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.

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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.

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Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious. Cornell UP, 1981.
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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.

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

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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

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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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New Foreword to the reprint of E. San Juan, SUBVERSIONS OF DESIRE: Prolegomena to Nick Joaquin, University of Santos Tomas UNITAS issue, 2018.


Foreword  to the 2018 reprint of SUBVERSIONS OF DESIRE, U.S.T. Press

by E San Juan, Jr.

 

With the 2017 launching of The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic as a Penguin Classic, Nick Joaquin’s status as a transnational writer, a planetary artist, was finally confirmed. Before Joaquin died in 2004, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) honored him with the establishment of the Esquinita de Quijano de Manila–his nom de plume as a journalist–at its Miguel de Benavidez Library Humanities Section (The Varsitarian, 3 February 2008). After earning his associate of arts degree at UST, Joaquin was awarded a scholarship  at the St. Albert College in Hong Kong in 1947. He left in 1950 to pursue a life in letters for which he received the National Artist title in 1976 and the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Literature, Journalism and Creative Communication in 1996.

The Dominican Order awarded Joaquin a scholarship for his essay on the celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary/La Naval, the patron saint of the “Ever Loyal and Noble City of Manila.” The nation’s colonial capital Manila, a city born from Western-Eastern confrontations, figures as the chief protagonist in his fiction and poetry,  in “The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” as well as in Cave and Shadows and in Almanac for Manilenos. Joaquin’s brief sojourn in Hong Kong as a seminarian may have inspired Joaquin to write his magisterial novel, The Woman Who Had Two Navels. Its setting in that cosmopolitan arena of two warring cultures (Hong Kong), where the Aguinaldo revolutionary junta spent time in between battles, evokes the dilemma, the duplicitous or ambiguous identity of the Filipino nation.   

This problematic identity of the Filipino is Joaquin’s obsessive theme in all his works. We have been subjected to over 400 years of colonial subalternization, first by Spain and then by the United States of America. The scars of this traumatic experience, its flagrant symptoms, may be diagnosed in the consumerized and commodified mores of our urban compatriots. Joaquin is one of our most acute critics of this predicament. But despite his acclaim as our most distinguished writer in English, Joaquin is scarcely read by 103 million citizens, now spread as a proletarian diaspora around the world. It is quite unikely that cohorts of the 12 million OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) would have read his fiction or poetry. However, the recent operatic version of “Portrait” as “Larawan” may have exposed thousands to his critique of the bifurcated soul of the nation and its protracted crisis.

        UST has been one of the foremost instigators of our nationalist revival by holding regular symposiums on Nick Joaquin’s achievement. With the reprinting of this book, first published in 1987 by Ateneo de Manila University Press, which remains hitherto the only book-length scholarly study of the major works, UST continues its patronage of the arts. The first chapter of this book, entitled “Celebrating the Virgin and Her City,” signals its primary motivation: to reinscribe Joaquin’s texts in the field of sociopoitical contradictions defining our nation since the Filipino-American War (1899-1913) and its fraught aftermath.

This book’s  historical context of composition should not be forgotten. It was framed within the height of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War struggles in 1966-72 and the Central American solidarity movement in the seventies and eighties in the imperial metropole. Of crucial importance is the beginning of the exuberant Women’s Liberation Movement in Europe, North America, and around the world. Composed during the years of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986), and in argument with the post-structuralist, deconstructive trend in hermeneutics and philosophical theorizing in Europe and the United States, this book stages the agonized questioning of a version of Hegel’s “Unhappy Consciousness” as it participates in the dialogue with national-democratic critics of Joaquin’s works. It is also a product of the author’s education in formalist criticism and historical-materialist polemics. In line with the dialectical method of metacommentary, this book attempts to excavate the submerged but irrepressible utopian impulses in the texts (see author’s remarks on its launching, “The critic as parasite/host,”  (Midweek, 24 August 1988).

       Thirty years have passed since then, with all the victories and defeats of the mass mobilization for popular democracy and true independence.

A massive corpus of reportage and commissioned books by Joaquin remains to be studied, interpreted, and evaluated. This is the challenge for the rising generation of Filipino scholars. What their collective judgment of this book may be, together with its uncalculated effects, will depend on the outcome of the current democratic struggles and not on any single individual critic. Of course, we cannot forget the warning that any cultural document is always two-navelled, fusing barbarism and civilization together.

Finally, as the “Preface” endeavored to suggest to the prospective readers, “‘Joaquin’ then may be conceived as the sign of multiple contradictions outside/inside the texts. Let Joaquin speak to/for the masses.” Let us all begin a slow painstaking reading of Joaquin’s project of fashioning the emergent conscience of the nation while appreciating their integritas, consonantia, and claritas–qualities that St. Thomas Aquinas deemed essential for all art-works.

      For making this reprint possible, I want to thank in particular Rev. Fr. Jesus M. Miranda, O.P., PhD,  Secretary General, and Michael Anthony Vasco, PhD, Dean, College of Arts and Letters, University of Santo Tomas; and for her visionary initiative, Prof. Maria Luisa Torres-Reyes, editor of UNITAS.##

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NICK JOAQUIN’S APOCALYPSE


NICK JOAQUIN’S APOCALYPSE: The Tragi-comedy of the “Unhappy Consciousness” 

When we say of things that they are finite, we mean thereby..that Not-being constitutes their nature and their Being…Finite things…are related to themselves as something negative, and in this self-relation send themselves on beyond themselves and their Being….The finite does not only change…it perishes; and its perishing is not merely contingent…It is rather the very being of finite things that they contain the seeds of perishing as their own Being-in-self, and the hour of their birth is the hour of their death.

—G.W.F. Hegel, Science of Logic (1929), 142

by E.San Juan, Jr.
Dept of English & Comparative Literature, University of the Philippines

The elevation of Nick Joaquin’s reputation to a Penguin Classic in 2017 augurs an apotheosis of sorts but also an exoticizing marginalization. Under the rubric of the “postcolonial,” the endorsers relegate the Filipino author to a fraught academic trend in rapid obsolescence. But his acclamation as our Garcia Marquez, the exemplar of postcolonial “doubleness,” albeit overlain by “a tribal civilization,” ascribes an “aura” fit for our glorified addiction to commodity fetishism. No, we are not in Duterte’s total war against suspected drug-lords. I am referring to that inescapable “aura” that Walter Benjamin anatomized in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” It is the aura of “The Portrait” as the quintessential Filipino theater. It is the aura of a sanctified writer whose mastery of English in his stories has allowed him to define, for the whole nation (still contentious since the popular/people remains outside the neocolonized nation-state), its historical and political genealogy and predicament.

Benjamin is also the source of Vicente Rafael’s view of Joaquin’s craft as a sign of emancipation from U.S. colonial subjugation. Together with his contemporary Anglophone writers, Joaquin “epitomized the modernizing promise of colonial rule” (xx). Using English as the “very idiom of modernity itself,” in Rafael’s reckoning, Joaquin succeeded in “regaining the capacity of remembering itself in order to constitute the remembering self” (xxi). This is premised on the “attenuation of experience” which led to the “demise of the craft of storytelling” (xv). This is a flawed construal of Benjamin’s essay “The Storyteller.” Actually, Benjamin linked narrative art to the web of social relations, specifically the mode of production and conflicted classes (peasantry, guild artisan, merchant trader, capitalist industrialist), which produced the substance and determined the narratability of varying experiences. Story-telling is tied to the rhythms of work and the oral context of a a long-=vanished communal audience. With the onset of capitalism, that context dissolved; the “short-lived reminiscences of the storyteller” gives way to the “perpetuating remembrance of the novelist.”

Memory, homeland, the narration of collective experience, shared fate—this is what is at stake in judging Joaquin’s relevance today. It is the novel as “the form of transcendental homelessness” (a concept borrowed from Georg Lukacs) to which Benjamin attributes the function of revitalizing epic memory. And so it is the novel, such as Joaquin’s The Women Who Had Two Navels and Cave and Shadows, that evokes the genuinely epic experience of time: hope and memory….” (quoting Lukacs, 99). Whether such mode of experience salvaged from the “ruins of modernity” can be conveyed by the tales and legends that comprise the bulk of the Penguin collection, is questionable. We cannot echo what Gorky once said of Gogol’s “The Overcoat,” that Filipino writing all came out of Joaquin’s two navels.

Rebirth of the Author?

Postructructuralist critics have long pronounced the death of the author in its conventional sense as artificer/creator. But Barthes and Foucault has resuscitated him as a function, a site of discursive contestation, rather than an originating presence with the mystical halo given by the Penguin Classic editors and blurbs. One American reviewer ventured already to dismantle that halo by ascribing to Joaquin a melancholy anger, relentlessly composing “a fierce elegy for a past that never was”; she sums up Joaquin’s central preoccupation thus: “The older generation is bitterly impotent against the sea changes of the present; and the younger generation is desperate to understand the world, but adrift between potential and petrfication” (Valentine).

The thematic problem that Joaquin engages with concerns the question of the historical Subject of Filipino experience. It is not the mismatch or incompatibility between generational attitudes, but rather how this Subject, confined to the ilustrado/pettybourgeois urban sector, asserts itself, its negativity, in the process of evolving to a dynamic self-conscious determinate position. Esentially, this Subject is an evolving identity-in-difference (Marcuse). Situated in the transition from the feudal/colonial mode of production to a neocolonial, comprador mode, this Subject undergoes diremption. Defined by Otherness, it proceeds to recognize its difference/alienation and struggles to sublate the antagonisms converging in its life-world in order to construct its new subject-position, a relatively autonomous, free, rational self-consciousness in command of its life.
The Subject as an identity-in-difference, for Joaquin the hispanicized Filipino creole (Rizal, Luna, etc.) bifurcated by Spanish and Anglo-Saxon subjugation, refuses to accept the domination of alienated labor (capitalist exploitation) and struggles to maintain the honor-centered norm of colonial Manila. Proof of this is Joaquin’s 1943 essay on “La Naval de Manila,” a celebration of the Spanish victory over the Dutch in 1646, which won him a scholarship to St. Albert seminary in Hong Kong in 1947 (De Vera). From the Commonwealth period up to the installation of the “puppet republic” of Roxas, Quirino and Magsaysay, Joaquin’s endeavor to construct this Subject—the metamorphosis of the ilustrado into a civic-minded citizen of the Republic—founders. Only the sisters of Antigone—Candida and Paula of “The Portrait” remains as testimony to this heroic attempt to shape a national allegory, a self-determining materialist story of private lives and individual destinies encapsulating the “embattled situation” of the third-world public culture/society (Jameson 320).

Whether Joaquin succeeds or not in this reconstruction of the national allegory of the Subject, the rational self-conscious intelligence of the Filipino middle-stratum. beyond sensuous certainty, selfish interests, animal passions, etc., is the topic for debate. It will be naïve and simplistic to reduce the complex theme to the conflict between the priests and satyrs, between the pagan, totem-and-taboo tribalism—the brute world of the “bitch-goddess” worship in the Tadtarin cult—and sadistic chastity of Christian ascetics. Even though Joaquin may be fascinated with the primitive ideal of cyclic regeneration, this is easily incorporated into a Christian paradigm of death-and-resurrection, syncretism being a false dialectic of subsumption and rechristening—the well-tried colonial ideology of cooptation and assimilation.

Marginalizing the Metropolis

At the outset, I would argue that Joaquin’s focus on the agon, the ordeal, of the urbanized Indios of MetroManila fails to resolve their predicament. On the contrary, it refracts the syndrome. It reproduces the contradictions of the past by negating the challenges and opportunities of the present. The chief symptom of this inability to dialectically transcend the past is its exclusion of the peasantry and the whole proletarian world of serfs, women, tribal or indigenous communities (Muslim, Igorot) marginalized by Spanish and U.S. colonial domination. However, the mediations offered in “The Order of Melkizedek,” “The Woman With Two Navels,” and “The Portrait”—resigning to the contingency and accidents of life, asserting impetuous will, or welcoming the priestly intervention of the ordinary alienated citizens of a competitive bourgeois society—are flawed, temporary stop-gaps.

At the end of the day, the Unhappy Consciousness (as described by Hegel in Phenomenology of Spirit) of Joaquin’s Subject yields up the fruits of labor and enjoyment for the absolving act of the intermediary consciousness (such the father’s in “Three Generations” or the epiphany of Candido and Sid Estiva, Bitoy Camacho and Pepe Monzon). But they occlude the fate of Others: of the sisters Paula and Candida, of the children such as Adela, and strangers around the decaying house in Intramuros. In the tales, as well as in “The Summer Solstice,” “Candido’s Apocalypse,” etc., moral decision and understanding are sacrificed for a stance of stoic fatalism, or abject sinfulness. This is not useless if one conceives this stage as one aware of its particularity, the limits of mechanistic self-satisfaction, abstract solipsism, and alienated privacy. One can convert the experience of the Unhappy Consciousness as a prelude to attaining the stage of the universal, the rational self-conscious stance of the Subject.

Crucible of Experience

The key concept of experience is central to our inquiry. Benjamin asserted that the old sense of communal experience embodied in Leskov’s stories has been destroyed, replaced by information. Information consists of events. positive facts or factoids, mixed with explanation. In industrial capitalist society, the mass media communicates information, with instant verifiability, eradicating the amplitude of traditional storytelling based on the interactive collaboration of the audience. The modern audience consists of atomized psyches devoid of memory, victimized by the reifying and alienating impact of universal commodification. Memory, death, and time disappears; experience yields to information.

What Benjamin has condensed in the term “information” is the reduction of life as the passive undergoing of the phenomenal world. Empiricism and sensationalism informed the scientific exploration of the world by bourgeois merchants and industrialists. Kant rejected this by positing the active thinking of the cognizing subject, leaving the thing-in-itself untouched. It was Marx who revised contemplative materialism by affirming human practical action to change the material world. By investigating the necessary properties and the laws of motion of the phenomenal world, and the rational methods of activity to transform it, humans have given the concept of experience a new meaning. Experience thus denotes the interaction of the social subject with the external world, merging with the “sum total of society’s practical activity” (Rosenthal and Yudin 154).

Experience is thus a complex notion of imbrication of various layers of phenomena, both subjective and objective. It was Hegel who defined experience as a transactive interface of subject and object working its way in a dialectical process in his Phenomenology of Spirit. From a phenomenalogical frame, Hegel conceived of experience as that which later views of reality have of the earlier ones; that is, what more mature and self-conscious grasp of reality reveal is the “experience” of what was inscribed in earlier, naïve notions. In effect, it is the experience of the passage of consciousness, “the dialogue between natural consciousness and absolute knowledge” (Heidegger 146; see also Findlay 87).

Now, exactly what is that raw complex of experience bedeviling Joaquin’s conscience? Everyone knows that the passage of our country into modernity was interrupted twice: the first, by the defeat of Aguinaldo’s revolutionary forces by U.S. invasion and bloody pacification from 1899 to 1913; and, second, by the U.S. failure to prevent the Japanese occupation and destruction of Manila, followed by more than two decades of neocolonial subservience to U.S. diktat. The harmony of Spanish monastic supremacy subtending the feudal/patriarchal order was broken not by the 1896 Katipunan uprising but by U.S. imperial conquest. While accepting the compromise of the Commonwealth, where the ilustrado fathers (Recto/Don Perico in The Portrait) found token recognition, Joaquin could not accept the collaboration (and U.S. acquiescence to) with the Japanese due to the horrendous devastation wrought on Intramuros, the prime symbol of the ascendancy of Catholic morality and ancien regime ethos It is the experience of WW2 disaster, the “orgy of atrocities” matched only by the 1937 Nanking massacre (Karnow 321), which traumatized Joaquin crawling out of the rubble of Intramuros. The Filipino entered the phase of “transcendental homelessness,” the theme of the classic European novel and of The Two Navels and Cave and Shadows.

Except for the tales and folkloric adaptations—“The Legend of the Dying Wanton,” Dona Jeronima.” “The Mass of St Sylvester,”—the major stories in this collection attempt to confront the two crises by resolving, in an imaginary sphere we call “ideology,” the contradiction between the project of reconstructing the tradition by sublation—negating the archaic, preserving elements of Christian humanism (free will; reason under grace), and lifting it to a more universal level—and accepting the fate of imperial domination. Whether the experience of his protagonists demonstrate a genuine dialectical resolution of the schisms in their world and psyches, remains to be clarified.

Mapping the Oral Space of Time

Let us examine how this adventure of the Unhappy Consciousness unfolds toward a sublimation of its immanent contradictions. Joaquin’s two novels originate from the matrix of tale-telling. the core problem we need to engage with is the nature and consequentiality of those experiences rendered by Joaquin’s moralizing tales. And what shapes of memory and hope may be glimpsed and delineated so as to give counsel, wisdom, or whatever, to its modern audience. Who this audience is and where, remains also as problematic as the specific necessities and contingencies underlying both Joaquin’s life and the still taken-for granted sociohistorical situation that is the condition of possibility of his art.

To answer this question, let us take as specimen the widely-anthologized “The Summer Solstice.” The time-period (1850) is still colonial, peripheral suburb of Paco (also replicated in Obando, Bulacan) outside of the Walled City Manila,still pervaded with pagan practices. The Tadtarin, a three-day fertility festival, was overlaid/legitimized by the Christian feast of St. John the Baptist, enacts the death, flourishing, and birth of the sun/life-force. The Tadtarin is represented by an old woman who ritually dies, carrying a wound and a sheaf of seedlings; she is resurrected, the crowd of women-worshippers dancing around her, with St. John the Baptist figuring as the somewhat tabooed but engulfed phallic icon.The orgy is supposed to harmonize humans and the rhythm of the universe, here intimated by the triple-time dance steps evoking the sound of chopping something into small pieces (Roces). It is less a Dionysian debauchery than a celebration of desire, passion, lust, attuned to the organic cycle of animal/natural life.

But history, not myth, preoccupies Joaquin in celebrating June. In the zodiac-designed Almanac for Manilenos, Joaquin assigns the solstice month to Juno, the patroness of marriage and fertility, following prehistoric Roman tradition. But more significant is June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo’s proclamation of the independent Malolos Republic. June 24 is the feast of St John the Baptist canonized by Christ himself; “all the rest of humanity were born in sin,” adds Joaquin, except for St. John, Christ and the Virgin Mary (Almanac 170). But what for Joaquin is more significant is the founding of Manila by Legaspi on June 24, 1571, because with city records and chronology of deeds, Spanish conquest gave history to the country and began to eradicate pagan myths and obscurantist practices like astrology and occult fortune-telling.

Communal time, however, is cyclical and cannot be reduced to the spatial linearity of the scientific calendar. What Joaquin does is to use this social/cultural arena to dramatize the phase of consciousness which Hegel described as the conflict of slave and lord, the bondsman and master. In it the slave wins recognition (self-consciousness) via his labor and creation, whereas the lord remains in-himself, sunk in empirical solitude, treating the slave as a thing/object. In the relation between Dona Lupeng and the husband Rafael Moreta, the archetypal gender-war centers on the woman’s introflection of the collective, universal for-itself of the community. She is no longer just wife or mother, for she now embodies the in-itself/for-itself Subject that mediates between the patriarchal law of property-owning society (wives and children are the slaves in the Roman familia). The melodramatic episode of the husband crawling to kiss the wife’s foot has externalized the Unhappy Consciousness into a fight between two humans reduced to animal/physical sensations, with mastery as the object/goal, in the realm of the empirical/natural life. We are remote from any hope of reaching the self-conscious Universal that sublimates the organic/biological impulse into the ordered ethical sphere of the family and self-reflecting Spirit of civilization.

Joaquin’s resort to the strategy of Christian evangelicism assimilating/adapting pagan rituals can also be observed in the other tales: “Dona Jeronima,” “May Day Eve,” “Guardia de Honor,” and “The Order of Melkizedek.” In the latter, the sacrifice of Guia betokens the return of the Manichean casuistry personified by the guilt-ridden Fr. Lao.
But at the same time, with Fr. Melchor standing for a recurrent urge to repeat the inaugural sacrament of the Feast of Circumcision, and the founding of a new millenary movement to renew society, Joaquin revives the roots of the Unhappy Consciousness by the emblem of the “burning bush,” his toothbrush and the burning plane-ticket filling the void of the niche in Salem House.

The would-be dialectical mediators of opposing forces, the tutored Candido and the moralizing Sid Estiva, seem unable to grasp the negativity of the empirical surface. They remain trapped in sensuous certainty, the antinomy of desire and sinfulness, unable to leap to inward capture of Other’s inwardness, remaining torn by heterogenous immediacy. In this hardboiled detective story, the “Sign of the Milky Seed –a pun on seminal fluid—or the Order of Melkizedek generates Father Melchor, side by side with the revenger Fr. Lao, who seem to parody the vocation of those “justified and sanctified by God’s grace” and who “offers his existence in sacrifice to God’s incomprehensible dominion (Rahner and Vorgrimler 376). Sid Estiva is just a catalyst in the return of the priestly order so that the political millenarism of the youth (Guia and her circle) is sublimated into the erotic affairs of the adult guardians (for a diagnosis of this shift in Western philosophy, see Taylor).

A millenary impulse of prefiguring the return of the Messiah underlies this project of Joaquin to resolve the sordid dilemma of the Unhappy Consciousness. It evokes the delusionary phantasies of victims of overwhelming catastrophes in the Middle Ages, replete with a demon scapegoats, messianic leaders, millennial mirages, together with the army of Saints ready to purify earth so as to establish “the new Jerusalem, the shining Kingdom of the Saints (Cohn 73). The Pauline image of the crucified Christ, hinted by Father Melchor, invokes the millenary tradition of revivalist sects inspired by St. John’s apocalypse (Smith 172-79), a repetition-compulsion lacking catharsis. What needs underscoring is St. Augustine’s insistence that the millennial kingdom wished-for by millenarian movements actually began with the birth of Christ. One historian notes that in the anti-Papacy movements (for example, the Anabaptists) from the thirteenth to the sixteenth, “the earlier millenarianism bloomed again in full vigor. It became part of the baggage of the Reformation and has continued to the present day, a seemingly necessary consequence of verbal inspiration of the Scriptures” (Mead 492). Joaquin’s revival of this chiliastic, millenarian tendency testifies to a reformist, if not revolutionary impulse in his work that connects with the genealogy of our rich tradition from Tamblot to the Colorums and Mt Banahaw sects, the Rizalistas, up to the revolt of the Lapiang Malaya of Valentin de los Santos on May 21, 1967 (Agoncillo and Guerrero 508).

Triangulating Counter-Modernism

Counter-modernist reformation evokes not a return to a utopian past but a futuristic projection of an authentic fulfillment. It might be worthwhile to note first, as a propaedeutic, the time-span of Joaquin’s production of his stories and novels, between 1946 and 1966, except for “Three Generations,” published in 1940. We are plunged into the postwar milieu of “Liberation,” the onset of the Cold War, the founding of Communist China, the Korean War, the upsurge and crushing of the Huk rebellion, and the Vietnam War. For Joaquin, as his polemics against U.S. neocolonialism in the articles on WW2, Bataan, Corregidor, etc. indicate, the single traumatic event is the destruction of Manila and Intramuros in 1945. That holocaust also spelled the confusion, anomie, and decadence of a feudal, comprador formation, evinced in “The Order of Melkizedek,” “Candido’s Apocalypse,” and “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino.”

So fixated is Joaquin to this sequence of episodes that one might categorize Joaquin’s art under the rubric of trauma-psychodrama due for psychoanalysis. But if one seeks a pedagogical or ethico-political motivation behind this obsession, it might be heuristic to sketch here a metacommentary on the singular way that Joaquin selects events, personages, locales, etc., in order to resolve recurrent aporias, conflicts or tensions that block normal everyday life. What we need is a symptomatic deciphering of this fixation, the repetition-compulsion if you will, in order to ascertain Joaquin’s position in the raging struggle for true independence and popular sovereignty.

It is easy to demonstrate how Joaquin exorcises the haunting specter of WW2 catastrophe by imposing a break, an ineluctable cut between past and present. This is clear in “The Mass of St, Sylvestre.” The GI soldier’s colloquial flat idiom to convey his witnessing is both truthful and parodic. Anglo-Saxon technology/photography cannot capture the aura of a ritual, the sacramental cathexis of joining past and future through collective repetition. What supersedes the soldier’s momentary vision is the recording of the sight of ruins, blocks and blocks of ruins—the heritage left by McArthur’s “liberation.” The present sensibility can never fully capture the substance of Manila’s history, so let us resign ourselves to that stark separation, that gap or rupture which seems impossible to cover up.
In stories like “Three Generations,” “May Day Eve,” and “Guardia de Honor” where the the problem of continuity is also staged, the moment of epiphany connecting generations is Joaquin’s easy fix. The father in “Three Generations” repeats compulsively the past which the son refuses to accept. In “May Day Eve,” the weeping Badoy struggles to discover coherence in the discordances of the past afforded by the urban rituals of Intramuros. Meanwhile, in “Guardia de Honor,” the contingency of everyday life furnishes the space for humans to exercise free-will by following sensuous inclination and intuition (chiefly Natalia Ferrero’s) who bridges the gulf between parental authority and the children’s right to decide their destinies. In all three stories, we find a formula to reconfigure the repetition-compulsion as a wound healed by the same passage of time that allows the subject, the spiritually tormented protagonists of the three decades of US colonial occupation to accept historical necessity without the benefit of Christian transcendence. In “A Portrait,” the role of Bitoy Camacho, the narrator-participant, easily plays the role of mediator, tying past and present, suturing the wounds of self-denials, hypocrisies, compromises, and fatalism distributed among family members, relatives, and strangers.

Confounded Temporality

Modern times spelled worse individualist competition among clans, family dynasties, and ethnic assemblages. I think it is imperative to remind ourselves that our colonization aborted our entrance to modernity—bourgeois industrial society—precisely because the U.S. preserved the feudal landlord system overlaid by a comprador-bureaucratic setup. Except for a semblance of urbanization (railroad, highways), selective meritocracy and a paternalistic electoral system, the old order of exploitation of workers and peasantry, together with the repression of the indigenous/ethnic folk (Moros, Igorots, Lumads), prevailed. Proofs of this are the numerous peasant revolts, uprising of millenary sects, and the Sakdal/Huk rebellion of the thirties, forties and fifties. The center failed to hold, everything seems to be falling apart. The surrender of Bataan and Corregidor is a prelude to the rapacious epoch of the next thirty years after MacArthur’s bombing of Manila.

In brief, we failed to make the transition, suspended in the dying world of Crisostomo Ibarra and a new world struggling to be born. In between we witness mobid, bizarre symptoms of agonized existence. We see how the reality of uneven/combined development preserved an ethos of hierarchical manners/customs, patriarchal despotism, and superstitious beliefs anchored to a backward agricultural/pastoral economy which clashed with bourgeois commercial interventions that undermined its drive for harmony. How to reconcile the polar opposites of communal solidarity and individualist-familial selfishness, is one way of formulating the problem. There is no returning back to a utopian golden age of theocratic diplomacy and honor-centered decorum. Joaquin’s praise of “custom and ceremony” and its twin children, beauty and innocence, seems an ironic resignation to the implacable onslaught of social Darwinism in the twenties and thirties, and the predatory business antagonisms of family dynasties during the postwar regimes of Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal and Marcos.

Counterfeiting the Tale-teller

In the rural/pastoral world of the three centuries before the outbreak of the Katipunan rebellion, the tale or oral narrative provided not only entertainment but knowledge. From Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, the tale served to distill folk-wisdom in the guise of fantastic occurrences (as in folklore dealing with supernatural characters), or the prowess of heroic pioneers (Paul Bunyan). In the Philippines, aside from the pasyon and saint’s lives, the medieval romances of chivalric protagonists and adventures elaborated in Ibong Adarna or Bernardo Carpio postponed death by the Scheherezade trick of endless multiplication of episodes. Medieval vision literature as well as the exempla in the Gesta Romanorum, or the prodigious inventions in Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, or in Voltaire’s Candide, offer models for adaptation. The duration of storytelling afforded a home for raconteur and listeners, as well as counsel that can be extrapolated from the ending of the adventures.

This is the tradition of the short-story form followed by Joaquin. It is basically the orally-disseminated tale that goes against Joaquin’s prejudice against it in favor of the visually-oriented narrative (Joaquin Discourses 67-72). Ironically, Joaquin’s gothic retelling of legends invokes the power of the aural or auditory imagination so carefully documented by Walter Ong. But, as T.S. Eliot once said, tradition cannot be inherited. Joaquin labored hard to deploy versions of the tall tale, or traveller’s yarns, in “The Legend…” and “Dona Jeronima.” They are aesthetic stories made out of stylistic devices and motifs taken from gothic romances. which utilized the “gradual heightening of psychological tension of the sensation story and the concealment of meaning associated with the detective story, along with ‘fine writing,’ to make an overt bid for high prestige” (Ferguson 189).

The crisis confronted in them inheres in the sharp division between the sacred and profance, the worldly and spiritual. Incorporating vice and piety, Currito Lopez’s soul is saved by the intervention of the Virgin. However, this event cannot be made intelligible to a secular crowd without the mediation of Dona Ana de Vera. The contradictions between the debased world of sixteenth-century Spain/Manila and its exaltation of saintly virtues are resolved by the domestic routine of a devout Dona Ana. There is no hint of suspicion that the miraculous and the ordinary can co-exist harmoniously in the person of Dona Ana, the exemplary mother of an official in the early days of Spanish pacification of the islands.

Unless amnesia has overtaken the colonial state, in 1613, the memory of the Lakandola-Soliman revolt of 1574. and the Magat Salamat and Agustin de Legaspi 1587 conspiracy in the Manila area has probably not been wiped out. In 1589 and 1695, several uprisings in Ilocos and Cagayan against reduccion and tributes might have disturbed conscienstious administrators of the provinces. And before the decade passed, the Bankaw uprising (1621) was followed by the Tamblot rebellion (1622) which exploded with thousands of natives in Bohol rallying to the native priest, attacking churches and opposing the fifty Spaniards and one thousand native troops recruited from Pampanga and Cebu (Constantino 85; Veneracion 57, Zafra 72). No doubt Currito and Dona Ana seemed oblivious of rebellions happening around them, turning the rest of 17th-century Philippines into a cauldron of nativist fury against Church and State.

With the flourishing of the galleon trade and its eventual demise, the schism between the worldly and the spiritual intensified. The reliance on tribute, polo y servicios, ravaging of the natural resources (gold and silver), and exploitation of native labor can no longer be maintained in the face of British naval superiority in the 17th century. The capture of Manila by the British in 1752 kindled numerous uprisings against Spanish tyranny throughout the islands. One can no longer expect the Catholic Church and its hegemony to continue without serious erosion and eventual collapse. Joaquin wrestled with this threat in Dona Jeronima: she becomes the symbolic return of the repressed, only to be tamed, recuperated, ultimately subdued. But the dialectical process of subsumption of the wild or dangerous appear spurious or fraudulent: a myth-making compromise yokes the penitent Archbishop/lover with the wasted Jeronima. She becomes the local deity of the place, the new diwata celebrated by varying generations. But both lovers transcend their original historical matrix and acquire mythical aura, forfeiting the possibility of realizing the identity-in-difference born of self-consciousness and the labor of negative determination.

Syncretic Allegory

Is the narrative scheme of unifying opposites a mystification? Philipine Catholicism is a syncretic product of the fusion of medieval doctrines and folk mythology, This approximates the lesson of “Dona Jeronima.” However, the process of reconciliation elides a final closure because the Archbishop’s ring cannot be recovered from the river, emblem of the flux of nature and worldly existence. We are suspended in the sphere of what Hegel calls “the unhappy consciousness,” the transitional passage of Spirit (“Geist” may be designed as the Aristotelian enargia or cosmic life-force, to put it simply) from Stoicism. a thoroughgoing negation of the world sunk infear and servitude, to Scepticism which dissolves all rules, perceptions, certainties. But this freedom of the Skeptic “reinstates the dogmatism that it both requires and negates.” In short, it embodies a truly paradoxical situation. distinguished by inner contradictions one-sidedly resolved by the proud self-righteous Stoic and the ironic dialectic of the slave’s mastery over the lord.

Hegel’s notion of the “Unhappy Consciousness” refers to the dual experience of medieval Christendom, a tension between the Changeable and Unchangeable. It epitomizes the negativity of human existence. Hegel explains that this contradictory, inwardly disrupted consciousness typical of Judaism and medieval Christianity “is the gazing of one self-consciousness into another, and itself is both, and the unity of both is also its essential nature. But it is not yet explicitly aware that this is its essential nature, or that it is the unity of both” (126). We follow the pious man’s struggle “to synthesize his double consciousness, in which each of the opposed terms finds itself again and again in the other, but in a merely implicit union with its other, which again and again dissolves ande sharpens the agony of severance” (Mure 79). As Findlay paraphrases it, “Each approach to the Godhead must, therefore, be succeeded by the painful reaffirmation of its own nothingness, each positive achievement or enjoyment by an act of humble thanksgiving for Divine Grace” (98).

Hegel’s description of the “Unhappy Consciousness” in The Philosophy of Religion can be applied to the experience of the Archbishop in Dona Jeronima, as well as to aspects of the Dying Wanton’s life, and the predicament of the major protagonists in “Candido’s Apocalypse,” “The Order of Melkizedek,” and The Woman Who Had Two Navels. Note the syncopated turns of consciousness and reciprocal effects of each on the other: “In thought I raise myself to the absolute, transcending all that is finite. I am therefore an infinite consciousness, and at the same time I am a finite consciousness of myself in my whole empirical make-up. The two terms approach each other and fly each other. I am the feeling, the intuition, the imagining of this unity, of this conflict; and I am the connection of the conflicting terms. I am this combat. I am not one of the combatants engaged but both of them. and the combat itself. I am the fire and the water which make contact. I am the contact and the unity of the utterly self-repelling” (quoted by Mure 49-50).

The circumscribed mercantilist milieu of the galleon trade traverses the 17th century punctuated by the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and St John’s “dark night of the soul.” Mexican silver was exchanged for Chinese goods via the port of Manila on the way to Acapulco and eventually to Spain. The tragicomedy of the Archbishop’s rescue from shipwreck, and withdrawal from the city to inhabit the riverside hermitage to confront his past captures one way the colony survived on the fact of rapid socioeconomic changes—for one, the subordination of Spain to British commerce (Constantino 110). One can perceive the shiftings, permutations, and reiterations of Subjective Spirit registering those historical transformations in this passage where Joaquin animates the vicissitudes of the “Unhappy Consciousness” caught between the city and the navigable river, the aporia of the changeless and the mutable, where the meaning of the quest is at stake:

Riding forth from the city at twilight, the Arch bishop shivered with senseless excitement and wondered if revelation was at hand. On the desert isle and the retreat on the riverbank, he had pressed with might and main for an answer…Children accepted the earth with frank pleasure;. and lost innocence only in the grief of knowing themselves exiles from elsewhere. Was the quest, then, a relearning of this frank pleasure—and of reverence for the despised flesh, astonishment for the scorned world? Was it this quest which, extending beyond this life, made flesh and its fevers, even if they be forever and ever, not hell but at worse a purgatory, a school for lovers? (163).

While there is combat between the priestly lover and the pagan woman, there is no internalization of the Other. What reconciles them is the collective belief, transforming both into mythical deities of the place. The negative totality of each does not evolve into self-conscious “negation of the negation.” Instead, a sacramental aura shrouds both, elevating them into a timeless, supernatural domain. Similar but different from “The Summer Solstice,” where the dionysian revelry of women mediates Dona Lupeng’s sensuous self into a demand for recognition, here the vision of the eternal river—the cycle of natural existence. the mirage of immediacy—closes the Unhappy Consciousness’ quest.

From Duplicity to Mourning Cathexis

We have tried to sketch here a cognitive mapping of the terrain encompassed by Joaquin’s effort to thwart the onslaught of alienated labor. Its symptoms in a still ascendant but eroded patriarchal institution and its oligarchic ideology survives in the family. The bourgeois family sustains the servitude of women, wives and mothers, confined to housework and the care of children. Masculine domination of the public world is guaranteed by the isolation of women to the sexual/animal domain (as in “The Summer Solstice”) or as sacrificial offerings (Guia, Dona Jeronima). It would need the intervention of Connie Escobar and the two sisters, Paul and Candida, to untangle the misery and greed of the pettybourgeois family, the tyranny of the fathers and their surrogates, to actualize the Concept of the Subject as identity-in-difference.

In the archive of critical commentary on this story (extended into a novel), the theme of doubleness, hybridity, and ambivalent identity predominate. Bienvenido Lumbera impressed by Joaquin’s “dramatic rendering of an obssesive problem of the Westernized Filipino intellectual caught between the pressures of his people’s history and of two colonial cultures—that of national identity” (Lumbera and Lumbera 244). More recurrent is the theme of the “divided Filipino psyche” urged by the Singaporean Shirley Lim who locates the problem of Filipino identity not in its dualism but in “the denial of that fracture” (73). Practically all critics subscribe to the consensus that the two-navelled women emblematizes the syndrome of disrupted, indeterminate or differentialed psyche/sensibility of Filipinos, a simplifying formulation that reduces the complex manifold antagonisms into a prictorial proposition (for a deviant take, see San Juan. Toward a People’s Literature; Subversions). Opposed to this individualistic, empiricist reading, I propose focusing attention on the institution of the family and its embeddedness in a society of exchange and its historical specificity. This includes the mediation of labor, the metabolism between society and nature (Lukacs 109-12).The form of doubleness is only an offshoot of the logic of determination construed as negation, as adumbrated in the vacillations of the “Unhappy Consciousness.”But what is crucial is to ascertain the historically variable content of the form which defines the meaning of substantive ethical transactions.

In Joaquin’s ilustrado family, we discern not the unifying force of love, but “the barbarism of private property against family life” (Marx, Critique 99). The labor of the negative in history escapes the narrative milieu of these tales. They subsist in the sphere of natural needs, egocentric appetites, with brute force imposed on workers and peasants. Would “The Woman with Two Navels” and “The Portrait” demonstrate a contrary process of resolving the contradictions of atomistic society and its individualistic ethos of inward spirituality or hypocritical sociability. We have noticed that in spite of forced denouement, all the knots are not tied by the convergence of events and compromise of charaters. The texts reveal their fissured, distrupted fabric, “disparate and diffuse from being the outcome of the conflicting contradictory effect of superimposing real processes which cannot be abolished in it except in an imaginary way” (Balibar and Macherey 284).

One indication of this ideological strategy is the situation of Paco Texeira. Haunted by the totemic mother (represented here by Concha Vidal), he grapples from the pole of narcissism to object-eroticism by shifting the libidinal object to Connie Escovar. His journey and sojourn in Manila is an attempt to heal the wounds/disruption of his own family and thus achieve self-integration. But even after the combat with Connie, Paco emerges victorious, only to be hounded by the Furies in the shape of the Philippine landscape that his father told him about. He thought he had escaped Connie/Concha, “But looking up and seeing the mountais, his heart stopped, his eyes started out of his head, his throat screamed soundlessly. He had not escaped, he had not fled at all—for there she still was, stretched out under the sky, the sly look in her eyes and the bloody smile on her lips, and her breasts and shoulders naked” (Joaquin 103).On this function of equating mother/homeland, Geza Roheim comments: “Neurosis separates the individual from his fellows and connects him with his own infantile images. Culture (sublimation) leads the libido into ego-syntonic channels by the creation of substitute objects. The most important of these substitutes is a human being, the wife who replaces the mother (quoted in La Barre 167).

So it is Paco Texeira, the hybrid child, outsider/insider to the Hong Kong exiles, that fulfills what the Monson family failed to do: return to the father’s homeland, affirming patriarchal origin. Paco’s memory reinstates the position of his vagrant father, bringing him to life, acknowledging him as a source of vital wholeness: “He had clutched at the railing as he gazed at the mountains in astonished delight, thinking of himself as a boy, seated on the bed, staring at his father’s photograph, and trying to stir up some feeling over his father’s death….The astonishment had renewed itself all the time he was in Manila, every time he looked up and suddenly saw the sleeping woman outlined against the sky—and it changed the indifference with which he had come into his father’s country into a stirring of clan-emotion–a glow, almost, of homecoming” (89). But the homeland offered only the camaraderie of the band of musicians, and the Oedipal threat of incest and the killing of the totemic father.

From Family to Polis: The Antigone Effect

From Hegel’s perspective, the family serves as the natural basis of political life, making humans ethical beings. It is the “obscure right of the natural element within spiritual relationship.” It stands for individual versus communal right. Hegel perceives that in Greek society, “the old Gods are assigned the right of family situations in so far as these rest on nature and therefore are opposed to the public law and right of the community” (quoted in Rose 133). In Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, the conflict is between family right, the right to bury the dead, and communal right, the law of society. Both ethical powers clash. Antigone is compelled not by her character, but by pathos.”an inherently justified power over the heart, an essential content of rationality and freedom of the will” (Rosen 133). Collision of two equally necessary and substantial rights results into tragedy—those of Connie/Concha and of Candida/Paula—modulated into comic resolution with the reinstatement of the extended neofeudal family. The reaon is that in modern capitalism, only freedom in thought, not actual freedom, exists; and commodity-fetishism, reification, imposes the fatal necessity that constitutes normality.

Meanwhile, Joaquin shifts the stage of the conflict from mother/daughter to father/sons. It is the cultural milieu of the Monson family that becomes the mode of sublimating anxieties, a network of defense mechanisms consisting of Pepe Monson, Father Tony, Rita Lopez, and the domestic hearth of Mary Texeira, the wife. It is the wife who substitutes for the mother, stabilizing the gap between narcissistic fixation and object-eroticism. The wife serves as the matrix of the family which serves multiple functions (economic provision, exchange of sexual services, socialization); But more important than all the tasks performed by the family, Eric Wolf reminds us, “it remains also, even where ties of kinship are highly diffuse, the bearer of virtue, and of its public reflection, reputation. Because the family involves the ‘whole’ man, public evaluations of a man are ultimately led back to considerations of his family” (8).

The Matrix Principle

Women protagonists therefore uphold the familial niche containing the emblem of virtue. But this presumes the recognition of the unity-in-difference of women in the family. In Connie Escobar’s situation, Joaquin allegorized the fantasy of division and the spirit’s diremption. But she is not afflicted with the schizoid temperament of the Unhappy Consciousness. It is Paco Texeira, the musician, half-Filipino half-Portuguese, who undergoes the shifts, displacements, and confrontations of the Negative Totality that is Manila/Philippines after Liberation. Fleeing the clutches of the mother Concha Vidal, he pursues the daughter Connie. After offering a sacrificial doll to a Chinese god in Manila’s Chinatown—the flagrant Other demonized by the Spaniards by consigning them to the Parian ghetto outside Intramuros—Connie wrestles with Paco, a struggle that emblematizes the agon of master-slave long superseded by the Unhappy Consciousness. illusion and the pleasure-principle confronts the reality-principle immanent in Paco’s identification as member of the band. In any case, his return to his family reaffirms the husband-wife relation as, in Hegel’s terms, the one “in which one consciousness immediately recognizes itself in another, and in which there is knowledge of this mutual recognition” (Hegel, Phenomenology 273).

The two-navelled woman thus represents a return of Mother-right in the guise of Persephone replacing Demeter, or the Virgin’s immaculate privilege overshadowing the son/father link. Joaquin’s fable, however, returns to the predicament of the patriarch Monson disillusioned, disenchanted by the present order of anarchic individualism illustrated by the assertive Escovar and his mirror-image Paco. The older Monson is oblivious of changes in Phiippine society, still believing that he cannot utter “Nunc dimmitis servum tuum, Domine” (according to his children) because he still believes he is needed. This bubble of fixation or cathexis is threatened and destroyed by the intrusion of Concha Vidal and the daughter Connie, as though the Divine Law controlling natural existence represented the reality of neocolonial Philippines and its violent repression of peasants, workers, etc. in the Huk rebellion and the McCarthy Cold War fascist curtailment of civil liberties.

We can surmise that the two-navelled Connie and the flamboyant Concha Vidal are the twin faces of a society from which the Hong Kong exiles have kept distance, physical and psychological, a world of “dust and crabs…” Innocence has devolved into bitter disenchantment, not wisdom. This quasi-Gothic romance turned mystery thriller also renders the education of the Monson children and friends, as well as their initiation into the sphere of antagonisms, incongruities, violating traditional conventions and sacrosanct decorum:

The mirror’s cracked world was safe no longer; was perilous with broken glass, teeming with ghosts; was now the world where Paco waited for the strangle-hold and dear good Mary told lies and the cautious Rita was dazzled by dragons and Tony hid in a monastery and fathers took drugs and mothers had lost their dictionaries and young women had two navels….(Joaquin, The Woman 111).

This concludes the short story, which was expanded later into a novel at the end of which Connie and Paco together set out on a new journey, presumably suggesting the dynamics of “free will” and a future unchained from contingency and determinations. It is the birth of another illusion: the Kantian noumenal world of abstract universality without content, a floating signifier vulnerable to all forces that can limit and undermine it.

Portrait of Consumable Artifact

In Joaquin’s expanded novel, the tension between private and public worlds is dissolved with the compromises of both Connie and the patriarch Monson. Both “The Woman” and “Portrait” are Joaquin’s attempts to heal the rupture between the Spanish decrepit heritage and the dominance of Anglo-Saxon bourgeois norms. This rupture, however, was constituted by heterogenous elements: the betrayal of the revolution by the ilustrados, the suppression of peasant and workers’ insurrections by the U.S.-patronized oligarchy, and the destruction of Manila and the whole country for the sake of maintaining U.S. imperial hegemony. In “The Woman,” the thematic problem was how to rescue the patriarchal regime from the disruption by the natural powers (embodied by the mother-daughter’s wild pursuit of Paco, the wandering half-breed occupying both worlds) unleashed by the savagery of survivors and returning masters. In “The Portrait,” the crisis is shifted to the eve of World War II, just as Manila was preparing to become “the Open City” to the Japanese invaders, an eventuality muted by the La Naval de Manila procession that punctuates the concluding scene. And this time, the burden of discharging the blockage of sentiment, hopes, and aspirations—a profound trauma unrelieved by mourning and melancholia–is placed on two sisters, Candida and Paula.

Let us return to the milieu of familial ethics. Having deployed the Hegelian notion of the “Unhappy Consciousness” to characterize the situation of typical protagonists as the Archbishop in “Dona Geronima,” the father in “Three Generations,” and Sid Estiva in “The Order,” the teenager in “Candido’s Apocalypse,” it might be useful again to invoke Hegel on the role of the nuclear family, esp. the sisters, in clarifying the ethical problem. Here, of course, it is the artist Don Lorenzo Marasigan, afflicted with a spiritual lethargy/paralysis similar to the elder Monson, whose painting, an allegory of his social/moral predicament, has become an albatross on the lives of the sisters. But why assign the therapeutic agency to the sisters?

The traditional family is in crisis here. But the free individualities of the children prevails—they have no desire for one another. Hegel contends that “the feminine in the form of the sister. has the highest intuitive awarenss of what is ethical. She does not attain to consciousness of it, or to the objective existence of it, because the law of the Family is an implicit inner essence, which is not exposed to the daylight of consciousness, but remains an inner feeling and the divine element that is exempt from an existence in the real world.” The ethical life of the woman, the sister, is distinctive because “in her vocation as an individual and in her pleasure, her interest is centered on the universal and remains alien to the particularity of desire.” In the sisters Paul and Candida, we behold the affirmation of the individual’s right to recognize and be recognized, not ruined by desire. They fulfill the governance of the household and “the guardian of the divine law” from which the community derives its power and authentication” (Phenomenology 276).

But are Candida and Paula liberated from the spell of their father’s painting and the obligation accrued by this gift? This insight into the vocation of the woman as mediating the natural/divine and the empirical/legality occurs within the framework of the family. Within the ethical perspective sketched by Hegel, the family holds a universality based on intuition, separate from the all-embracing concept of the Kantian categorical imperative. Each family member sees herself in the others and acknowledges the difference; but being a form of natural cohesion—notice how need and material desires command the behavior of the elder siblings, Tony Javier, etc.—and so cannot be the model of a social and political cohesion. That is why the play dramatizes the disintegration of that old order anchored to needs, appetites, and the vacillations of the Unhappy Consciousness.

Remembrance as Tragicomic Catharsis

We come finally to the apocalypse of the hispanicized Filipino artist. Assuming that “The Portrait” is an attempt to draw the Filipino as an artist, a sensibility attuned to the sensuous, empirical environment, why Don Lorenzo’s painting such a burden to the sisters and a point of bitter conflict in the family? And does the drama really convey the emancipation of the sisters and Don Lorenzo from bondage with the imagined past?

Consider, as a specimen of wrongheaded judgment, the opinion of Leonard Casper, revered as a superior expert on Filipino writing. Casper extols the moral proselytizing message we need to chew : “For the public, the play is an elegy for lost virtues—childhood innocence; it is a reminder of the First Fall; its appeal therefore is to every man…..Victory for the spirit here (one cannot quite say the soul) is so nearly complete that, finally, there is no sense of loss. The past is carried into the future on the shoulders of the present, as in Marasigan’s painting of Aeneas bearing from Troy on his shoulders an Anchises whose face is his own” (141). If the past is simply transported to the present without any change, given the repetition of the artist’s face in both father and child, then we are faced with the triumph of necessity, contingency, the force of brute material fatality antithetical to the “innocence and beauty” born from custom and ceremony. Instead of a tragic collision of two morally valid positions, as in Sophocles’ Antigone (Wimsatt and Brooks), we have a comic closure: the sisters finally demonstrating their fidelity/kinship with the father’s sense of honor indivisible with Catholic dogma (signified by his heading the La Naval procession).

We can ask whether spirit or private property proved victorious in Joaquin’s allegory of the Filipino artist. If spirit is equivalent to person, the free individual of modern bourgeois society, Gillian Rose reminds us that
persons were first defined in Roman law as “bearers of legal property rights…The possessor [of property] is recognized in law as a person. ‘Personality’ is an abstraction of the law, and the claim to possess is the basis of the right to be recognized by law” (66-67). From this proceeds the institutions of exchange and contract, based on the division of labor and the control of surplus. “Exchange and contract depend on the recognition of formal equalities which presuppose lack of identity or inequality” (Rose 67). In the Philippines during U.S. colonial rule, the institutions of exchange and contract prevailed over the old traditional social customs premised on honor, gift-giving, noblesse oblige, and near incestuous arrangements.

What seems hidden by the aura of Don Lorenzo’s painting is the reality of what’s going on around the house. The atmosphere of defeat, panic, and desperate escape of father/son from a devastated city keeps us distracted from the fierce antagonisms of individuals inside and outside the house. In the colonial order administeredby bourgeois rules, every individual has right to own property; but this presupposes people without property, considered as “things,” and therefore subordinated or enslaved. It is the family governed by intuition, feeling, that restores genuine totality of multiple connections, an identity of needs, sexual difference, and relations of parents to children outside from formal contractual relations of ownership. Despite the varying interpretations of the allegorical substance of the painting, the focus was always on the artist/creator, not the circumstances or context of its genesis. Thus, even with the disappearance or loss of the sacralized art-work, we never grasp the principle of unity (property relations) binding the characters. The universal spirit of the community cannot spring from particularistic appetites and needs (Hegel, Phenomenology 267-787). We may infer their distinctive motives and interests, but we never see the process of recognition in which each person internalizes the other as a possible element or stage of her development. A glimmer of self-consciousness only arrives with Bitoy Camacho’s retrospective summation, a choric voice that substitutes for the missing universality of a rational civic spirit (here fulfilled by the ritual of La Naval Procession) that synthesizes the old and new onto a higher level of historical evolution. Consciousness of the protagonists do not return to themselves to become self-reflexive. Except for the detached encompassing view of Camacho, the identity-in-difference sought for never materializes even in the superimposed procession of the Virgin
and the idolization of the auratic patriarch, Don Lorenzo.

Better To Give Than to Receive?

The question faced by the sisters revolves around the disposition of the father’s painting. Do they have the right? Since it was the father’s gift to them, does that act entail obligations that prevent its sale or transfer to another? At one point, the Senator Perico and his contemporaries suggested that the painting should be donated to the government since, somehow, it is a national treasurer that belongs to all the citizens. However, the need of the sisters to survive physically forces them to consider its sale, which they hesitate to do, since they still operate in the realm of intuition, sentiments, and blood-ties. They struggle between the realm of intuition/feeling and the realm of conceptual thought and legality, between their respect for tradition and the commonsensical advice of their siblings and friends. Paula’s resistance to Tony Javier, the failed attempts of Candida to secure a paying job, and the refusal of Manolo and Pepang to subsidize the household, all conspire to the final decision to destroy the painting, as an act of freeing themselves from necessity, from the anarchistic war of persons competing for profit, possessions, domination over others defined as non-persons. Instead of the gift (the art-work, the father’s honor, the “conscience” of the clan) becoming a commodity, it becomes a sacrifice, a token of a sacramental offering, to propitiate the gods of the household and the clan of kindred members. At the end, Paul and Candida affirm they “stand” with their father, with all the values the Marasigan house incarnate, and their beatific vision of the father heading the Virgin’s procession all confirm their disjunction from the empirical domain of contract and exchange of property/money.

We behold finally Bitoy Camacho’s rhetorical praise of the two sisters and his claim that thought the father, the sisters, and the house were destroyed by the global war, “they were never conquered. They were still fighting—right to the very end—fighting against the jungle.” Joaquin concludes with a tragic-comic flourish in Bitoy’s vow to remember and preserve the memory of the Marasigan household and the “city of our affections,” amid the encroachment of the jungle and the falling of bombs. But his promise to continue and preserve what, is not clearly enunciated. What exactly will he celebrate when he sings about the fall the house of the Marasigans. What standard or norms immanent in his vocation can legitimize his appeal to be heard or listened to, and be taken seriously?

And so, in the ultimate reckoning, the glorious civilization that Joaquin celebrates in the ilustrado families of Intramuros remains the feudal order overlaid with Anglo-Saxon trimmings (represented by the journalists, the musicians, pettybourgeois intruders). Gifts instead of commodities confer prestige, status, honor. I endorse Lucien Goldmann’s view that the novel form—here applicable to Joaquin’s entire body of work—transposes into literary form the everyday life of people in market society. Consequently, the author represents the collective consciousness of a segment of the society he addresses, with which he identifies and whose destiny he is trying to articulate (1-17).

As everyone acknowledges, Joaquin, is the artist of the hispanicized group of Filipinos, the ilustrados exemplified by Rizal, Juan Luna, Claro Recto, his father Col. Leocadio Joaquin, or Jose Garcia Villa’s father Dr. Simeon Villa—whose world disintegrated with U.S. colonial subjugation. Col. Joaquin was “a prominent lawyer in the American era; and the businessman who turned Herran street (now Pedro Gil) into the commercial hub of Paco” (Yuson and Arcellana; Lanot). Of more significance for the artist was the death of his father when he was 13 years old; and the subsequent transfer from Paco to another district farther from the ancestral home. It was Joaquin’s mission to not just elegize the urbane world of his father, but to resurrect it and universalize it. His vocation was reconstructive: faced with the chaos of post-Liberation Philippines, he sought to make intelligible the fragments of public life. For the heirs of the revolutionary 1896 period, he sought to organize a coherent, viable understanding of their predicament that can synchronize if not harmonize. in a future stage, the valued mores and sacred institutions of the past and the profane, secular imperatives of predatory business society. In effect, Joaquin’s strove to recuperate the apocalyptic drive of the defeated, the martyrs and conquered, since for him “Apocalyptic—a madness of hope born of despair—was the true, the original, climate of Christianity, and in this climate, too, evidently, revolutions are bred” (Culture 263). Whether this endeavor succeeded, as Joaquin speculates in his self-interpretation, “Apologia Pro Tribu Sua,” remains a contentious topic for current scholars.

Meanwhile, around and underlying it, the governing property-relations of inequality unfolds its logical end in war. In the worsening crisis of neocolonial society today in the regime of Duterte and U.S. hegemony, what is needed is not remembrance as such to appreciate and revaluate Joaquin’s works. Suspicion hermeneuts abound everywhere. But what is needed is what the feminist scholar Elisabeth Fiorenza calls “a hermeneutics of actualization” in which the potencies of Spirit—of self-conscious, critical minds—can interact with objective reality and release the repressed energies of the popular imagination. Such an actualization needs also the dialectical method of analysis first broached by Hegel in which the tragicomedy of the “Unhappy Consciousness” is properly
judged as a stage in the revolutionary transformation of our everyday life.
Of course, the labor of the negative operates mysteriously, even if we have not read Hegel, inscribing its own effects in multilayered “narrative time” of history (Ricoeur) in which we are all caught, whether we like it or not, as paraticipants, observers, and readers all manifesting symptoms of this melancholy enigmatic phase of the Absolute Spirit.

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