Balabagan, the OFW flogged in Saudi Arabia, has chosen. We have other models: for example, Connie Bragas-Regalado, the fighter for migrant rights, or the women in Migrante Europe who attend to the needs of undocumented kababayan. This film is directly a critique of such packaged evasion. It is an oblique critique of individualist self-help. It sharply poses the limits of such solitary claustrophobic efforts even as it partly celebrates Marisol’s courage, resourcefulness and strength, knowing that her family and community (in the interstices of the film-shots) are with her in the struggle. She becomes Olivia Flores, the incommensurable trickster-figure.

As the film unfolds, Wena the domestic emerges in the network of communal exchanges as Wena the poet, inventor of images and figures that transform barriers into opportunities, unleashing the energies of dream for advancing the concrete projects of everyday life. This film succeeds in enabling our discovery of this poetic voice within the domestic serf, the insurgent dreamer, who may be suppressed now, but will always haunt us, especially those vampires and parasites who feed on the remittances of these postmodern indentured servants, even “modern-day slaves,” as Bridget Anderson aptly describes them. In the process of inventing the correct praxis, Marisol draws sustenance from Wena’s words. Maintaining tactful aesthetic distance, the film allows us to empathize with that sacrificed voice whose words penetrate windows and walls to open up a gap, the revolutionary break, not only for reunion with her family but also re-possession/liberation of the ravished homeland where bodies and souls, bloodied from fierce global class wars, can once again be reunited, nourished and fulfilled in collective sharing.

Mabuhay kayong lahat ng OFW [May your tribe increase], Marisol!—###

A REVISED AND UPDATED VERSION CAN BE FOUND IN CHAPTER 6 OF MY BOOK, BETWEEN EMPIRE AND INSURGENCY, Quezon City,University of the Philippines Press, 2015.DSC_0405 [Desktop Resolution]

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS

E. San Juan, CARLOS BULOSAN: Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the U.S.–paperback edition out, from Peter Lang, Inc.


Carlos Bulosan–Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the United

States: A Critical Appraisal is an in‐depth, critical evaluation of

Bulosan’s major works in the context of the sociopolitical

changes that configured his sensibility during the Depression,

the united‐front mobilization prior to World War II, and the Cold

War witch‐hunting of the fifties. Unprecedented for its thorough

historical‐materialist analysis of the symbolic dynamics of the

texts, this book uses original research into the Sanora Babb

papers that have never before been linked to Bulosan.

Sophisticated dialectical analysis of the complex contradictions

in Bulosan’s life is combined with a politico‐ethical reading of

U.S.‐Philippines relations. San Juan takes the unorthodox view

that Bulosan’s career was not an immigrant success story but

instead a subversive project of an organic intellectual of a

SanJuan_cover2-page-0SanJuan_cover2-page-0peterlangusaeducation  CARLOS BULOSAN–

Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the United States

A CRITICAL APPRAISAL

E. SANJUAN, JR. | 2017

USD $89.95 | 978‐1‐4331‐4244‐4 (hc)

USD $42.95 | 978‐1‐4331‐4245‐1 (ebook PDF) | 978‐1‐4331‐4246‐8 (ePUB) | Paperback available Feb. 2018

Education and Struggle, Vol. 12

To order, contact: Please see reverse for additional information.

Advance Praise for Carlos Bulosan–Revolutionary

Filipino Writer in the United States:

A Critical Appraisal by E. San Juan, Jr.

E. San Juan is one of the sharpest and most clarifying voices vis‐a‐vis Filipino/US and Filipino/world

relationships extant. He is an internationalist and political analyst of high morale. It’s about time his

incisive theoretical summations are given broader access to strengthen the growing understanding

of the multicultural united front of progressive thinkers around the world.

—AMIRI BARAKA

E. San Juan is a scholar of remarkable range and varied talents remarkable for his commitment to

literature and culture as vital areas of contemporary social life.

—FREDRIC JAMESON, DUKE UNIVERSITY

E. San Juan is one of the world’s most distinguished progressive critics. He is certainly the world’s

leading scholar and critic of Filipino literature and undoubtedly the leading authority on Filipino‐

American literary relations.

—BRUCE FRANKLIN, RUGERS UNIVERSITY

E. San Juan’s intervention in the current debates on cultural studies is both necessary and significant.

We can all learn valuable lessons from the Philippine experience.

—NGUGI WA THIONG’O, KENYAN NOVELIST

E. San Juan is arguably one of the most important intellectuals of our times. There are few scholars

today who are able to capture with such rigor and verve the historically heterogeneous and

discontinuous relations of exploitation, domination and conflict constitutive of today’s social

existence in the global arena of neoliberal capitalism and the system of wage labor. Part of San Juan’s

remarkable contribution to our understanding of contemporary social life is his profound grasp of

critical social theory and his employment of historical materialist critique to reveal both the

limitations and folly of much of what passes today as postmodern and postcolonial studies. San Juan

has been hailed as a vital public intellectual by Amiri Baraka, Michael Denning, Bertell Ollman, Bruce

Franklin, Alan Wald, Fredric Jameson, and other prestigious scholars.

—PETER MCLAREN, CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY

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