Genealogy of the National-Popular Project in the Philippines (1900-1940) by E.San Juan,Jr.


LumadGENEALOGY OF THE NATIONAL-POPULAR PROJECT OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION IN THE PHILIPPINES (1896-1940)

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

We did what we ourselves had decided upon—as free people, and 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. I said, “We are Sakdals…No uprising fails. Each one is a step in the right direction.

—Salud Algabre, a leader of the Sakdalista Uprising, 1935

Writers are, by the nature of their chosen task, the spearhead of progress. They voice the grievances as well as the aspirations of a nation; they document its achievements; they treasure for posterity the worthwhile efforts of man. They are the critics of things as they are; they are the dreamers of things as they should be; they cannot escape a large part of the responsibility for the shape of things to come.

—Resolution of the First Filipino Writers Conference, 25 February 1940; Philippine Writers League

Of all theoretical concepts dominating global exchanges today, nationalism has proved the most contentious and intractable. The British scholar John Dunn, has probably seized the twin horns of the dilemma underlying the phenomenon. He diagnosed contemporary nationalism as “a moral scandal because the official ethical culture of almost the entire world is a universalist ethical culture.” Despite this, he locates its efficacy in its paradoxical situation: “If democracy is the resolved mystery of all constitutions, nationalism is perhaps the resolved mystery of all boundaries in a world which is densely practically related across boundaries—a world of international exchange and drastically unequal power and enjoyment” (1979, 62). In effect, the local enables the global, the particular the universal. Precisely this linkage would be inconceivable without the persistence of nations, or nation-states. Internationalism was sanctified in Woodrow Wilson’s proposal to affirm the right of self-determination for all nations, at least those already extant. Unfortunately, it did not extend to peoples under colonial rule (such as the Philippines, India, IndoChina) or about to be re-colonized (such as Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico).

Dunn’s Eurocentric view seems unconscionable in light of the emergence of socialist nation-states such as China, Cuba, Algeria, Vietnam. We understand that Dunn was addressing the excesses of Nazi racial nationalism, while ignoring the British Empire’s claim to moral superiority and Europe’s ascendancy over people of color in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We need to be reminded that Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” was a triumphalist apology for US troops marching into the islands and civilizing those uncouth, “sullen” Filipinos. Since the Filipino-American War of 1899-1913, the yet “uncivilized” masses of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands, to cite just one instance, have begun to build their nation on the ruins of the Portuguese empire in 1974, a year before the victory of the Vietnamese over the US empire and its surrogates (Davis 1978). Is the universal principle of self-determination vindicated by those specific examples?

President Wilson’s “14 Points” proposal came with the breaking-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. It offered breathing space for tribal groups in Africa, as well as a motive or rationale to discover a self, a political medium which can undergo a “recognizable process of self-determination.” Such aspiration is supposed to be a political reaction to the Napoleonic conquest of Europe, but surely it preceded Napoleon. Nations such as France or England had long realized such aspiration “grounded in some existing sentiment of national or racial identity associated with common territory, language or religion—to form its own sovereign state and to govern itself” (Scruton 1982, 421).

Following that model, the break-up of the Spanish Empire in the 19th century led to the formation of Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, and Mexico in the South American wars of independence. Led by creoles disillusioned with theocratic colonialism, the various ethnic communities revolted not so much in the name of national self-determination but with the ideals of the Frencn revolution—“liberty, equality, fraternity”—in mind. General ideas of autonomy and group integrity coalesced with unique language and customs to produce the nation/nationality and the multifaceted philosophies of nationalism.

Transitional Passages

Clearly, as Lenin once put it, we need to distinguish the “nationalism” of the oppressed peoples against the jingoist/chauvinist “nationalism” of the oppressor nation (Lenin 1968; San Juan 2002). This is due to the geopolitical law of unequal and uneven development between metropolitan powers and subordinate, peripheral formations (for a succinct formulation, see Harvey 1977). We need to historicize any specific phenomenon or event to integrate form and content in an intelligible synthesis. In this context, it might be heuristic to pose the following inquiry. Was the Spanish colony in 1899, about to be annexed by the United States, just “an imagined community,” as Benedict Anderson (1983) would label it? Was it an artifice simply generated by print capitalism and commercial exchange which triggered consent from the letrado minority? Or was it, in Eric Hobsbawm’s (1994) phrase, an “invented tradition”? Or was the Filipino “nation” a process of active genesis with plural components, not ethnic purity, as the active catalyzer for the national-popular patria?

Given the unprecedented election of an outsider, President Rodrigo Duterte, and the explosive dispute over the islands in the South China sea, I would contend that the Filipino “nation” remains today an ongoing project of reconstruction. We are witnessing the ethnIcally diverse multitude of its inhabitants as the “constituent power” (Negri 1999). Challenged by Moro, Lumad, and communist insurgencies, the Filipino polity defined by oligarchic rule in a dependent, tributary formation is moribund, stricken with contradictions. Its vicissitudes may validate Marx’s late discovery that diffferent societies pursue multilinear, even idiosyncratic paths of modernization (Anderson 2010). Whether the people reconstitute the nation anew, or the neocolony suffers decay and dissolution with the U.S. empire, is open for speculation.

Arguably we find elements of all these trends in analyzing nation-formation as a heterogeneous process. Print culture certainly displaced orature and ritualized speech-acts when the galleon trade ended in 1815 and the country was opened to international trade. But it was not books or printed manifestoes that marked the advent of integral if syncretic consciousness; it was a rebellion, more deep and widespread than hundreds of previous insurrections in the last two centuries. The consensus is that the Cavite Mutiny of 1872, the sacrifice of three priests involved in the secularization movement, ushered a widespread consciousness of shared identity (Ileto 1998; Corpuz 2002, 1-26). Rizal, Mabini, and others confirmed this view. Renato Constantino reviews this conjuncture: “Where the concept of Filipino used to have a racial and later a cultural limitation, the repression that followed the Cavite mutiny made the three racial groups—creoles, mestizos and natives—join hands and become conscious of their growing development as a Filipino nation” (Constantino 1975, 143). Thus, it was the experience of a “common historical fate,” a shared destiny (Bauer, quoted in Lowy 1998, 46; see also Davis 1978) and the constellation of responses that midwived Filipino nationalism; it was not print technology and its bourgeois mediators that spelled the difference. In brief, any cogent conceptualization of Filipino nationalism needs empirical substantiation in the long durable tradition of anticolonial revolts and insurrections mounted by the masses of peoples living in the subjugated territories of the Philippine archipelago.

The 1896 revolution against Spain was initially a product of Filipino creolized ilustrados, foremost of whom were Jose Rizal, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and Marcelo del Pilar. In Barcelona and Madrid, the propagandists collaborated on the newspaper La Solidaridad as a vehicle for reformist agitation. Using Spanish to communicate to their colonizers, their declared aspirations were universalistic, not particularistic, namely: “to combat reaction, to stop all retrogressive steps, to extol and adopt liberal ideas, to defend progress; in a word, to be a propagandist, above all, of democratic ideas in order to make these supreme in all nations here and across the seas” (Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970, 143). There was no mention of a common language, distinct territory, cohesive economic unit—the prime characteristics of a nation, not of a tribal assemblage.

The Spanish colony then was a network of feudal-managed haciendas and scattered ethnolinguistic communities dominated by the Church. The secularist reformers espoused democratic, libertarian principles. If we follow the classic Marxist formula, they should have demanded the creation of a national market for a homogeneous population. Even when Rizal initiated La Liga Filipina to reprise the agitational-propandistic function of La Solidaridad, the focus transcended mere cultural or ethnic qualities of “peoples without a history” (to use Engel’s phrase) destined to extinction or incorporation by a larger superior group. The Liga aimed to “unite the whole archipelago into one compact, vigorous and homogeneous body,” provide “mutual protection” and “defense against all violence and injustice” (Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970, 156). In effect, Rizal expressed a revolutionary aim by envisaging the creation of a separate, independent social order, and overthrowing the colonial polity. Neither Church nor Spanish civil authority formed the nation; it was engendered by the revolutionary process (for an early articulation, see Leandro Fernandez’s exploratory “The Formation of Filipino Nationality” [1921]).

Andres Bonifacio was one of the original members of the Liga. With the Liga proscribed, Bonifacio and his former associates in the Liga organized the Katipunan. Using Tagalog—the native tongue of the central provinces of Luzon—they articulated the political goal of separation from Spain, the moral objective of rational autonomy, and the civic ideal of defending the poor and oppressed. Following the credo of mutual aid and reciprocity, the Katipunan vowed to pay the funeral expenses of its members to undercut the exorbitant fees of the Church. It demonstrated the dialectic of universal ideals and concrete local action in the process of fashioning a new nation.

One Divides Into Two

Given the anticolonial thrust of the 1896 revolution led by the Katipunan, Filipino nationalism from its beginning was forged from a plebeian-popular matrix. It was national in ascribing to the subjugated Indios, the indigenes, a cluster of singular qualities: fraternal sharing of goods, commitment to promises, faith in the enslaved subalterns’ wisdom and power to create a prosperous, free future. This is the message of Bonifacio’s manifesto, “Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog”: “Panahun na ngayong dapat na lumitaw ang liwanag ng katotohanan, panahon na dapat nating ipakilala na tayo’y may sariling pagdaramdam, may puri, may hiya at pagdadamayan….Kaya o mga kababayan! ating idilat ang bulag na kaisipan at kusang igugol sa kagalingan ang ating lakas sa tunay at lubos na pag-asa na mag tagumpay sa nilalayong kaguinhawahan ng bayang tinubuan” (Agoncillo 1963, 69). Productive work defines honor, self-respect, sensibility. Truth inheres in communal sharing. From this perspective, one can infer that the nation being formed will be rooted in the dynamic relations of oppressed, toiling subjects who have become conscious of their collective plight and, in forging solidarity through actions, begun to to fashion a liberated future.

Despite the defeat of the Ilustrado-compromised Malolos Republic, and the capture of the Katipunan-inspired General Sakay, the vital core of Filipino nationalism preserved its national-popular essence up to the outbreak of World War II. This implies an organic connection between intellectuals, the pedagogical agents of knowledge, and the affective-feeling sensibility of the masses that can be mobilized for structural change. The peasant majority and its offshoot, the middle stratum of artisans, rich peasants, and pettybourgois traders (contra-distinguished from a distinct proletariat) supplied the organic intellectuals of the nascent body politic.

The revolution of 1896 survived in underground and legal struggles. Bonifacio and the inheritors of the Enlightenment tradition—Isabelo de los Reyes, Tagalog writers Faustino Aguilar, Pedro Gatmaitan, Jose Corazon de Jesus, and Benigno Ramos, as well as the partisans of the Philippine Writers League (more on this later)—continued to define the parameters of national becoming. The anti-imperialist intelligentsia endeavored to synthesize universal knowledge and local sentiments into a “structure of feeling” (Williams 1961) capable of mobilizing the masses. The Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci conceived of the reciprocal interaction between understanding (intellectual) and feeling (the grassroots constituency) as the foundation of the emergent nation. Writers using the vernacular proved to be the most effective builders of this shared, communicated “structure of feeling,” as demonstrated by the popularity of the seditious, quasi-allegorical sarsuwelas of Aurelio Tolentino, Juan Abad, and Juan Matapang Cruz that incited audiences and led to the arrest and imprisonment of the dramatists (Lumbera and Lumbera 1982, 103-106).

The failure of the 1896 revolution sharpened the social division of labor, with the US occupation destroying the productive linkages of family, village and other institutional affiliations. The imposition of English competency as a prerequisite to careers in government and business divided the populace; disciplinary regimes installed in schools, hospitals, civil service, trained Filipinos to think individualistically in a competitive environment. Peasants released from debt peonage became “free” wage laborers thrown into an anomic urban space where the market fragmented their psyches. The crisis of the old communal mores and primordial affinities widened the division between city and countryside. Defeated and repressed, Filipino nationalists tried to resolve their historical predicament by “feeling the elementary passions of the people, understanding them and therefore explaining and justifying them in the particular historical situation and connecting them dialectically to the laws of history and to a superior conception of the world, scientifically and coherently elaborated—i.e. knowledge” (Gramsci 1971, 418). Pedro Gatmaitan’s poem “Pinaglahuan” illustrates this pedagogical-ethical diagnosis of the fragmentation of the collective psyche (Lumbera and Lumbera 1982, 204-205). As shown in the practice of writers such as Lope K. Santos, Jose Corazon de Jesus, Benigno Ramos and others, the revolutionary intelligentsia’s project of historicizing emotional patterns was translated into the task of constructing the hegemonic (moral-intellectual) leadership of the working class, in alliance with the peasantry, as the foundation of the emerging Filipino national identity (Saulo 1990; San Juan 2015).

Folk and Proletarian Synergesis

The intellectual practice of Isabelo de los Reyes exemplifies an early attempt to bridge thought and feeling in quest of a hypothetical nation. This effort has been amply described by William Henry Scott’s account of the vicissitudes of the first Filipino labor union, the Union Obrera Democratica (1992). Only a sketch of Reyes’ complex career can be given here to indicate one example of a nation-building project (see Mojares 2006; Scott 1982; Anderson 2005).

Linguistic versatility characterized Reyes’ ethnographic discourse. In 1889 Reyes launched the first vernacular newspaper in the Philippines, El Ilocano. Pursuing the historiographic recovery embodied in Rizal’s annotations on Morga’s Sucesos and his recuperation of native poetics, Reyes’ researches—among them, El Folklore Filipino (1889) and Historia de Ilocos (1890)—strove to articulate an identity rooted in specific localities across temporal divides. But it was his prison memoirs in Spanish, La Sensacional Memoria sobre la Revolucion Filipina (1899), and his attack on American imperialism, Independencia y Revolution (1900), that reinscribed the radical-populist tradition in the annals of labor organizing. In February 1902, Reyes founded the first labor union under American occupation, Union Obrera Democratica. He also edited the first labor-union newspaper, La Redencion del Obrero. Engaged in the debate on class and national concerns, Reyes also operated in the ethico-ideological domain of inciting mass actions. He collaborated with Father Gregorio Aglipay in launching the nationalist-oriented Philippine Independent Church with trade-union members as core followers. Reyes distinguished himself at this time by spearheading a general strike of factory workers and farm tenants against American business firms and friar-owned haciendas for which then governor William Taft had to call the U.S. cavalry to disperse the crowd (Zaide 1970, 461).

Class struggle nourished the national-popular organism in insurrectionary praxis, a fusion of economic, educational and political activities in civic society. By deploying flexible modes of appeal, Reyes actualized a program of radical collectivism that coalesced national, class, and religious sentiments. His links with rural and urban agitation provided what Gramsci calls the theoretical “catharsis” of the economic to the political, the strategic and tactical requirements, of the campaign against colonialism (Gramsci 1971, 366-67; San Juan 2009). He fused dialectically the particular nativist elements of culture with universal notions of proletarian emancipation derived from the socialist movements of Europe. It was Reyes’ activism that re-located the emergent nation in the arena of the class war against the landlord-comprador bloc and its American sponsors. In vindicating the ideals of the Katipunan (in his book Religion of the Katipunan), Reyes suggested that their ultimate goal was really a “communist republic” (Werning 2011, 88).

Reyes was a political realist, not a doctrinaire syndicalist wedded to devoting his energies solely to trade-union work. Consequently, he participated in electoral-parliamentary struggles in the first two decades of American rule. While his belief in the value of popular knowledge and other indigenous practices cannot be over-emphasized, or made polysemous to erase the gap between the universal and particular, it would be disingenuous to overlook his debt to the virtues of conceptual elaboration inspired by Proudhon, Bakunin, Marx, and others. Such a “problematic indigenism” (Mojares 2006, 363) needs to be dialectically configured with his collaboration with intellectuals such as Hermenegildo Cruz who aided Reyes in founding the first labor federation and who played a crucial role in connecting the intelligentsia with grassroots insurgency (Richardson 2011).

Vernacular Speech-Acts

It was in this milieu that the first consistent articulation of class hopes and nationalist sentiments found symbolic prefiguration in Lope K. Santos’ Banaag at Sikat (1906). Rendered through allegorical manipulation of typical characters, the novel focused on the antagonism between capital and labor, with the ideal of national autonomy sublimated in the menace of repressive police action and compatriot’s treacheries. Unlike Reyes or the ilustrado elite such as Maximo Kalaw, Rafael Palma, or Claro Recto, Santos was a plebeian soldier in the revolutionary army. He admired Zola, Gorki, Eliseo Reclus, and other radical thinkers. Together with Cruz, Santos edited the paper of the printworkers’ union which carried on its masthead the Marxist slogan, “The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself” (Richardson 2011, 21). Santos did not succumb to sectarian “workerism” (unlike the US-tutored communists who marginalized peasants and privileged factory workers) since his idea of socialism emphasized chiefly moral and legal egalitarianism. He favored a broad united front of all democratic sectors. The hero of his novel Delfin, for example, found the U.S. Constitution filled with “socialist aspirations” informing government policies (Santos 1959, 236). This might explain why Santos’ book was not prohibited (on this issue, see Torres Reyes 2010; on his refusal to commodify his novel, see his autobiography Santos 1972, 70-71.). Was Santos trying to include the ilustrado elite in a hegemonic project of building consensus, even confounding liberal utilitarian reforms with Proudhonian socialism?

In the interregnum before English became widespread and Spanish as the language of public exchange declined, the Tagalog novel blossomed in the midst of intense mobilization of urban workers. This affected also the pettybourgeois sector of white-collar workers whose affairs were intimately bound with friends and relatives in city and countryside. This is reflected in the uniquely psychologized dramatization of individual, family, and racial conflicts in Faustino Aguilar’s Pinaglahuan (1907). This work germinated a few years after the Balangiga massacre of September 1901, which subsequently legitimized Gen. Franklin Bell’s scorched-earth punishment of the natives of Batangas and adjacent regions; the grand total of 1.4 million Filipino lives were sacrificed for “Manifest Destiny” and President McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation” (Miller 1982).

The theme of national determination (tied to “the woman question”) is evoked right at the outset of the plot in Pinaglahuan. It informs the plight of the lovers and the imprisonment of the worker-intellectual Luis Gatbuhay by the collusion of the American factory-owner Mr. Kilsberg and the cunning merchant Rojalde, the epitome of entrepreneurial opportunism (Reyes 1982, 45). Rojalde traps the heroine’s father in a scheme that leads to Rojalde’s possession of her body, already pregnant by Luis—an emblem of the commodified object of desire, the motherland, caged by the comprador usurper. Focusing on the hero’s agony in prison, Aguilar’s novel registers obliquely a delayed mourning over Sakay’s execution. The beloved Danding fades away as reverberations of the massive May Day 1903 march still resound in the cries of protest from the victims of the market system and the U.S.-patronized feudal patriarchy.

Traditionally, the novel form in the West often dramatized the individualist quest for a lost cosmic purpose and meaning in life. This quest is refracted by Santos and Aguilar in a social-realist direction, via a mimesis of the dialectical interaction of the collective whole and its parts. In both Santos and Aguilar’s style, we encounter a realism diverging from the raw slice-of-life, sensational naturalism of Zola and Norris. Their models were Rizal, Tolstoy, Hugo, and Balzac. Tagalog realism, often didactic or homiletic, sought to “lay bare society’s causal network” (Brecht 1975, 424) in delineating the contours of the country’s development, pointing out where the broadest solutions to the most serious problems afflicting the majority may be found. It is an elaborate refinement of the melodramatic figural realism found in Rizal’s inflammatory Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

The year 1907 when Pinaglahuan was published also marked the dissolution of the Union del Trabajo de Filipinas headed by Lope K. Santos. While engaged in union militancy, he edited the daily newspaper, Muling Pagsilang, which serialized his didactic narrative. Three thousand copies of the novel were sold within the first few weeks—a sign of popular acclaim for a dangerously provocative polemic for American censors (Saulo 1990, 7). These two novels by Santos and Aguilar deployed the conventional romantic plot of frustrated love as a symptomatic testimony of how the 1896 revolution (the motherland figures as adored paramour-cum-mother) was lost due to betrayal, inherited inadequacies, or fatal convergence of forces beyond the lovers’ control. The theme evokes the allegory of Balagtas’ Florante at Laura as well as the misfortune of Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara in Noli Me Tangere.

Traversing Metropolitan Boundaries

We need to contextualize these authors in the local-global-regional transcultural flux at the turn of the 19th century. Within three decades, the local operatic sarsuwela would be displaced by vaudeville and American cinema, the kundiman by jazz and radio advertisements. City and countryside absorbed massive importations from around the world. Reyes, Aguilar and Santos were all influenced by international developments at this period, from the Boer Wars (1902), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) and the outbreak of the first Russian revolution (1905-06). In March 1906, the most horrendous massacre of Moros occurred in the battle of Bud Bagsak, Jolo, where 600 men, women and children were slaughtered by troops commanded by Gen. Leonard Wood (Tan 2002, 176}. Such non-Christian victims were not yet fully accounted for in the maturing conscience of nationalists who, today, assume the role of colonizers for the reactionary optic of historians Stanley Karnow and Glenn May.

Was nationalism of the Rousseau/Fichte/Mazzini vintage being cultivated in islas Filipinas? The German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg recalled the advent of US imperialism: “On the Asiatic coast, washed by the waves of the ocean, lie the smiling Philippines. Six years ago we saw the benevolent Yankees, we saw the Washington Senate at work there. Not fire-spewing mountains—there, American rifles mowed down human lives in heaps” (Dunayevskaya 1981, 48), It seems the Hegelian “ruse of Reason” cunningly moves sideways, displaying the “labor of the negative” (Marcuse 1960, 27), the labor of the exploited workers and peasants of the earth.

We already remarked that workers in Manila in the first two decades of American rule were clamoring for Philippine independence, perhaps not having yet heard that the “working men have no nation,” as the Communist Manifesto proclaimed (Kiernan 1983, 344). But the natives were not all industrial workers then; the proletariat was a minority. Nonetheless they all inhabited a place and time that determined their identities whose physiognomy was actualized in the manifold contradictions of sociopolitical forces that shaped the rhythm and texture of their everyday lives. As always, time-space coordinates need to be mapped and understood. The fulfillment of the human-species’ potential can only be realized in a historically specific locus, in a concretely determinate time-space axis where freedom and necessity, naturalism and humanism, converge—a partnership “between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born” (Smith 1979, 125).

Demarcations and Thresholds

From a synoptic angle, the struggle for national emancipation is a larger version of the old bondsman’s struggle for recognition by the aristocratic lord, as Hegel described it. The ilustrado class (epitomized by T. Pardo de Tavera and Pedro Paterno) sought modernization via assimilation to the U.S. nation; they spoke English and advocated assimilation—a parody of the creole assimilationists. But given the power of feudal tributary institutions and practices that the US colonial regime utilized to control the dissident population, the democratic ideals purportedly legitimizing it proved ironically discordant. The oligarchic literati swallowed the two-party system managed by a centralized American bureaucracy, implementing compadre ethics (kinship and regional affiliations) and client-patronage expediency. For politicians such as Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmena, Manuel Roxas and others, Teresita del Rosario-Hanrath notes, “the question of independence became a question of timing rather than a moral stance against the encroachment of an imperialist power,” so that their avowed nationalism became “passive and conciliatory” (1988, 46). This is insightfully demonstrated by the trajectory of Claro Recto’s career in Renato Constantino’s biography The Making of a Filipino (particularly Chapters 2-7 [1969]).

But contrary to Anderson’s linear genealogy of Filipino “cacique democracy” 1995), it was not all sweetness and light for the masters. The intra-elite conflicts in the first two decades of American domination germinated a space for a limited public sphere in which the intellectuals close to the productive majority can articulate their collective passions by positing an antagonistic image of the Filipino identity. The utopian promise of independence was translated into a pretext for crisis that manifested in public discourse. Questions were posed: why and how can Quezon and the predatory flunkeys speak for the oppressed. impoverished nation when they represented narrow landlord-comprador interests? Which class—as Horace Davis (1978) rehearsed the classic historical-materialist query— can truly represent the productive populace as “the Filipino nation”? It is not simply a question of an essentialist form, regulatory compulsion, contingency or governmentality as such. Rather, it is a deadly antagonistic process involving control of the means of production, of the productive and reproductive forces that enable the actualization of equality, social justice, and species-life possibilities beyond welfare liberalism, humanitarian violence, and hedonistic individualism.

US expansive monopoly-capitalism may be said to have subverted a singular Filipino modernity by instrumentalizing the feudal oligarchic system. It opened up the invention of a modernity unique to this formation. We can diagram the narrative of this conflict between the national-popular protagonist versus the elitist politicians of the English-speaking landlord-comprador bloc by concentrating on a few revealing instances when Filipino artists confronted the imperative of choosing sides, specifically moments when personalistic aesthetics clashed with ethico-political demands, precipitating a crisis of the whole body politic.

The crisis began even before Aguinaldo surrendered to General Funston. When the capitulationist ilustrado clique defected to the U.S. hegemon, a significant group of intransigent intellectuals, represented by Apolinario Mabini (1969), remained faithful to the principles of the Katipunan. They articulated in vernacular the cause of the peasant-worker alliance kept alive up to Sakay’s capture in 1907. The Moros continued their resistance up to 1913. As noted earlier, playwrights such as Tolentino, Abad and others resorted to allegorical modes using Tagalog for wider appeal, defying the Sedition Law of 1901 prohibiting “scurrilous libels against the Government of the United States.” Though persecuted and ostracized, they conducted underground agitprop maneuvers. Periodicals like the Spanish El Renacimiento and the Tagalog Muling Pagsilang opposed colonial impositions such as the use of English as an “ideological state apparatus” (Althusser 1971). In 1908, El Renacimiento published a scathing attack on Dean Worcester, then Secretary of the Interior, for using his office to enrich himself (see the famous editorial, “Aves de Rapina” (see English translation in Reyes [1983]). Charged for libel, Teodoro Kalaw, editor, and Martin Ocampo, the publisher, were sentenced to a jail term and fined (Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970, 298-300; Kramer 2006, 342-44).

In a 1927 editorial in Spanish, Kalaw himself denounced “Americanization” as a “dead ideology,” coinciding with the demise of its leading exponent Pardo de Tavera. But he laments the successful Americanization of Filipino needs and wants, a more insidious danger than commodity-fetishism (1983, 156). A symptom of this fetishism may be discerned in the inventory of that epoch in Nick Joaquin’s “The Filipino as Sajonista,” where the striving for national liberation is expunged by the carnivalesque stream of happenings more dizzying than the postwar newsreels—weapons of mass distraction during the “peacetime years” before Pearl Harbor (1983, 235).

It was only during the administration of Francis Burton Harrison and his Filipinization of the bureaucracy that the function of articulating the popular content of nationalism passed on to Quezon and the Nacionalista Party. In the fight against Leonard Wood, the famous scourge of the Moros, Quezon seized the opportunity of symbolizing the struggle for independence. Read symptomatically, the intramural “Cabinet Crisis” 0f 1923-27 staged a battle for moral ascendancy. Quezon lost but gained moral high ground when he asserted: “I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by Americans” (Agoncillo 1974, 31). But this rhetoric did not alleviate the worsening plight of the peasant majority severely exploited by rapacious landlords This diehard caciquism originated from the inquitous land-tenure system that the American administators preserved, thus keeping the economy underdeveloped and their oligarchic parasites in power (Labor Research Association 1958; Pomeroy 1970). Various quasi-religious, millenarian uprisings occurred throughout the islands, the most serious of which were led by Ruperto Rios (Tayabas), Felipe Salvador (Central Luzon), Dionisio Magbuelas or Papa Isio (Negros), the Pulajanes in Leyte, the Colorums during the 1920s, followed by the Tangulan movement, the Tayug Colorum, “banditry” ascribed to Teodoro Asedillo and Nicolas Encallado (both members of the communist front Congreo Obrero/Kapisanan ng Anak-Pawis); and the Sakdalista rebellion in the thirties (Constantino 1975, 270-74, 364-67; Veneracion 1987).

Bardic Intervention

We need to remember that metropolitan Manila was only a narrow island in a larger archipelago battered by decades of fierce class war. Its public sphere was confined to the pettybourgeois functionaries of the colonial bureaucracy. Aside from the synergistic worker-intellectual collaboration in the first decades of US colonial rule when novelists, dramatists and poets played central roles, the crisis after the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act (1909) and the Jones Act (1916) witnessed the shift of hegemonic struggle to the countryside. The first significant novel dealing with the tenancy problem is Lazaro Francisco’s Ama (1929) at the beginning of the Great Depression. Meanwhile, the ideological struggle to assert the popular dimension of culture as embodied in the vernacular continued with the most celebrated practitioner of the balagtasan ritual, Jose Corazon de Jesus, sacrificing his job as columnist in Taliba. It seemed a deja-vu scenario. On Feb 21, 1930, students at the Manila North High School boycotted their classes to protest Miss Mabel Brummit’s racist behavior. This was a repeat of the desecration of the Filipino flag by another American teacher in March 1921, an occasion that de Jesus seized on to attack imperial arrogance: “Bago ka magturo, /dapat mong makuro, / na bawat bandila ay mahal sa puso / ng bumabandilang sa lupa ko tubo,/ Kung ang isipan ninyo’y baluktot at liko, / dapat kang itapon sa banging malayo./Ikaw’y isang guro / na salat sa turo” (Atienza 1995, 194).

The romantic poet-orator’s charisma revealed its political edge again. Nine years after this incident, de Jesus felt compelled to intervene again. He asserted national pride by defending the students who were expelled: “Kung ang ituturo natin naman dito. / panay na pagyuko sa Wika ng amo, / panay na sumision at lambot ng ulo, / ay gagawa kayo ng lupaing hilo” (quoted in Almario 1984, 35). This form of polemical engagement via “secondary orality” (Ong 1977), witnessed in de Jesus’s intervention, evokes an aura of authority that surrounds the letrado as a populist tribune found in Latin America. The Philippines shares a similar tradition in which the practice of the spoken word “conjures together the presence of the communal and the sacred” (Beverley and Zimmerman 1990, 16), the unlettered voice of the people finding resonance in a village-oriented discourse opposed to the official print culture of the English-speaking urbanites. By the end of the thirties, however, the writers using English (Manuel Arguilla, Arturo Rotor, R. Zulueta da Costa) had become politicized by circumstances following the insurgencies in the countryside, the post-1929 Wall Street crash, and victorious fascism in Spain, Italy and Germany, as well as in militarized Japan. It would be instructive to examine some testimonies of this politicization in relation to the Philippine Writers League and the Sakdalista uprising.

Art for Whom?

Mark Twain’s anti-imperialist satire, “To A Person Sitting in Darkness,” was unknown throughout the first two decades. But the Genteel Age was ending. Filipinos had become aware of works by John Steinbeck, Langston Hughes, Lillian Hellman, Richard Wright, Thomas Mann, among others (Lopez 1976,9)—progressive writers whom Lopez and Mangahas met in the 2nd American Writers Congress in New York City in 1939. The establishment of the Philippine Writers League in 1939, twelve years after the 1927 founding of the Writers Club at the University of the Philippines which fostered the school of “art for art’s sake” led by Jose Garcia Villa, marked the convergence of the nationalist and the popular tendencies in the discursive arena (Ordonez 2010, 404-20).

The ideological schisms in the domain of intellectual labor heightened in the wake of the global and nationwide crisis. Unlike the earlier factional groupings of Aklatang Bayan (1900-21), Ilaw at Panitik (1922-34) and Panitikan (1935-), the League was founded on principles and partisanship, not quasi-tribal affiliation. Sponsored by Quezon’s Commonwealth administration, the League was initiated by Federico Mangahas, Salvador P. Lopez, Teodoro Agoncillo, Arturo Rotor, Jose Lansang, and Manuel Arguilla. It supported writers in both English and Tagalog by awarding prizes to socially conscious artists encouraged to be “the interpreter of the hope and despair, the freedom and predicament, the tradition and destiny of man in his time” (Lopez’s words cited in Ordonez 2010, 29). No mention of predatory US colonialism or capitalist greed is found in the League’s founding documents.

Lopez’s award-winning collection of essays, Llterature and Society (1940). may be considered the manifesto of the League (see the tendentious comment of the Jesuit Herbert Schneider [1967, 582-88]). It adumbrates a praxis of the dialectical synthesis of the national-popular maxim posited by Gramsci for societies in transition. Between the death of the old feudal system and the aborted birth of dependent capitalism, we encounter morbid cultural symptoms of the passage. The founders of the League envisioned writers as “workers in the building up of culture” whose values reject “economic injustice and political oppression”; they are urged to organize for the benefit of the community (Lopez 1976, 117-18). Several members, prominent of whom was Manuel Arguilla, author of the distinguished collection How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories, sacrificed their lives fighting Japanese aggression.

In his book, Lopez cited the case of Kalaw who quickly moved from the Ivory Tower to the civic arena as editor of El Renacimiento. In the confrontation with Governor Wood. Kalaw discovered that “the only true basis of lasting beauty in literature is—power,” by which Lopez means the ”power” to speak the truth on behalf of improving man’s condition and the defense of human freedom everywhere (2004, 297, 303). Contrary to Schneider’s notion that the Filipino writers succeeded in capturing “the Malayan Spirit” (1967, 587) under the twin guidance of Villa’s craft-minded teaching and Lopez’s warning against propaganda, we can argue that the nation projected by writers in English (Arguilla, Lansang, Bulosan, Laya) and in the vernacular (Deogracia Rosario, Brigido Batungbakal) reflected the urgent demands of the peasantry and working class, the constituent powers of the nation attested to by the historic merger of the Socialist Party led by Pedro Abad Santos and the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1930 (a year after which it was outlawed and its officers jailed).

Conscienticizing Fables

In any case, what James Joyce called “the uncreated conscience of the race” found its incarnation in a poignant story of Narciso Reyes, “Tinubuang Lupa,” published on the eve of World War II: mourning a dead relative, the young protagonist listens to his grandfather’s recollection of his father’s courtship days, memory fusing with anxiety and dreams, instilling in him a profound cathexis of love for the ancestral home, a sense of national belonging (Reyes 1954, 148). We could investigate as pedagogical exempla the texts of Deogracias Rosario’s “Greta Garbo” and “Aloha,” both subtle critiques of white-racial supremacy; Hernando Ocampo’s “Rice and Bullets,” Arguilla’s “Epilogue to Revolt,” Juan Laya’s His Native Soil, or Batungbakal’s “Aklasan.” But more instructive for this occasion is this speculative gloss on Arturo Rotor’s memorable story, “Convict’s Twilight” found in his 1937 collection The Wound and the Scar.

One can consider Rotor’s narrative an example of a Filipino “national allegory.” Jameson defines this genre as “the story of the private individual destiny [construed as] an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third world culture and society” (2000,320). Allegory in general employs sensuously delineated scenes and characters to dramatize abstract ideas. What is Rotor’s fiction translating and communicating to its readers?

My first suspicion is the alienation of the colonized intellectual, a bureaucrat serving the Commonwealth regime, witnessing the horror of the prison camp in Davao and rationalizing/legitimizing it as an exotic utopia, replete with the melancholy nostalgic resonance of an exiled soul. Given the multiple strands of meaning woven in this story, for economy, I would simply point out how the narrator deploys a containment strategy to mitigate the pain of imprisonment by (1) isolating the moment of twilight when the inmate forgets he is a convict, “the hour of forgetfulness of the sin and its atonement; an hour to play at being free” (1971, 375); (2) describing how the surroundings erase the boundary between inside and outside prison; and (3) humanizing the punitive institution by portraying one prisoner, Cornelio, and projecting a Madonna-metaphor with Cornelio’s wife and child into the dismal picture. But the narrator’s sympathy fails to reconcile the contradictions between the humanity of the prisoners—their solidarity around the radio during “the English Information Period” undermines the proud, knowing solitude of the narrator—and the dehumanizing intent/effect of the carceral, disciplinary regime. The literary form’s ideology of attempting to resolve lived contradictions fails precisely because of its uncriticized framework. And so the doctor/narrator could not understand the communication between Cornelio and his wife and child: he kept “wondering if after all they were not really talking audibly to one another in a language not only beyond my sense of hearing, but also utterly beyond my pitiful comprehension….But I could not make out anything….”(1971, 381). or

Several lessons on the enigma of communication are offered by the pathos of the ending. Routine noise supervenes. The doctor fails to make contact with Cornelio’s wife, compensating for this failure by staging a conventional technique of closure, and making sure we give credit to the naive, somewhat pious hubris of a fictive intelligence. Nature as healer returns, smoothing frictions and easing tensions, recuperating the sentimental atmosphere of the beginning of the narrative:

But I could not make out anything….The silence recalled the forest, a great
forest at twilight, the afterglow tinting the tallest trees a dull red, the animals slinking to their lairs, the wind being arrested in its flight as it passed through the lattice of leaves. The light failing was consciousness leaving a sick body, restlessness and strife and pain being replaced by a profound peace. I seemed to hear the sound of a distant bell tolling, and that and the silhouette of the woman kneeling naturally brought the thought of angelus: the woman was praying, the silence itself was a prayer, the darkening world’s daily invocation at twilight (1971, 381).

The iconic image is disturbing, not pacifying. Is this an apologia for the colonial State prison system? Does this mean that the English-speaking Filipino official can no longer communicate with the victims of the system? Does this imply that the class divisions have sharpened beyond repair, that a disalienated community seems irrecoverable? Rotor poses these alternatives. He also may be reminding the elite, the professional class, of the limits of their technocratic competence, and the systemic obstacles against moves for solidarity, justice, equality, compassion. Communication needs to be restored between the intelligentsia and the common people. This implication is not far-fetched. Rotor himself exhorted his fellow writers to “understand what is social justice, and why some peasants in Bulacan were caught stealing firewood from a rich landowner’s preserves” (quoted in Ordonez 2010, 29)

Actually, the peasants were not just engaged in poaching. Before the outbreak of World War II, the struggle for hegemony of the national-popular bloc began to engage with the problem of emancipating the “productive forces” in the countryside. The peasantry constituted the largest mass base of the nationalist struggle before and after the inauguration of the Commonwealth, a transitional period before the grant of formal independence in 1946 as provided by the Tydings-McDuffie Act. With the Communist Party suppressed and union activism curtailed, intellectuals were forced to pay attention to public exchanges across property lines. They were urged to reconstruct the strategy of the united front of peasant-workers. The mediation of organic intellectuals became the necessary agency to effect the catharsis of the economic nexus into political praxis. This was carried out in Carlos Bulosan’s stories and essays between 1933 and 1940 (San Juan 2009), in works by Teodoro Agoncillo, Amado Hernandez, Benigno Ramos, among others (Lumbera 1982; 1998).

Radicalization of the intelligentsia deepened after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the global Depression after the 1929 Wall Street crash, Japanese occupation of Shanghai in 1932, the Nazi victory in 1933, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, and Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Of the many versatile intellectuals who performed that mediating role was the poet-orator, Benigno Ramos (after him, the most illustrious was Amado V. Hernandez whose activism in the fifties and sixties is beyond the scope of this paper; for Ramos’ influence on Hernandez, see Almario 1984). Ramos’ stature today is controversial; like Jose Laurel, Benigno Aquino Sr., and Recto, he was implicated in helping the Laurel puppet regime during the Japanese ocupation. He died before he could be tried in the People’s Court (Steinberg 1967). Still, we can ask here what role he played in shaping the nationalist project. What significance did Ramos’ poetic praxis hold for assaying the possibilities and limits of artistic intervention in radically transforming the colonial status quo at that specific conjuncture?
Storm over Arcadia

The stage was set for the inauguration of the transitional nation called “Philippine Commonwealth” on Nov. 15, 1935. The jockeying politicians (Quezon versus Osmena) took center-stage, not the people. It is now the consensus that the Tydings-McDuffie Act sealed the abject dependency of the country as a source of raw materials and a dumping ground for finished, industrial goods. With the economy and state apparatus (court system, foreign affairs, military, currency) controlled by the corporate interests in Washington, the groundwork was set for stabilizing a neocolony (Pomeroy 1970). The elite managers had been tested within the two-party patronage mechanism. Except for those owned by Americans, the Manila newspapers and its corps of journalists and publicists were all administered by the wealthy Madrigal or Roces families; they served either Quezon or the temporary opposition, as recalled by Hernando Abaya in his memoir of the thirties (1984, 32-47).

For various reasons, the urban intelligentsia followed Quezon and the pensionado gateway to success. But neither Abaya nor Renato Constantino, despite their pettybourgeois background, succumbed to the betrayal of the nationalist cause as their elders (for instance, Carlos Romulo) or contemporaries did (for Constantino’s background, see Ofreneo 2001). US colonial compromises rested on the client-patron relationship which operated chiefly on force, not persuasion nor extra-economic compulsion. US colonial “tutelage” relied on the enforcement of rules of property-ownership and traditional distribution of wealth rather than on equity or proportionate sharing. This structural-functionalist paradigm of clientelism continues to serve academic experts and media pundits in explaining the failure of Filipino nationalism, despite the inescapable historical reality of dependency and socioeconomic inequities that continue to energize the revolutionary tradition in current popular discourse and actions (Bauzon 1987; Woddis 1972, 38-40). For further elaboration of this argument, suffice it for me to recommend Renato Constantino’s “Origin of a Myth” (1970) for its lucid critique of the fabled American “tutelage” and “special relations” between the neocolony and the imperial hegemon.

It did not take a long time before an oppositional movement emerged to expose the Commonwealth fraud: the Sakdalistas. Conceived by the poet-intellectual Benigno Ramos, the Sakdal party had been campaigning against unequal wealth, excessive taxes, and for the confiscation of large landholdings for redistribution to the landless. Luis Taruc, the leading personality of the Huk rebellion in postwar years, spliced that historical specificity (land hungry peasantry) of the Philippines with the global crisis of capitalism at that time in his memoir, Born of the People:

It had been that way under the Spanish regime for centuries. When the Americans came, they made boasts about having brought democracy to the Philippines but the feudal agrarian system was preserved intact.
On the haciendas there were laborers who were paid less than ten centavos a day. Thousands more earned less than twice that much. From ten thousand miles away the Spreckles sugar interests in California reached into the sugar centrals of Pampanga and took their fortune from the sweat of Filipino labor. (cited in de la Costa 1965, 268).

The community of peasant activists invested the concept of nationalism with a radical democratic motivation. Ramos’ mobilizing organ was the weekly newspaper Sakdal, using Tagalog as the medium of communication. It began as a vehicle of Ramos’ criticism of the Quezon regime as composed of lackeys of U.S. imperialism, the landlord-comprador bloc, the Church hierarchy, and the Philippine Constabulary whose brutal treatment of peasants sparked violent resistance. The journalist Karnow echoes the Establishment dismissal of the rebel: “Filipinos thrive on abusive polemics, and Ramos’ vitriolic genius made him an instant celebrity” (1989, 273). Other groups like the Tanggulan, a patriotic secret society founded by writer Patricio Dionisio, a former member of the Communist-led Congreso Obrero, voiced their grievances in Sakdal, making it a non-sectarian tribune of the disenfranchised masses.

In hindsight, the Sakdal movement actualized the Leninist ideal of a worker-peasant alliance which Crisanto Evangelista and Pedro Abad Santos carried out in 1938 with the merger of their parties (Richardson 2011). The Sakdal replaced the official political parties as the articulator of mass sentiments and national aspirations, the grassroot “structure of feeling” (Williams 1961). The Sakdal program targetted the educational system glorifying American culture, the presence of military bases, and the U.S. stranglehold on the economy. Their leaders advocated “complete and absolute independence” by December 1936. In the 1934 election, Ramos’ parliamentary strategy proved effective in electing three representatives, a provincial governor and several municipal officials in provinces adjacent to the metropolitan center of power.

Quezon and his autocratic clique ignored Ramos’ appeal to the landless peasantry and its allies. A few days before the plebiscite on the Constitution designed to legitimize the refurbished colonial order, the peasantry staged a bloody uprising on May 2, 1935 involving at least sixty thousand armed partisans in nineteen towns. It spread to the provinces of Laguna, Rizal, Cavite, Tayabas, Bulacan, and adjacent regions. Earlier their peaceful demonstrations were harassed and permits for assemblies revoked. In the three towns where the rebellion centered, fifty-seven peasants were killed, hundreds wounded, and over five hundred jailed by the Philippine Constabulary (Agoncillo 1970, 418). The nation-state’s coercive apparatus stifled the constituent power of its citizens.

Ramos was then in Japan, negotiating for support; eventually he was extradited and jailed. His admiration for the Japanese ethos and achievement failed to be critical of the reactionary, racist patriotism of its leaders then gearing up for brutal imperial conquest of his homeland (see Moore 1966). His intelligence did not discriminate over means or modalities of action, however undemocratic provided the goal of independence is achieved. In practice Ramos was committed to the mobilizing the disenfranchised and the outcasts, Fanon’s “wretched of the earth.” Eventually, the Sakdal leadership’s opportunist stance abandoned its mass base by devoting itself to the propagation of the Japanese-sponsored program of “Asiatic Monroeism” (Constantino 1975, 370). Notwithstanding its inadequacies, the Sakdal movement performed a necessary pedagogical function: it raised the level of political consciousness in a nationalist-radical emancipatory direction by connecting the privations of the people with the colonial setup and its ideological state apparatuses (education, media, diplomacy). Constantino’s judgment appreciates the positive impact of Ramos’ praxis: “The Sakdalista movement, despite its opportunist and fascist-inclined leadership, was a genuine expression of protest, and a milestone in the politicization of the people” (1975, 370). Quezon himself learned its lesson and quickly mounted a program of “social justice” which the Philippine Writers League adopted in its platform.

Unacknowledged Legislator?

Long before his Sakdal engagement, in 1912 Ramos reacted to the Westernization of the literary tastes and standards of his milieu: “…it is not pleasing to be told that one sounds like Victor Hugo, Zamacois, Blasco Ibanez, or any other foreign writer. We have started to demonstrate that in our country, we have our own literary masters” (quoted in Lumbera 1967, 311). The imposition of English has been regarded as the most decisive instrument to commodify culture and intensify class polarization. It deepened the reification of ordinary experience since the valorization of exchange-value (profit) over use-value (need) transformed art into saleable goods no different from copra, sugar and hemp, the bulk of the dollar-earning export crops. Enforced American English also fragmented the polity, dividing the educated elite from the plebeian subalterns. Up to now this motor of the culture industry serves to reinforce the docility of a consumerist public fixated on Euro-American spectacles, commodities. fashions—what Henri Lefebvre calls “the terrorism of everyday life” (1968). Given his pettybourgeois background, Ramos as a key translator in the Philippine Senate could have easily switched to writing in English. He did not. In the marketplace of social media, he chose the down-to-earth idiom of the productive forces, the working class and peasantry, and transformed himself into their organic intellectual guide/mentor.

Ramos’ situation has been replicated many times. Earlier we noted how the orator-poet Jose Corazon de Jesus was fired from his job for criticizing an American teacher for insulting Filipinos. Ramos joined his fellow writer and lambasted Quezon’s shameless public subservience to the American colonizers, for which he was immediately fired. Ten days after, Ramos set up the periodical Sakdal, followed by the founding of the Sakdalista party in October 1933. Language became again, as in the first decade, the crucial arena of ethical and ideological struggle. Given the fact that “all poetry is in origin a social act, in which poet and people commune” (Thomson 1946, 58), Ramos’ use of the vernacular—essentially magical and affect-inducing—was a wager of affirming the communicative praxis of his art. His verses reflect constellations of feeling directed and controlled by the social ego, by necessities of his particular time and place, in order not only to interpret but to change the entire social order (Caudwell 1937). Like an innovator in music, he sought to break the cycle of repeated codes of communication, construct difference, and perform a simulacrum of the sacrifice that colonial violence extracted from the natives in order to project a vision of a prosperous egalitarian community, albeit in the utopian, prophetic realm of declaimed poetry (for the semiotic interface of noise and music, see Attali 1985).

From his youth, Ramos needed an audience for realizing the value of his oratorical talent. Without the crowd of listeners and their responses, he was not an artist; with them he became poeta revolucionario (Almario 1984, 17). He forfeited the egocentric hubris of Villa and chose the task of actualizing the dialogic and carnivalesque virtues sedimented in the tradition of revolutionary Tagalog discourse. He felt compelled to popularize ideals and principles. Under the aegis of winning hegemony for the plebeian citizenry, “popular” art means (in Brecht’s aphoristic lexicon) “intelligible to the broad masses, taking over their own forms of expression and enriching them/adopting and consolidating their standpoint / representing the most progressive section of the people in such a way that it can take over the leadership: thus intelligible to other sections too / linking with tradition and carrying it further / handing on the achievements of the section of the people that is struggling for the lead” (1975, 423). Disseminating and communicating practicable knowledge of society was a prime objective for the artist. He conceived of himself as an educator. I quote Ramos ”Filipinas” composed in the transitional years 1929-30 before he was expelled from the clientelist machine and committed himself to the task of partisanship for its victims:

Kay-rami ng layak nitong aking Bayan! [Rubbish abounds in our homeland!]
Kay-rami ng dumi, kay-rami ng sukal! [Garbage galore, refuse abounding! ]
Pati na ang hanging aking pagkabuhay [Polluting the air that we need to live
kung aking langhapin ay may amoy-bangkay! [When you breathe, you inhale the stench of corpses! ]

Nasaan ang aking mga iniibig, [Where are the people I love,]
ang mga anak kong may pusong malinis? [my children with pure hearts? ]
Nahan ang panulat na namimilansik [Where is the pen that strikes fire
upang ang kadimla’y mawala sa langit? [ so that darkness may vanish from the sky}

Nahan ang matapang na mga makatang [Where are the brave poets
tutula ng aking puhunang dalita? [singing of my capital grief?
Nahan ang maraming anak na nanumpang [Where are the children who swore
tutubusin ako sa aking pagluha? [to redeem me in my lamentation?

Kung kahapon ako’y inapi ng Dasal [If I was tortured by Prayer yesterday
ngayon ay lalo pang kaapi-apihan. [now I languish in worse servitude
Namatay ang aking Magiting na Rizal [My valiant Rizal died
at patuloy pa rin ang kanyang kaaway. [His enemies continue to thrive

Ang mga lupa kong kinuha’t ginaga, [My lands were stolen and plundered,
nahan, o anak ko, nangabalik na ba? [where, my child, have they been returned
At kung hangga ngayo’y di mo nakukuha [If until now you have regained nothing
ano’t natitiis na ululin ka pa? [how can you tolerate being deceived?

(Ramos 1998, 180)

Praxis of Remembering and Anticipating

In this poem, the agonistic wager is over the homeland, the habitat, and its re-possession. Unlike the typical didactic and moralizing poems that were commodified in the mass periodicals, Ramos’ poem departs from the stereotype by ascribing this lament to the maternal figure of the nation. This follows a long allegorical tradition from Hermenegildo Flores’ “Hibik ng Filipinas sa Ynang Espana” (Ileto 1998, 11) to “Joselynang Baliwag” and Bonifacio’s “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” (Maceda 1995, 209-212; on music and nationalism,see Trimillos 1998). The imagistic cluster of pollution, abandonment, mourning, and dispossession suggests a miserable predicament that cries for urgent remedy, so antithetical to the utopian pastorals of Fernando Amorsolo and his counterparts in literature and music (see examples in Abueg 1973). The tone is simultaneously elegiac and hortatory. Not only does the poem advance the popular tradition, enriching and transmitting to the next generation the standpoint of the masses, but it also challenges the “children” to assume leadership. The mother’s exhortation to reclaim the stolen homeland and to stop enduring such privations invokes Rizal, the national icon and martyr. Noises of violence and mourning must be subdued or chanelled to a new musical setting.

We observe in the structure of Ramos’ poem the dialectic between land/blood and the ideals of sovereignty and sacrifice for collective liberation. Abstract, rhetorical notions of patriotism and autonomy are concretized in intelligible terms (more vividly nuanced in many poems collected by Delfin Tolentino Jr. in Gumising Ka, Aking Bayan). The poet’s fidelity to the struggle for liberation is unequivocal and uncompromising. While Ramos is generally censured for being a “traitor” by sympathizing with the Japanese anti-US imperialism during the war—a still contentious issue that defies sentimental reductionism (Steinberg 1967)—there is no doubt that, on the whole, Ramos’ poetic achievement may be taken as the most eloquent, realistic expression of the popular-democratic conscience in the first three decades of American domination.

Undoubtedly the poet cannot be divorced from the activist intellectual. Not even the eloquent “social justice” slogan of Quezon could distract from the Sakdal’s collective dream of emancipation, as distilled in Ramos’ poems and as passionately voiced by Salud Algabre (quoted as epigraph) as she reminisced on her participation in the rebellion. Ramos’ speech-acts effectively communicated a message of hope to a people yearning for dignity and self-determination, This is more symptomatic because his intervention occurs at a conjuncture where the commodification of the slogan of “independence” seduced the more privileged stratum of the citizenry whose privileged idiom (English) detached them from the pain, joy, anguish, and dreams of the majority of their neighbors, kin, and companions. This condition of subalternity has worsened today in the neoliberal intensification of commodity-fetishism against which conscienticized Filipino artists are uniting with cultural activists in other countries, just as Rizal, Reyes, Ramos, and the members of the Philippine Writers League did in the last turbulent century. The imperative of forging anew a national-popular vision out of the ruins and relics of the historical archive deserves priority when we draw up the agenda for the long delayed, urgent, and ineluctable transformation of our homeland. —##
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About philcsc

E.SAN JUAN, Jr. directs the Philippines Cultural Studies Center, Washington DC, USA and lectures at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila, Philippines.
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