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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Foreword to E. San Juan, CARLOS BULOSAN: A Critical Appraisal (Peter Lang, 2017)

bulosan-for-jacketcoverby Peter McLaren
Filipinos living in the United States today, over four million, comprise the largest Asian group originating from one country, the Philippines. When the U.S. defeated Spain in 1898 and annexed the islands as its first imperial acquisition, it had to suppress the native army of the revolutionary Republic which had already defeated the Spanish rulers. The Filipino-American War lasted up to 1913, with 1.4 Filipinos sacrificed for McKinley’s “Benevolent Assimilation” policy. The Philippines was the first and only Asian colony of the United States, and then after 1946 virtually a neocolony up to now. Thus, when Filipinos arrived in 1906 in Hawaii, they were colonial wards, or “nationals,” not immigrants, who distinguished themselves in militant worker organizing and union strikes, a tradition of solidarity with multiethnic communities that endured up to the founding of the United Farmworkers Union in the 1960s. Agribusiness warned the public of those dangerous “Flips” prone to go amok.saturday-evening-post-bulosan-cover

Carlos Bulosan, now a central figure in Asian American history, is studied for his classic quasi-autobiography, America Is in the Heart, published in 1946, the same year the Philippines was granted nominal independence after World War II. He grew up in a society dominated by feudal landlords and comprador bureaucrats that inculcated ideals of democracy and equality under American tutelage. Landing in Seattle in 1930, at the height of the Depression, he experienced the racist violence that his compatriots were suffering from the canneries in Alaska and Seattle to the farms in Oregon and California. This shock of recognition produced a Du-Boisean “double-consciousness” in the naive romantic sensibility of the peasant-worker initiated into a world of alienated labor and class-racial antagonisms. His education pursued a dialectical process of painful ordeals and agonizing reflections, a metanarrative fusing realistic judgment and moral distancing. The young Bulosan shared the common experiences of multiethnic migrant workers and participated in vibrant leftwing circles of cultural activists (including Paul Robeson, John Fante, William Saroyan, Sanora Babb, among others) that sustained and encouraged him to memorialize their struggles in an impressive body of novels, poems, stories, essays, including the manifesto “If You Want to Know What We Are,” published in 1940 by the Philippine Writers League the last stanza of which reads:

We are the vision and the star, the quietus of pain;
we are the terminals of inquisition, the hiatuses
of a new crusade; we are the subterranean subways
of suffering; we are the will of dignities;
we are the living testament of a flowering race.
If you want to know what we are—WE ARE REVOLUTION!

Summing up that episode of his life before the war, Bulosan confessed in a letter to a friend in April 1941: “I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And the crime is that I am a Filipino in America.” Recently, FBI files on Bulosan’s life from 1946 to 1956 (the year he died) were released, proving that he was under government surveillance as a suspected member of the U.S. Communist Party. Among the documents shared in 1951 between Philippine and US agencies was a confiscated letter signed by Bulosan to one of the Huk leaders. The news report singled out this statement: “I like to extend my congratulations to you through Amado [V. Hernandez, the nationalist poet-union leader, with whom San Juan collaborated in editing and translating his poems], whose presence in America cemented the progressive spirit of peoples on this continent and in that island, with the fond hope that I will be able to put all our efforts into a big book for the world.” The “big book” he referred to is the novel The Cry and the Dedication, clearly inspired by Luis Taruc’s autobiography, Born of the People..
Bulosan was already a popular-democratic artist after the appearance of Chorus for America (1942), The Voice of Bataan (1943), and the widely circulated The Laughter of My Father (1944). His stories and poems appeared in prestigious magazines such as The New Yorker, Poetry, Saturday Review of Literature, Harper’s Bazaar, and Town and Country. Once adopted as a canonical author in the U.S. academy from the eighties on, Bulosan’s radical edge was blunted, his oppositional tendencies sanitized in the service of a model-minority myth. He was sacrificed to the assimilationist altar of “Americanism.” No one today is afraid of reading The Cry and the Dedication, or Bulosan’s powerful Popular Front testimonios praised by Michael Denning and Filipino progressive scholars. But in this neoliberal marketplace, Bulosan is dismissed as an obsolete “Marxist” without credibility, and so it is usless to retrieve or recuperate other aporetic texts devoid of relevance to a changed lifeworld of postcolonial intertextuality and hybrid cosmopolitanism. We are urged to move on from the end of ideology to the end of history, and enjoy the blessings of chic transnationalism.
Given the resurgent anti-immigrant, white-supremacist wave under the Trump presidency, and the still subjugated character of the Filipino diaspora here and worldwide, we need to recover the submerged insurrectionary impulses in Bulosan’s discourse. San Juan’s book is such an endeavor. Continuing his first project in 1972 on surveying Bulosan’s extant limited oeuvre, this volume gathers four decades of striving to excavate those seditious strands in the texts by re-contextualizing them, first, in the anticolonial revolutionary movement of Filipinos from the 1896 revolution to the folk insurgencies of the thirties and the national-democratic rebellion of the fifties and sixties; and, second, in the popular-front movement during the Depression up to the McCarthy witchhunting hysteria during the Cold War and the post-9/11 racist terror. Such calibration of the writer’s trajectory may not resolve all the contradictions that reflect the colonial predicament, but it can reveal complex, hidden nuances susceptible to historicized intertextual elucidation. A recalculation of critical investments is in order. Re-situated in this geopolitical milieu, Bulosan’s entire body of work acquires a contemporary resonance that registers an unprecedented conjuncture from the 1999 killing of postal worker Joseph Ileto by an Aryan Nations member to the stigmatization of “undocumented” Filipinos as suspect terrorists after September 11, 2001, and their forced mass deportation.

San Juan’s recent research in the Sanora Babb papers at the Harry Ransom Center, Austin, Texas, confirmed Bulosan’s leftist sympathies. It also clarified the nature of the crisis triggered by the sudden shift of life-experience from a family-centered rural setting to an anomic milieu of wandering sellers of alienated labor-power. Although Bulosan’s FBI files are bound to arouse new interest in his career, it should not detract from the fact that it was the young generation of Filipino activists in the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960-1970 decade who discovered his forgotten work. The May 1979 issue of AmerAsia Journal, edited by E. San Juan, Jr. and Russell Leong, was the first to collect his scattered texts, in response to the political mobilization of students and farmworkers in the Filipino-led 1965-70 Delano grape strike and the nationwide mobilization against the U.S.-supported Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986). Bulosan’s work energized an entire generation to re-connect with their parents’ homeland, revitalize their “roots,” and renew Bulosan’s dream of fulfilling the exile’s return in working for a just, more democratic and equal relation between the neocolonized Philippines and the United States.

We have entered a new millennium of globalized war and ecological meltdown under the reign of “disaster capitalism.” The election of Donald Trump signals a crisis of hegemony and legitimacy for the current transnationalist neoliberal order. The Trump phenomenon is not an idiosyncratic spectacle and set of conditions witnessed only in the United States. Similar conditions—attacks on elements of neoliberal capitalism, a triumphalist move towards economic nationalism, nativism, misogyny,a deepening racism, environmental catastrophe and virulent mobilizations against immigrants—are manifesting themselves worldwide in countries that define themselves as democracies.
While some observers see Trump’s political rhetoric of “America First” as a sign that neoliberalism is dead, others see it as corporate fascism or more intense privatization following the logic of the capitalist mode of production. Citizens fail to grasp the inherently rapacious and predatory nature of neoliberal capitalism becase of the media and educational system that I have analyzed and criticized in my Pedagogy of Insurrection: From Resurrection to Revolution.
In this time of danger, what we need is an anti-neoliberalism movement with a long-range plan for creating a viable alternative to capitalism. What we can’t do is sink into a mournful resignation that history will continue to move backwards as it seems to be doing in the present where we could soon be facing as a planetary community levels of biolence and destruction never before experienced in history. Toward this effort, the scholarship of E. San Juan, Jr. has provided some of the most penetrating and provocative analyses of world-historical problems, as shown in his recent books, Working Through the Contradictions, In the Wake of Terror, and his path-breaking essay on “Peirce/Marx: Project for a Dialogue between Pragmatism and Marxism.”
With his substantial contribution to the humanities and cultural studies (discussed in the e-journal Kritika Kultura), I consider San Juan as one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States. His magisterial engagement with Bulosan is of the utmost importance today precisely because we believe that all human beings, like Bulosan and his compatriots, have the potential for critical-autonomous protagonistic agency. We have the potential to transform the world together. But we need to educate that potential critically and according to the politics of liberation grounded in a philosophy of praxis. San Juan reminds us of those times when American workers were united across racial lines in socialist struggles for radical change, among them the leftwing Populist Movement of the 1890s, the industrial union movement of the 1930s, the Black workers movement and the strikes by auto workers in the 1970s. We should also look beyond the borders of the United States to establish solidarity with other peoples’ organizations fighting the perils of capitalism across racial, national, gender, and geographic lines. San Juan’s book is a timely contribution to a historical-materialist appreciation of the work of a writer who crossed those lines. combating officially promoted “humanitarian interventionism” profiting from the commodified labor of the millions whom Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.”
Reminiscent of James Joyce, Bulosan created the conscience of his community of proletarianized multitudes. His texts serve today as weapons in the struggle for liberation from the burden of an exploitative society of class warfare, and for the construction of a new just, convivial world in which (to quote Marx and Engels) “the development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”—##




President Duterte’s Logomachia and Subaltern Counter-Hegemony in the Philippines

by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
Emeritus Professor of Ethnic Studies & Comparative Literature, University of Connecticut; Professorial Lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines
“A howling wilderness” was what General Jacob Smith ordered his troops to make of Samar, Philippines. He was taking revenge for the ambush of fifty-four soldiers by Filipino revolutionaries in September 1901. After the invaders killed most of the island’s inhabitants, three bells from the Balangiga Church were looted as war trophies; two are still displayed at Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Very few Americans know this. Nor would they have any clue about the 1913 massacre of thousands of Muslim women, men and children resisting General Pershing’s systematic destruction of their homes in Mindanao where President Rodrigo Duterte today resides.

Addressing this dire amnesia afflicting the public, both in the Philippines and abroad, newly-elected president Duterte began the task of evoking/invoking the accursed past. He assumed the role of oral tribune, with prophetic expletives. Like the Filipino guerillas of Generals Lukban and Malvar who retreated to the mountains (called “boondocks” by American pursuers from the Tagalog word “bundok,” mountain), Duterte seems to be coming down with the task of reclaiming the collective dignity of the heathens— eulogized by Rudyard Kipling, at the start of the war in February 1899, as “the white men’s burden.” The first U.S. civil governor William Howard Taft patronizingly adopted this burden of saving the Filipino “little brown brother” as a benighted colonial ward, not a citizen.
White Men’s Burden

The Filipino-American War of 1899-1913 occupies only a paragraph, at most, in most US texbooks, a blip in the rise of the United States as an Asian Pacific Leviathan. Hobbes’ figure is more applicable to international rivalries than to predatory neoliberal capitalism today, or to the urban jungle of MetroManila. At least 1.4 million Filipinos (verified by historian Luzviminda Francisco) died as a result of the scorched-earth policy of President McKinley. His armed missionaries were notorious for Vietnam-style “hamletting.” They also practised the “water-cure,” also known as “water-boarding,” a form of torture now legitimized in a genocidal war of terror (Iraq, Afghanistan) that recalls the ruthless suppression of Native American tribes and dehumanization of African slaves in the westward march of the “civilizing Krag” to the Pacific, to the Chinese market. Today the struggle at Standing Rock and Black-Lives-Matter are timely reminders. Stuart Creighton Miller’s 1982 book, “Benevolent Assimilation,” together with asides by Gabriel Kolko and Howard Zinn, recounted the vicissitudes of that bloody passage through Philippine boondocks and countryside.

Not everyone acquiesced to Washington’s brutal annexation of the island-colony. Mark Twain exposed the hypocrisy of Washington’s “Benevolent Assimilation” with searing diatribes, as though inventing the “conscience” of his generation. William James, William Dean Howells, W.E.B. DuBois and other public intellectuals denounced what turned out to be the “first Vietnam” (Bernard Fall’s rubric).

It was a learning experience for the conquerors. In Policing America’s Empire, Alfred McCoy discovered that America’s “tutelage” of the Filipino elite (involving oligarchic politicians of the Commonwealth period up to Marcos and Aquino) functioned as a laboratory for crafting methods of surveillance, ideological manipulation, propaganda, and other modes of covert and overt pacification. Censorship, mass arrests of suspected dissidents, torture and assassination of “bandits” protesting landlord abuses and bureaucratic corruption in the first three decades of colonial rule led to large-scale killing of peasants and workers in numerous Colorum and Sakdalista uprisings.

Re-Visiting the Cold War of Terror

This pattern of racialized class oppression via electoral politics and discipiinary pedagogy culminated in the Cold War apparatus devised by CIA agent Edward Lansdale and the technocrats of Magsasay to suppress the Huk rebellion in the two decades after formal granting of independence in 1946.

The Cold War Leviathan continued to operate in the savage extrajudicial killings during the Marcos dictatorship. The Marcos family were rescued by President Reagan from the wrath of millions in the February 1982 “People Power” revolt. After Marcos’ death, the Marcos family and the despot’s cadaver were allowed by then President Ramos to return.

Given the re-installment of the feudal-comprador ellite due partly to the failure of the national-democratic forces to educate, organize and mobilize the masses, the Marcos family recovered institutional power. The current reactionary Supreme Court Justices and Duterte’s link to the Marcoses are a symptom of fierce internecine conflict within the oligarchic bloc. It fosters sectarian partisanship and opportunist fantasies. The controversy over Marcos’ burial today cannot be fully assayed without factoring in, in this conjunctural crisis, the role of patronage-clientelism syndrome in the body politic and the U.S.-oriented State ideological-military apparatus of a decadent oligarchic elite.

Mournless Melancholia

U.S. Cold War Realpolitik defined Corazon Aquino’s “total war” against nationalists, progressive peasants, professionals, Igorots, Lumads—all touted by Washington/Pentagon as the price for enjoying individualist prerogatives, esp. the right to gamble in the capitalist casino. This constitutes the rationale for U.S.-subsidized counterinsurgency schemes to shore up the decadent, if not moribund, status quo—a society plagued by profound and seemingly durable disparity of wealth and power—now impolitely challenged by Duterte.

Not a single mass-media article on Duterte’s intent to forge an independent foreign policy and solve corruption linked to narcopolitics, provides even an iota of historical background on the US record of colonial subjugation of Filipino bodies and souls. This is not strange, given the long history of Filipino “miseducation” documented by Renato Constantino. Perhaps the neglect if not dismissal of the Filipino collective experience is due to the indiscriminate celebration of America’s success in making the natives speak English, imitate the American Way of Life shown in Hollywood movies, and indulge in mimicked consumerism.

What is scandalous is the complicity of the U.S. intelligentsia (with few exceptions) in regurgitating the “civilizing effect” of colonial exploitation. Every time the Filipino essence is described as violent, foolish, shrewd or cunning, the evidence displays the actions of a landlord-politician, bureaucrat, savvy merchant, U.S.-educated professional, or rich entrepreneur. Unequal groups dissolve into these representative types: Quezon, Roxas, Magsaysay, Fidel Ramos, etc. What seems ironic if not parodic is that after a century of massive research and formulaic analysis of the colony’s underdevelopment, we arrive at Stanley Karnow’s verdict (amplified in In Our Image) that, really, the Filipinos and their character-syndromes are to blame for their poverty and backwardness, for not being smart beneficiaries of American “good works.” “F—ck you,” Duterte might uncouthly respond.

Hobbes or Machiavelli?

An avalanche of media commentaries, disingenously purporting to be objective news reports, followed Duterte’s campaign to eradicate the endemic drug addiction rampant in the country. No need to cite statistics about the criminality of narcopolitics infecting the whole country, from poor slum-dweller to Senators and moguls; let’s get down to the basics. But the media, without any judicious assaying of hearsay, concluded that Duterte’s policy—his public pronouncement that bodies will float in Manila Bay, etc.—caused the killing of innocent civilians. His method of attack impressed the academics as Hobbesian, not Machiavellian. The journalistic imperative to sensationalize and distort by selective framing (following, of course, corporate norms and biases) governs the style and content of quotidian media operations.

Is Duterte guilty of the alleged EJK (extrajudicial killings)? No doubt, druglords and their police accomplices took advantage of the policy to silence their minions. This is the fabled “collateral damage” bewailed by the bishops and moralists. But Obama, UN and local pundits associated with the defeated parties seized on the cases of innocent victims (two or three are more than enough, demonstrated by the photo of a woman allegedly cradling the body of her husband, blown up in Time (October 10) and in The Atlantic, September issue, and social media) to teach Duterte a lesson on human rights, due process, and genteel diplomatic protocols. This irked the thin-skinned town mayor whose lack of etiquette, civility, and petty-bourgeois decorum became the target of unctuous sermons.

Stigma for All Seasons: “Anti-Americanism”

What finally gave the casuistic game away, in my view, is the piece in the November issue of The Atlantic by Jon Emont entitled “Duterte’s Anti-Americanism.” What does “anti-Americanism” mean—to be against McDonald burgers, Beyonce, I-phones, Saturday Night Live, Lady Gaga, Bloomingdale fashions, Wall Street, or Washington-Pentagon imperial browbeating of inferior nations/peoples-of-color? The article points to tell-tale symptoms: Duterte is suspending joint military exercises, separating from U.S. govt foreign policy by renewing friendly cooperation with China in the smoldering South China Sea, and”veering” toward Russia for economic ties—in short, promoting what will counter the debilitating, predatory U.S. legacy.

Above all, Duterte is guilty of diverging from public opinion, meaning the Filipino love for Americans. He rejects US “security guarantees,” ignores the $3 billion remittances of Filipinos (presumably, relatives of middle and upper classes), the $13 million given by the U.S. for relief of Yolanda typhoon victims in 2013. Three negative testimonies against Duterte’s “anti-American bluster” are used: 1) Asia Foundation official Steven Rood’s comment that since most Filipinos don’t care about foreign policy, “elites have considerable latitude,” that is, they can do whatever pleases them. 2) Richard Javad Heydarian, affiliated with De La Salle University, is quoted—this professor is now a celebrity of the anti-Duterte cult—that Duterte “can get away with it”; and, finally, Gen Fidel Ramos who contends that the military top brass “like US troops”—West-Point-trained Ramos has expanded on his tirade against Duterte with the usual cliches of unruly client-state leaders who turn against their masters, and seems ready to lead a farcical version of the 1968 People Power revolt, one of the symptoms of fierce internecine strife within the corrupt oligarchic bloc.

Like other anti-Duterte squibs, the article finally comes up with the psychological diagnosis of Duterte’s fixation on the case of the Davao 2002 bombing when a “supposed involvement of US officials” who spirited a CIA-affiliated American bomber confirmed the Davao mayor’s fondness for “stereotypes of superior meddling America.” The judgment seems anticllimatic. What calls attention will not be strange anymore: there is not a whisper of the tortuous history of US imperial exercise of power on the subalterns.

This polemic-cum-factoids culminates in a faux-folksy, rebarbative quip: “Washington can tolerate a thin-skinned ally who bites the hand that feeds him through crass invective.” The Washington Post (Nov 2) quickly intoned its approval by harping on Ramos’ defection as a sign of the local elite’s displeasure. With Washington halting the sale of rifles to the Philippine police because of Duterte’s human-rights abuses, the Post warns that $ 9 million military aid and $32 million funds for law-enforcement will be dropped by Congress if Duterte doesn’t stop his “anti-US rhetoric.” Trick or treat? Duterte should learn that actions have consequences, pontificated this sacred office of journalistic rectitude after the Halloween mayhem.

On this recycled issue of “anti-Americanism,” the best riposte is by Michael Parenti, from his incisive book Inventing Reality: “The media dismiss conflicts that arise between the United States and popular forces in other countries as manifestations of the latter’s “anti-Americanism”….When thousands marched in the Philippines against the abominated US-supported Marcos regime, the New York Times reported, “Anti-Marcos and anti-American slogans and banners were in abundance, with the most common being “Down with the US-Marcos Dictatorship!” A week later, the Times again described Filipino protests against US support of the Marcos dictatorship as “anti-Americanism.” The Atlantic, the New York Times,and the Washington Post share an ideological-political genealogy with the Cold War paranoia currentlygripping the U.S. ruling-class Establishment.

Predictably, the New York Times (Nov. 3 issue) confirmed the consensus that the US is not worried so much about the “authoritarian” or “murderous ways of imposing law and order” (Walden Bello’s labels; InterAksyon, Oct 29) as they are discombobulated by Duterte’s rapproachment with China. The calculus of U.S. regional hegemony was changed when Filipino fishermen returned to fish around the Scarborough Shoal. Duterte’s “bombastic one-man” show, his foul mouth, his “authoritarian” pragmatism, did not lead to total dependency on China nor diplomatic isolation. This pivot to China panicked Washington, belying the Time expert Carl Thayer who pontificated that Duterte “can’t really stand up to China unless the US is backing him” (Sept 15, 2016). A blowback occurred in the boondocks; the thin-skinned “Punisher” and scourge of druglords triggered a “howling wilderness” that exploded the century-long stranglehold of global finance capitalism on the islands. No need to waste time on more psychoanalysis of Duterte’s motivation.

What the next US president would surely do to restore its ascendancy in that region is undermine Duterte’s popular base, fund a strategy of destabilization via divide-and-rule (as in Chile, Yugoslavia, Ukraine), and incite its volatile pro-American constituency to beat pots and kettles in the streets of MetroManila.
This complex geopolitical situation entangling the United States and its former colony/neocolony, cries for deeper historical contextualization and empathy for the victims lacking in the Western media demonization of Duterte and his supporters, over 70% of a hundred million Filipinos in the Philippines and in the diaspora. For further elaboration, see my recent books US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave) and Between Empire and Insurgency (University of the Philippines Press).


E. San Juan, Jr, an emeritus professor of Ethnic Studies and Comparative Literature, was a fellow of W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, Fulbright lecturer of American Studies at Leuven University, Belgium, is currently professorial lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manils.


US genocide in the Philippines


by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.  Professorial Lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines


Except during the sixties when the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902 was referred to as “the first Vietnam,” the death of 1.4 million Filipinos has been usually accounted for as either collateral damage or victims of insurrection against the imperial authority of the United States. The first Filipino scholar to make a thorough documentation of the carnage is the late Luzviminda Francisco in her contribution to The Philippines: The End of An Illusion (London, 1973).

This fact is not even mentioned in the tiny paragraph or so in most U.S. history textbooks. Stanley Karnow’s In Our Image (1989), the acclaimed history of this intervention, quotes the figure of 200,000 Filipinos killed in outright fighting. Among historians, only Howard Zinn and Gabriel Kolko have dwelt on the “genocidal” character of the catastrophe. Kolko, in his magisterial Main Currents in Modern American History (1976), reflects on the context of the mass murder: “Violence reached a crescendo against the Indian after the Civil War and found a yet bloodier manifestation during the protracted conquest of the Philippines from 1898 until well into the next decade, when anywhere from 200,000 to 600,000 Filipinos were killed in an orgy of racist slaughter that evoked much congratulation and approval….” Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (1980) cites 300,000 Filipinos killed in Batangas alone, while William Pomeroy’s American Neo-Colonialism (1970) cites 600,000 Filipinos dead in Luzon alone by 1902. The actual figure of 1.4 million covers the period from 1899 to 1905 when resistance by the Filipino revolutionary forces mutated from outright combat in battle to guerilla skirmishes; it doesn’t include the thousands of Moros (Filipino Muslims) killed in the first two decades of U.S. colonial domination.

The first Philippine Republic led by Emilio Aguinaldo, which had already waged a successful war against the Spanish colonizers, mounted a determined nationwide opposition against U.S. invading forces. It continued for two more decades after Aguinaldo’s capture in 1901. Several provinces resisted to the point where the U.S. had to employ scorched-earth tactics, and hamletting or “reconcentration” to quarantine the populace from the guerillas, resulting in widespread torture, disease, and mass starvation. In The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective (2003), Prof. Gavan McCormack argues that the outright counterguerilla operations launched by the U.S. against the Filipinos, an integral part of its violent pacification program, constitutes genocide. He refers to Jean Paul Sartre’s contention that as in Vietnam, “the only anti-guerilla strategy which will be effective is the destruction of the people, in other words, the civilians, women and children.” That is what happened in the Philippines in the first half of the bloody twentieth century.

As defined by the UN 1948 “ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” genocide means acts “committed with intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” It is clear that the U.S. colonial conquest of the Philippines deliberately sought to destroy the national sovereignty of the Filipinos. The intent of the U.S. perpetrators included the dissolution of the ethnic identity of the Filipinos manifest in the rhetoric, policies, and disciplinary regimes enunciated and executed by legislators, politicians, military personnel, and other apparatuses. The original proponents of the UN document on genocide conceived of genocide as including acts or policies aimed at “preventing the preservation or development” of “racial, national, linguistic, religious, or political groups.” That would include “all forms of propaganda tending by their systematic and hateful character to provoke genocide, or tending to make it appear as a necessary, legitimate, or excusable act.” What the UN had in mind, namely, genocide as cultural or social death of targeted groups, was purged from the final document due to the political interests of the nation-states that then dominated the world body.

What was deleted in the original draft of the UN document are practices considered genocidal in their collective effect. Some of them were carried out in the Philippines by the United States from 1899 up to 1946 when the country was finally granted formal independence. As with the American Indians, U.S. colonization involved, among others, the “destruction of the specific character of a persecuted group by forced transfer of children, forced exile, prohibition of the use of the national language, destruction of books, documents, monuments, and objects of historical, artistic or religious value.” The goal of all colonialism is the cultural and social death of the conquered natives, in effect, genocide.

In a recent article, “Genocide and America” (New York Review of Books, March 14, 2002), Samantha Power observes that US officials “had genuine difficulty distinguishing the deliberate massacre of civilians from the casualties incurred in conventional conflict.” It is precisely the blurring of this distinction in colonial wars through racializing discourses and practices that proves how genocide cannot be fully grasped without analyzing the way the victimizer (the colonizing state power) categorizes the victims (target populations) in totalizing and naturalizing modes unique perhaps to the civilizational drives of modernity. Within the modern period, in particular, the messianic impulse to genocide springs from the imperative of capital accumulation—the imperative to reduce humans to commodified labor-power, to saleable goods/services. U.S. “primitive accumulation” began with the early colonies in New England and Virginia, and culminated in the 19th century with the conquest and annexation of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines.With the historical background of the U.S. campaigns against the American Indians in particular, and the treatment of African slaves and Chicanos in general, there is a need for future scholars and researchers to concretize this idea of genocide (as byproduct of imperial expansion) by exemplary illustrations from the U.S. colonial adventure in the Philippines.

What happened in 1899-1903 is bound to be repeated with the increased U.S. intervention in the Philippines (declared “the second front” in the “war against terrorism”) unless U.S. citizens protest. Hundreds of U.S. Special Forces are at present deployed throughout the islands presumably against “terrorist” Muslim insurgents and the left-wing New People’s Army. Both groups have been fighting for basic democratic rights for more than five decades now, since the Philippines gained nominal independence from the U.S. in 1946. There is unfortunately abysmal ignorance about continued U.S. involvement in this former Asian colony—except, perhaps, during the 1986 “People Power” revolt against the Marcos “martial law” regime universally condemned for stark human-rights violations.

As attested to by UNESCO and human rights monitors, the situation has worsened since then with hundreds of killings of journalists, lawyers, women activists, and union organizers. The current crisis of the Arroyo regime, ridden with corruption and exposed for blatant vote rigging, is renewing alarm signals for Washington, foreboding a repeat of mass urban uprisings sure to threaten the comprador agents of global capital that abet the misery of millions—10 million of 80 Filipinos work as domestics and contract workers abroad—caused by World Bank, World Trade Organization, and International Monetary Fund policies imposed on a neocolonial government.

The revolutionary upsurge in the Philippines against the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) stirred up dogmatic Cold War complacency. With the inauguration of a new stage in academic Cultural Studies in the nineties, the historical reality of U.S. imperialism  (the genocide of Native Americans is replayed in the subjugation of the inhabitants of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba) is finally being excavated and re-appraised. But this is, of course, a phenomenon brought about by a confluence of multifarious events, among them: the demise of the Soviet Union as a challenger to U.S. hegemony;  the sublation of the Sixties in both Fukuyama’s “end of history” and the interminable “culture wars,” the Palestininan intifadas; the Zapatista revolt against NAFTA; the heralding of current anti-terrorism by the Gulf War; and the fabled “clash of civilizations.”  Despite these changes, the old frames of intelligibility have not been modified or reconfigured to understand how nationalist revolutions in the colonized territories cannot be confused with the nationalist patriotism of the dominant or hegemonic metropoles, or how the mode of U.S. imperial rule in the twentieth century differs in form and content from those of the British or French in the nineteenth century.

Despite inroads of critical theory here and there, the received consensus of a progressive modernizing influence from the advanced industrial Western powers remains deeply entrenched here and in the Philippines. Even postcolonial and postmodern thinkers commit the mistake of censuring the decolonizing projects of the subalternized peoples because these projects (in the superior gaze of these thinkers) have been damaged, or are bound to become perverted into despotic postcolonial regimes, like those in Ghana, Algeria, Vietnam, the Philippines, and elsewhere. The only alternative, it seems, is to give assent to the process of globalization under the aegis of the World Bank/IMF/WTO, and hope for a kind of “benevolent assimilation.”

What remains to be carefully considered, above all, is the historical specificity or singularity of each of these projects of national liberation, their class composition, historical roots, programs, ideological tendencies, and political agendas within the context of colonial/imperial domination. It is not possible to pronounce summary judgments on the character and fate of nationalist movements in the peripheral formations without focusing on the complex manifold relations between colonizer and colonized, the dialectical interaction between their forces as well as others caught in the conflict. Otherwise, the result would be a disingenuous ethical utopianism such as that found in U.S. postnationalist and postcolonialist discourse which, in the final analysis, functions as an apology for the ascendancy of the  transnational corporate powers embedded in the nation-states of the North, and for the hegemonic rule of the only remaining superpower claiming to act in the name of freedom and democracy.

The case of the national-democratic struggle in the Philippines may be taken as an example of one historic singularity. Because of the historical specificity of the Philippines’ emergence as a dependent nation-state controlled by the United States in the twentieth century, nationalism as a mass movement has always been defined by events of anti-imperialist rebellion. U.S. conquest entailed long and sustained violent suppression of the Filipino revolutionary forces for decades.

The central founding “event” (as the philosopher Alain Badiou would define the term) is the 1896 revolution against Spain and its sequel, the Filipino-American war of 1899-1902, and the Moro resistance up to 1914 against U.S. colonization. Another political sequence of events is the Sakdal uprising in the thirties during the Commonwealth period followed by the Huk uprising in the forties and fifties—a sequence that is renewed in the First Quarter Storm of 1970 against the neocolonial state. While the feudal oligarchy and the comprador class under U.S. patronage utilized elements of the nationalist tradition formed in 1896-1898 as their ideological weapon for establishing moral-intellectual leadership, their attempts have never been successful. Propped by the Pentagon-supported military, the Arroyo administration today, for example, uses the U.S. slogan of democracy against terrorism and the fantasies of the neoliberal free market to legitimize its continued exploitation of workers, peasants, women and ethnic minorities.

Following a long and tested tradition of grassroots mobilization, Filipino nationalism has always remained centered on the peasantry’s demand for land closely tied to the popular-democratic demand for equality and genuine sovereignty.

For over a century now, U.S.-backed developmentalism and modernization have utterly failed in the Philippines. The resistance against globalized capital and its neoliberal extortions is spearheaded today by a national-democratic mass movement of various ideological persuasions. There is also a durable Marxist-led insurgency that seeks to articulate the “unfinished revolution” of 1896 in its demand for national independence against U.S. control and social justice for the majority of citizens (80 million) ten percent of whom are now migrant workers abroad. Meanwhile, the Muslim community  in the southern part of the Philippines initiated its armed struggle for self-determination during the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) and continues today as a broadly based movement for autonomy, despite the Islamic ideology of its teacher-militants.

Recalling the genocidal U.S. campaigns cited above, BangsaMoro nationalism cannot forget its Muslim singularity which is universalized in the principles of equality, justice, and the right to self-determination. In the wake of past defeats of peasant revolts, the Filipino culture of nationalism constantly renews its anti-imperialist vocation by mobilizing new forces (women and church people in the sixties, and the indigenous or ethnic minorities in the seventies and eighties). It is organically embedded in emancipatory social and political movements whose origin evokes in part the Enlightenment narrative of sovereignty as mediated by third-world nationalist movements (Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh, Mao) but whose sites of actualization are the local events of mass insurgency against continued U.S.  hegemony.

The Philippines as an “imagined” and actually experienced ensemble of communities, or multiplicities in motion, remains in the process of being constructed primarily through modes of political and social resistance against corporate transnationalism (or globalization, in the trendy parlance) and its technologically mediated ideologies, fashioning thereby the appropriate cultural forms of dissent, resistance, and subversion worthy of its people’s history and its collective vision.
E. SAN JUAN, Jr. was recently Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, and fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University. He is currently a fellow of the Harry Ransom Cenrwe, University of Texas. His most recent books are Working Through the Contradictions (Bucknell U Press), US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave) and Critique and Social Transformation (Edwin Mellen).



tapaya_muralU.S. APOLOGISTS OF THE EMPIRE: Notes on Stanley Karnow, Civil Society, and the Sorry State of U.S. Knowledge-Production on the Philippines

By E. San Juan, Jr.
If truth is to be found in the synchronization of reason and experience, rectitude lies in the synchronization of theory and practice….
Let us fight to our last breath in order to defend our sovereignty, our independence…. for the salvation of our country and our national honor; let us do our duty since Providence has faith in our ability to fight and protect our country….
We do not intend to free but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land…. We have pacified some thousands of the islanders and buried them, destroyed their fields, burned their villages, and turned their widows and orphans out of doors… The White Man’s Burden has been sung. Who will sing the Brown Man’s?


[The following notes were written in the early nineties, after the publication of Stanley Karnow’s In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines in 1989. Since then I have dealt with this book and other corollary issues in my After Postcolonialism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000) and US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (2007), among other works. While the influence of Karnow’s popularized history has been substantial perhaps among lay readers, it is an honest attempt to examine the record and ultimately place the blame on the Filipino ilustrados and their successors (how these cunning natives fooled the naïve Americano officials!), the most notorious now being Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her entourage. However, its neoconservative revisionism has been outpaced by Glenn May’s quite meretricious apologetics for continuing U.S. imperialist intervention in the Philippines. Professor May has been invoked by a new generation of Filipinologists who are still laboring under the “White Man’s Burden” of justifying the “civilizing mission” of Anglo-Saxon Manifest Destineers, under the spurious cover of neutrality and scholarly objectivity. The best example of this genre is Brian McAllister Linn’s two books on the Filipino-American War, which he calls “the Philippine War.” So what else is new? Despite the appearance of Paul A. Kramer’s The Blood of Government in 2006, which tries to take account of race and empire ironically at the expense of Filipino revolutionary nationalism, the prevalent view of that period in U.S. history—if it is still noticed by the public after Max Boot and others celebrated the “savage wars of peace” (Kipling’s phrase) at the start of the infamous Iraq invasion in 2003– is still colored by the thirty-plus years of Reagan-Bush reactionary ideology and unconscionable international bullying that it might take several generations more to clear up the air and, like the owl of Minerva before it roosts, determine questions of justice and settle accounts with the conquerors. It all depends whether the neocolonized Filipinos in the Philippines and in the diaspora are able to waken up from the long dream of Americanization and realize that global capitalism is in its period of convulsive death-pangs, which may be quite prolonged, alas, if the masses of people around the world do no take action and terminate the reign of the beast tout court.—ESJ, 7 March 2009].

In 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to reject the agreement between President Corazon Aquino and the U.S. State Department extending the lease on the U.S. military bases. A last-ditch campaign was mounted to defer this reclaiming of compromised patrimony, including President Aquino’s mobilizing for sixty thousand pesos what Manila journalists called “hakot power,” the farcical devolution of the February 1986 “People Power Revolution.” Were it not for the persuasive impact of Mount Pinatubo–only Nature can match the “Iron Butterfly” (Imelda Marcos) in projecting the Philippines onto world media prominence, everyone seemed convinced that the U.S. government would never relinquish control over the strategically vital Clark Field Air Base, devastated by the volcanic fallout and now virtually useless, nor Subic Naval Base–not just real estate but symbolic investments and tangible prestige were at stake.
Transfixed by that momentarily “undecidable” conjuncture, I dared to predict then that once the composition of the Philippine Senate was changed after the May 1992 elections, the new administration, beset by the need for foreign exchange to ease the huge debt burden, would “sell” rental or lease rights for both Clark and Subic back to the U.S. under terms less favorable than before–after all, the elite still owed allegiance to its long-time master. No one was taken unaware. In fact, the Mutual Defense Board in November 1992 already gave the U. S. military unlimited access to Philippine ports, airfields, and military installations. This is bound to be followed by an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agrement (still being negotiated) that will provide repair and supply of U.S. warships, rest and recreation for U.S. troops, and the conversion of the Philippine military into a virtual subsidiary of the Pentagon (Schirmer 1997). Whatever the ambiguities of the secret protocols, the Pentagon already enjoys “pre-positioning” rights to stockpile weapons and military supplies in the Philippines, without any rental expense or responsibilities for ecological and human damages.
Almost all the commentaries written in Manila in the early 90s concurred that the United States will be the most decisive if unavowed player in the elections (as it has been, to be sure, without exception in previous elections) that will decide succession to the presidency, congressional seats, and a dozen other local government positions. Given the still ascendant politics of personalities and a habitus of clientelism, this will essentially be a change in the personnel of the central state apparatuses and provincial bureaucracies. But anyone who depended on Stanley Karnow’s popular guide In Our Image (now enshrined by Pulitzer and Establishment pundits) to almost a century of U.S.-Philippines relations would be at a loss to figure out how and why, given “America’s benevolent colonial rule” (remember McKinley’s “Benevolent Assimilation” slogan?) and its liberation of the country from the brutal Japanese occupation of World War II, and lately from the evil tyrant Marcos, Filipinos–specifically the Filipino elite–would violate the ritual rule of the compadrazgo system, think and feel outside the conventional pattern sanctioned by hiya and utang na loob, and act in a totally unpredictable and unwarranted fashion. Heaven forbid. Such recurrent fits of nationalism automatically trigger Karnow’s allusions to the inscrutable behavior of those “savage Malay tribes” whom the generals–to wit, Jacob Smith (‘howlin’ Jake of Samar fame), Shafter, Chaffee–would have quickly pacified without much scruple in the halcyon days of William McKinley and William Howard Taft.
As an index of his erudition, Karnow gives only half a page (see page 332) in his book to explaining how U.S. military forces continued to remain on Philippine soil after the grant of formal sovereignty in 1946.1 In the first chapter where he sets down his organizing framework, Karnow expounds on the alleged Filipino attitude toward the domesticators of the “Philippine insurrection”:

Traditional values have meanwhile shaded the attitudes of Filipinos toward the United States in complex and subtle ways. Many Filipinos, recalling America’s schools, liberal political tutelage and early pledge of independence, were motivated by feelings of gratitude toward the United States. And, loyal to the concept of utang na loob, they fulfilled the debt of honor by fighting alongside Americans at Bataan and Corregidor, and by joining guerilla movements to resist the Japanese during World War II. The shared agony ingrained in them the idea of a family tie between the United States and the Philippines… . The attitude [of Filipinos favoring the continued stay of the bases] has reflected their awareness of the economic value of the bases, combined with the pro-American sentiment that has long pervaded the society…. Spasms of nationalist passions directed against the United States had always served Filipinos as a convenient distraction from their internal problems…. Despite their nationalist rhetoric, an American withdrawal would symbolize a family schism for most Filipinos (1989, 23-25)

This “family” squabble demands paternal adjudication; Karnow provides it. A lesson needs to be driven home. Not only is the issue of the military bases a false and misleading one, but it’s primarily the fault of the Filipinos themselves for failing to understand the truth, as patriarchal wisdom now imparts to us, that U.S. foreign policy is “predicated on self-interest rather than sentimentality” tout court.
To parry any charge of chauvinism or bigotry, Karnow uses Benigno Aquino (as he deploys other Filipino personalities to lend credence to certain propositions about Filipinos themselves) to reinforce the idea that Filipinos are responsible for their own misfortunes. After U.S. tutelage, so the saying goes, they are no longer children but adults. Filipinos are supposed to be “without purpose and without discipline” because (Aquino declares) though they profess love of country, they “love themselves–individually–more.” This idea of anarchistic infighting among feudal-minded clans is labelled by Karnow the freight of “colonial mentality,” the ordinary Filipino’s double dependence on the native oligarchy and on a bountiful, tolerant America.
In his concluding chapter, Karnow pontificates that the future of the Philippines hinges not only on the actions of Filipinos but also on the Americans (not the average citizen, of course, but corporate and government interests) who can furnish investment and advice to carry them through the crisis. To denounce the United States is one of the Filipinos’ “favorite sports,” given their “bewildered” identity and “weak sense of nationhoood” (according to Stephen Bosworth); but it was a tricky game–Karnow assures us–since only the United States, the “scapegoat” in this scenario, can save the Philipines from bankruptcy.
The 1992 compromise on the bases for Karnow thus “represented an indirect admission by Filipinos that they desperately needed American assistance and would for years to come.” Also implicit in the agreement was an understanding on the part of both American and Filipino officials that, however lopsided, thorny and at times frustrating their “special relationship” might be, it reflected “a century of shared experience.” And so at the end of this putative mutual exchange, we witness a grand procession of celebrities moving down the corridor of history–Taft in the lead, MacArthur and Quezon, Lansdale and Magsaysay, Reagan and Marcos and Aquino following behind–marching together, united by the bond of past necessity, watched with awe and admiration by Karnow “along with millions of other Americans and Filipinos, and their common past had ordained both their present and their future” (1989, 432-33). With the pathos of this spectacle orienting us to the trajectory of recent developments, it is not difficult to guess why Karnow will be conducting his readers down the path of “sentimental imperialism” into the swamp of shoddy apologetics and the self-serving banalities of condescending “great power” self-righteousness.
What is the substance of this past that so powerfully ordained a linkage of dominance and subordination between the U.S. and the Philippines? This past is none other than the United States’ novel experiment of transforming Filipinos into “our image,” an American exercise in “self-duplication” through tutelage (1989, 409), “a noble dream” of social engineering. It was deemed an exception from the European colonial model of taming dark-skinned aborigines. Because the Filipino elite “welcomed the United States as a salutary force for modernization,” Karnow wants us to believe that McKinley and Root’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation” earned the craving of Filipinos for American patronage. In effect, Filipinos “submitted voluntarily to their own exploitation” (emphasis mine). Now the full story can be told. That is the blunt message that more sophisticated academic discourse on the Philippines is now embellishing to settle accounts with the liberal conscience of the sixties and circumvent the skepticism of “third world” multitudes.
We confront here the paradox of imperial hubris. The racially-minded Taft, who along with Douglas MacArthur occupies center stage in Karnow’s narrative of America’s “civilizing mission,” followed his sacred duty to Americanize Filipinos, “to instill in them the values that had made America the greatest society on earth: integrity, civic responsibility, and respect for impersonal institutions.” No matter that the United States at the time was itself riddled with corruption, racism, and appalling economic disparities. America’s mission was to export “its virtues, not its sins.” Overall, despite recalcitrant beneficiaries, the missionary goal was accomplished. But reservations continue to haunt the ledger of debits and credits. Why then, after nine decades of domination, did the U.S. rulers fail to remold the natives into their own idealized self-image? Why and how then did this touted “showcase of democracy” degenerate into Marcos’ wily dictatorship and, more frightening, a fertile breeding ground for Communist insurgents?
Karnow’s retort is anti-climactic, to say the least: “History is responsible. … By acceding to their aspirations for sovereignty so soon after conquest, the United States spared [Filipinos] a long struggle for independence.” In the course of tutelage, it deflated their nationalist elan, leaving them confused, ambivalent, duplicitous. This supposedly followed from U.S. officials accommodating to Filipino traditions–their “customs and social life,” in Root’s words–in order to win hearts and minds. In yielding to the inertia of the Filipino penchant for opportunistic alliances and “coils of mutual loyalties,” the poor colonial functionaries unwittingly undercut their domesticating charge: “They [colonial administrators] found in the Philippines a society based on a complicated and often baffling web of real and ritual kinship ties–the antithesis of the American ideal of a nation of citizens united in their devotion to the welfare of all” (1989, 20). Note that such an ideal corresponds more to Vilfredo Pareto’s “residues” than to Alexis de Tocqueville’s epistemology and normative concerns. Particularly in judging the careers of Quezon and Magsaysay, Karnow seeks to demonstrate his thesis that Filipino culture, “its tribal texture,” explains to a large extent the country’s underdevelopment, its perennial predicaments and tragedies: Marcos’ plunder, crony corruption, perversion of justice, military terrorism against civilians, growth of the New People’s Army, chaos and mayhem all around.
Karnow’s thesis is indeed deceptively plain: the durable and seemingly impervious compadrazgo system, in which kinship network and familial dyadic ties imposed the patron-client grid on political life, frustrated any intent to duplicate the ethos and productivity of the American system. Clientelism even brought out the worst in the fallible American administrators. Thus it is not U.S. colonial subjugation but the clientelist ordering of Filipino society and its immutable constellation of values that account chiefly for the underdevelopment of the Philippines. Filipino mores and folkways are culpable. What we observe in this manner of argumentation, however, is “the insertion of colonial bodies into a metropolitan discourse [that] provides sanction for the politics of colonialism at the same time as it reproduces them” (Anderson 1995, 86). But make no mistake: the humble journalist (whose dispatches, we are told, influenced Lyndon Johnson among other mighty leaders) is not blaming anyone. In the “Preface,” he warns us that in composing this history not so much of the Philippines as of “America’s only major colonial experience,” he has “attempted to tell the story through individuals as they behaved at the time, avoiding the tendentious habit of superimposing today’s ethics on yesterday’s norms.” Today’s ethics/yesterday’s norms–was the partisan author able to apprehend the disparity and discriminate the nuances of their entanglement? Or is Karnow’s not-so-hidden agenda of reconfiguring the past to clear the air the reverse of what he claims, that is, an unconscionable reimposition of the “White Man’s Burden” on both victims and survivors? Imperial teleology as before seeks to chart the progress of both oppressor and oppressed, one at the expense of the other.


Let us consider now an alternative or revisionary appraisal. In his perceptive review of the book, Peter Tarr refutes Karnow’s claim to neutrality by showing how the journalist has resurrected myths about the destructive dynamics of U.S.-Philippines relations. He refers in particular to one myth: how the brutal conquest of the Philippines by the U.S. invading forces has been atoned for by the benefits given to the defeated: sanitation, health care, roads, schools, “honest judiciary,” and an ostensible democratic political system (what Benedict Anderson [1995] calls “cacique democracy”)–advances that, it is implied, Filipinos would not have attained by themselves. “A model of enlightenment” is Karnow’s phrase for the Philippine Commission’s advice to Washington to use the ilustrado elite as “transmission belts” in governing the masses, to win over the mestizo principales whose precarious and threatened position was eventually normalized by the tactical ploy of Taft’s slogan “Philippines for the Filipinos” and then entrenched as the ruling bloc in the economic and political hierarchy. The fable that underpins Karnow’s notion of imperialism with a smiling face is what Tarr calls the “Immaculate Conception myth” which mystifies the origins and motivations of American foreign policy by foregrounding cautionary anecdotes. Tarr writes:

He adheres, for instance, to the outdated and specious view that the man responsible for American policy, President McKinley, was pushed into the Philippines by willful imperialists like Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Mahan (a naval strategist), and by a populace thirsting for foreign adventure…. In attributing responsibility for American imperialism to a “cabal” of Rough Rider types, he, like many previous historians, effectively absolves an entire nation… . [Tarr points to the racism that rationalized Howlin’ Jake Smith’s carnage and the genocidal sentiments expressed by Generals Shafter and Adna Chaffee, a racism that surfaced again in Vietnam, another often-cited “aberration” in U.S. history.]
…It strikes me that Karnow, too, wants to sweep aside the worst of the imperial experience so as to make more convincingly his point about American benevolent intent. It strikes me that at several points in the narrative Karnow is trying to convince himself. This ambivalence renders his sentimental imperialism dangerous; we as Americans must come down on one side or the other, or risk cruelly perpetuating the patron-client relationship. Millions of Filipinos today are confused about what actually happened in their past and about how best to cope with their American “benefactors.” Books like Karnow’s only make things worse.
In a book that purports to examine the origins of American imperialism and its effects on a subject people, this is more than a disappointment; it is a methodological smokescreen. Karnow is no more objective than are authors of the secondary accounts upon whom he leans for “facts.” Karnow’s claim of ethical neutrality is preposterous; In Our Image is full of ethical judgments, and in the main they indicate the author’s inclination to explain away the American colonial impulse (1989, 782-83)

Karnow’s claim to neutrality and balance is then rerouted to another mode of calculating gains and losses, as in a zero-sum game. Through the device of center-stage history replete with notable personalities and celebrities, their virtues and foibles, idiosyncrasies and memorable exploits, Karnow reproduces the argument that whatever “sins” might have been committed, has been more than atoned for by all the blessings inventoried, plus the last one–a timely bonanza–of ridding the country of the diabolic Marcos who has disappointed his benefactors.
Tarr’s review sharply demystifies Karnow’s claim to an impartial reading and evaluation of the imperial record. It targets Karnow’s utterly uncritical acceptance of the “self-justifying qualifications of American colonists,” even though he might entertain us with curious vignettes dramatizing the weaknesses and frailties of his characters. But what Tarr correctly points out is that the so-called “atonement” Karnow recites with great zeal did not really benefit the majority of Filipinos. On the contrary, it perpetuated oppression and injustice, sharpening class and ethnic divisions through the entrenchment of oligarchic rule, from Osmena and Quezon to Roxas, Marcos and Aquino, all of them invariably supported to one degree or another by a succession of U.S. policies and administrations. This unremitting patronage culminated in the Cold War involvement of the CIA with Magsaysay’s anti-Huk campaign. And it persisted throughout the years of intervention in Indochina, Central America, Africa, and the Middle East. For the complicity of a series of U.S. administrations with Marcos’ authoritarian rule, we have to consult other works such as Raymond Bonner’s Waltzing with a Dictator (1987), Alfred McCoy’s Priests on Trial (1984), Leonard Davis’ Revolutionary Struggle in the Philippines (1989), and the periodic reports by the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, the Permanent People’s Tribunal, and others. And for another side of the story that shows how internal contradictions in the military, not Marcos’ “fear of the opprobrium of American opinion” (418), led to the balance of power tipping to the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) rebels, you have to read accounts like Bryan Johnson’s Four Days of Courage (1987). It goes without saying that Karnow is a shrewd popularizer, a recycler of hackneyed notions and received opinions culled from the researches of mainstream scholars like David Joel Steinberg, Peter Stanley, Theodore Friend, Glenn May, and other “gate-keepers” who enforce and guard the parameters of acceptable, safe thinking on the historical problematic of U.S.-Philippines encounters.

Not that Karnow is concealing facts; he just omits them, or subordinates them to the more plausible details of his insider tidbits conveyed a la Time magazine style. Doubling as Kilroy and privileged confidant, Karnow describes meticulously the lifestyles of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, the details of their rise to power, innumerable scenarios of their complicity with U.S. functionaries, and so on; but he never seriously investigates in detail the volume and quality of U.S. economic, political, and military assistance to Marcos when he was flagrantly committing all those heinous acts that justified his removal from power. The climactic “atonement”–instanced by the U.S. State Dept. officials’ skilfully deployed plot of convincing Reagan and outmaneuvering Marcos–is in fact for Karnow the epitome, the substantive proof, of U.S. benevolence toward their helpless “protegees.” Incidentally, as he relates Schultz’s machinations to intervene in the insurrection against Marcos, Karnow lets slip his approval of the essentially pragmatic operation of Washington officials who all subscribe to an unquestioned political dogma of intervention on the side of the propertied minority: “Even at this late stage, they were struggling to shape a firm Philippine policy–proof again that policies are often forged in the heat of crisis rather than in cool contemplation” (1989, 418). One suspects that in the heat of crafting this reconstructive narrative of the facts and circumstances behind U.S. intervention in Philippine affairs, Karnow had to arrange, cut, deflate, inflate, stylize, and manipulate his materials in order to appeal to the “commonsense” worldview of mass consumers of products like his book. In the post-Vietnam and post-Iranian-hostages era, they need to be reassured that U.S. involvement in the “third world”–whether in the Philippines, Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Iraq, and elsewhere–is not one long nasty, brutish, and malevolent skulduggery, as people like Chomsky and other critics of orthodoxy would have it. Rather, it is patriotic duty, however ignoble the motives and outcomes may be.

Of course we don’t expect Karnow to be a sponsor of Filipino nationalism, nor even a critic of “altruistic” imperialism. Nonetheless, without much delicadeza (to use the “all-in-the-family” idiom), he flaunts his liberal credentials by registering his horror at the atrocities of both American and Filipino combatants during the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902. He boasts of his censure of MacArthur’s vanity as well as the peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies of other colonial officials, and dilates on his disgust at the Marcoses (notwithstanding his self-confessed intimacy with them) and the oligarchs surrounding Aquino. But his view is incorrigibly that of the privileged, never of the victims. Entailed by this is a reductive and simplifying view of how Filipinos as a people behave. Here is his comment on the quite complex milieu of neocolonial Philippines when MacArthur had already exonerated Roxas and other elite “quislings” in order to prevent indigenous progressive forces (not yet accused of being Chinese or Russian stooges) from transforming the political landscape:

But aside from a few ultranationalists, Filipinos generally welcomed the so-called special relationship as proof of America’s concern for their welfare….
After World War II, American negotiators did indeed force Filipino leaders to accept onerous conditions in the bases agreement as the price for freedom. But the majority of Filipinos, then yearning to be a part of America’s global strategy, would have been disappointed had the United States rejected them. So they submitted voluntarily to their own exploitation [italics mine]. Their dream, as historian Theodore Friend has put it, was to be “a favored and exemplary party within a Pax Americana, a kind of inverse Cinderella, most beloved adoptee of a benign and powerful stepmother” (1989, 330).

Who indeed is the referent of “the majority of Filipinos”? Surely it cannot be the impoverished and unlettered peasantry (about 80-90 percent of the population then) who supposedly comprehended the logic of U.S. Cold War strategy in 1946, and who dreamed of being an inverted Cinderella, as Friend conjectures. When Karnow’s text uses the terms “Americans” or “Filipinos,” we have to be aware of certain semantic and ethicopolitical maneuvers, with coercive policy implications evinced by the narrowing of focus of either term on a certain limited sector, the suppressing of distinctions (class, gender, race), the distraction from the substantive issues of power relations, the psychologistic categorizing of Filipinos as an ethnic/racial group, and the equivocation over the moral consequence of a political decision. All these constitute an updated program of recuperative discursive praxis for hegemonic articulation. Deconstructed, Karnow’s rhetoric discloses a narrative whose portrayal of Filipinos is symptomatic of a larger theoretical and ideological program subtending the apologetic efforts of scholars like May, Stanley, and others.2

In elucidating this implicit agenda of pacification, we might consider, for example, how Karnow presents one of the more serious challenges to the normative client-patron order: the Sakdal uprising. It is given a page and a quarter in chapter 10 (devoted to “MacArthur’s Mandate”) and labelled as a minor irritant. The Sakdal sympathizer Benigno Ramos is portrayed as a resentful, petty bureaucrat whose “vitriolic genius made him an instant celebrity” because “Filipinos thrive on abusive polemics.” Nothing is said about the political objectives of the Sakdals, the grievances and lived experiences of the thousands of peasants, workers, and middle stratum involved. Moreover, Ramos’ anti-Quezon and anti-American propaganda is dismissed by Karnow as “puerile stuff.” In any case, the Sakdalista agitators manipulated a peasantry “ripe to explode in revolt,” but they were effectively suppressed by Filipino collaborators like governor Juan Cailles. Nothing is mentioned of the role of the U.S.-commanded Constabulary nor how the state ideological apparatuses under American control served the wealthy landowners who, despite the admonitions of Governor Frank Murphy and the American journalist A.V. Hartendorp, formed vigilante groups and resisted even the mildest proposals for reform. We get the impression that the Filipino oligarchs, not the United States, were in command, dictating policy and supervising the coercive agencies of the state. Karnow identifies with this oligarchy and wagers all his bets in this pacification campaign. From the viewpoint of the victims of state terror, the intellectual Benigno Ramos (one of the Sakdal supporters) may not be so unsavory a character as Karnow (who claims to be impartial) represents him to be. Though the victors wrote the history texts, the dead live on in the archives of popular memory and in the daily acts of plebeian resistance.

As for the Huk rebellion, Karnow uses it to lay the groundwork for the Lansdale-Magsaysay symbiosis–an exemplum of how the U.S. will always come to the rescue of “little brown brothers” threatened this time by the specter of world communism. In chapter 12 on “Dependent Independence,” Karnow even demonstrates how the native leftists had to be tutored by their American mentors–proof that susceptibility to paternalism also vitiates the indigenous jacobins. His description of the peasant mentality and the flawed thinking of Filipino radicals betrays a stereotypical prejudice that stems from Karnow’s inveterately flawed understanding of the situation of the colonized:

Most [Huks] opposed the abuses, not the concept, of feudalism. They were willing to serve as tenants as long as landowners gave them easy credit, a fair share of the crop and protection against repression by the local authorities. Few were hostile to the United States…. By contrast, the upper echelon of the Philippine Communist party, the Partido Komunistang Pilipinas [sic], was principally composed of Manila labor leaders and bourgeois intellectuals either unfamiliar or unconcerned with rural conditions. They clung to the Marxist belief in the primacy of the urban proletariat–an inane idea in a country without industry. (1989, 336-37)

Not bothered by his own bowdlerized version of Marxism, Karnow enlarges on the career of Luis Taruc who, despite blaming the United States for failing to bring true democracy to the Philippines, was really (according to Karnow) “opposed less to the principles of colonialism than to its inadequacies.” What is striking here is not so much the denigration of peasants and radicals but Karnow’s excitement in aggrandizing Lansdale’s exploits and the CIA’s schemes in utilizing Magsaysay to advance United States counterrevolutionary policy during the Cold War. His investment in producing knowledge of CIA clandestine operations tends to suggest that his purpose here is less documentation than the self-serving reinforcement of his stature as “inside” authority, a major player in decision-making, and the chief purveyor of a pragmatic code authorized to furnish the valid explanation of the backwardness of the “third world” for a western audience.3

Questions now plague the critical observer: Are we to believe seriously that the CIA patronage of Magsaysay is a mimesis of the clientelist paradigm? Is Lansdale trying to duplicate himself in Magsaysay? Or is Magsaysay trying to get the better out of his American “adviser”? Karnow devotes exactly nine pages to the CIA-Lansdale intervention which “led to Magsaysay’s emergence” –a rather fatuous explanation of a complex period in Philippine history but one entailed by the logic of prejudgmental self-aggrandizement. Karnow states that Lansdale “knew the Philippines,” but what constitutes the validity of this judgment? Two pages later we learn that after the war Lansdale “was sent to the Philippines as a military intelligence officer, and he loved the country. He explored the boondocks, but mostly he remained in Manila among its hothouse elite. His view of the Huk threat typified cold-war logic” (1989, 349). Incredibly his anticommunist savvy enabled him to become Magsaysay’s compadre. On closer scrutiny, the relation is less symbiotic and reciprocal than manipulative and unilateral, as this passage confirms:

Lansdale’s main American military sidekick was Charles Bohannan, a lanky army major who had fought as a guerilla in the Philippines. His chief Filipino associate was Colonel Napoleon Valeriano, who commanded swashbuckling units called “skull squadrons” for their practice of beheading suspected Huks. But mostly he communed with Magsaysay, and they became compadres. Their talks rambled into the wee hours, the two of them often sharing a bedroom in Lansdale’s villa. Lansdale usually ventilated ideas in his patient, sometimes didactic style, and Magsaysay listened reverently. It was “subliminal,” speculated a contemporary observer. Lansdale went on day and night, weeks and months, so that “by the time Magsaysay stood up somewhere to speak, he knew what to say.” A Filipino nationalist once charged Lansdale with keeping Magsaysay “in custody.” Lansdale privately remarked years later that, having concluded that “Asia needed its own heroes,” he had in effect invented Magsaysay. (1989, 350)

The relation of “tutelage” here brings out the worst in the tutor and makes the subaltern pupil a risible caricature. Karnow’s game is an astute hedging to cover a shoddy performance with smoke and mirrors: while stating earlier that “Magsaysay’s niche in the Philippine pantheon is secure,” he judges his presidency in the end as “a disappointment.” He sees nothing reprehensible in Magsaysay’s complicity with the CIA Phoenix program in Vietnam: Magsaysay “allowed Lansdale to recruit Filipinos for a CIA front in Vietnam whose agents trained South Vietnam’s police” (1989, 355). But this follows from the original “compact” with Lansdale’s boss Frank Wisner who offered Magsaysay “undercover support for his political career if he would act as America’s surrogate” and “Magsaysay agreed” (1989, 346). Everything appeared so natural and proper, everything fitted. Even the CIA success in corrupting Filipinos, in exacerbating the venality of officials (as shown in the deadpan and sometimes cynical, burlesque portrayals of CIA operatives Gabriel Kaplan and David Sternberg), is taken as acceptable modus operandi for American officials. Bribery, torture, burglary, assassination–all methods are appropriate by virtue of raison d’etat (see Smith 1976).
Unbeknownst to Karnow, the parasitism in the Magsaysay-Lansdale liaison–the “destructive dynamic” Tarr is worried about–strikes us as the real underside of “U.S.-Philippine relations,” not clientelism nor the alleged “Oriental duplicity” of the ilustrado elite who were made to believe that they had really pulled the wool over their master’s eyes. We have to read between the lines where the “unsaid,” proscribed, or interdicted meanings betray the opposite of what is claimed.


At this point it becomes evident that Karnow’s text belongs to a long tradition of U.S. colonial discourse purporting to supply the veracious, objectively “scientific” knowledge of the Filipino–his thoughts, feelings, behavior–necessary to maintain permanent hegemony in the colony and justify the prophylaxis of intervention to the tax-paying public. I would like to cite here the canonical texts of the disciplinary regime that we now call “Philippine Studies,” a residual legacy of “area studies” in some universities: James A. LeRoy, Philippine Life in Town and Country (1905); Dean C. Worcester, The Philippines Past and Present (1914); and the books by W. Cameron Forbes, Joseph Hayden, and George Taylor already mentioned in Chapter 2. Aside from accumulating, tabulating, and systematizing the vast amount of empirical data, these texts (in particular the last two) are foundational reference points for a special breed called “Filipinologists.” These discourses endeavor to integrate and theorize a large body of information and ideas by using the homogenizing, Eurocentric theories of culture and society generated by mainstream social sciences, in particular anthropology and sociology. When applied by bureaucratic functionaries and instrumentalized by the ideological apparatuses of the state, this official body of knowledge, discourses, and practices serves to legitimize the parameters within which the efficacy of U.S. colonial policies operated. What is more insidious is that it has also profoundly determined the configuration of people-to-people relations in everyday life, authorizing patterns of reflection/administration that reproduced and circulated received “common sense.” It also reinforced a world-view or sensibility that tends to repress critical thinking and deny creative autonomy by circumscribing if not proscribing possibilities of change within certain fixed boundaries and precincts of the public sphere which are always under surveillance by an elaborate network of policing (internal and external) mechanisms. “Philippine Studies” is the rubric for the ideological machine that facilitated Karnow’s apologia.

With the appearance of George Taylor’s book, The Philippines and the United States: Problems of Partnership (1964), at the height of the Cold War, a discursive practice of knowledge-production about the Filipino began that applied a more systematic culturalist grid on laboratory specimens labelled “Filipino character and social practices.” The culture of one sector, the dominant landlord-merchant class, is taken as the normative consensus model for understanding the whole formation. Functionalism in its empiricist and positivist version was thoroughly mobilized for hegemonic purposes. The functionalist deployment of notions like hiya, utang na loob, and “smooth interpersonal relations” propagated by Frank Lynch, George Guthrie, John Carroll, Mary Hollnsteiner, Chester Hunt, and their disciples became the approved and exclusive paradigm for explaining any event or relationship, say, Quezon’s duplicity, Marcos’ tactics toward Benigno Aquino and the Americans, President Corazon Aquino’s incapacity to reform or discipline her kins, the psychology of disaffected members of the New People’s Army, and practically all aspects of Philippine politics and society.4 The imperative is to maintain and buttress social equilibrium. One recent example is Claude Buss’s Cory Aquino and the People of the Philippines whose refrain echoes a now predictable reflex of scapegoating: “the Filipinos found it hard to break the habit of special dependence on the United States” (1987, 143). This may be a slight improvement over the old rhetoric of conceiving the whole country as “a penal reformatory,” an enlarged Iwahig underpinning the “logic of the carcereal continuum” (Salman 1995, 122) that has structured the peculiar symbiosis between the two countries since 1898.
The discourse and practice of “American exceptionalism” as part of Cold War strategy has been criticized acutely in the sixties as an outgrowth of technocratic modernization and developmentalist thought. Commenting on U.S. scholarly trends concerning China at that time, Leigh and Richard Kagan noted the privileging of cultural values and the socio-cultural system as the key to shaping an economic-political environment “conducive to the dominance of middle-class American values…American culturalism denotes the intent to rule the world by the imposition of her values, safeguarding them when necessary by military occupation and colonization” (1971, 31). This culturalism informs the functionalist paradigm that still exercises authority in certain influential circles even though it has now been thoroughly exposed for the following inadequacies, among others: its one-sided attribution of rationality and normative equilibrium to a particular social arrangement, its dismissal of the complex intentionality of individual’s (agent’s) conduct, and its circular mode of explaining social activity as meaningful insofar as it fulfills a temporally limited normative need such as the reinforcement of a code of values required for social coherence. In sum, functionalism posits a static, ahistorical view of society removed from interdependency in a dynamic world-system.
Anthony Giddens (1984) has argued that identifying a functional need of a system has no explanatory value at all. Aside from ascribing a teleological quality to a social system whose parts perform functional roles, it gives to a given political set-up a higher degree of cohesion and stability than what the facts warrant; indeed, it occludes dissonant and disintegrative factors at work. Because it cannot really provide a comprehensive explanation for the intentional activity of agents and for the unintended consequences that result from purposive actions, functionalism of the kind employed by Karnow and his sources distorts and reifies Filipino character, society, and history. It can only prejudge the actions of the Sakdals and the Huks as factional deviations from the oligarchic norm even if it concedes to them a modicum of moral credence. It dismisses the ideas of Filipino nationalists (always labelled “extreme” or “ultra” if not demonized altogether) in general as unreasonable or inexplicable in terms of the homeostatic imperatives of the status quo, or simply the “manipulative underside of the collaborative empire,” in the words of Stanley.

We can now grasp the rationale for Karnow’s invocation of the paradigm of patron-client relations to give a semblance of intelligibility to imperial “aberrations,” as well as to his resort to Freudian pop psychology to explain MacArthur’s or the Marcos couple’s behavior. His montage of close-up scenes of action begets the illusion of valorizing personal intentions but, in actual fact, the technique subordinates agency to structural constraints dictated by the prevailing order. Trapped by the theoretical narrowness and dogmatic rigidity of his approach, Karnow cannot remedy the legitimation crisis of American foreign interventions in terms of the internal contradictions of the empire such as that cogently delineated by Gabriel Kolko in his classic study, Main Currents in Modern American History (1976). It might be useful to illustrate Kolko’s historiographic stance by quoting one synoptic passage from the second chapter entitled “The Foundations of the United States as a World Power, 1880-1919”:

In Asia the framework in which United States efforts proceeded was far more complicated and, ultimately, was to fail to preserve both peace and American power in an environment in which the balance-of-power diplomacy was eventually to become increasingly irrelevant before the tides of nationalism and revolution germinating throughout Asia. But the first American entry–and the most ignored–was the bloody acquisition of the Philippines and the long repression, eventually costing at least 200,000 Filipino lives, which was required when the Americans found that in order really to take the islands they had first to retrieve it by force and chicanery from a Filipino independence movement largely in control at the end of the war with Spain. Americans, with few exceptions, refused to reflect on the enormity of this crime, which it later repeated again in a yet more brutal form in Vietnam. But it was from this island base, held firmly in hand with terrible force, and then also co-option and cultural imperialism, that the United States was to embark on its Asian role, a role that eventually became the most demanding and troublesome in America’s long history (1976, 42).

Kolko’s integral and prophetic vision of U.S. imperialism’s genesis has no parallel in academic textbooks. It is a synthesizing outlook enabled by the civil rights insurgencies and national liberation struggles of the sixties and seventies. After that, reactionary and bureaucratic pragmatism took over.
The agenda of the present neoconservative trend in Philippine studies among U.S. scholars is geared chiefly to the task of redefining U.S.-Philippines asymmetrical “special relations” by downplaying the influence of American imperial governance. In the process, scholars enlarge the role of the Filipino elite in order to convert “empire” into a species of romantic ideology, shifting the onus of accountability to the victims. Robert Stauffer pinpoints the theoretical matrix of this trend in the inflation of the concept of patron-client dyad based on reciprocal obligations. It ignores the world-systems approach (developed and refined in the last two decades) that predicates dependency on unequal exchange. Why? Because such a powerful alternative theory would rule out the patron-client pattern of explanation since dependency excludes reciprocity. The narrow ideological framework of Karnow and company, contends Stauffer, romanticizes the relation of “collaborative elites” and colonizers; it gives “a Victorian legitimacy to past conquests and in so doing to justify–[by demonstrating how satisfactory are the relations between Filipinos and Americans, e.g. Lansdale and Magsaysay]–future imperial ventures” (1987, 103). Further, by reducing all relations to that of patron-client over and above the context of sharpening class and other sectoral divisions, the proponents of the “collaborator empire” give the impression that such relations are immutable. By focusing not just on Filipinos as equal participants but on their ability to “manipulate” their masters, Karnow and his tutors endorse the putative evangelizing mission of the colonizers and their definition of a conflict taking place on conquered soil, effectively obscuring if not erasing American responsibility for the results of empire. From this angle, one can understand Stanley’s partisanship in openly espousing a program of exoneration: “…it is a hubristic illusion for Americans to imagine that, in the colonial era, they liberalized, modernized, or, for that matter, exploited the Philippines in any large, systemic, or lasting way” (1974, 2). No more explicit whitewashing of the past and defense of the status quo can be found from an Establishment scribe than that assertion.

Imperial “exceptionalism” is clearly neither enigmatic nor irrational. For if one looks at the records, say either the reports of the Philippine Commission or statements of various generals like General J. Frankin Bell, among others, one would see that U.S. imperial power, faced by the fierce resistance of the Philippine Republic’s revolutionary army, was compelled to choose the option of constructing the colonial order on the basis of the ilustrado representation of society which matched the notion of democracy the imperial forces represented. In ignoring the Indio masses who are (according to one Commission report) controlled by “impressions of sense and the imagination” like women and children, and privileging the rich mestizo/gentry fractions of the oligarchy who were in their opinion mature and rational, American racializing power strengthened and stabilized the position of the beleaguered oligarchy. In shaping a polity according to the elite image of a hierarchical order, American military and civil governments in the Philippines created the space for a political party system that would support and sustain U.S. hegemony then and for time to come. Neither epiphenomenal nor mere false consciousness, this illusion of American self-imaging is therefore not a mirage to be easily wished away. Nor can it be mystified by Karnow’s anecdotal minstrelsy. What happened in the U.S. imperial experiment in the Philippines is the determinate result of an accumulated mass of deliberate choices by agents with substantial efficacy, both material and spiritual, invested in countless choices and decisions for which certain agents/subjects are responsible. Their identities are known and judgment awaits them. But Karnow and his patrons would rather settle accounts with their victims by assigning equal blame at best, or acquitting the responsible parties at worst.

The record is there for public scrutiny. What contemporary scholars who apotheosize a putative indigenous tradition (comprised of items like “dyadic linkages,” “factional alliances,” and so forth) have achieved is not a rehabilitation of structural-functional sociology applied to the experience of developing nations. Nor is it a postmodern reflexive recalculation of the valencies of their disciplines in the light of the crisis of Cartesian subjectivity and the tenability of representations that appeal to precedents. Rather, they have fabricated a mimicry of the discourse of pacification rehearsed, recapitulated, and recycled from 1898 to the first three decades of American rule until it acquired authority, often quoted as normative truth, and recirculated as constitutive of the knowledge of the Filipino psyche, culture, and society. Such a body of received knowledge and axiomatic platitudes mirrored the desires of both the early and latter-day colonizers under variable pressures and contexts; their will-to-truth/power found a ready instrument and guarantee in the vacillation of the ilustrados. The self-confidence of this “social corps” (to adapt Claude Meillassoux’s [1993] term) was shattered by the crisis of the 1896 revolution, particularly by the grassroots initiatives of the Katipunan and other plebeian impulses (exemplified, for instance, in Sakay’s protracted resistance and subsequent millenarian movements). On the face of this massive resistance, the native elite sought to remake themselves in the image of their new patrons so as to safeguard their privileges and symbolic capital based primarily on landed property and other forms of extracting surplus value and signs of prestige.

Entrenched in the state ideological apparatuses, the ilustrado “way of life” eventually became identified with the workings of civil society and state. This project, precarious and contradictory at first but maintained and stabilized by the oligarchic intelligentsia led by Quezon and Osmena up to Roxas, Magsaysay, Marcos and Aquino, is what Karnow and company have privileged as the authentic Filipino tradition. It is the fabricated “Filipino way of life” cast in America’s image at a time (circa the seventies and the eighties) when imperial power had to justify its logic of intervention on the side of corrupt military dictatorships and against popular insurrections (in South Korea, the Philippines, El Salvador, Chile) and also rationalize if not gloss over its debacles in Vietnam and elsewhere. Such a marked change in the stature of U.S. imperial power (from the glorious days of victory in World War II and the hubris of the Cold War to defensive retreats in Vietnam and Iran) partly explains the liberal casuistry and apologetic evangelism of In Our Image. It also sheds light on Karnow’s egregious resort to scenarios of individual dramas of success and failures. The continuous narrative of empire has finally disintegrated into a montage of television docudramas, with its distortions, omissions, foreshortenings, and attacks of amnesia all symptomatic of the fateful disappearance of the once universal mission of Enlightenment philosophes (which inspired the “founding fathers,” Emerson, Thoreau, the abolitionists, William James’s pragmatism, and Twain’s anti-imperialism) to propagate the civilization of reason, freedom, and secular progress. The spectacle, the faded image, is all that’s left amid the rubble of empire.
But there is more at stake. Functionalism inhabits the same discursive terrain as evolutionary teleology. In the design of Karnow’s ethnocentric narrative, one can perhaps even glimpse an evolutionary plot unfolding in which the kinship system of Filipinos represents a primitive stage to be surpassed in the progression toward modern technocratic-bureaucratic society as theorized by Max Weber and adapted by modernizers like W.W. Rostow and Samuel Huntington. It employs an organicist mode of explanation (following Hayden White’s schema) superimposed on the functionalist model. Its unfolding generates a comedy of resolution/reconciliation: the defeat of Marcos by the martyr’s widow assisted not by millions of ordinary citizens in the streets but by the clever knights of the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Senate. Consequently, the “shared experience” of a helpless subject-people and redeeming imperial power can only produce a “counterfeit” if not fraudulent image of democracy; and the convivial family becomes possible only if the dependency of Filipinos on their former masters continues under disingenuous rationalizations and shopworn euphemisms.
Whatever the long-range effect of Karnow’s text on the public sphere, its tendentious reconstruction of Filipino-American non-reciprocity is bound to influence a wide audience. Noteworthy is its pedestrian, accessible style obviously dictated by the exigencies of mass consumerism. Its appearance at a historic conjuncture of crisis in the relations between these two nation-states, with the resurgence of Filipino nationalism on top of a formidable leftwing insurgency that has endured and grown since 1969, is not happenstance.5 Karnow’s television series and book on Vietnam have made him a quotable and easily digestible mass-media authority in explaining the rationality of U.S. interventions abroad. His world view coheres with the new and more virulent racism coded in the attack on affirmative action and social welfare that has been going on now for the last decade.
From the perspective of a “new world” dispensation being installed by transnational corporate realists, not sentimentalists, Karnow’s work becomes a handy tool to refurbish the tarnished image of the empire, recover lost ground, and replicate if only in the discourse of monumental history the “noble” experiment launched around the turn of the century. It appeals to the archetypal counterrevolutionary virtues of order, hierarchy, authority, discipline, tradition, loyalty, and so on (Mayer 1971). In so doing, it mystifies the horrible truth of colonial subjugation that up to now still inflicts daily its effects on 70 million Filipinos whose lives are undergoing profound economic, political, and social transmutations. What is at stake are justice, liberty, and independence–archaic ideals for managers of postFordist, flexible capitalism. Apologetic discourses like Karnow’s can only postpone but never stop the necessary and irresistible transformations in both the periphery and core of the empire. The crisis of late capitalism rooted in the logic of exploiting labor power and oppressing the unpropertied millions cannot be resolved via the “fix” of celebrating the obsolescent world supremacy of the U.S. ruling class at the expense of the freedom and dignity of peoples of color. Is that “our image” of the future, or that of Karnow and his patrons?


In a 1996 report on the lamentable situation of human rights in the Philippines, Amnesty International called attention to what one may call elite recidivism. In the early years of the presidency of ex-General Fidel Ramos, who is known by everyone as the chief executor of Marcos’ martial law, there were 200 political prisoners in detention, rampant ill-treatment of criminal suspects by the police, and widespread extrajudicial executions of political dissenters. The “disappearances” (the Filipino term is “salvaging”) of political dissidents during the Marcos dictatorship have now been replaced by extra-judicial killings (Amnesty International 1992). Such abuses may be traced to the proliferation of government-sanctioned para-military “vigilante” groups as well as the notorious Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units instigated by Corazon Aquino’s advisers. What followed February 1986 is now recognized as standard “low-intensity” counterinsurgency pivoting around the political and ideological manipulation of “third-force” clients to thwart popular democratic initiatives (Bello 1989).
After the “national security state” of the sixties, we now confront a refurbished “electoral democracy” propping up the politically bankrupt oligarchy. One strategy utilized by the civilian functionaries of “low-intensity” warfare is the promotion of populist reformism, electoral procedures, and non-governmental organizations controlled by the pro-Western middle strata. The temporary decline of progressive activism after the failure of peace talks between the Aquino government and the National Democratic Movement in 1987 may be partly explained by this new U.S. maneuver to rescue an unstable ruling bloc consensus and rehabilitate its tarnished leaders. A historical parallel may be perceived in the fifties when Ramon Magsaysay launched civic action programs to neutralize, coopt, and defeat the Hukbalahap uprising. In retrospect, “low-intensity” warfare has its singular genealogy in the elaborate psychological and propaganda warfare of the McCarthy epoch mounted by the Pentagon and CIA in collaboration with coercive state apparatuses and assorted institutions in civil society.
Counterinsurgency, according to Roxanne Lynn Doty, “politicizes the production of social purpose” (1996, 83). This signifies the constitution of international subjects deprived of the complex agency and decisive rationality ascribed to Western diplomatic and political actors. During the Huk “emergency,” the Filipino subject-position was represented as defective and inadequate when measured according to fixed binary oppositions such as reason/passion, good/evil, and so on. In a casuistic framework, U.S. policy discourse assigned Filipinos to a subordinate niche in the hierarchy of effective agency, with the Philippine state characterized as a “third world state” pervaded by “disorder, chaos, corruption, and general ineptitude… The themes of political maturity, chaos and internal disorder, and corruption and inefficiency in leadership all became important elements in the construction of an international identity whose ‘positive’ sovereignty was continually suspended” (Doty 1996, 94, 97). Underlying this racializing and cultural-imperialist project is the valorization of sovereignty as the monopoly of the United States and the Western world in general.
While this approach of Doty toward counterinsurgency as a disciplinary technology (which substitutes for overt violence what Foucault calls the “gentle efficiency of total surveillance”) is heuristic and provocative, I think it generally tends to exclude the concrete problems of history and reduce the social totality to discourse. What is immediately striking in its analysis is the absence of the collective resistance of the masses against colonial subjectification and self-reproduction. Focusing solely on the articulatory practice of certain discursive fields leads to evading the question of determination, accountability, and responsibility (Hunter 1988). What more crucially vitiates such an approach, notwithstanding its innovative perspicacity, is its erasure of structures and institutions (like the CIA, for example) that comprise the multiply determined political economy of relations between ex-colony and imperial power. When objective social relations are methodologically dispersed, the totality of the social system fragmented, and the narrative of events rendered susceptible to contingent and random articulation of its meanings, an opportunity for counter-revolutionary intervention opens up.
This is the moment, I submit, when the vogue of “civil society,” spontaneous “social movements,” and Non-Governmental Organizations replaces the instrumentalities of developmentalism (import substitution, Green Revolution, etc.) now made suspect by their incontrovertible failures. It coincides with the crisis in the left following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of anarchic or pettybourgeois spontaneist politics, including the resurgent fascism and racism in Europe and the United States. This conjuncture may be said to overdetermine the resuscitation of the civil-society paradigm. Instead of militant mass mobilization, voluntary private activities in the form of mutual exchange groups, self-help, and so on, become the preferred channels for citizen participation. One proponent informs us that civil society designates the “self-organization of citizens in contrast to state or government, and is rooted in western rational tradition and political culture” (Serrano 1994).
A more systematic exposition is offered by Rajesh Tandon who identifies the civil-society movement with the “third sector,” the first being the state or government and the second business. Tandon defines civil society as “the arena for organizing governance, material activities, and intellectual, moral and cultural aspects of communities” (1994, 128). While gesturing to Gramsci’s peculiar conceptualization of civil society, Tandon dichotomizes society into two compartments: the economic or material base of resources , and the ideological locus of values, norms and ideals that give legitimacy to the state: “Thus, institutions of Civil Society–family, clan, community, neighborhood associations, productive enterprises, service mechanisms–historically utilized the material resources of Civil Society in pursuit of its ideals and values” (1994, 128). What is entailed by this ersatz theory of legitimizing the status quo is the subsumption of “the politics of domination” and political parties to the State–something corrupting and to be avoided–and the “politics of consent” to civil society where harmony and classless unity prevail. Meanwhile, the operations of the market and corporate business proceed as usual, even more efficiently, thus shielded from public inquiry and criticism. At best, this new formula for piecemeal reforms can encourage grassroots initiatives in areas neglected by government services; at worst, it perpetuates and exacerbates the alienation of the citizenry from roles of effective governance and acquits the hegemonic classes and transnational corporations from culpability in the exploitation and oppression of the majority of citizens.

A brief excurses into the origin and vicissitudes of the term “civil society” may be useful here. First used by Locke and Rousseau to refer to civil government as contrasted to natural society, it was developed by Hegel (his phrase is die burgerliche Gesellschaft) to designate the arena of individuals in economic competition, a realm of divisive self-interests and egoistic needs. But the domain of particular (family) needs and interests satisfied through the contractually mediated exchange of products (market) is a precarious condition of war and other contingencies unless regulated by laws enforced by administrators of justice. Given this lack of any rationality conducive to the common good in civil society, Hegel posits the state as the site where universal good (once ascribed to the ethical life of the primordial community) can be attained. Thus the contractual realm of civil society becomes consolidated on the higher plane of the absolute idea of Right, the state as the political community (Hegel 1967).
Opposing the reification of ideas in Hegel’s metaphysics, Marx historicizes the concept and interprets civil society–the realm of property relations and the egotistic antagonisms posited in nature by Hobbes and Darwin–as the result of the decay of medieval society and the representative role of guilds and estates. The market economy predominates over all affairs. Civil society replaced those structures with the flux of atomistic individuals (evoking the Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes) arbitrarily tied together by law and its attendant penalties. The jurisdiction of the modern bourgeois state thus came into existence in order to remedy the conflictual and fragmented space of civil society by exercising formal regulatory functions, of course in the interest of the dominant class. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels reminds us:

The form of intercourse determined by the existing productive forces at all previous historical stages, and in its turn determining these, is civil society… Civil society embraces the whole material intercourse of individuals within a definite stage of the development of productive forces. It embraces the whole commercial and industrial life of a given stage and, insofar, transcends the State and the nation, though, on the other hand again, it must assert itself in its foreign relations as nationality, and inwardly must organize itself as State….. Civil society as such only develops with the bourgeoisie; the social organization evolving directly out of production and commerce, which in all ages forms the basis of the State and of the rest of the idealistic superstructure, has, however, always been designated by the same name (1964, 48).

While the state then gives abstract political identity to citizens (Rousseau’s antithesis between citoyen and homme or burgher) separate from their function in the productive processes, civil society serves as the theater of conflict among protagonists embodying claims mixing the registers of class, race, gender, nation, sexuality, and so on. Civil society is the “birthplace of history” as well as “the hearthstone of endless conflagration” (Axelos 1976, 89) between the forms of productive relations (organization of labor and property, political forms) and the productive forces, in particular the working masses. As Marx puts it, “Where the political state has attained to its full development, man leads, not only in thought, in consciousness, but in reality, in life, a double existence–celestial and terrestrial. He lives in the political community, where he regards himself as a communal being (Gemeinwesen), and in civil society where he acts simply as a private individual, treats other men as means, degrades himself to the role of a mere means, and becomes the playing of alien powers” (1970, lviii). From this contradiction stems the irony that the universal moral purpose embodied in the state is utilized to promote partial or sectoral interests; hence the nature of the modern state derives from the total production relations that constitute civil society, not from the perverse psyches of generals and dictators. It is therefore untenable to divorce the state from civil society, political power from public affairs, since political alienation is only the expression of economic alienation, crass materialism, and unmitigated class war saturating the domain of civil society. Civil society dominated by the rule of money and private property, which opposes the socio-political ideal of the human communal/social being (Gemeinwesen), can only be surpassed in communism realized in the abolition of private property as the basis of class division and of alienation in general. From the ruins of civil society emerges the proletariat as the universal class, “a class in civil society that is not of civil society” but stands for the dissolution of all classes and the emancipation of all (1970, 141-42).

Since recent discussions have clarified more or less the western provenance of notions such as civil society, state, and community, I would like to review Gramsci’s thought on this topic since he is often invoked to sanction the overvalorization of “civil society” vis-a-vis the state. There are at least three versions of the theory of “civil society” in Gramsci’s texts. One version holds that civil society includes not just personal needs and economic activities but also private organizations. It is the space where hegemony (moral, intellectual, and political leadership) and “spontaneous consent” are generated. The distinction between state and civil society and their interaction varies in Gramsci’s writings. On one hand, a fully developed civil society consists of a system of trenches that protects the state and withstands economic crises, while on the other, in societies like Russia of 1917 and by analogy in many “third world” formations, the state is figuratively depicted as a weak outer ditch behind which exists the sturdy defences of civil society. For Gramsci then, the state includes elements of civil society. According to Anne Sassoon, “the state narrowly conceived as government is protected by hegemony organized in civil society while the hegemony of the dominant class is fortified by the coercive state apparatus” (1983, 74). While the state performs an ethical function in terms of education and law, the forces of custom and habit “exert a collective pressure to conform in civil society without coercion or sanctions.” Consequently, the state can wither away only when civil society and its antagonisms evaporate, that is, when class divisions disappear–a time not even anticipated or dreamed of by the ideologues of NGOism.
What distinguishes Gramsci’s thought from Marx in this matter is the former’s insight into the efficacy of modern mass organizations (communications media, church, schools, sports networks, professional clubs, and so on) in an integral, expanded civil society. This hypothesis corresponds to the public voluntary associations of citizens classified as NGOs that CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation), among others, considers strategic for the majority of citizens to regain ascendancy over the state and private business. But this, for Gramsci at least, cannot happen without a determinate hegemonic project, that is, a historic bloc of classes materializing a collective will to transform the state and propagate a just and egalitarian conception of the world. For Gramsci and Marx, civil society includes the economic base and the terrain of individual needs and desires represented (in Hegel’s political theory) by estates and corporate bodies. For Engels, civil society (economic or production relations) is the decisive and superordinate aspect of the antithesis of society and state.
What is original in Gramsci’s thought, an aspect ignored by the ideologues of plural “social movements” (like Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe [Laclau and Mouffe 1985] and their followers), is the stress on the nuanced and complex mediations between production relations and ideology/culture. Gramsci envisages via national-popular struggle a dissolution of civil society into the superstructure, a process or site of “catharsis,” the “passage from the purely economic (egoistic-passional) to the ethico-political moment”, in short, the elaboration of the structure into the superstructure in thought and collective praxis (Bobbio 1979). Social praxis mediates and interanimates the economic and political levels. The passage from objective to subjective, from necessity to freedom, cannot occur if the state is reified as purely coercive (what happens to the bureaucracy and legal system that regulate business and personal transactions?) and civil society in turn mystified as somehow morally pure, supremely virtuous, and redeeming. In fact, the implied glorification of “citizenship” in contemporary civil-society doctrine begs the whole question of how and if civil society can ever transform politics (the state) as a separate sphere beyond democratic control, problems wrestled earlier by Marx in The Civil War in France and Lenin in State and Revolution. Moreover, the conquest of hegemony as the result of the struggle between forces in civil society embodying rival ideological principles, principles that seek to universalize themselves in a “national-popular” discourse combining dominance and directive agency (Urry 1981), is forfeited with the purely moralizing dogma that civil society must be supreme over the state. In effect, despite NGOs, the oppressive status quo is preserved and injustice/inequality revitalized as normal business routine (see Feffer 1993; Larsen 1995).

It might be instructive to mention here the “philosophy of liberation” advocated by the Argentinian theologian Enrique Dussel and his group as a contrapuntal riposte to the reformism of civil-society doctrine. Introducing the paradigm of “living corporeality”–the economic infrastructure taken in its concrete Marxist import as sensuous praxis–Dussell (1992) elaborates the theme of the person as both an agent of communicative action (in Jurgen Habermas’ construal) and part of a “community of life” (Lebensgemeinschaft). This move, I think, displaces the Hegelian notion of “civil society” rooted in private property, the premise of liberal and utilitarian individualism. I want to underscore here Dussell’s historical hermeneutic of “living labor” and communal (even class-rooted) praxis hidden by the reification of social ties due to commodity-fetishism and the cash-nexus, a fetishism exposing all the charitable intentions of the proponents of free enterprise and “third force” as nothing but tawdry embellishments of the immiseration of the masses, chiefly people of color. Living labor is the antithesis to globalized reification underwritten by the IMF/World Bank. What I would like to add here is the redeployment of certain concepts by Benedict Spinoza (1955) so that we can distinguish between repressive power (potestas) that transforms living labor into exchange value and generative power (potentia), the constitutive and appropriative power of humans in society. Often the two terms are indiscriminately confused and distorted in neoliberal as well as communitarian platforms. The latter concept points to the collective praxis of the proletariat demonstrated in the Paris Commune, the Bolshevik revolution, and wars of national liberation in IndoChina, Central America, Africa, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Analytical categories like these (supplementing Dussell’s sophisticated response to Eurocentric metaphysics and profit-centered teleology) are more capable of grasping inequities as historically differentiated modalities, interdependencies, relations of hegemony and subalternity, than the obscurantist eclecticism and opportunism of civil-society evangelists.

One recalls that in the heyday of developmentalism in the fifties the fashionable theme among experts was “the politics of civility” in which the pragmatic management of a society without conflict served as a major controlling principle. Aside from triumphalism about the end-of-ideology and the birth of the national-security state, harbinger of today’s end-of-history neoliberalism, key phrases like “civic culture,” “civil polity,” “participant citizenship,” and the theme of “tradition versus modernity” preempted any serious discussion about poverty, racism, class, and gender oppression in the international scene (Gendzier 1985). Given the exposed complicity of this phalanx of normative agencies with the Phoenix program of the CIA and other scorched-earth tactics in Vietnam, Central America, the Philippines, and elsewhere, a new generation of paradigms and vocabulary has emerged chief of which is the civil-society/NGO discourse. While it was first used as an ideological weapon against totalitarian communist states that supposedly abolished civil society and outlawed the vital practices of private life, this postCold War discourse ultimately serves to restore the sanctity of private property behind the veil of talk about human rights, solidarity, and negotiations on cultural identity. In authoritarian regimes found in many “third world” regions, the plain fact is that the term “civil society” comprising the dispossessed majority cannot be made equivalent to the interests of the propertied few, the privileges of the minority, without damaging one’s credibility; hence the internal incoherence and ambiguities of civil-society pronouncements.
Civil-society rhetoric appeals to middle strata in many countries because it connotes a positive dimension of society safeguarded from the draconian arms of the state. It resurrects an ideal Gemeinschaft of communal harmony, peace, and solidarity vis-a-vis the competitive arena of meritocracy and business. In El Salvador, it was viewed as a defense against the forced militarization of society, in the Philippines against state cronyism, in South Africa against a racist regime while in India, it acted as a shield against the arbitrary disposition of racist police power. Given the absorption of resistant cultures into the sovereign territory of the nation-state as the representative incarnation and only legitimate form of civil society, Partha Chatterjee pinpoints the appeal of the subtext of community (kinship, love, sacrifice, pleasure) in civil-society dogma: “It is not so much the state/civil society opposition but rather the capital/community opposition that seems to me to be the great unsurpassed contradiction in Western social philosophy. Both state and civil-social institutions have assigned places within the narrative of capital. Community, which ideally should have been banished from the kingdom of capital, continues to lead a subterranean, potentially subversive, life within it because it refuses to go away” (1993, 236). However, Sam Noumoff (1996) warns us against forgetting the historic usage of “civil society” as the protector of private property (Locke), the regulator of relations between humans and property (Grotius), although it was also associated with justice (St. Augustine), nature (St. Thomas Aquinas, Burke), and community of interest (Cicero). It was Rousseau who denounced civil society as a swindle intended to remove the threat to private property: “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him was the first real founder of civil society” (cited in Hacker 1961, 297).
With the worldwide condemnation of authoritarian regimes in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere, civil-society discourse linked to protest against the violation of human rights replaced the terminology of democratic rights and depoliticized the space where mass civil disobedience and organized political mobilization once transpired. By vulgarizing Gramsci, one lends a revolutionary aura to civil-society doctrine which, mixed with slogans about traditional practices of mutual aid, pacifies the victims with local coopted enterprises that afford a semblance of freedom and momentary security. Poststructuralist theory and postmodernist politics foster what Rousseau calls a “swindle” under the guise of laissez-faire localism and “radical democracy.” This swindle can perhaps go on unopposed–until the fire next time….
In hindsight, Karnow’s apology for American “exceptionalism” finds its telling alibi and complement in the civil-society discourse of philanthropy, community service, and spontaneous individualist advocacy. Both are premised on the mechanical materialism that Marx, in “Theses on Feuerbach,” regarded as severely limited because it contemplated single individuals in “civil society” divorced from their social lives of sensuous practical activity: “The standpoint of the old materialism is ‘civil’ society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or socialized humanity” (1959, 245). Absent the stage of “socialized humanity,” which Marx called “Gemeinwesen” based on a generic species-being (Gattungswesen), the substantialization of cultural or ethnic differences and other “primordial” essences championed by warring nationalities warns us about the deceptive and dangerous conceit of civil-society triumphalism. Populist recycling of “manifest destiny” and humanitarian interventionism in this closing decade of “ethnic cleansing” and “New World Order” Realpolitik are ultimately “just covers for policies motivated by the dynamics of U.S. capitalism and a racist, sexist, and heterosexist ideology” (Shalom 1993, 197).

Bibliographic Information can be furnished to anyone who e-mails the author: <philcsc@gmail.com>


NICK JOAQUIN: Introductory Notes

nickjoaquinDemystifying the Past, Unfetishizing the Present, Reinventing the Future


[Concluding chapter of SUBVERSIONS OF DESIRE: A PROLEGOMENA TO NICK JOAQUIN by E. SAN JUAN, Jr., Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1988]

The Golden Age, which blind tradition has placed in the past, is in the future.


The real genesis is not at the beginning, but at the end. Soyez realiste, demandez limpossible!


—Henri Saint-Simon —Ernst Bloch —Communal demand, Paris, May 1968


IN HIS FAMOUS DISCOURSE “What Is an Author?” Michel Foucault argues that in order to limit “the cancerous and dangerous proliferation of significations” and polysemous meanings, post-Cartesian scholarship in the human sciences has prioritized the author as the “principle of thrift.” Frightened by the glut of meanings, Western culture invented this ideological figure of the author, this disciplinary agency of the author, in accord with the sanctity of private property and the authorizing power of the individual entrepreneur in the “free” market. Bourgeois norms dictate that if someone could own and transgress, he could also be punished, fined, imprisoned, etc. Foucault observes further that “the author is not an indefinite source of significations which fill a work; the aut

hor does not precede the works; he is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses; in short, by which one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of fiction.”63

One way of circumventing this logocentric strategy of postulating the author as creator of autotelic art is to invoke the mediation of personal testimony and the criteria of the empirical inventory.

Seizing the temporary absence in Manila of his brother-in-law (then visiting Spain where he met “those dark-eyed senoritas from romantic La Palma de Mallorca”) as an opportunity to respond to persistent requests, Sarah K. Joaquin wrote a rare “profile” of Nick Joaquin for This Week, issue of 13 March 1955, presumably solicited by the editors. Her account renders in a series of recollections not so much the psychology of the author as his “death” in the figural sense that Roland Barthes gives it in his essay, “The Death of the Author,” and in the process captures via montage and spatial mapping the writerly ambience which gives the lie to the myth of the artist’s self-identical, autochthonous genius.

Nicomedes, Onching, Nick, the playwright of “Portrait,” the ad hoc composer of the Far Eastern University (FEU) hymn, etc.-the putative integral self disappears, even the masks disintegrate, dispersed over the scene of writing constituted by those oscillating instants where presence and absence meet. Where is the original self or psyche of which the public personae are mere reflections? We get a premonition of this effect in Sarah’s initial warning: “For Nick has a special hatred for pictures-his pictures.” Indeed, what can a photographic image reveal? As she insightfully puts it, it was print that produced Nick, separated “Onching” from the author, and then distributed the remaining fragments to a discontinuous, aleatory series in which three items may be selected as heuristic “spots of time”: first, the dialogical quest for the father, a reconciling gesture addressed to the vanished patriarchal ethos—“When he did not have anything to read he would get his father’s law books, which were in Spanish”; second, the break with formal schooling (school should be considered here as the prime institution of U.S. colonialism to

guarantee cooptative bourgeois hegemony) and its replacement by churches as the alternative if not oppositional site where the games of time may unfold; and third, the return of the repressed when Sarah finds herself “six years later … cast in the very play which I thought was impossible to stage.” This return of the “play” of language and writing, destroying the author’s monadic identity or its illusion, finally assumes a collective presence at one moment of “emergency” when Nick’s lyrics become the memorized FEU hymn sung by generations of students and thus explodes the idiosyncratic, unrepeatable subjectivity of “Onching/Nick” into anonymous bits and fragments-voices interpreting signs whose origin and metaphysical genealogy have been irretrievably lost. But Sarah, after manipulating the device of the family testimony and the deposition of peer and colleague, escapes the ghost of the paternal surrogate: “I am trying to get this written and published before he comes because I know he would never have allowed me to do this if he were here.”

So “Nick Joaquin” appears in and through his absence, a trace whose tenor is perpetually deferred. Desacralized, emptied of any positive referent, the scriptor of our texts now becomes a subject-position, an intertextual score ready to be performed and enunciated by us (readers here, now). Let us explore further the problematic of biography and its implications to elucidate the crisis of the author-function from another perspective. It may be appropriate to transcribe here a few facts: Born in Paco, Manila, in 1917, Joaquin studied in the public schools. After his father’s death—his father was a colonel in the revolutionary struggle against Spain—Joaquin is said to have lived with his sister-in-law and, after the Japanese occupation, worked as stage manager for her acting troupe, the Filipiniana Troupe. After submitting his essay “La Naval de Manila” (October 1943) to a contest sponsored by the Dominicans, he was awarded a scholarship to St. Albert’s College in Hong Kong in 1947 to study for the priesthood. But he left in 1950 with a

knowledge of Latin and a rich experience in the seminary. His story “Guardia de Honor,” which won the Free Press short story contest in 1949, together with the publication of Prose and Poems in 1952, placed him in the first rank of Philippine writers. His first cited story, “Shooting Stars,” was published in 1943 in Graphic. From 1950 on he was a staff member of the now defunct Philippines Free Press. He has won several awards: Rockefeller grant, journalist of the Year, and finally National Artist of the Philippines.64

When the Free Press asked him for his biography, Joaquin’s reply took the form of a telegraphic communique:

I was born in Paco, where I spent an extremely happy childhood … I have no hobbies, no degrees; belong to no party, club or association; and I like long walks; any kind of guinataan; Dickens and Booth Tarkington; the old Garbo pictures; anything with Fred Astaire… the Opus Dei according to the Dominican rite…Jimmy Durante and Cole Porter tunes…Marx brothers; The Brothers Karamazov; Carmen Miranda; Paul’s Epistles and Mark’s Gospel; Piedmont cigarettes…my mother’s cooking…playing tres-siete, praying the Rosary and the Officium Parvum…I don’t like fish, sports, and having to dress up…65

In this piece of apparent veridical testimony, we confront the epitome of Joaquin’s modernizing sensibility: spatial ordering, comic montage, a decentering intertextuality. The juxtaposition of the Marx Brothers with Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, of the Gospel with Carmen Miranda and Piedmont cigarettes, etc. is of course not intended to be naive parody, systematic burlesque, or satiric undercutting. This method inheres in what I have pointed out earlier as the subliminal

drive of the discourse to effect an imaginary unity of self out of a hypothetical or assumed coherence in culture and society.

In Understanding Media, one of Joaquin’s scriptural sources for his scientistic reductionism, Marshall McLuhan notes how modernist art—from Baudetaire and Flaubert to Joyce’s Ulysses, symbolism and surrealism—appropriated the structural mode of the newspaper “to evoke an inclusive

awareness” and “effect a complex many-leveled function of group-awareness and participation such as the book has never been able to perform. “66 McLuhan’s “progressivism,” however, confesses its regressive, dehumanized kernel when he comments on the Vietnam War: “As a crash program of Westernization and education, the war consists of initiating the East in the mechanical technology of the industrial age.” In any case, the ethos and design of the newspaper serves as one influential model for the erstwhile journalist-editor in which to graft the analogical mentality of a former novice learned in patristic hermeneutics with the serializing and at the same time homogenizing dynamics of the electronic media today.

The preceding chapters may be taken as an extended meditation on the feminine mythos as figure and discursive principle in Joaquin’s art. I may add here that the pagan correspondence of the Virgin with the Demeter-Kore (Persephone) mythologeme which lies at the heart of the Greek Eleusinian mystery rites—the authentic model of the tatarin feast—indicates how, again, Joaquin sublimates the urge to return (the apocatastasis) to the miraculous origin or beginning in an acceptable orthodox form. This resembles the hierophant’s experience of “being in death” as he celebrates the showing forth of the sprouting of seed into blossom and fruit; in this context, the artist assumes the hierophantic persona.

The other mythologeme which supplements and complements the Virgin is the Santo Nino child cult which, like the Kore (Demeter/Persephone), evokes the cosmogonic deity of archaic religion as hermaphrodite. Carl Jung and K. Kerenyi have investigated thoroughly the archaeological background and psychological significance of

both the Kore and the Primordial Child in their book Essays on a Science of Mythology. Jung has observed how, parallel to Christ’s androgyny in Catholic mysticism, the divine child (Santo Nino) is the archetypal symbol for the creative union of opposites, the coniuncto of male and female, the conscious and unconscious, thus a primordial image of hierogamy (the marriage of female and male deities). The divine child symbolizes the wholeness of primordial being; in gnosticism and other metaphysical practices, this anthropomorphic archetype—also imaged in the funerary child icon as sepulchral phallus—functions as a unifying and healing emblem, connecting for example the preconscious (the child before coming to reason) and the postconscious (rebirth after death) phases of existence.68 In his essay, “The Santo Nino in Philippine History,” Joaquin interprets the image of the divine child, which is now conflated with the Virgin in the androgynous Nenita Coogan, the absent-present protagonist of Cave and Shadows, as our rightful national emblem, this image being inherently “revolutionary”: “The Santo Nino represents the new, the novel, the revolution we underwent with the coming of Christianity, and the national culture we_______________________ñ_______is the pagan in us, and he is also the Christian; he is our past, and he is also our present, he is the old, and he is also the new; he is the conservator, and he is also the revolution.”69

As against the segmental bureaucratic procedures of the twentieth-century technopolis and the capitalist chronotope theorized by Poulantzas, Joaquin contraposes the emblem of the Santo Nino, the bridge or transitional liaison between past, present and future. If anything, the modernist impulse in Joaquin moves him to orchestrate experimental decreations, the elliptical avant-garde style of stream-of-consciousness and plural perceptions, witty reflexive texture, T.S. Eliot’s luminous symbol outside time, and fugal arrangements, with a compulsive predilection for an art of the hieroglyph, rebus, and charade. Such emblematic art, suturing the image, motto

and explanation together (as in the Almanac), is programmed to produce silent parables and portentous talismanic signs that distort surfaces to unveil forever deferred origins. This may explain Joaquin’s obsessive quest for beginnings, as in tracing the mass to “the oldest and most primitive of human rites-the eating of a chieftain’s flesh and the drinking of his blood-to Christ’s adaptation of it in the sacrament of the Last Supper. “70

We are always tempted to repeat what previous critics have said about Joaquin’s seemingly incurable fixation on the Catholic Spanish past, as for instance Armando Marialo’s opinion that in Joaquin’s stories “the past exist as a standard, a norm, with which to compare and against which to judge the imperfect present.”” On the other hand, if the present is so degraded, what point is there in closely monitoring and recording it? In his introduction to Jose Lacaba’s book Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage, Joaquin valorizes that most ephemeral accounting of the quotidian, testimony and reportage: “Because literature today—when involved, engaged, committed, militant—itself becomes a ‘hurrying of history.”72

Consequently I would suggest that there is no such thing as the timeless past, the fetishized primal scene, in Joaquin which is not invaded, recaptured, and assimilated by a present that is hostage to the future. One can hazard the proposition that, faced with the now stereotyped crisis of representation whereby realist, ego-centered conventions no longer seem adequate to express history defined as a “process without subject,” Joaquin is forced to adjust his metaphysical-idealist Weltanschauung with empirical notations (McLuhan), or explode the presumed unity of the transcendental ego, the post-Cartesian rational psyche, with the enigmas of the body, the “polymorphous perverse” drives once invested in archaic rituals and myth-laden memory. The subject (ego-centered consciousness) is thus put on trial when sexual difference, the reproduction of gendered subjects, power and meaning through sacrifice of one kind or

another to establish the socio-symbolic contract, occupy the focal concern of the narrative. With the notion of a fixed identity exploded and temporality pluralized, the texts begin to constitute a fluid and heterogeneous subjectivity or subject-position that questions phallocratic power and class oppression.

In many stories whose theme has been formulated as the conflict between Christian freedom and pagan fatalism (“Three Generations” or “Guardia de Honor,” for instance), we see time transformed from chronos to kairos. We perceive a demystification of present circumstance as a fall, a corrupted web of false appearances prefiguring an eventual redemptive exposure and discovery, a trial to be enjoyed and suffered; an affirmation of the present as the truthful fulfillment of the past, a working out of grace by violence, guilt-exorcising actions, revenge and repentance; and a witnessing to the truth of how the present cannot be saved, understood and mastered unless the unconscious/the body as psychosexual process and historical construct takes center stage and overrides the hubris of Western reason, the discourse of phallocentric metaphysics, the sexism of capital.

In the process of trying to recuperate the libidinal potency of the past, Joaquin is caught in the trap of what Lacan calls the “mirror phase of infancy,” the Imaginary state where the scopic drive or perceptual passion predominates: every other is seen as the same as the subject. In this stage, exclusion and difference do not exist. It resembles the life of the bourgeois individual who operates on a spontaneous natural code (ideology), unable to envisage the other as different. In negotiating a break from this impasse, Joaquin may have learned from Rizal’s distantiating technique, his defamiliarizing mode as shown for example in chapter 3 of El Filibusterismo where Fr. Florentino’s recounting of the tale of “Dona Jeronima” is framed within

the conflicting perspectives of his listeners, “the others,” who constitute the specular truth of the narrative.

Is it believable that, as the title of one of Joaquin’s discourses says, “The Past Always Returns?” In what sense should we take this “return”?73

Postulating that the artist “creates the cultural community,” begets his kind of audience, and that art “is a wedding, the result of intercourse between artist and audience “—a dialectical conception removed from the elitism of Pound’s belief that artists are “the antennae of the race”—Joaquin goes on to describe instead the dependence of artists like Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson on the material infrastructure and cultural milieu in which they find themselves. He contends that “because there was an audience for ‘proletarian’ literature, ‘proletarian’ literature was produced—and its finest works will survive as universal literature because, again, the artist and his audience both felt the need to express at a particular time the specific circumstances then of the human condition.” So then art endures, instructing and delighting because it transcribes, discriminates, and renders judgment on the contemporary and urgent problems of the time.

Joaquin goes on to confess that when he wrote about what was then familiar to him in the immediate prewar days, his readers considered him strange, “baroque” with an “outlandish theology and…barbaric style and language.” He explains this asymmetrical relation as due to the fact that the American Occupation had so alienated Filipinos from their past that they could no longer even see what of the past will have survived in those days.” But times have changed, the alienation has somehow been purged, and Joaquin insists that his function after A has been to make explicit what was hidden and that he merely expressed a subterranean impulse in his audience who in secret was preparing to acknowledge him as their spokesman in the collaborative forging of the historical conscience of the nation. This populist self-assessment (circa 1977) of Joaquin’s writings vis-a-vis an audience whose problematic identity lapses into the Imaginary, is rare and deserves to be quoted at length:

Any minute now I expect some breathless critic to discover that the outlandish extravagant barbaric style of Nick Joaquin is no more and no less than the style of, say, the Morong Church, or the jeepney, or the Ati-Atihan, or the embroidery on the barong tagalog.

In short, I had found an audience; and maybe I had created that audience or had helped to create the climate for such an audience. A Nick Joaquin story no longer looks outlandish in the era of santos as artifacts and of processions as culture … I repeat my initial dictum: the artist is the audience. I think there was bound to be a reaction against the Americanization of Filipino culture during the American era. The past we rejected was bound to come back because, after all, it had been our culture for some 400 years.

I think it was this reaction, this obscure yearning or nostalgia for what we had set aside in favor of Hollywood and Manhattan, that was bound to break out sooner or later. I just happened to be around when it was bound to happen.

The audience was there, waiting to be expressed—though I might have thought at first there was no audience. But it seems now that I was expressing a more or less general impulse. We were all wanting to be reminded that the Filipino has a grandfather, that the Filipino didn’t begin with Dewey’s Battle of Manila Bay.

I merely brought back that grandfather. Of course, whenhe first appeared in my early stories, nobody could make head or tail of him in the same way that nobody could see a Picasso until Picasso had trained the eyes of an audience to see a Picasso. This may sound immodest—but it’s the standard process in art.

You couldn’t see me either when I first started writing, nor could 1, alas, see you—but in this era of La Plaza and La Azotea and what have you, in all the chi-chi hotels and art galleries, we realize that you and I were wanting to express what had to be expressed-if Filipino culture is to achieve a reintegration. If we are to rediscover our grandfather: you and I, driven by the same impulse.74

What comes out here are two contradictory positions: the first, postulating that a turnabout in thinking and taste has occurred in which the artist may have participated (his role is hypothetical) so that now the writer’s style and themes are fully appreciated; and the second, a self-aggrandizement of the artist’s vatic and combined Orphic/Apollonian role as the tribune of the “general impulses” of the nation, the agent of “reintegration” mediating what the society unconsciously felt and what the writer consciously wanted. Less inconsistency or equivocation,

this ambivalent stance is symptomatic of the tension in Joaquin between the passive (the female register) and the active personal—Jack Henson, Chitong Monzon, Connie Vidal, etc.—but it does not confirm the thesis that “The past always returns” unless this past is nothing but the unconscious that demands to be heard—what I denominate as the “subversions of Desire.” Can a revival of antiquated forms and outmoded mentalities release the repressed?

In “Popcorn and Gaslight,” Joaquin bewailed the endemic “social amnesia” which he felt afflicted his compatriots, “our apathy to and even contempt for our own past”; and because the native stage traditions depended on the continuity of Spanish culture, when that culture declined in the twenties, the native theater also died. 11 By association, then, to revive Filipino theater must one revive the zarzuela and the moro-moro? Formalism need no more eloquent exponent than Joaquin here. So what happens to the ceaselessly mutable “general impulse” in society that artists should apprehend and flesh out in appropriate practices? And what of the artist’s creative and innovative function in shaping tastes, criteria of judgment and aesthetic values?

It is remarkable how Joaquin’s vehement antiecumenical hostility against Moro culture and Moro claims to independence and integrity can only be matched by his equally intolerant animus toward the vernacular, specifically Tagalog writing, as shown in “What Price Our Writing in English?”76 Here the argument displays the same hedging and equivocations as in “The past always returns” when Joaquin seeks to explain that Jose Garcia Villa, although a writer in English, was also produced by “400 years of a particular kind of historical process and cultural development” as the Spanish intellectuals. But this same history somehow excludes the vernacular writers whose oral style, unaffected by the superior visual tradition of Spanish and English writing, possesses no “sense of history,” lacks detail and irony, prompting him to hand down the verdict: “For good or ill, our literature in English is the standard against which our

literature in the vernacular will have to measure itself.” Paradoxically, when he begins to describe the complex harmonies in English fiction, his metaphors—”quiet of tone,” “noisy,” “louder,” “very noisy,” “very garrulous” which ascribe positive virtues to writing in English—are all aural, the dire stigmata of the oral culture of the vernacular bards and storytellers. No longer are we concerned with the audience nor with “general impulses”; this self-appointed Devil’s Advocate in an aristocratic peremptory gesture now subordinates language, art and literature to the paramount business of “living,” “life itself.”

This is, I think, the moment to note that Joaquin’s crusade to defend and eulogize an irrevocably dead Hispanic culture encounters the more preponderant secular code of acquisitive individualism enforced by the State which, in the era of monopoly capitalism, is the only force that can establish a viable relation between history and territory, individualizing the people- nation within a segmented, serial, divided time-space matrix. The material organization of capitalist historicity for the Filipino people is inescapably the nation-state; whether we like it or not, territorial-national traditions can be concretized only within the confines of the Nation-State on the face of imperialist ethnocentrism and chauvinism whose spurious claim to catholicity is backed by arms, dollars, and the weight of self-reproducing tradition and habits.

Because the Philippines is still struggling to construct its identity as a sovereign nation- state, the socius still remains fluid, the object of competing and antagonistic interpellations one of which is Joaquin’s, the other the powerful U.S. technocratic consumer rationality, and the last the popular revolutionary culture developing in the midst of concrete struggles. Schematically viewed, Joaquin is the residual; the U.S., the hegemonic or dominant; and the popular discourses, the emergent culture; the present conjuncture may be grasped as a complex heteroglotic interpenetration of all three. Because Joaquin’s discourse is a heady mixture of the ilustrado

aristocratic and the popular, he suffers a division signalled by his adoption of a mask: “Quijano de Manila.” This is not a quixotic double or alter ego, a legal ruse or parodic evasion; it resembles a Yeatsian mask which, following the tradition of Diderot and Hobbes, enables us to objectify ourselves, to become “actors of ourselves” and imitate the life which, according to Hobbes, we “create first in dreams.”77 Such impersonation, artificial and counterfeit for the puritanical ethos and for romantic sensibilities like Rousseau, is required by the fragmented and mutilated condition of modern urban existence. The Dostoevskyian double and Baudelaire’s schizoid flaneur, like Quijano de Manila, mirror the volatile antinomies and fluctuating dissonances of the modern crisis; but unlike Quijano de Manila, their metier of producing a mask of persona in the public sphere does not require the desideratum of fetishizing the past. On the contrary.

I have discussed in the introduction Joaquin’s project of reinventing a public sphere in which the private, interior self can be allowed free play; a sphere where the Aristotelian division of nous (mind) and psyche (emotions) can be bridged, where the Augustinian antithetical cities can intersect and at least conduct a dialogue. His discursive strategy is to outline a genealogy
of the city, Manila, by invoking the Spenglerian Faustian hero which inaugurates urban anomie and capitalist reification. In an article celebrating Manila, “400 Years a City,” Joaquin contemns Islamic culture and lauds Western ingenuity: “Where a Magian maze had been, a cluster of arabesques, Legazpi implanted Faustian geometry.78 It is here that Joaquin explicitly defines his conception of history as “the self-consciousness that recognizes events . . .” which are recorded “in proper chronology and specific detail”; such self-consciousness, coeval with “a literate culture,” of course can be identified, as he does in “History as Culture,” with the minority elite, the ilustrado or principalia, which now become founding culture heroes. A shrewd strategic

move. This now explains why Joaquin has deliberately fetishized 1521 and 1565 as the origin of “Filipinoness” in that the diachronic sequence traced by Joaquin, following McLuhan and Spengler, punctuates the rise of the ilustrado, the propertied and educated elite, as the hegemonic class. This version of history can be clearly seen actualized in A Question of heroes, The Aquinos of Tarlac, and practically all the journalistic “historical” pieces that in general describe the cultural and psychic metamorphoses of the petty bourgeois, middle strata. In the synchronic organizing of single instants or vertical cross-sections of time patterned on the newspaper, as I have noted earlier, the tour de force performances are the Almanac and also the The Aquinos of Tarlac with its homologizing morphology. In both “an eschatological framework helps conservative politics masquerade as ethics in an ostensibly aesthetic enterprise.”79

The individualistic Faustian model that displaces the virgin and occludes the Santo Nino in Joaquin’s discursive grammatology may be deemed a function of the baroque sensibility sensitized to a decaying social structure brought about by the capitalist division of labor, alienated work, and insidious commodification of everything including the psyche. Joaquin’s vision of history may be termed “baroque” in that it denotes simply a chronicle of recurrent events, a relentless turning of fortune’s wheel, where people are motivated chiefly by perverse discontent and other humours. In A Question of Heroes and The Aquinos of Tarlac “history” unfolds as the conspiratorial maneuverings of villains and heroes, mere succession without development, an architectonic frieze. Concealing the concrete ground, the infrastructure of socioeconomic processes, and transcribing only the surface dance of passions, reflexes, wills, joaquin’s “history” strikes us more as a baroque funeral pageant adorned with all the mesmerizing finery of a Renaissance triumphal procession.

By a supreme irony, Joaquin’s history translates into mythical thinking when we realize that the Faustian culture heroes function as allegorical devices, allegory being defined as the will to r_______________________________contrast to symbolism which can be grasped as the confirmed reconciliation of consciousness and the world. In the modern urban, postindustrial world where things have been separated from meanings, from spirit, from authentic life, allegory becomes the dominant and privileged mode of expression. We decipher the import of every moment, painfully endeavoring to restore some organic continuity to the chaotic series of instants that were once fused in a highly cathected, single moment in the symbol. The Virgin, Santo Nino, Faust, the three kings in “The Order of Melkizedek,’ etc.—these are all emblems or scripts in Joaquin’s discourse which, in a world grown lunatic, empty, a veritable wasteland of ruins, corpses, demonic instinctual forces, remain the surviving key to some still unprofaned realm of truth, community, plenitude—the long awaited apocalypse of freedom, justice, equality, jouissance. Against the ruins of Intramuros and the dupticitous carnival of treachery and violence in The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Cave and Shadows, Joaquin, the disenchanted chronicler of paraliturgical practices, rituals and other telltale symptoms of the unconscious, stages the allegorical drama of our national existence. The power of this art is perspicuously elucidated by Walter Benjamin:

Allegories are in the realm of thoughts what ruins are in the realm of things….Where the symbol as it fades shows the face of Nature in the light of salvation, in allegory it is the facies hippocratica of history that lies like a frozen landscape before the eye of the beholder. History in everything that it has of the unseasonable, painful, abortive, expresses itself in that face—nay, rather in that

death’s-head. And while it may be true that such an allegorical mode is utterly lacking in any “symbolic” freedom of expression, in any classical harmony of feature, in anything human-what is expressed here portentously in the form of a riddle is not only the nature of human life in general, but also the biographical historicity of the individual in its most natural and organically corrupted form. This—the baroque, earthbound exposition of history as the story of the world’s suffering—is the very essence of allegorical perception; history takes on meaning only in the stations of its agony and decay…. The amount of meaning is in exact proportion to the presence of death and the power of decay, since death is that which traces the jagged line between Physis and meaning.80

If Joaquin is our allegorist par excellence, his amateur, ad hoc theorizing can now be linked to “theory” in its Greek sense of “theater,” and to “theorist” as referring to: envoy sent to visit the oracle in search of divine communication and interpretation of the god’s message; state ambassador delegated by one polis to attend another’s sacred festivals and games; spectator at games and foreign exotic places.81 The theorist then described and appraised oracles, festivals, and games that comprised performances revealing the truth (aletheia = unhiddenness) in an attitude of wonder, puzzlement and canny susceptibility. Such performances constitute the drama

whose signifiers an audience (theofia) can read and interpret for the shrouded truths (aletheia) they incarnate. In all these senses, Joaquin’s art may be assayed as a profound theorizing of our spiritual predicament, our collective destiny, as a people in which the theorist, like this critic and everyone else, is as fatefully and urgently implicated.

In “The Virgin and the Dynamo,” W.H. Auden distinguished the “Natural World of the Dynamo” where “freedom is the consciousness of Necessity” from the “Historical World of the Virgin” where “Necessity is the consciousness of Freedom.”82 One can sum up Joaquin’s writing as an intensely haunting dialogical play of the imagination with such differences, a dialectic of theory (in the Greek sense) struggling to celebrate the dreamed-for and much prophesied wedding of nature and history.

___________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________ ______________________◊____________________________ ___________________________________________________ ____£______________________________________________ _____________________ He is a member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism & AMERICAN PEN CENTER.


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


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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