Picasso-Les Demoiselles d'AvignonBUGTONGANG EROTIKA
(Handog sa mga pulis ng moralidad, ahente ng surveillance, censors,
at iba pang nagbabawal sa kalayaan ng pagsasalita’t pagsusulat)

Munting tampipi, puno ng salapi.
Malalim kung bawasan, mababaw kung dagdagan.

Baboy ko sa Marungko, balahibo ay pako.
Baka ko sa palupandan, unga’y nakararating kung saan.

Baston ni Adan, hindi mabilang-bilang.
Tungkod ni Kurdapyo, hindi mahipo-hipo.

Tumakbo si Tarzan, bumuka ang daan.
Buka kung hapon, kung umaga ay lulon.

Isang matinik na tampipi, asim-tamis ang pinagsama
sa maputing laman niya.
Malayo pa ang sibat, nganga na ang sugat.

Baka ko sa Maynila, abot diyan ang unga.
Bumubuka’y walang bibig, ngumingiti nang tahimik.

Naupo si Itim, sinulot ni Pula; heto na si Puti, bubuga-buga.
Iisa ang pinasukan, tatlo ang nilabasan.

Baboy ko sa Sorsogon, kung di sakya’y di lalamon.
Urong-sulong panay ang lamon, urong-sulong lumalamon.

Sa isang kalabit, may buhay na kapalit.
Pumutok ay di narinig, tumama’y di nakasakit.

Baboy ko sa kaingin, nataba’y walang pagkain.
Habang iyong kinakain, lalo kang gugutumin.

–ni E. SAN JUAN, Jr.


Review of E. San Juan’s AMBIL by Ivan Labayne

Featured Image -- 1180New Ways of Saying “Revolt! Change the System” as an ambil for the National Democratic Movement: a reading of Epifanio San Juan Jr.’s Ambil: mga pagsubok pahiwatig & interbensiyon tungo sa pagbabagong-buhay
by Ivan Emil A. Labayne

In the Summary of Mark Angeles’ Poetics (2014) which Virgilio Almario moderated during the 2014 UP National Writers’ Workshop, a recurring point resurfaced regarding the hackneyed images of ‘political’ or ‘protest’ literature.
For instance, Eugene Evasco had a challenge for Angeles: “pwede ba tayong sumulat ng mga protesta ngayon na higit na sariwa ang pagkakasulat? Sa tulang ‘Fortuna,’ narito ang mga imahen ng masong bumayo, umaasong bakal, piring, uhay ng katarungan—kumbaga, kung gumawa tayo ng katalogo ng mga tula ng protesta noong 70s, gamit na gamit ito. Ang teorya ko, ang mga problema noon, problema pa rin ngayon—pero hindi naman kailangang pareho parin ang mga imahen” (2014). Clearly, Evasco finds Angeles’ works as wanting. Ferdinand Jarin had a different concern, the audience: “Bagamat hindi pa rin nagbabago ang lipunan, sa ganitong tula, are we still writing for our fellow activists? Paano ang masa na hindi organized? Paano ka makaka-reach-out sa ganun?” (2014). The same issue troubled Eusebio-Abad although she cited the more personal dimension on the part of the audience: “Ang gusto kong isa pang i-target mo na reader ay ang middle class; ang hindi pinaka-naaapi pero nararanasan rin ang oppression” (2014).
All these questions and points raised—from Evasco and company regarding Angeles’ poetics will be kept in mind as I proceed to my main object of analysis: Epifanio San Juan Jr’s 2014 anthology of poems dubbed Ambil: mga pagsubok pahiwatig & interbensiyon tungo sa pagbabagong-buhay. My premise is that Angeles’s and San Juan’s works can be grouped together in the more general category of ‘political,’ socially committed or protest literature if not informed by the same, specific political line: that of National Democracy (ND) in the Philippines.
In this anthology, at least on a cursory reading, San Juan appears to put same-old realities and topics in a novel, more palatable and unpredictable garb. There were pictures and paintings, cut-outs from dictionary page and citations of a journal, a testimony and a dictionary which cannot help but to recall avant-garde poetic techniques innovated in the West. We need to interrogate this further for at this point there might be a flirtation with the thought that this is Dada all over again, or Surrealism all over again, where linguistic plays are equated to “a desire for apocalypse, the instantaneous transcendence—and denial—of the historical reality in which political revolutionaries struggled” (Russell 1985, 162). A closer look into this anthology can reveal that its kernel is still the same—‘pagpapanibagong-buhay’ in the subtitle—and what else could this be but a new way of life in a new social system—only with more invigorating literary experimentations and explorations, in order to prove that political literature’s, if not the ND’s well of metaphors and ways of expressing are far from exhausted.
This analysis then aims to expound on how San Juan’s Ambil was able to maintain its experimental literary expressions while articulating a message that has been articulated since the revival of the new Communist Party of the Philippines in 1964 and keeps on being articulated in various venues and media—the streets, student papers, literary collections, personal blogs, Facebook and the social media in general (will the revolution be tweeted?) among others—up to now. Furthermore, these innovations in articulating this ‘pagpapanibagong buhay’ message can be contributory in dueling common conceptions of the ND Movement as stuck-in-the mud and uncreative dogmatic people. As such, this book and what it is performing can be considered an ambil of political literature and the ND Movement itself; a new attribution to and interpretation of a Movement that calls for a systemic change in society.
I grouped selected works under a certain theme or topic which I found in this anthology in order to facilitate the discussion. Five categories are based on content: (1) the theme of exceeding or overcoming, (2) the theme of wager or taking a chance, (3) resistance (of course, how can this be left out?), (4) repression and (5) the primacy of the material. My proposition is that all of these categories point to the general, underlying idea of social transformation, the ‘pagpapanibagong-buhay’ in the anthology’s subtitle. Now, we can see how San Juan was able to do this.

This System as End Point, This History as End? Go Beyond!
A recurring exhortation in Ambil relates with overcoming, with exceeding or surpassing. This can be found twice in these series of words one can find every now and then coming in between two poems. For instance, after the poem ‘Ambil’ which consists of a cut-out of a dictionary definition of the word ‘ambil,’ we can find the following:
UMAPAW (2015, 15)

The four um- verbs precede a line that indicates a background for their actions: being imprisoned. Actually, the phrase pertaining to this background “kahit ikinulong” is immediately followed by an -um- verb, only that it is in the present progressive, unlike the next four which are all in the past tense. Notably, the verb pertaining to the background condition is in the past as well: ‘ikinulong.’ What could this nuance signify? My reading is that the present progressive ‘kumikilos’ aims to point out the generality and the continuity of the action (as verb) and of the state of being in action as well.
I also speculate that the word ‘kumikilos,’ unique not just in terms of tense but also in terms of its position to the background condition (‘ikinulong’)—it is placed at the same level as, not below ‘ikinulong’—has a special place in the entirety of this set of words. What I suspect is that it roughly corresponds to the idea of ‘praxis’ which is esteemed in Marxist theory as the prime mover of both ideas (philosophy, literature) and events (history, with its economic, political and cultural dimensions). In addition, this word in present progressive which denotes continuity and regularity bridges the two ‘parts’ found in this series: the first (‘kahit ikinulong’) which is the negative state of things and background condition for the second (the um- verbs) which seek to go beyond the condition stated in the first. In other words, in order for one to surpass or overcome the state of imprisonment/repression, one needs to act continually, one needs to be involved in praxis. Relevant here is Badiou’s description of agency:
“not… how a subject can initiate an action in an autonomous manner but how a subject emerges through an autonomous chain of actions within a changing situation… not everyday actions or decisions…but those extraordinary decisions and actions which isolate an actor from their context, those actions which show that a human can actually be a free agent that supports new chains of actions and reactions” (2003, 6, emphases are mine).

The second part of the divide, the um- verbs, I posit, are attempts to launch ‘new chains of actions’ which can ‘isolate’ the actors from a repressive context. In between the yucky and repressive present condition and the actions that can point to a new future is the general idea of praxis and its continuous enactment.
Lastly, I think it was Zizek (in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012)) who mentioned something like the outburst (‘pag-apaw’) of discontent among the people leading to a kind of violence that serves both as the expression and containment—the latter is needed in order to prevent one’s self from breaking down—of this discontent, this repulsion towards the current scheme of things (We’ve had enough!). The riots in England last 2011 is a great example here. Such outbursts can be seen as a critical voice raised against the present way of things. However, it is not always that this critique is coupled with a systematic alternative and a corresponding program, as the 2011 riots evinced. In such case, the actions are likely to fizzle, falling short to its supposed regularity and continuity, weakening “kumikilos” by turning it into “kumilos.”
Then we see again this idea of overcoming and surpassing in the very last series of words in the last page of the book, apt final words for the reader to chew on before leaving the book behind:
Rolling the dice
Badiou begins a Chapter in Infinite Thought with a quotation from Mallarme which goes like this: “All thought begets a throw of the dice” (Badiou 2003, 39). Any idea and action will involve some morsel of uncertainty, and hence a degree of risk: deciding to court someone, buying an imitation Samsung phone without warranty, voting for a Presidential candidate. The same is true when it comes to aspiring and working for a new social setting. There is no certitude as regards when the current system will be replaced by a more humane one; how will the alternative exactly look like and if it will not just repeat the ugliness of the system it toppled, or if one will be able to witness the emergence of the new system. But this incertitude does not stop one from aspiring, from holding on to an ideal, and more vitally, from doing things towards its accomplishment. At least, this is how San Juan approached this uncertainty, this need for rolling the dice.
In “Akdang Walang Pamagat” (71), he wrote:
hinalang unti-unting lumilitaw
kinakapa sa malay
binhi ng

The uncertainty here is obviously marked in the end of the poem which left us perhaps gawking, perhaps awaiting impatiently, “binhi ng ano?” But let us trace how the poem has come to arrive at this uncertainty at the end which, with the word “binhi,” also spells out the potential of something growing, something emerging. It begins with a guess, a suspicion, an assumption. This eventually took form and then groped by the consciousness. After this: the possibility, the likelihood (the word in the poem is “maaari). Then: the unspecified to-come, to-sprout.
I think this parallels with the differentiation between the two French equivalents of the English “future” —futur and avenir—which Zizek cited in The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (2012). Said Zizek, “Futur stands for future as the continuation of the present, as the full actualization of the tendencies which are already here, while avenir points more towards a radical break, a discontinuity with the present—avenir is what is to come /a venir/, not just what will be” (2012, 134). I argue that the uncertainty, a productive one (we will make what we don’t know yet now!), is teeming in the future-as-avenir, the future that will be radically different from the present. It is up to us—via our extrapolations, our suspicions and our doings—to enunciate and bring about this to-sprout, this to-emerge thing. Maybe this is the message of “Akdang Walang Pamagat,” with this ‘title’ alone resembling an absence of certainty, an absence of exact designation. Can this not bring to mind Badiou’s words which seems to lambast discourses and ideologies, including Stalinism—a favorite in discrediting Marxism and the socialist possibility—that claim to say everything?: “the effect of the undecidable, of the indiscernible and of the generic, or, the effect of the event, the subject and the truth must recognize the unnameable as a limitation of its path” (Badiou 2003, 67). No one can give voice to everything, not even the most radical cadres and practitioners of Marxist theory or the most prolific of revolutionary poets. If all history and all possibilities have been known and articulated and done, what is the use of arousing, organizing and mobilizing, to utilize the ND’s parlance? Thankfully, that is not the case. This Movement aiming for social transformation is still taking shape, day-by-day, assessment-after-assessment; and this uncertainty shall prod nothing else but continuous movement, both in theory and practice.
In “Bagamat Walang Katiyakan o Kahihinatnan, Umaasa Pa Rin” (8-9), we can see the idea of wager in the last line, a wager that is tied to a change of life (“pagpusta sa pagbabagong-buhay”). Mallarme is hovering here again. This comes after the series of two-liners whose first words relate to failure or losing: bigo, paltos, mintis, palyado, kulang-palad and so on. But interesting as well is the shift when it comes to the words following the first word. For instance, after bigo in the first line is a grim announcement of the absence of god and salvation: “walang bathalang liligtas o sasagip sa iyo sukat na ipagsamo.” This was followed by “anong tadhanang nagbabanta sa pagliko ng daan” which comes with paltos. This trend continues up to the fifth two-liner (Kulang-palad, saan patutungo na walang paralumang gagabay) until some semblance of hope and inspiration was supplied by the sixth two-liner: “Amis, patnubay mo ang anino’t larawang nakapinta sa pader.” Interesting to note is the subtle shifting of the source of guidance from the ‘paraluman’ to the ‘anino’t larawang nakapinta sa pader.” It seems to make more concrete and palpable this source of desired guidance. Then the seventh and eighth add welcome relief after the series of questions in the first five two-liners: “Sawi, siguradong may wakas sa hanggahan ng landas/ Bagsak, bumukal ang pag-asa sa kawalan at sa paglisan.” The words “sigurado” and “pag-asa” seem to negate all hesitations and incertitude described earlier. In the ninth two-liner, chance beckons again and in the tenth, a hint of activity: “Talo na, di sinasadya’y tinutukso ka ng pagkakataon/ Laos, nakuha pang lumingon upang mapagsino ang sumusunod.” If fear that there is someone following you creeps in, the best thing to do is to make a move: look behind you and check! In the thirteenth two-liner, productivity and movement continue to persist, this time with regards to imagination, to the mind, to ideas: “Bigo man, sige pa rin ang galaw ng imahinasyong nakatiwangwang.” Imagining is a crusade against barrenness, against mental stagnation and the resignation to things which this inability to imagine new things causes. In the fifteenth and sixteenth two-liners, we can visualize the hard work involved in waging for a new way of life: “Sandali, dumaplis muntik na, walang suwerte walang tagumpay/ Saglit, kapurit lamang, halos wala, masusulyapan mo sa pagitan ng rehas.” The repressive background returns here via the “rehas” and this background informs the wager being made. Hence, if the bet is for a new way of life, we can assert that the current way of life is typified by the “rehas.” Tons of work will be required; and yet success will not come by without sweat. But as the title states, one keeps on hoping, and even more than that, one keeps on wagering and working for a better life-situation.

The primacy of the material
As Marxists, the ND movement gives high premium to materiality. Against abstractions, they value the concrete, the tangible, the materially manifested. This prizing informs some of its basic tenets such as “Walang karapatang magsalita ang walang kongkretong pagsusuri.” Another basic contradistinction occasionally made between the idealist “essence precedes existence” and the materialist “existence precedes essence” also typifies this primacy.
In Ambil, we can likewise see this notion being propounded, put poetically. In “Diskarteng Pag-urirat sa Cogito Ergo-Sum ni Descartes” (27), we can sense a progression from the state of just being conscious to being in more active and material positions and doing actions. The poem’s first two lines are as follows: “Nagkamalay ako, samakatwid ako ay/ Naghinala ako, samakatwid ako ay/. The doubt expressed in the second line is quite prompt in destabilizing the ‘consciousness’ announced right at the onset. Starting on the third line, the instability encapsulated by the “naghinala ako” continued and even intensified. On the third line, “naghangad ako;” on the fourth, “nagulat ako;” on the fifth, “natuliro ako,” on the sixth and so on: “nagmura ako,” “nanaginip ako,” “nalibugan ako,” “nadaya ako,” “nainggit ako.” Matters such as sexuality and competition, economic or not, are implied here. Consciousness recedes to welcome the bodily and the material to the foreground. On the fifteenth line: “Tumutol ako’ nakibaka, samakatwid ako ay.” Two lines after that, this: “Naghihingalo, samakatwid ako/ Humingi ng saklolo, samakatwid/ Wala nang hininga, sama ka.” The first person gradually became muted here until help from others was needed. The move from the existence-defining consciousness/thought to the body which spells the boundaries of existence occurs side by side the move from the individual to the non-individual, if not the collective. Descartes’ philosophy is clubbed here and this paved the way for propping up the Marxist viewpoint.

Repression is always there
The repressive background has already been mentioned in some of the previous works. But usually, it works there to motivate the awakening of a critical consciousness and then the enactment of actions. In two poems however, the focal point is on the repression itself, arguably done in order to accentuate their inhumanity and nefariousness.
“Aanhin pa ang Damo ng Grasya Kung…” (77) uses as its material the military operation that actually happened in Lacub, Abra September of last year. The torture and death of civilians and rebels alike were described in this poem. Notably, the persona in the poem was actually in Portugal together with band of tourists learning about the Fatima which is believed to be a “dambanang alay sa kapayapaan, sa kapatiran ng sangkatauhan.” This belief started when the Fatima was said to have appeared to three beggars and ordered them to pray on 1917 during the War. The poem seems to be mocking this tale, making an incomplete analogy between the 1917 War and the contemporary violence in Abra and the Fatima which is told to ‘intervene’ during the former. Now, the poem asks, what intervention is needed for the latter: Kapayapaan at kapatiran sa Lacub, Abra, a similar heavenly appearance? Clearly, the poem has a distaste for this suggestion: “Magdasal upang matapos ang kalupitan at magpenitensya?/ Sa halip magdasal, nag-piket ang pamilya’t kamag-anak ng mga nasawi sa harap ng AFP Headquarters Camp Aguinaldo at hukuman.” The poem gives its vote to direct action, not to some religious succor. Is this a rehashing of the old-type critique of religion once again in the face of state brutalities? Is this “religion is the opium of the people” of 19th century, narrowly interpreted and then recycled for the 21st century? Yes, it is still “religion is the opium of the people” but not the one that is sequestrated from its surrounding text and then crudely bandied about. Let us look back on A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” the book from which this famous passage was taken:
“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of heartless soul…. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions” (1844, 3).

What is being critiqued is not religion per se; it is the state of affairs, the unhappy, gruesome state of affairs that make people turn to religion, and so can be said to justify the existence of religion. It is the repressive state of affairs that needs to be mainly combated, not the religious fervency which is only its offshoot. If for anything, one task is not to antagonize religious sectors but rather to sharply draw the connection between religious pining and devotion and the material conditions that reinforce them. Surely, citing “religion is the opium of the people” quite mindlessly does not help in making such connection.
Next, in “Hindi Madala sa Dalahira” (18), the series of “dahil” lines end with a subtle reference to repression: “Dahil dakdak ka nang dakdak siguradong/ dadalihin ka ng darling mong Maykapal” (19). Talking is not very much encouraged unless it flatters the authority, unless it licks their asses and feet, unless it supports the status quo. Related to this is one of Zizek’s anecdotes states that “When those in power replies ‘But what do you want?’ to our ‘hysterical’ protests, they really mean ‘Say it in my terms or shut up!’” (Zizek 2012, 84). If we do not shut up and use our voice to condemn their atrocities or call for a new scheme of things, we can be dead in the hands of the powers-that-be, our “darling na Maykapal.” Is this cariño brutal or a concretization of some philosophical postulations working out the idea that to love is to render one’s self vulnerable to hurt or a poetic kind of violence? I guess neither; this is simply the State loving us so much, its dear constituents, promising to lead us to better paths and then ends up letting private companies manage services that should be affordable, if not free for us, and persecuting us when we complain. So what to do then: maybe just shut up? Maybe. Although, how about this?:

What else but to resist
Of course: this. How else to advance, to initiate change but through the challenging and the contesting of what is here, what is now. In “Pagtutuos sa Hinulugang Taktak, Antipolo” (21), the situation is that of a visit to Camp Bagong Diwa prisoners which are also comrades of the persona. Here, the jail reappears. In the face of such background situation, the persona was inspiring a moment of reflection, one that does not conceal its hesitations and fears: “Balisa, alinlangan—dahil alanganin? Anong dapat/ gawin sa labas ng rehas at pader alang-/alang sa mga nakapiit?” After this comes a description of the wicked regime which one can suspect is responsible for the detention of the persona’s comrades: “alaalang di natigatig, tayo’y nahulog sa bangin ng/ rehimeng sakim at malupit;/ sinugpo ang pagkatao’t sinupil, dinuhagi,/inalipusta – ilang dantaon na… (22). Suddenly, the laments in relation to the regime was followed by a description of the nature’s bounty: “Kagila-gilalas ang biyaya ng kalikasan, pinapawi/ang sindak, balisa, kutob, bagabag…/ Walang ipinagkakait ang kalikasan, walang pagbabawal, pinagbibigyan,/ ipinagkakaloob/ kahit hindi lumuhod o magdasal.” Here, we can posit that the brutalities and deprivations of the regime are being opposed to the providence of Nature. Nature offers its bounties even if one does not pray for it—this recalls the earlier note on religion since with Nature, one can afford not to invoke the name of Gods for providing people’s needs. Then the motif of flow and unfinished-ness recur: “Di pa ganap sila, tayo….patuloy ang agos, daloy–/. The poem ends with an affirmation of binding, a unity based on dissent: “Walang alinlangang magtatagpo muli tayong lahat/ sa sangandaan ng Antipolo/ hanggang mga kaluluwang nais tumutol,/ bumaklas,/ umigpaw,/ diwang nasang yapusin ang hibong/ pumupulandit sa/ talong marahas,/ lakas ng pangarap/ at pithayang rumaragasa’t/ dumadaloy/ sa ating pinagbuklod na dibdib.
In “Nadinig na Bigkas ng Isang Akda ni Amado V. Hernandez” (26), San Juan simply writes the title of Hernandez’ poem, “Kung Tuyo na ang Luha mo Aking Bayan” in a way that “Kung tuyo na ang luha mo” appears in ten succeeding times and thus creating five exactly identical lines. These are followed by three “aking bayan” put together in a single line. After this series of words is an image of two people holding a hammer and a sickle. What else could this image represent but the socialist possibility and the devoted struggle needed to forge such path? The poem literally repeats Hernandez and then cuts him just in time to propound the socialist hint via the two figures. Going back to the repetitious series of words, we can cite Warhol in order to make sense of this technique. This artist commonly associated with the postmodern in art once said: “I don’t want it to be essentially the same. I want it to be exactly the same” (Foster 1996, 131, emphasis mine). One can read Warhol’s statement as a response to capitalist production this way: you give us ‘new’ fads and objects to consume but in reality, they are all the same; everything is peddled by capitalism for consumption whose profits return principally to those powerful in the system. In place of a mode of production (whether economic or cultural) that shrouds the all-the-same origination and feigns novelty in the process, Warhol calls for a similarity that is really the same. This is evidently at work in “Nadinig sa Bigkas ng Isang Akda ni Amado V. Hernandez.” It is the same line from the first to the tenth line while the last line is comprised of three, similar phrases: “aking bayan.” The repetitious also performs a semantic function. The repeating lines seem to build up towards the concluding image in the end: one that bears a socialist possibility, or at least, the possibility of a socialist revolt. Why an image then, not another string of words as the previous components of the work? My surmise: this possibility delivered by the image must be set apart from the dismal present articulated repeatedly in words. Following this, the socialist possibility is rendered totally ‘new’ in relation to the present background it tries to surpass.
Lastly, we can see in “Transkripsyon ng Ilang Bytes ng NASA Kompyuter, Washington, DC” (30) a series of questions that pull references in real life to itself. There is mention of Yolanda, of the Abu Sayyaf group, of Camp Bagong Diwa. In between them, there are seemingly innocent questions which upon cogitation can be read as discreet parodies or critiques of some notions: “Makibaka ba, huwag matakot?” “Pwede ka bang sumagot?” “Paano tayo makatatakas?” “Bakit bumaligtad?” “Na-etsa puwera ba sila?” “Ano ang kahulugan nito?” “Masaklap ba ang nangyari?” “Sino ang humihiyaw ng ‘saklolo’?” “Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?” “Pag-ibig ba raw ang makalulutas ng lahat?” “Niloloko ba tayo?” “Malikmata ba ito?” “Bakit wala kang imik?” The Edward Snowden epigraph could lead one to think of torture as the scenario occurring in this “interrogation.” Therefore the last question, “Bakit wala kang imik?” can signify either that the person being interrogated has already got numbed from the beatings she received or that she just does not want to spill anything. But if we make an ‘ambil’ out of this; that is, play around the meaning of this last question, we can also propose that the poem is putting the burden to the reader. This statement can be a questioning of an immobile, unresponsive and indifferent stance. After the series of questions that can spur the mind into thinking, the poem ends with a nudge on those who neither utter a word nor do anything.
That is why it cannot be merely coincidental that this poem was followed by another of those intervals composed of short series of words:


Yes, we have here those famous passages again, passages that incite action, and more than that, underlines its urgency. They have been communicated many times and in different venues. Here, as we have seen in “Nadinig na Bigkas ng Isang Akda ni Amado V. Hernandez” and “Transkripsyon ng Ilang Bytes ng NASA Kompyuter, Washington, DC,” the same calls can be articulated in more surprising manners. This could be done by way of a repetition that really repeats—and thus makes it easier for the readers to follow—unlike the sort of predictable poetic attempts of some ND poetry that tinkers with some images and analogies only to hoist the red flag in the end or announce the reddening of the eastern sky. Or by way of a series of questions which seem to approximate speed and ceaselessness and hence, I guess, also work better in keeping the reader engaged. The use of the second person singular pronoun in the poem can also function to directly latch onto the attention of the reader. This second person trick culminates aptly in “Bakit wala kang imik?” which at that point may have already shoved the reader into thinking, Is this poem addressing me? In the face of the inequalities and injustices that continue to be stark and pronounced in today’s system, calling for resistance in one’s poetry, especially among the ND people, would appear not just necessary but also unavoidable. But the comment about delivering this point of resistance as being “gasgas” is valid. Moreover, a movement that calls for the most substantial kind of New—a new overall social scheme of things—must also practice this birthing of the New even in ‘little’ things such as literary production. I would like to believe San Juan was able to do this, or at least, tried to. He will not tell you, “Sumampa sa kanayunan” or “Kundenahin ang rehimeng US-Aquino!” Instead, he will ask you, Bakit wala kang imik?, when students are being tortured and jailed and people’s homes are being demolished. Directness is loosened a bit in favor of some creative fanciness, some exploratory route that can lead to new possibilities and more effective strategies. After all, as Charles Bernstein put it: “the shortest distance between two points is a digression” (Paris 2012, 196). This is apt not just because it is poetry we are talking about here. More importantly, in a time when the current system presents some key notions—Consume!; Nothing is impossible so long as you work hard, and pray!; Inequalities are solely caused by individual differences – that sustain the wicked imbalance where it obtains life in so innovative, wily and convincing fashion, to the point of hiding the negatives and maintaining an appearance of being harmless and even beautiful and true, I argue that the Movement proposing a systemic alternative must contend with such creativity and innovation in terms of expression. For the ND movement, this must be true not just in relation to literary production but also to other materials such as those used for overt propaganda. Achieving this can only evince that the ND movement, in harmony with the principles of dialectical and historical materialism, evolves in terms of theory and practice and in ways of articulating and doing. After that, we can posit that it could be more effective in doing what is has been doing for decades now.
In the end, I would say that Ambil flirted enough with refreshing and potentially yummy literary experimentations—conceptualist cut-outs, dialogues among characters, myriad images and even a mural(in page 33)—in order to create a mishmash of work that is far from the often-maligned ‘propagandistic’ ND writings and yet does not fail to grasp and keep its rather solid and simple overarching message: the need to battle existing society’s structures and replace it with a new one where justice and equality is truly alive. In addition, it also stays in step with Charles Bernstein’s thoughts on the later works and reflected sensibility of Wittgenstein: “one is not left sealed off from the world with only ‘markings’ to ‘decipher’ but rather located in a world with meanings to respond to” (Perloff 2013, 25). At times, Ambil may appear postmodern in manner but certainly never upheld itself as yet another fancy procedure on words in the ‘prison house of language.’ Its sense of and actual take on history and society is evident and thus invites the readers to delve into the materiality of this history and society as well. It is socially engaged while also earnest in expanding the aesthetics easily identified with the ND movement—and aptly so. The current system can say ‘There’s no alternative society’ in copious ways: bombarding us with beguiling jewelries and condominiums; tapping our tired, arched backs by way of Christmas bonuses or plenty of holidays; showing us politicians and celebrities that says everything is fine, there is nothing to worry about. The challenge for the ND Movement is to call for a system-change with the same creativity and by taking advantage of myriad resources—that is, beyond the image of the hammer and sickle and without directly citing Marx’s “You have nothing to lose but your chains!”
Also: by not ending any write-up – a statement, a book, a critical essay, a work of fiction—with that Marx passage.
San Juan did that do that in Ambil, and then more is to be done in our lives, for these, all our lives, to be made new; towards pagpapanibagong-buhay.


Badiou, Alain. 2003. Infinite thought: truth and return to philosophy. London: Continuum.

e-flux. 2015. On Claims of Radicality in Contemporary Art. Accessed: February 12, 2015.

Foster, Hal. 1996. The Return of the Real. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Marx, Karl. 1844. Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Accessed: February 03, 2015.

Paris, Vaclav. 2012. “Poetry in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Marjorie Perloff’s Unoriginal
Genius, and Charles Bernstein’s Attack of the Difficult Poems.” Journal of Modern Literature 35 (3): 183-199. Accessed: September 2013. http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/bernstein/books/attack/Paris_Vaclav_Perloff-Bernstein_JML_2012.pdf.

Perloff, Marjorie. 2013. Poetics in a New Key: Interviews and Essays, edited by David
JonathanY. Bayot. Manila: De La Salle University Publishing House.

Russell, Charles. 1985. Poets, Prophets and Revolutionaries: The Literary Avant-Garde from
Rimbaud through Postmodernism. New York: Oxford University Press.

San Juan, Jr., Epifanio. 2015. Ambil: Mga Pagsubok Pahiwatig at Interbensyon Tungo sa
Pagbabagong-Buhay. Connecticut: Philippine Cultural Studies Center. Accessed: December 14, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/9216129/AMBIL_mga_bagong_tula_pagsubok_and_interbensiyon.

UP National Writers Workshop. 2014. “Summary: Mark Angeles, Mdoerated by Virgilio S.
Almario. Accessed: February 21, 2015. https://upworkshop2014.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/the-fellows-and-panelists-of-the-53rd-up-national-writers-workshop/.

Zizek, Slavoj. 2012. The year of dreaming dangerously. London and New York: Verso


Short Bionote:

Ivan Emil Labayne is part of Pedantic Pedestrians, a Baguio-based art group which has already done a Book Launch without a book, conducted Rengga sa Kalsada, published four folios, an Oncept Series, a Torture Manual among others online. They also ‘exhibited’ “Itong mga Kinahihiya,” “May Taong Nawawala” at “Ngayon ay Buwan ng Wika” at UP Baguio. Ivan is striving to finish his MA in Language and Literature at UP Baguio this year.

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS | Tagged , , , , , ,




Dulang Algoritmong Potensiyal
(Alinsunod sa paraan ng Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle)

ni E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

[Paunawa: Lahat ng tauhan sa dulang ito ay pawang likhang-isip; kung sakaling kahawig ng mga personaheng buhay, ituring na aksidenteng pagkakataon lamang iyon at hindi talagang sinasadya–Awtor]

Balisa si Presidente Obama at mga upisyal sa Pentagon, Washington DC..Baka bumagsak ang dolyar at ordeng kapital-pampinansiyal, pag-ulit ng 2008 krisis, kung hindi mahuhuli sina Zulkifli bin Hir at Abdul Basit Usman. Binabalaan na sila ng mga CEO ng Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, IMF at World Bank na dapat kagyat lutasin ang ugat ng panganib sa Pilipinas. Tulala si Obama dahil sa dalawang bagay, na dapat piliin ninyo:

Walang mahanap na Pinay/Pinay na eskiroll na magkukumpisal kung nasaan ang dalawang terorista (tingnan ang Tagpo 8)

Itinago ni Putin ang dalawang rebelde dahil sa panghihimasok ng U.S. sa Ukraine (tingnan ang Tagpo 9)

Nagsuplong kay P’Noy Aquino ang isang ahente ng Taliban sa Afghanistan kung saan nagtatago ang dalawang kontrabida. Pinatawag si Heneral Alan Purisima na suspindido noon, ngunit nawawala ang heneral. Siya ba ay nakompromiso ni:

Kurt Hoyer, Press Attache ng US Embassy, na sikretong CIA ahente, na naghahanda ng planong Wolverine sa Manila Hotel? (tingnan ang Tagpo 5)

O ni bise-presidente Binay habang nagliliwaliw siya sa isang casino sa Makati? (tingnan ang Tagpo 7)

Pinagpayuan ni Sec. Leila de Lima si P’Noy na dapat sa PNP (Philippine National Police) lamang sumangguni sapagkat hindi maasahan ang AFP
na matakaw din sa pabuyang limang milyong dolyar sa paghuli sa dalawang terorista. Hindi makapagpasiya si P’Noy sanhi sa alin sa dalawang dahilan:

Marami siyang utang kay Heneral Pio Gregorio Catapang, hepe ng AFP (tingnan ang Tagpo 6)

Binantaan na siya ni PNP Heneral Leonardo Espina at Int. Sec. Mar Roxas dahil sa pakikipagsosyo sa isang seksing “socialite” (tingnan ang Tagpo 2)

Enero 25, 2015, lumunsad na ang 6 tropang Amerikano sa TCP (Tactical Command Post) ng Sheriff Aguak sa Manguindanao. Ngunit di nila alam ang tiyak na situwasyon ng Special Action Force ng PNP sapagkat ang planong Wolverine ay hindi katugma sa planong Exodus. Bakit nagkaganoon? Piliiin sa dalawang posibilidad:

Nagsusugal ang dalawang heneral sa Zamboanga AFP Western Command, Rustico Guerrero at Edmundo Pangilinan, nang ipahatid ang utos batay sa utlat ng drone ng mga Amerikano (tingnan ang Tagpo 2 )

Inilihim ni PNP Chief Getulio Napenas ang tunay na sabwatan nila ng MILF at BBP sa gagawing “pintakasi” sa Mamasapano (tingnan ang Tagpo 7)

Sinabi ni P’Noy kay Purisima noong Enero 9 sa Bahay Pangarap–“Ayusin mo na kina Espina at Roxas… Ako na ang bahala kay Catapang.” Inutusan niya ang staff sa Malacanang na kontakin ang Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities. Bakit hindi nagawa iyon? Piliin ang dahilan:

Okupado sina Mohagher Iqbal sa US Embassy sa pakikipag-ugnayan sa US Institute of Peace at mga kinatawan ng Malaysian Embassy tungkol sa “investments” sa kanilang “ancestral domain” (tingnan ang Tagpo 9)

“Busy” si Chief Napenas sa pakikipag-usap sa isang kaibigan sa Moscow, Russian Federation na nakahimpil sa Teheran, Iran (tingnan ang Tagpo 1)

Sumugod na ang 44 na PNP SAF sa Tukanalipao, baryo ng Mamasapano, hindi alam kung ang kalaban nila ay kabilang sa Abu Sayyaf, Al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), o NPA (New People’s Army), at walang muwang sa posisyon ng kanilang tinutugis. Ano ang rason ng ganitong pagkalito? Piliin:

Pinangakuan na sila ng bahagi ng pabuya sa pagkahuli o pagkapatay kina Marwan at Usman, kaya hindi na kailangan tiyakin kung anong pulitika o prinsipyo ng mga kaaway (Tingnan ang Tagpo 3)

Binigyan sila ng kopya ng VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement), EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) at CIA Counterinsurgency Manual laban sa terorismo upang magamit sa pagdumi sa gubat (Tingnan ang Tagpo 8).
Iginiit ni Napenas na “iniwan kami sa ere,” ibig sabihin, walang ibinigay na “reward money” ang Washington nang makumpirma sa DNA test na napatay nga si Marwan. Naibalita naman sa Al Jazeera na nakapuslit si Marwan sa tulong ng ilang barko ng Tsina patungo sa Spratley/Kalayaan Isla. At si Usman naman ay nakalusot sa tulong ng MNLF ni Nur Misuari patungong Sabah.

Gusto ninyo ba ng masayang wakas? (tingnan ang Tagpo 9)
Gusto ninyo ba ng masaklap na wakas? (tingnan ang Tagpo 6)


Tinanggap na ni P’Noy na responsable siya sa palpak na Exodus, ngunit galit siya kay Fidel Ramos sa panawagan na magbitiw. Mula sa Mamasapano, taglay pa ng mga tao roon ang mga regalo nina Usman at Marwan, ayon kina Boyong Unggala at Farhannah Abdulkahar, dalawa sa 72,585 biktima ng giyera ni P’Noy buhat pa noong Pebrero 25. Nitong Marso 10-13, nadiskubre ng Suara Bangsamoro at Kawagib Moro Human Rights Alliance na nagkalat ang mga nilagas na dokumentong VFA at EDCA sa gubat kung saan nasawi ang 44 PNP pulis, 3 sibilyan, at 17 gerilya ng MILF at BIFF.

Nais ninyo ba ng makatwirang wakas? (tingnan ang Tagpo 5 & 7)
Nais ninyo ba ng balighong wakas? (tingnan ang Tagpo 4 & 9)
Samantala, nakipagkita ang Ombudsman sa isang sugo ni Putin sa Singapore at ibinalita na may “gantimpala” sina Heneral Catapang at Espina, pati na sina Mar Roxas at Sec. Leila de Lima, sa “fiasco” ng Wolverine/Exodus.

Sa Washington DC naman, binalak ni Obama na tawagan si P’Noy at ipahatid ang Congratulations ng FBI, Nais daw ng FBI na makapanood ng makulay na dulang “moro-moro”….

Samantala, nagpipista ang mga investors sa Wall Street na naglalaway sa pagbukas ng likas-yaman ng Mindanao na may halagang $840 bilyon-$1 trilyon sa mga korporasyong dayuhan, salamat sa napipintong kasunduang Bangsamoro Basic Law. Mabuhay ang mga “bayani” ng Mamasapano!


Kilalang kritiko at manlilikha sa larangang internasyonal, si E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
ay dating Fellow ng W.E. B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University at Humanities Center, Wesleyan Uniersity. Emeritus professor of English, Comparative Literature & Ethnic Studies, siya ay kasalukuyang fellow ng Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin.

Si San Juan ay awtor ng maraming libro, kabilang na ang Balikbayang Sinta: An E. San Juan Reader (Ateneo University Press), Sapagkat Iniibig Kita (University of the Philippines Press), Tinik sa Kaluluwa; Rizal In Our Time (Anvil Publishing), Alay Sa Paglikha ng Bukang-Liwayway (Ateneo University Press), Salud Algabre (University of San Agustin Publishing House), Balikbayang Mahal: Passages from Exile, Sutrang Kayumanggi & Bukas Luwalhating Kay Ganda (amazon.com), Ulikba (UST Publishing House) at Kundiman sa Gitna ng Karimlan (U.P. Press).

Inireprint kamakailan ng U.P. Press ang kalipunan ng mga panunuring pampanitikan niya. Toward a People’s Literature. Inilathala ng Lambert Academic Publishing Co., Saarbrucken, Germany, ang kanyang Critical Interventions: From Joyce and Ibsen to Peirce and Kingston, kasunod ng In the Wake of Terror (Lexington) at US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave).–###


ABU SAYYAF & BANGSAMORO STRUGGLE: Background to Mamasapano–E.San Juan, Jr.

Reflections on the Bangsamoro Struggle for Self-determination

[The 1789 Reign of Terror] is the rule of people who themselves are terror-stricken. Terror implies mostly useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves.

—Friedrich Engels, letter to March, 4 Sept. 1870 (Marx and Engels 1965)

Beginning January 2002, hundreds of U.S. Special Operations Forces have been stationed in the Southern Philippines as part of the US “global war against terror” after 9/11. This deployment was called “Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines,” part of the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. In October 2004, then President Bush singled out the Philippines as one front (the other two are Iraq and Afghanistan) in the US attempt to assert its hegemony in the Middle East, Asia, and throughout the world (Docena 2008).
Last October 2010, US Ambassador Harry Thomas flexed imperial muscles by demanding that the Philippines must eliminate, not just reduce in size, the Abu Sayyaf (ASG), a self-styled Islamic sect which is always linked to Osama bin Laden and the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) responsible for the Bali bombing in 2002 (Bloomberg 2010). In 2001 the ASG beheaded one of three American hostages seized from a Palawan resort, while in 2004 it bombed a passenger ferry on Manila Bay, killing over 100 people. Both groups are always connected with Al Qaeda. Thomas said that “we are at a critical threshold” and the US will continue to send military advisers and aid (such as 25,000 helmets and fast-deploying rubber boats, among others), “as part of its security engagement with Manila” (Agence France-Presse 2010). At the same time, Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin stated that there was no fixed time-table for the presence of US troops in the Philippines involved not only in military campaigns but also in”peace and development,” as verified by US undersecretary of State Wiliam Burns (Siam Daily News 2010). Based on photos taken by Agence France-Press of US troops entering combat zones riding Humvee armored jeeps fully armed, then Makati mayor Jejomar Binay commented that the Arroyo administration was “apparently subcontracting the job of leading the fight against Muslim insurgents to the Americans” (Tribune Online 8/16/2007).
Various websites have confirmed the active participation of the US military (roughly 580-620 members, as of 2009) in combat operations against the ASG and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) where 15 soldiers have already been killed, “including the ten who were lost in a 21002 helicopter crash” (Yon 2009). Civic projects (managed by US-AID and other agencies such as Military Information Support Teams) such as road building, schools, textbook distribution, medical programs, and information outreach, are accessories to the military and police operations, part of the twin policies of drying up the sanctuaries and killing or capturing the hardcore members of ASG.
A month before Thomas’ warning, the US and the Aquino regime staged a demonstration of the threat with the October 21 bombing in Matalam, North Cotabato, attributed to the JIL and a new terrorist sect called Jihadist Ulama intended to replace the ASG. Obviously this recurrent hype about security threats occurs every time there is a move to review the onerous Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a travesty of Philippine sovereignty which has kindled mass outrage. The latest attempt to amplify the panic is the US State Department’s attempt to tag remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as possible funding sources for the ASG. The Department’s October report cited the group’s appeal for funds via the Internet You Tube video of late ASG leaders Abdurajak and Khadaffy Janjalani (killed in 1998 and 2006, respectively) as its basis. No concrete evidence has been offered to substantiate the suspicion. This provides a ploy or ruse not only to renew the VFA but also for the US to intervene in the formal and informal banking and finance sectors of the country through which billion-dollar remittances are channeled to keep the local economy afloat (Esplanada 2010; Madlos 2010). One should also mention the widely publicized indictment of Filipino citizen Madhatta Haipe, allegedly a founding member of the ASG, in a Washington federal court. Extradited to the US in 2009, Haipe pleaded guilty to four counts of hostage taking in a 1995 abduction of 16 people, including 4 US citizens, near Lake Sebu, southern Mindanao (Inquirer 2010). What this bureaucratic legal exercise is meant to accomplish is clear: the Phiilippines is not a safe refuge for anyone who threatens to challenge the long tentacles of the imperial power of the United States.

US Caught In the Quagmire

A direct U.S. colony for about half a century, the Philippines remains a neocolonial formation, with a client collaborative regime (Petras 2007) subordinate to U.S. interests. This singular status of clientship or subordination is erased in current historiography. Consequently, the fallacy of treating the US and the Philippines as equal partners in inter-state relations results in gross misjudgments and absurd expectations.
The strategic US military bases in Clark and Subic Bay, Philippines, was evicted by the Philippine Senate in 1991. However, by virtue of the anomalous Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) signed by then President Estrada in 1999, the US succeeded in establishing a Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines in Camp Navarro, Zamboanga City, the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Western Mindanao Command. This allows the US to participate in counter-insurgency operations against the Moro fighters in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA), and factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that refused to accept the Arroyo regime. Both the NPA and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) are classified as “terrorist” organizations by the U.S. State Department.
For now, the ASG has become the target of US surveillance by unmanned spy planes (drones); this intelligence gathering directly aids in the AFP’s combat operations. In 2002, for example, a Moro peasant in Basilan suspected to be an ASG follower, Buyong-buyong Isnijal, was shot by US Sgt. Reggie Lane; no serious investigation was made about this incident despite a Congressional resolution. In Feb. 2008, one of the few survivors of the Maimbung massacre in Sulu, Sandrawina Wahid, witnessed US troops engaged in the Philippine military’s assault on the town where eight civilians were killed, including Rowina’s husband, two teenagers, two children, and a three-month pregnant woman. Another incident hit the headlines recently when a Philippine Army captain Javier Ignacio was killed while investigating the previous murder by US military personnel of a Filipino employee Gregan Cardeno. Hired by US company DynCorp International, Cardeno was assigned to the Liaison Coordination Element, a unit of the US military, based in Camp Ranao, Marawi City (Carol Araullo, “Streetwise,” Business World, 11-12 June 2010). The death of Cardeno exposed the clandestine unit engaged in work that appears in violation of Philippine laws and its sovereignty; the activities of DynCorp and other secret companies have likewise not been disclosed, contradicting the US Embassy claim that the US Special Forces are confined to openly conducted civic/humanitarian projects such as building roads, schools, etc.
On September 29, 2009, two American soldiers were killed by a landmine planted by the MNLF in Indanan, Jolo. These two are now considered the first casualties since the Balikatan exercises in 2001, although several US soldiers died in fighting in Sulu three or four years ago. This was a reprisal for the Philippine Marines’ bombing of Muslim devotees in religious rites on September 20 in the same town. A local observer, Prof. Julkipli Wadi noted that the US muted this incident to avoid jeopardizing its humanitarian stance. Wadi cites the October 2009 visit of US embassy officials to the MILF leadership in Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao, where these officials were lectured by the MILF deputy chieftain Ghazali Jaafar; according to Wadi, Jaafar told them that “Washington must help in the resolution of the Mindanao problem by addressing the root cause, which is political, emanating from the grant of US independence to the Philippines,” which “immorally and illegally incorporated the Bangsamoro homeland” (“US Strategic Avoidance,” MindNews, 20 October 2009). Wadi described US soldiers entrenching themselves in many parts of Zamboanga, Basilan, Jolo and parts of Tawi-Tawi, and asks “how long would US authorities pursue the policy of strategic avoidance by hiding under the veneer of counterinsurgency and war on international terrorism while entrenching deeper in the hinterlands and seas of the Sulu Archipelago without being known by the American public?” Obviously, aside from propping up the neocolonial Filipino elite and thus advancing its global geopolitical strategy, the US would like to take advantage of the natural and human resources of Mindanao and Sulu, and its ideal location as a springboard to intervention in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the whole of Indochina as a means of encircling China, their ultimate competitor.
Certainly, U.S. power and legitimacy or cultural authority are at stake. But the preponderant use of military power and logistics undermines any pretense of humanitarian motives. Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich reminds the US public that in 1903, Theodore Roosevelt ordered General Leonard Wood to pacify the Moro province, home to about 250,000 Filipino Muslims then. In March 1906, at Bud Dajo, Jolo, just to cite one incident, the American pacifiers killed 600 Muslims, including many women and children—a “disagreeable” by-product, what is called by the Pentagon “collateral damage” (“Caution: Moral Snares Ahead,” Los Angeles Times, 22 Jan., 2002). It is not just moral snare or hubris that explains this propensity to complacently offer thousands of human lives to the altar of Empire; it is the logic of capitalist expansion, the motor of profit gained from alienated labor/lives, that propels white supremacy and its civilizing mission—the hallmark of US imperial presence in Mindanao and Sulu, an an amoral hegemon whose crimes against humanity elude the MILF leaders, thus their naive plea to Washington to assist their cause by mediating the conflict between them and the Arroyo regime.
But there are other players in the scene, of course. In 1987, the Moro historian Samuel K. Tan expressed his belief that the national community remains divided between the Christian “national community” and what he calls the “cultural communities,” referring to the Moros and the non-Christian Lumads and Cordillera peoples. Is democracy coming to an end in the emergence of “a nation of multiple state-systems”? Tan is critical of the Christian sector’s drive to create a “Christian nation in Asia regardless of the implications to the cultural communities,” as evinced in the program to unite the Philippines on the basis of an ideological secular basis summed up in the slogan “one nation, one spirit” (1987, 72). What Tan ignores is that the secular neocolonial state as it has historically evolved cannot fully exercise its sovereignty over all the communities without the aid of US political, military and diplomatic assistance. It is indeed an instrument to foster global capitalism’s welfare. Moreover, the problem of unequal power is not primarily a question of culture but of control over resources and land, ultimately a question of political leadership and organization. In any case, the fate of the “three communities” is now a matter of international or global concern, as evidenced by the sordid plight of OFWs languishing in jails around the world and by Filipino progressives appealing to the UN Human Rights Council and the World Council of Churches on behalf of thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and a reign of impunity for crimes against humanity by the U.S.-funded military and police forces of the Arroyo regime and its oligarchic allies. Since the end of the Cold War, the upsurge of counterhegemonic forces against US imperial dominance in Asia, Africa and Latin America cannot be ignored or under-estimated.
At least since the Tripoli Agreement of 1976, the Moro struggle for autonomy or independence has become internationalized. With the entry of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference), the MNLF and MILF have become dependent on the mterial and political support of Islamic countries. The mediating roles of Indonesia and Malaysia as key members of the OIC need no further clarification. The preponderant US role remains ineluctable. What is occurring in the Philippines as an arena of class and national struggles should be analyzed in this historical geopolitical context to understand properly the significance of the Moro people’s struggle for self-determination.
In the last twenty years, particularly after the reinstatement of “elite democracy” with the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, the US re-asserted its total domination of the Philippines with the Aquino-Ramos regime. While Corazon Aquino’s “total war” on the Communist-led New People’s Army continued under U.S. direction (sanctioned by numerous treaties and executive agreements), the power of the nationalist movement since formal independence in 1946 demonstrated its subterranean force in the expulsion of the U.S. military bases in 1992. It was the loss of these bases that confronted US imperial planners, a loss immediately solved by means of the “Visiting Forces Agreement” initiated by Fidel Ramos, a general tutored by the Pentagon. But this agreement required justification or legitimacy, which explains the “Abu Sayyaf” phenomenon and the elaborate overt and covert intervention of the U.S.—directly, this time, via the Pentagon, US State Department (via US Embassy), US Institute of Peace, US-AID, and others (see Chaulia 2009)—in the initially secessionist/separatist insurgency led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Missing Link: CIA Frankenstein

What is most intriguing is the persistence of the “Abu Sayyaf” (ASG) terrorist group as an integral part of an expanding US military presence in the Philippines. Not a day passes when somewhere a news report of the Abu Sayyaf is found with always a mention of its Al-Qaida link, origin, or connection. For example, the Feb. 2005 BBC “Guide to the Philippine conflict” lists down the MNLF, MILF, the NPA, and the Abu Sayyaf as the “main rebel factions” in Mindanao. It recites the oft-repeated factoids: The ASG split off from the MNLF in 1991 under the leadership of Abdurajik Janjalani (killed in December 1998), succeeded by his less doctrine-driven brother Khadafi Janjalani, whose death in September 2006 precipitated the disintegration of the group into multiple factions. From a thousand combatants in the beginning, it has shrunk to 400 or less members
Given its record of kidnapping-for-ransom, massacres, and bombings (often mentioned is the October 2004 bombing of the Superferry 14 in Manila Bay, with 116 people killed, the ASG has acquired a high-profile “terrorist” aura. The kidnappings in Sipadan, Malaysia, in April 2000 and the May 2001 raid on a Palawan resort and the subsequent rescue of Grace Burnham, catapulted the group into the status of media celebrity. Meanwhile, the Al-Qaida connection has been reinforced by association with the Indonesian group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) noted for the 2002 Bali carnage. The April 13, 2010 raid in Isabela, Basilan, by ASG members disguised as police commandos, led by Puruji Indama, revitalized its 2 decades of deadly mayhem.
All accounts agree about the origin of the ASG in the US Central Intelligence Agency ‘s (CIA) role in training mujahideens from various countries to fight the US proxy war in Aghanistan against the Soviets (1979-1989). In May 2008, Senator Aquilino Pimentel described the ASG a “CIA monster” trained by AFP officers in the southern Philippines and directed by informers/spies such as its former leader Edwin Angeles (Santuario 2009). In his book Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, American and International Terrorism, Jon K. Cooley documented the CIA training and funding of the ASG—freedom-fighters such as Osama bin Laden engaged in jihad against the communist infidel—around 1986 in Peshawar, Pakistan; one of the veterans was Abdurajak Janjalani (Santuario 2009; Bengwayan 2002). Accordingly, Prof. Mahmood Mamdani of Columbia University calls the CIA-created ASG and bin Laden’s followers as “alternatives to secular nationalism,” and fundamentalist terrorism as an integral modern project, for which US imperial aggression around the world is chiefly responsible (2002).
A recent writeup of this “al-Qaida-linked extremist group” now claims that its present leader, Khair Mundus, has been receiving funds from Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. It is alleged that he once transferred these funds to Khadaffy Janjalani in 2001-2003. No less than the US State Department alleges that Mundus, while in police custody in 2004, “confessed to having arranged the transfer of al-Qiada funds to an ASG chief to finance bombings and other attacks” (“Abu Sayyaf faction,” GMANews.TV). The US is offering half-a-million dollars for the arrest of this ideologically inspired agent. The Basilan-based group has supposedly given sanctuary to Dulmatin, a key suspect in the Bali carnage, hence the interest of the US State Department (which explains why he has been reported killed several times). Aside from Mundus and Dulmatin, another Bali bomber Umar Patek has been tagged by the US-funded Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research as operating in Tawi-Tawi province (ABS-CBNNews.com 2010).
Since Abdurajak Janjalani’s death, the group has lost interest in Islamic goals and degenerated into banditry and “high impact terrorist activities.” But Mundus is trying to revive its Islamic evangelism and unite the factions spread out in Basilan, Sulu and Zamboanga, influencing even Puruji Indama, the guerilla blamed for the brutal beheading of 10 marines in a 2007 encounter in Basilan. A clear tendency of the media propaganda machine has emerged to infuse ideological and political substance to the ASG which, since at least 1998, has simply become a criminal outfit for easy containment by the local police, not by the heavily armed US Special Forces with technologically sophisticated spy equipment and drones. The journalists Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria named Gen. Guillermo Ruiz, former Marine commander and police officials Leandro Mendoza and Rodolfo Mendoza as coddlers/patrons of the ASG (Bengwayan 2002).
Anatomy of a Faction

Clearly, without the presence of this group with its flagrant, highly visible kidnappings and bombings, the rationale for US military intervention would lose credibility. It is not secret that the AFP, so much dependent on US Pentagon logistics and equipment, would not really be able to challenge the NPA, its perennial military target, as long as the political, economic and social conditions warrant its existence. US geopolitical strategy for maintaining hegemony in Asia and around the world requires its presence in the Philippines, hence the need for ASG’s terrorist identity and anti-people behavior.
We can learn more about US ideological rationale from a U.S.Institute of Peace academic expert Zachary Abuza’s recent summing-up in response to the April 13 raid on Isabela City, the capital of the island province of Basilan. Abuza rehearses the founder’s past as an Afghan mujahidin and the founding of the group in 1991 “with al-Qa’ida seed money” (Abuza 2010, 11). Muhammad Jamal Khalifa, an Osama bin Laden connection, and Ramzi Yousef, famous for plotting the bombing of multiple commercial airliners, are mentioned to reinforce its international terrorist standing. ASG orientation changed from being sectarian (1991-1996) to being purely monetary (2000-2001), with over 140 hostages (16 of whom were killed) ranging from Western tourists, school children, priests and ordinary people.
Clearly the ASG will never disappear, if not in reality at least in the media. In 2003-2004, with leaders Abu Sabaya and Ghalib Andang killed (followed by Abu Solaiman in January 2007), ASG is tied with the Indonesian terrorist JI as well as with Malaysian terrorists. It is at this point that the ASG becomes more frequently associated with the MILF which employs the ASG for bombing campaigns and also for infiltrating the Sulu archipelago, mostly controlled by the Tausug-dominaed MNLF. Despite the loss of its leaders (the latest being Albader Parad), the ASG keeps coming back like a hydra-headed monster, almost chameolonic too in adapting to changing environments. Its public face will metamorphose or metastize relative to the two main groups, the MNLF and MILF.
The latest attempt to spread the ASG contagion to other parties in the region may be gleaned from Abuza’s claim that the ASG has recruited new combatants from the MNLF under Habier Malik in March 2007. But the bombings and kidnappings did not subside in 2008-2009, with two US soldiers killed in the 2009 Jolo bombing. Philippine generals and Marine commanders all concur that the ASG has been decapitated and falling apart, even while attacks are continuing. A new line is being established: the Pakistani connection. One Abdulabasit Usman was killed by a U.S. drone attack in Waziristan, the Afghan-Pakistan border. This Usman is suspected to be a member of the MILP, the JI, ASG, and also “an independent gun for hire.” Abuza nonetheless states as a fact that “What is clear is that he worked at times as a bomber and trainer for both the ASG and MILF.” Thus linkages are at first hypothesized, posited, and then simply asserted as a factoid for the record.
The death of Dulmatin occasions the suspicion that al-Qai’da in Malaysia and Aceh are using the ASG and the MILF as channels connecting Arab militants and South Asian (Pakistan and Afghanistan) fighters with southeast Asian organizations. In any case, the ASG and MILF are now interwoven with Al-Qai’da operations in the Indonesian-Malaysian region. The MILF has been accused of harboring Rajah Solaiman (recently labeled “terrorist” by the US State Department), Pentagon Gang and JI terrorist agents. Jihadist violence and criminal kidnapping-for-ransom characterize ASG with close working relations with the MILF and disaffected elements of the MNLF. Abuza concludes that despite its successes, the “Philippine military does not appear to have the capacity nor the will to finish the job militarily, and the government’s refusal to develop a holistic peace process in the southern Philippines….will continue to support the ASG’s ranks” (2010, 13). The unstated implication is that US military intervention to advance its own strategic geopolitical-cum-economic interest, cannot be given up lest the whole battlefront is lost to anti-systemic Islamic-led extremism. Meanwhile, Ibrahim Murad of the IMLF warned last August that US troops’ sojourn in Mindanao “only complicates the situation. They are just simply justifying their presence for terrorist elements” (News Essentials 2010).

Provisional Inventory

What is the situation now after 13 years of GRP-MILF peace talks? Let me provide a drastic schematic framework within which to view the current impasse affecting at least 6-9 million Muslims (10% of the total population) in over 700 villages, mainly within the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The 2008 agreement between the GRP and MILF was scrapped in 2008 as “unconstitutional.” The MNLF is deeply factionalized, with Misuari still in jail. From its official emergence in Nov. 14, 1972, immediately after Marcos’ declaration of martial law, to Dec. 1976, with the signing of the Tripoli Agreement, and its final actualization in the 1996 peace agreement between Fidel Ramos and Nur Misuari, the MNLF (with 30,000 fighters in 1973-75) seems to have wasted its decades of lessons and experience. Misuari’s arrest after the failed Jolo and Zamboanga rebellion in Nov. 2001 may lead to the gradual exodus of his followers into the camps of the MILF, the ASG, or even government fronts. Meanwhile, splitting from the MNLF in 1977, the MILF pursued the armed struggle under Hashim Salamat as “jihad fi sabilillah (struggle in the way of Allah)—a sectarian, fundamentalist trend which runs immanent in the peace negotiations with the Arroyo regime (Klitzsch 2009). The peace agreement signed on May 7, 2002, with Arroyo culminated in the Memorandum of Agreement on “Ancestral Domain” (MOA-AD) and the issue of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (JEC), which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008. Now, the March peace talks in Kuala Lumpur witnessed a controversy over the use of the Philippine Constitution and the Republic’s jurisprudence as the existing legal framework (requiring amendment) for a revised peace agreement (Balana 2010; Rosauro 2010). The resort to the internationalist idiom of “self-determination” (with its Wilsonian, not Leninist precedents) does not guarantee actual political/military control over territory and natural resources if it conflicts with the overarching sovereignty of the neocolonial State. Misuari’s experience in administering the ARMN fully bears this out (Dela Cruz 2006).
Given the severely uneven development of the region, diverse class and sectoral interests are involved. The Lumads or indigenous ethnic communities have recently mobilized. The hostility of the Christian landlords, business, comprador, and foreign corporate fronts in Mindanao rests on varied grounds, some diehard and some amenable to compromise. The present regime speaks of course for the US/Washington Consensus, for global capital and transnational corporate interests and their local allies, so that unless the MILF addresses this structural and institutional constraints, the iniquitous status quo will not be altered in any substantial or meaningful way so as to improve the material lives of the Moro masses, not to speak of the Lumads and other indigenous communities.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding the mobilization of 10,000 armed combatants and several thousand partisans, MILF ascendancy remains contested, hence their wobbly diplomatic stance. Overall, the primary cause for persisting armed confrontations is the absence of any hegemonic (intellectual and moral leadership, in Gramsci’s sense) power in Mindanao as a whole, though the MNLF once enjoyed such in the Tausug homeland of Sulu. The MILF has suffered from a marked opportunism, as evidenced in Salamat’s January 2003 letter to George Bush “seeking his good offices,” and the MILF’s assent to allowing the US Institute of Peace (USIP) to intervene. In fact, by June 2003, the US State Department laid down its policies for the GRP-MILF peace negotiations. USIP Philippine Facilitation Project Executive Director Eugene Martin’s explanation for US involvement deserves to be quoted here:

The continued conflict was seen as a source of not only domestic instability but a potential threat regionally and even globally. As such, it became part of the war on terror, although the MILF is not considered a terrorist organization. Increased military assistance to the AFP and joint exercises, like Balikatan, were focused on helping the AFP be more professional and effective against designated terrorist groups such as the NDF and the Abu Sayyaf Group (quoted in Santos 2005, 100).

Martin acknowledges that the conflict cannot be solved “by purely military means,” so he cites the underlying causes—poverty, lack of development and education, and displacement of Muslims from ancestral lands—as the reason why the US is involved. This of course does not overshadow the main concern, “the war on terror.” Unlike other commentators, Martin does not neglect naming the NDF together with the ASG as “terrorist organizations.”
In terms of profit-centered Realpolitik, US interest in the Moro insurgents is designed to coopt this force as much as possible and manipulate it for geopolitical ends. This does not preclude its purpose of serving as a pretext or cover for preparing the ground in suppressing the NDF/NPA as well as the possibly more dangerous Indonesian and Malaysian affiliates of al-Qaida/Osama bin Laden. Aside from USIP ideological and political input, the US has made overtures to the MILF leadership on the possibility of using MILF “ancestral domain” for military bases, to which the MILF leadership replied that “everything is negotiable.” Astrid Tuminez (2008), a USIP operative, confirms the US focus on Mindanao as a new “Mecca of terrorism,” a half-concealed rationale which thus legitimizes the thorough involvement of the US government in the current peace talks as well as the regular “Balikatan” war exercises and civic-action activities of the US military contingent in the Philippines.

Never Again “Benevolent Assimilation”

US dominance, both political, military and ideological, cannot be discounted. Even those who purport to be neutral or well-intentioned observers succumb to the fallacy of believing the US a neutral or benevolent mediator in the conflict. In his book, Dynamics and Directions of the Grp-MILF Peace Negotiations (2005) that Soliman Santos Jr., for example, naively claims “that US clout can play a positive role as guarantor of a just and lasting peace agreement” even as he admits that for the US the global war on terrorism is its chief concern.
Terrorism, die-hard separatism, is not necessarily the polar opposite of compromise and bargaining with the Arroyo regime for temporary concessions. Like the MNLF, the MILG knows that it cannot win solely by military means. With the realization that conventional warfare is not feasible to advance a separatist project of full independence, esp. with the loss of fixed camps (first, the Abubakar camp and then the Buliok Complex) and millions of their followers displaced and reduced to refugees, the MILF has shifted to a pragmatic, if somewhat opportunist, mode of diplomacy. While the aim of Islamization seems to persist as a cultural identity brand, despite the passing of Hashim Salamat and his adherence to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s doctrine of jihadism {Klitzsch has ably documented this genealogy of Salamat’s thinking), I think the present MILF leadership has realized that they cannot deliver immediate benefits to its ranks and the popular base unless some gains in the diplomatic/legal front are achieved. While Islamism (jihadist or merely didactic) appeases those militants vulnerable to the ASG appeal, the need to produce material rewards is urgent lest the mass base turn to the MNLF or, even worse, the traditional Moro oligarchy. The tactical changes may be discerned in the 2004 statement by the MILFG Peace Panel Advisor that the MILF “strives for a ‘political solution’—‘neither full independence nor autonomy, ‘but ‘somewhere in between’ “ (quoted in Klitzsch 2009, 166). Murad Ebrahim was also quoted in saying that the territory they will administer as BJE will be “governed with Islamic precepts” (Robles 2010). Of course, these may just be propaganda ploys or publicity subterfuge.
Varying commentaries on the conflict register as symptoms of disparate theoretical frameworks and axiomatic paradigms. The common error of mainstream academic scholarship, as well as media punditry, in this matter—i.e. the failure to locate the Moro struggle within the US global strategy to maintain its imperial hegemony—stems, of course, from either deliberate advocacy for neoliberal free-market worldview, or from misguided naivete. The shift of the intellectual paradigm from leftist or progressive historicist views to narrow empiricist and even eclectic postmodernist stances may be perceived in a recent volume edited by Patricio N. Abinales and Nathan Gilbert Quimpo. With the single exception of Herbert Docena’s effort to document active U.S. military collaboration in the war against the Moro insurgents, the contributors range from the narrow “all politics is local” stance of Abinales to Quimpo’s endorsement of the view that the situation in the southern Philippines is a product of internal causes, with the US as peripheral or not centrally involved. Quimpo chimes in with Establishment voices that welcome US intervention. Quimpo harps on the bossist, “patrimonial and ethnocratic” Philippine state, as though it had no historical genealogy or political provenance in US colonial and neocolonial control of the country. He even laments that the US has not addressed the corruption endemic to a patrimonial state. Quimpo believes that the USIP is “an independent federal institution” (2008, 189), while the cynical Abinales celebrates “the fading away of the US in the postauthoritarian scene” pervaded by globalization anomie (2008, 199).
In general, the prospect seems bleak to Quimpo and his associates. In his detailed description of the ASG included in the volume, the military-affiliated academic Rommel Banlaoi dismisses the solid, irrefutable findings of the 2002 International Peace Mission published in their report, “Basilan: The Next Afghanistan?” that the ASG is basically the product of local political and social conditions, in a U.S.neocolony. This judgment has been meticulously supported by a rich trove of stories, interviews, and textured accounts of the ASG’s symbiotic ties with the military, local politicians, and government bureaucracy in many books published since the ASG appeared, among them Marites Danguilan Vitug and Glenda Gloria’s Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao (2000).
While recognizing that the ASG and other groups are struggling to solve structural inequity and injustice, as well as cultural discrimination and the loss of sovereignty, Banloai’s recommendation is to improve governance into one “more transparent, accountable, responsive and participatory.” (2008, 145). Meanwhile, Kit Collier rejects the primordialist analysis for a more instrumental, postmodernist approach, which uses an ethnographic phenomenological method similar to the anthropologist Frake’s picture of a contested, ambiguous, invented identity of the ASG combatant (see Frake 1998; and my critique in San Juan 2007). All deflect attention away from the larger global context of US re-tooling of imperial hegemony in the wake of the end of the Cold War and, in particular, the post-9/11 “global war on terrorism” launched by George W. Bush and carried on by Barack Obama.

Toward Historical Dialectics

A more serious endeavor to grapple with the vast historical and political landscape into which the Moro struggle is inscribed, is the volume The Moro Reader (2008) published by CENPEG. The volume correctly defines the subordinate role of the Philippine nation-state to the US and its neoliberal program of globalization. What is missing is further elaboration of the concept of “ancestral domain” and the abstract “right of self-determination” within a rigorous historical-materialist analytic. I venture a preliminary clearing of the stage for such an inquiry with a few general propositions/theses.
Only a general review of what is needed can be made here.While I myself (San Juan 2007) have previously endorsed the fundamental imperative of solidarity with the Moro aspiration for independence and separation from the neocolonial domination of the oligarchic landlord-comprador ruling bloc, I would like to reformulate my views in light of the more pronounced MILF ideological doctrine of Islamic evangelical confrontation with the West (deriving either from Egyptian or Saudi Arabian traditions). A theoretical reframing is in order.
Progressive activists need to take into account the primacy given by the MILF and the ASG to Islamization and the project of an Islamic state patterned after Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt and other Arab countries. Unlike the MNLF program, the MILH (to my knowledge) has not come up with a thorough analysis of Manila/Christian colonialism, nor its dependence on the imperial US patron, despite its denunciation of settler greed, injustice, ethnic discrimination, etc. To my knowledge (I stand corrected), the MILF has no anti-systemic (anti-capitalist) policy or operational ideal functioning at present. The marginalization of the secularly-oriented MNLF and the outright rejection of Marxist and other socialist-oriented revolutionary ideas aiming for a class-less society is symptomatic of a retrograde impulse influencing the actual tactics and strategy for autonomy. Some have noted the separatist motivation of the Bangsamoro nation to encourage the development of an autocratic, tributary and highly hierarchical sociopolitical formation. “Self-determination” cannot be an absolute principle but must always be historicized and dialectically apprehended within the manifold determinations of social historical development of specific formations within a global context. Can we envisage a popular, democratic civil society/public sphere flourishing within the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity?
Of course, the everyday practice of Moro militants yields a rich complex of data for formulating hypothesis and theoretical propositions that may engender a socialist-democratic ethos. Since culture is a creative process, such is theoretically possible. But empirical data cannot substitute for a valid theoretical framework. I agree with Kenneth Bauzon (2008) that the current conjuncture has to be read within the framework of a resurgent neoliberal restructuring of global capitalism. This is occurring within the US hegemonic “crusade” against Islamic fundamentalism, or violent extremism, itself framed by the neoconservative Huntingtonian paradigm of the “clash of civilizations.” This culturalist interpretation obviates any structural or systemic critique. This is why the understanding and theorization of terrorism as a political phenomenon is also superficial, misleading, and tendentious. It acquires a life of its own divorced from the analysis of dynamic political forces (for example, the antagonism between capital and labor) and their specific agendas and long-range platforms.
Terrorism becomes a political and moral issue when the political group using it adopts a subjectivist mode of imposing its will on the masses. When Marx objected to the Jacobin use of the guillotine as a tactic to impose bourgeois interests on everyone, instead of developing it within the given conditions, he was objecting to this means of enforcing the interests of a particular group/class on the whole society. In opposing the conspiratorial terrorism of utopian socialists and anarchists, Marx argued his dialectical stand that “socialist revolution must develop from within the given social relations and must be directed to the establishment of universal interests’”(Hansen 1977, 102-103)—the revolutionary process, in short, is not superadded but inheres within the existing nexus of sociopolitical relations. Critical analysis of the interaction between the collective actors and their changing sociopolitical environment is needed, together with constant appraisals of the direction of the changes of both subject and object of the field of conflict, to ascertain what can be changed and what cannot—the possibilities and limits of radical historical transformation in the multi-layered Philippine setting.
In this context, the MILF goal of claiming the sovereign power of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity to rule over “ancestral domain” has been promoted through both conventional war and terrorist tactics (as evidenced by links with Jemaah Islamiya, ASG, and others). Forced to renounce publicly their connections with such groups, Salamat and the MILF leadership has to resort to the OIC and the US to enhance its status as a legitimate political party. Nonetheless, their supreme goal is no longer secession or a separate independent state, but political power over a definite territory and its inhabitants via combination of force and diplomacy. Essentially, it is an attempt to universalize the Will of a political party—the agent of historical change–that claims to represent the whole Moro peoples (across ethnic and class divisions). Now the reality is that any revolutionary party with a democratic-popular orientation has to take into account the social-economic reality and the political alignment of forces both within the Philippines, the southeast Asian region, and within the capitalist world-order (global war on terror by the US-led bloc, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, etc. against Iraq, Aghanistan, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and other nation-states).
Ultimately, the Moro rebellion has to confront the power of global capital (at present led by the US power bloc) as the enemy of genuine Moro sovereignty, freedom and progress in a planetary habitat of peoples with diverse cultures, religions, histories, and aspirations.

Self-Determination as Means or End-In-Itself?

The ultimate goal of self-determination cannot be attained simply by fiat, of course, but by a revolutionary program of rejecting colonial occupation and imperialist domination. The MILF rejects the Manila/Christian state and its military forces and affirms its subjective identity (as the MNLF did in opposing Marcos and its US patron). However, the MILF does not mediate its self-proclaimed Islamic identity by the otherness (the concrete social context of a secular world of commodity-relations) in which it finds itself. Hence, it imposes on its mass base a view absorbed from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic centers while paying lip-service to the history of the anti-colonial struggles of Moros as a whole. It is thus caught in a unity of contradictions. “Ancestral domain” tends to be fetishized in its purely Islamic heritage. An abstract self-affirmation of Islamic identity (to distinguish it from Christian/Western others) remains subjectivist/voluntarist as well as philosophical/idealist, susceptible to terrorist realization. Its obverse is the positivist or pragmatic dependence on the OIC, the US, and other sponsors that it calculates will advance its self-identified agenda, given the current volatile contingencies.
From a dialectical stance, the only way to resolve the contradiction between the subjectivist/voluntarist Islamic self-identification of the MILF and its objectivist/pragmatist resort to US/OIC determinants, is to analyse the nature of the unity of these abstract opposites. In other words, the way to resolve the contradictions is by way of discovering the universal logic/principle underlying the project of revolutionary action, assuming that the MILF is engaged in a revolutionary project of emancipation of the Moro people’s potential for expressing its full humanity with others in the world. The past and the present will have to coalesce to shape the historical agent of change whose interests are not particular but universal, the interest of all members of the given society. The search for the revolutionary class or agent which, from the beginning, is the necessary condition of the present—that agent which will bring the future to the present because of its past—is not a theoretical problem but a practical one: “It is a problem of the unity of theory and practice, the co-determining conditions of which are in the present because of the past. Consequently, whereas the subjectivist [terrorist] desires the restoration of the past by means of externalizing a particular subjectivity, the revolutionary needs revolution to realize what is already given in the present through the past” (Hansen 1977, 108). Hence the revolutionary agent does not force onto people a particular view because his view is already present (though occluded or suppressed) in the existing reality.

In Quest of Critical Universality

From a radical-democratic standpoint, the crucial question then is: what is in the existing reality that needs to be released or brought to self-realization? What is that emerging universal within the historical present? To answer this, one needs to critique the total situation to move beyond the abstract subjectivist/voluntarist position and the positivist/determinist one. One needs to achieve a concrete dialectical comprehension of the whole global capitalist totality. To grasp the concrete universal immanent in the historical conjuncture, one needs to generalize the unique condition of the Moro peoples so as to get beyond the particularity that imperialism/capitalism has imposed on it. Capitalism is precisely what enables particularism in social relations and conflicts arising from this, so that the elimination of distinctions cannot be carried out by presupposing differences (cultural or religious values, for example) without unity.
One manifestation of such a unity is perhaps what Muslim historian-philosopher Cesar Majul had in mind when, at the end of his scholarly history of the Moro sultanates and the Moro Wars, he proposed that the Muslim struggle should “be considered part of the heritage of the Filipino people in the history of their struggle for freedom…part of the struggle of the entire nation” (1999, 410). If the surveys are to be believed, more Filipinos now than before (63% in 2005, compared to 43% in 2002) are sympathetic to the Moro struggle for their right to govern themselves (Robles 2010).
We are not proposing pluralism or status quo multiculturalism, a bazaar of affective flux and performative gestures, either corporate liberalism or individualist libertarianism, both apparent opposites concretizing the ideology of bourgeois society based on the division of labor and its attendant disparities in the distribution of power and resources. What we are proposing is to free ourselves from this enslaving ideology that teaches the idea that authentic self-expression (or, by extension, national self-determination) depends on an abstract property which guarantees authenticity, freedom, fulfillment. In short, we are searching for the politicized, active mass base of the Moro revolution that will universalize its goals by a thorough critique of global capitalism (led by the US imperial power) and, in the process, forge organic solidarity with the entire Filipino people struggling for democratic socialism. Such a critical universality will resolve the contradictions between subjectivism and objectivism I have outlined earlier.
As of now, such a critical universality is absent. One sign is the lack of a critique of the Moro dynasties and clans and the property relations characterizing the everyday experience of the Moro peasants, women, workers, youth (Wadi 2008), or of the prison conditions afflicting Moros in Camp Bagong Diwa (Vargas 2005), not to speak of taking cognizance of analogous Lumad demands for self-determination over ancestral domains (for Lumad aspirations, see Rodil 1993). A way of revising the deployment of the principle of self-determination is proposed by Talal Asad by distinguishing between the concept of Arab nationalism and a classical Islamism that contains an element of “critical universality” by an implicit critique of the secular bourgeois nation-state. It is necessary to define the narrow bourgeois nation-state parameters into which the Bangsamoro nation is being confined. Asad observes:
The fact that the expression umma ‘arabiyya is used today to denote the “Arab nation” represents a major conceptual transformation by which umma is cut off from the theological predicates that gave it its universalizing power and is made to stand for an imagined community that is equivalent to a total political society, limited and sovereign like other limited and sovereign nations in a secular (social) world. The ummatu-l-muslimin (the Islamic umma) is ideologically not “a society” onto which state, economy, and religion can be mapped. It is neither limited nor sovereign, for unlike Arab nationalism’s notion of al-umma-al-arabiyya, it can and should embrace all of humanity….The main point I underline here is that Islamism’s preoccupation with state power is the result not of its commitment to nationalist ideas but of the modern nation-state’s enforced claim to constitute social identities and arenas (2003, 197-98, 200).

One inspiring sign of “critical universality” may be found in the MNLF’s participation in the 1981 Permanent People’s Tribunal and its solidarity with the NDF and other forces in opposing US imperialism. At present, it is difficult to say whether the MILF recognizes the need to achieve a “critical universality” (Lowy 1998, 78) in its program, policies, and diplomatic positions. In my view, subject to the pressures and exigencies of every phase in its negotiations with the GRP and relations with the OIC and the US, the alternating options of subjectivist/voluntarist and objectivist/pragmatist handling of the struggle distinguish the MILF record so far. With unpredictable dynamic changes in the Islamic world vis-à-vis the US, the internal antagonisms in the OIC and its relations with other blocs (Europe, Russia, China), and the advance of the national-democratic forces in the Philippines, it is not impossible that the succeeding generation of leaders and rank-and-file militants will respond to the need for articulating that critical universality without which the revolutionary project of collective emancipation will remain doomed to repeat the horrors of the past and miseries of the present.

The Prospectt Before Us

The Moro people’s struggle in the Philippines for national self-determination has placed under critical interrogation the hallowed theories of cultural pluralism, liberal tolerance, and muticulturalism that continue to legitimize the domination of diverse ethnic groups under elite control in contemporary Filipino society. Bourgeois political norms and laws have led since colonial times to the severe dispossession, exclusion, and utter impoverishment of the Moro people as a distinct historical community united under Islamic faith and an uninterrupted history of preserving its relative autonomy through various modes (collective, familial, personal) of anticolonial resistance. Since the Spanish (1621-1898) and American colonial period (1899-1946) up to the present Arroyo government’s neocolonial polity subservient to U.S. hegemony, the Moro people have suffered national, class, and religious oppression. The Moro insurgents are labeled “terrorists” and stigmatized daily by the media, schools, Christian churches, and international business. They tend to be lumped with the Abu Sayyaf bandits, wholly a product of gangsterism involving the military, police, local officials, and the central government bureaucracy. It is the obligation of Filipino Marxists and progressive organizations around the world to recognize the Moro people’s right to self-determination and offer solidarity. In my book US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (2007), I have tried to express this solidarity by a preliminary critique of neoliberal ideology, including sectarian ultra-leftism, that apologizes for, and foments overtly and covertly, the genocidal wars currently raging in the Moro homelands of southern Philippines. This paper is an attempt to explore the theoretical and practical limits of “self-determination” as a political strategy when, in this specific conjuncture, U.S. imperial manipulations are defining this Wilsonian principle for its own hegemonic interests. I propose that a historical-materialist socialist perspective (following Lenin’s use of the principle of the right of nations to self-determination), with modifications as suggested by Talal Asad, be pursued and developed in the light of the singular historical circumstances of the BangsaMoro struggle against local compradors, landlords, and bureaucrat-capitalists allied with the U.S. imperial hegemon and its transnational criminal accomplices. At the least, we need to pursue the ideals of justice and principled solidarity with all oppressed peoples who have long been victimized by global capitalism and the neoliberal market in the name of the global North’s deadly ideas of freedom, democracy, and cosmopolitan progress.


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ABSTRACT: The December 2010 indictment in a Washington federal court of the Filipino citizen Madhatta Haipe, presumed a charter member of the Abu Sayyaf Islamic separatist group in the Philippines, demonstrates the United States’ strategic drive to criminalize the struggle of the Moro peoples. Without analyzing the manifold context of “terrorism” as a socio-historical symptom of injustice and inequality, the U.S. persists in trying to delegitimize the Bangsa Moro demand for self-determination. Working through Filipino neocolonial instrumentalities, the US and its local elite agents attempt to convert age-old class, racial and ethnic conflicts into a discourse of war between civilizational/religious forces (Christianity versus Islam), or a war between extremists and civil society. Mixing propaganda of Cold War vintage and neoliberal globalization rhetoric, the Global North’s hegemonic power finds a way to resolve its accumulation crisis by intensifying ideological schisms that reproduce genocidal oppression and indiscriminate violence. Meanwhile, the Moro people’s struggle for autonomy and sovereignty, for equality and independence, continues to serve as a challenge and crucible for the U.S. reassertion of its imperial “Manifest Destiny” in Southeast Asia. In the context of the renewed negotiations between the government headed by newly-elected President Benigno Aquino Jr. and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, this essay re-examines the concept of self-determination from the viewpoint of critical universality and materialist dialectics.–##




E. San Juan, Jr.,

Professorial Lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines



Based on research in the unpublished papers of Sanora Babb at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, this essay uncovers new information about Bulosan’s relations with Sanora and her sister Dorothy Babb, the two American women who virtually “made” him into a writer. Given his intimacy with both women, active in leftwing and Communist Party activities in Los Angeles during the formative years of Bulosan’s life, as well as his association with leftist union leaders in Seattle, Bulosan’s radical affiliations are no longer in doubt, even without FBI documentation. Apocryphal Bulosan manuscripts such as All the Conspirators are bound to emerge since the whole colonial and neocolonial contexts of Bulosan’s genealogy are usually ignored by those applying an immigrant-success-story framework (practically all would-be Bulosan experts). Hence the need to revalidate shift the focus on his full-length novel The Cry and the Dedication and his links with Amado V. Hernandez and the progressive national-popular movement (Huks) in the Philippines as a U.S. colony and neocolony.

Framework of intelligibility for Bulosan’s ethico-political project, Immigrant assimilationist paradigm in Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies,
Sanora Babb archive – Harry Ransom Center Library at the University of Texas,
U.S.-Philippine colonial and neocolonial relations

About the author
E. San Juan, Jr. is emeritus professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Ethnic Studies from several U.S. universities. He was recently Harry Ransom Center Research Fellow, University of Texas, Austin; previously, he was a fellow of the W.E. B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University; and Fulbright professor of American Studies, Leuven University, Belgium. His recent books are In the Wake of Terror: Class, Race, Nation and Ethnicity in the Postmodern World (Lexington Books); Critique and Social Transformation (Mellen); From Globalization to National Liberation (U of the .Philippines. PressP), and Critical Interventions: From Joyce and Ibsen to C.S. Peirce and Maxine Hong Kingston (Saarbrucken, Germany: Lambert). He just published a revised edition of Sisa’s Vengeance (create-space; amazon.com) and two collections of poetry in Filipino: Ulikba (U of Santo Tomas Pub.lishing House) and Kundiman sa Gitna ng Karimlan (U Uof the .Philippines P. Press).

Numerous Filipino-American organizations in California celebrated the signing of Assembly Bill 123 by Governor Jerry Brown on 2 Oct. 2,ober 2013. Sponsored by Rep. Rob Bonta, the bill required the State curriculum to include the contributions of Filipino-Americans to the labor movement. Without legislative action, the role of Filipino farmworkers in social change would languish in oblivion. Rep. Bonta’s gesture is one sign of the attempt to remedy the historical amnesia suffered by the whole community since the demise of the anti-U.S.-Marcos dictatorship movement (1972-1986) and, coeval with the civil-rights crusade, the triumph of white-supremacist neoconservatism and authoritarian neoliberalism.
Few survivors of that epoch can recall the unswerving itinerary of racial and national awakening. One decisive event resurrected the “forgotten” Manongs. Led by Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, the 1965 Delano Grape Strike sparked the radicalization of young Filipino-Americans first mobilized by the civil-rights and anti-Vietnam war struggles. By the early seventies, the second generation of Filipinos born before and after World War II had discovered the writings of Carlos Bulosan. In turn Bulosan led them to Andres Bonifacio, Rizal and the 1896 revolution against Spain up to Macario Sakay, the Colorums and Sakdalistas, Luis Taruc and the Huk rebellion. In the process they encountered the essays of Renato Constantino and Jose Maria Sison, and the works of Amado V. Hernandez and other “subversive” artists.
In due course, Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart, long out of print since 1946, was reprinted in 1973 with a memorable introduction by Carey McWilliams, a friend of Bulosan and a well-known labor historian. It has since become a canonical “required reading” in literature courses. The first substantial collection of Bulosan’s writings appeared as a special issue of Amerasia Journal (Vol.ume 6, No. 1) in May 1979, followed in 1995 by my edition of the writings in On Becoming Filipino and the major novel The Cry and the Dedication, both published by Temple University Press. A collection of hitherto unpublished stories by Bulosan which I edited, entitled The Philippines Is in the Heart, was published by New Day Publishers, Quezon City, in 1978 (soon to be reissued by University of San Agustin Press, Iloilo, Philippines).
Over 41 years now have passed since my book Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle was published in 1972 by the University of the Philippines Press, a few weeks before Marcos declared martial law. It escaped the dictator’s censorship, blessed by the patronage of Dr. Salvador P. Lopez, then president of the University of the Philippines. Lopez is by consensus the major progressive critic of the Philippine Commonwealth and the prime moving spirit behind the Philippine Writers League. Since then, the major scholarly commentary on Bulosan that helped substantiate the generic legitimacy and ethico-political cogency of Bulosan’s achievement is Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front (1997). Denning’s intervention relocated Bulosan from the limited, claustrophic precinct of ethnic testimony into the site of popular-democratic/socialist culture with profound global, cross-cultural implications.
This is not to say that Bulosan’s discovery as an ethnic “minority” author was cooptative or even reactionary. Its historical context preserved the dialectical-materialist vitality of its national/local roots. Aside from the strategic use of Bulosan made by political groups and cultural activists such as the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), Revolutionary Union, West End Press, and others, the dissemination of his writings by academics (via ther UCLA Asian American Studies Center, among other channels) raised the civic and political consciousness of the larger community. For example, the anthology Letters in Exile (1976), edited by Jesse Quinsaat, Henry Empeno, Vince Nafarrete, Lourdes Pammit, Jaime Geaga and Casimiro Tolentino, connected scholarly inquiries with ongoing communal projects such as the cooperative building of Agbayani Village for retired “Manongs” and the emerging controversy surrounding the International Hotel in San Francisco, California.
Directly inspired by the Bulosan rediscovery, Letters in Exile rectified the recurrent “post-colonial” tabula rasa. Its inclusion of the path-breaking essay on “The First Vietnam: The Philippine-American War of 1899-1902” by Luzviminda Francisco was an index of the deeper understanding that the Philippines was for a long time a violently subjugated colony of the United States, and then a genuine neocolony since nominal independence in 1946. Celebrated “Filipino” fugitives from the Spanish galleon trade who settled in French Louisiana were colonized Indios, not migrant Filipinos, contrary to Fil-Am nativists.
Filipinos from 1899 up to 1946 were colonial subjects or wards, not citizens, and even though, in 1934, the physical transplanting of these colonized subalterns was restricted to fifty bodies per year, the Philippine Commonwealth remained a full-fledged US colony with U.S. troops stationed in numerous military bases (Clark and Subic bases were closed only in 1992). Nonetheless, neocolonialism survived and is thriving well in the islands (thanks to the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement recently signed between the U.S. and the Aquino regime) that Bulosan fled from in 1930 and tried to return to via prophecy and remembrance.
Subjugation Unspeakable and Invisible
Generations of scholars have labored to convert the colonized subjects into immigrants resembling the conventional type of Irish, Swedish, Italian, German, Russian, and other European groups. Scholars such as H. Brett Melendy, Emory S. Bogardus, Bruno Lasker, up to Antonio Pido, Ronald Takaki, Elaine Kim, Barbara Posadas, Yen Le Espiritu and others, have foisted the idea that Filipinos were immigrants from the time they were recruited to the Hawaii plantations up to the granting of nominal independence to the Philippines in 1946 (this framework vitiates such books as The Filipino Americans edited by Maria P. Root; and publications by the Filipino American National Historical Society). Such formulaic distortions remain the staple themes of Filipino-American celebrations to reaffirm the virtue of their 200% Americanization.
The obsessive fix on pacified Filipino “wards” as bonafide immigrants persists, perhaps in the hope that we might be given “preferential treatment.” After all, we’ve been here before other Asians (such as the Chinese coolies recruited by antebellum Southern plantation slave-owners). What’s more ridiculous is that some argue that Filipinos who escaped from the Spanish galleons and settled in Louisiana between 1565 and 1811 were the first Filipino immigrants to the U.S. (see De la Cruz and Baluyut 33; on Lafcadio Hearn’s account of Filipinos in Louisiana, see San Juan, “Internationalizing the US Ethnic Canon” 322-24). It may be instructive to remind them that Louisiana was not part of the United States until that territory to which it belonged was purchased in 1803; and Louisiana was not admitted to the Union until 1812. If Filipinos were indeed bonafide immigrants, then they would have suffered the immigration restrictions such as the one imposed on the Japanese by the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1908 and the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924 (Reimers 6-7). But they were not. In truth, they were subjugated indigenes natives of the annexed territory of the Philippine islands formerly “owned” by Spain but sold to the United States for twenty million dollars in 1898.
Colonialism’s profound impact involves not only those directly interpellated by its ideological state apparatus, but also those intending to interrogate and challenge it. Even the skeptics ironically reinforce the stereotype. This failure to understand why the Filipino is not an immigrant to the U.S. national territory until 1946 explains the habitual reflex of putting Bulosan in the same category as John Okada, Hisaye Yamamoto, Theresa Cha, Ronyoung Kim, Maxine Hong Kingston – archetypal models of immigrant success. The chief culprit might be the popular anthology, Aiiieeee! (first published in 1974 and reprinted several times), which lumped Bulosan together with icons of successful assimilation or adaptation.
Even a sympathetic critic such as Sam Solberg fell into this trap, although he discerned already the problematic resolution of contradictions (between democratic ideals and racist reality) in Manuel Buaken’s I Have Lived with the American People published two years after Bulosan’s allegorized testimonial chronicle of Filipino lives. Solberg’s hope of Filipino writers (such as Jose Garcia Villa, Bienvenido Santos, N.V.M. Gonzales, etc.) joining others in weaving the “heroic epic” of the search for Filipino in Filipino-American experience virtually privilegeds the American scene over the colonial experience as foundational and definitive for the colonized/neocolonized artist (58).
Examples of the immigrant paradigm’s disabling impact may be cited here. The American critic Leonard Casper opined that Bulosan “is more likely to be remembered exclusively as a teller of comic tales” (68), (if not as an alleged plagiarist or leftist sympathizer.” (68). Even the aspiring Bulosan expert Licerio Lagda (1990), who has been coaxed into becoming the purveyor of dubious manuscripts, could not cannot hide his sense of superiority over Bulosan’s messy life. And when Lagda endorseds P.C. Morantte’s philistine scorn for pedantic Marxists presumably belaboring the humor in The Laughter of My Father, we know the enemy can sport friendly masks. In contrast to those patronizing attitudes, Leigh Bristol-Kagan is exceptional. She hopes that Bulosan’s project of empowering Filipinos to learn from their singular colonial ordeal of suffering and resistance can engage Americans themselves to understand “what might be needed to change the course of our own history” (10-11).
We confront the revenge of the rejected metanarrative even before postmodernism has fully taken over. The immigrant-assimilationist paradigm becomes the Procrustean bed into which Bulosan’s texts are forced, thus producing symptoms of incoherence, dissonance, and duplicity. The equivocating narrative voice or shifting point of view in America Is in the Heart attracts the most complaint, as repeated by Marilyn Alquizola and Lane Hirabayashi in their 2014 introduction to a reprinting of the book. Such aberrations could have been resolved beforehand by learning from the lesson of Denning’s critical strategy of foregrounding the generic latitude of “popular-front” discourse which allows for such dialogism, as already anticipated by W.E. B. Du Bois’s famous trope of double-voiced personas in The Souls of Black Folk and other slave narratives of education and collective identity-transformation.recognition. Dialogism entails a dynamic interface among authorial voice, narrative focalizer, and ironic ventriloquist.
Unravelling the Contradictions
The existence of ambiguities, sudden mutations of focalizers stances and registers, and paradoxical mix of subversion and affirmation of “Americanism” pervade Bulosan’s texts. Some have tried to elucidate these discordant traits (including Bulosan’s uneasy attitude to women) as due to feudal practices of clientelism, reciprocity, the influence of the pasyon and other historic legacies. There is partial validity to these claims. On the whole, the colonized psyche (as Fanon, Memmi and others have noted) manifests symptoms of the schizoid, disintegrated psyche. Those features have been noticed long ago by Petronilo Daroy who judged that Bulosan’s work “lacks formal coherence” and confidence because of the “social conflict of which Bulosan was a participant” (206). But if Bulosan’s texts simply mirrored their empirical conditions of possibility, they would all be perfectly understandable on first reading and would require no additional gloss or metacommentary.
The problem of such misconstruals stems from the complex articulation of aesthetics and politics in literary practice. Assuming then that the textual ideology attempts to resolve real contradictions in any imaginary way (Balibar and Macherey 1996), this intent is due to the peculiar mode in which Bulosan’s language and its formal models interpellate the individual readers/audience into subjects for a popular-front (not socialist or purely Marxist) subjects. In short, Bulosan’s textual praxis cannot but produce the effects traceable to the dynamic convergence of multidimensional contradictions at every conjuncture of the class struggle (Lecercle 2009). What we discover in both formal structure of the texts and the variable reader-response or reception experience cannot be accounted for simply by psychological or sociological speculation, but by an elucidation of the dialectical manner in which the text, ultimately the entire Bulosan corpus of texts, registers the sociopolitical contradictions and endeavors to resolve them successfully or not in the formal architectonics of his art. This mode of dialectical analysis might help mediate the usual ambiguities into intelligible patterns of conduct, the goal of hermeneutic inquiry.
Framing the Ethico-Political Project
To be sure, Bulosan was not trying to mystify his readers. He provided a glimpse of his writerly strategy in the essay “How My Stories Were Written” (included as an appendix to my 1972 book). He fabricated composite characters and mixed happenings so as to produce a kind of pastiche, an orchestration of heterogeneous voices: “. . . …I humanized my legendary and folktale characters, so that reading them, it would be impossible to determine which is fact and which is the flight of imagination” (“Carlos Bulosan” 139). We can also detect the style of simply recording events serially, capturing discordant impulses and incompatible moods and tonalities, as witness the phantasmagoric scenes in “The Time of Our Lives” (1979, 127-32) and “To a God of Stone” (1979, 61-68); and in the kaleidoscopic sequence in “Life and Death of a Filipino in America” (1982, 50-54). The gallery of acquaintances named in his correspondence, as well as the topics addressed in the letters (in Dolores Feria’”s collection, “The Sound of Falling Light”) provide an idea of Bulosan’s horizon of experience (both actual and vicarious) that might help disabuse us of the imputed peasant naivete and the hypothesized decline of his powers in the decade before his death on Sept.ember 11, 1956.
A foretaste of this quandary may be found in the rich, densely textured history of Filipino transplantation into the West Coast and Hawaii by Carey McWilliams in his 1942 book Brothers Under the Skin. McWilliams describes the convulsive reshaping of the Filipino collective psyche under American colonial rule, a recasting whose depth and scale practically all the elite scholars are unable to fathom. Even though gestures acknowledging colonial and imperialist “brainwashing” abound in Takaki’s or Sucheng Chan’s history, or in Yen Le Espiritu’s’ recent study of Filipino identity formation, the blind-spot of the immigrant paradigm remains. For example, Le Espiritu’s concluding observations confirm my suspicion that U.S. imperial domination of the neocolony has been erased by the sly shift to privileging “relations within racially-defined groups,” so that even the proliferation of organizations in the Filipino community serve to promote “multiple levels of solidarity” (43). This shift sidetracks the fact of Filipino national subordination to the imperial metanarrative and its white-supremacist imposition of structures and mentalities on the colonized life-world.
What’s more reprehensible is the hegemonic erasure of power inequality and ethical disjunction. At the expense of subjection by nationality, race or ethnicity, the elements of class (narrowly defined in an economistic sense) and diasporic status serve not only to disguise the asymmetric relation between US hegemony and Philippine neocolonial position, but also assert their equality or parity. In short, the Philippines is a sovereign nation-state with rights or powers equal to those of the United States, or to Japan, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, and so on (for examples, see Lowe 1991; Okamura 2003). By this technique of deconstructive heterogenizing of the group, the ethnic/national subject becomes metaphysical, close to Maria Root’s stunning performative decolonizing of the Filipino-American as “a state of mind rather than of legality or geography” (xiv). Wild psychological speculation finally trumps historical inventory and empirical fallibilist discrimination.
In a rigorous accounting, Filipinos were not immigrants (in the strict sense of citizens from genuinely sovereign nation-states) when they worked in the Hawaiian plantations as recruits, or joined the U.S. Navy. Nor were they immigrants servicing the Alaskan canneries or West Coast agribusiness. Strictly speaking, they They became colonial migrants in 1934, and then later as neocolonialized migrants in 1946. To circumvent the racializing irony of extolling Bulosan as an ethnic and even diasporic author of recalcitrant texts, we can call him an exile or expatriate. This is Oscar Campomanes’s (and other scholars’) mode of compromise, enabling them to connect Bulosan with refugees from the Marcos dictatorship such as N.V.M. Gonzales, Bienvenido Santos, Ninotchka Rosca, and others (curiously, Jessica Hagedorn is not included is their his list). But there is the implied belief that colonizer and colonized can mutually aid each other in a transnational exchange, assuming a symbiotic relationship that can grasp fully “the whole spectacle of their transhistorical movements and displacements” (72). No need to question the supremacy of English or the literary/artistic canons of the profit-centered marketplace. The Filipinos in the United States are flourishing with their exilic sensibility and horizontal comradeships, as Benedict Anderson suggests, profiting from the blessings of the pluralist neoliberal marketplace.
This twist in academic prejudice revives the metaphysics of cultural pluralism as an apology for empire. It may explain the popularity of the theatrical staging of Bulosan’s story, “The Romance of Magno Rubio” (as I noted in my 2008 re-appraisal of the Bulosan canon and critical responses so far in the post-9/11, post-Cold War atmosphere.); Indeed, racial and ethnic misunderstandings have become pretexts for delightful reclamation of cultural pluralism, the good old slogans of the Popular Front. At least, however, this may remedy the sidetracking of Bulosan for the recent voguish appeals of Hagedorn, Apostol, and other mass-media celebrities hawking commodified spectacles.
From Exile to Transmigrants and Planetary Citizens?
At this juncture, we may be past the threshold of postmodernist theories of transnational migrants, cosmopolitan cyborgs, and other weird disguises of the postcolonial subaltern released from metanarratives, totality, identity politics, national liberation struggles, and antiglobal capitalism tout court. Indeed, we have entered the millennium of total surveillance, the shock doctrine of torture, drone killings, and other technocratic digitalized folkways. We have entered the stage of nascent barbarism and ecological meltdown.
Meanwhile, we owe it to our colleagues Marilyn Alquizola and Lane Hirabayashi that we now have a new Carlos Bulosan to spend long academic conversations: the FBI suspect, the would-be communist fellow-traveler or Oriental terrorist. The FBI files sent to our colleagues were heavily censored and blacked out. However, a few facts are clear: the FBI spied on Bulosan during the last five years of his life, from 1951 to 1956, during the height of McCarthy witchhunting against suspected members of the Communist Party USA, their fronts and sympathizers.
Based on doubtful inferences, Alquizola and Hirabayashi conclude that Bulosan became an FBI informant, in other words, he voluntarily gave information about himself because “given that Bulosan knew the FBI was looking into the matter, and given that as a Filipino national he could be deported back to the Islands if it was determined that he was a bona fide Party member, Bulosan himself wanted to be on the record denying that he had ever been a member of the Party” (45). This is an inference worth pondering, symptomatic less about Bulosan than about our academic anxieties and idiosyncrasies.
It is doubtful that Bulosan did what he was alleged to have done, in my view, for the following reasons. We all know that Bulosan expressed several times in writing that he was not afraid of being accused as a Marxist, subversive or radical writer. He worked closely with left-wing friends of Sanora Babb in Los Angeles in the thirties up to the end of his life. In a letter dated Dec.ember 7, 1935 to Sanora, he wrote: “I have become a communist” (Babb 1928-2005), a statement which, however, does not prove that he enlisted in any communist party.
It is clear in his letter to Florentino Valeros (dated 17 Jan. 17,uary 1955) that Bulosan was confident that the ILWU Local 37 and its lawyers would be able to successfully fight the Walter-McCarren Act. He already reported that “Filipinos are not deportable, no matter what crime they have committed, so long as they came to this country as permanent residents before the passage of the Philippine Independent Act” (1960, 271). In the ILWU Yearbook for 1952, Bulosan openly attacked the Philippine government for its repression of the left-wing poet Amado V. Hernandez and editorialized on the neocolonial State’s terrorist response to the Huk rebellion. He did not conceal his commitment to socialist, proletarian principles.
It is possible that Bulosan met Hernandez during Hernandez’s visit to the United States in 1948 (Torres-Yu 1986 xxx) to confer with American trade union leaders. Bulosan might have discussed with Hernandez the release of Luis Taruc’s book, Born of the People (published in 1953 by International Publishers, not Monthly Review Press). Together with W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson (who wrote the “Foreword”) and other Communist Party members or affiliates, Bulosan signed a letter soliciting support for the publication of Taruc’s book (later revealed as written by the American William Pomeroy, a key intellectual functionary of the Philippine Communist Party at that time). This and other facts too numerous to include here indicate that Bulosan was not so isolated or frightened that he had to mollify the FBI so as to function effectively and fulfill his union and civic responsibilities. He worked intimately with Ernesto Mangaong and Chris Mensalvas (an old friend since the thirties), the two union officials seriously threatened with imprisonment and deportation for their alleged communist leanings (de Vera 1994 1-25). Bulosan never squealed nor renounced his socialist convictions and proletarian allegiance. If anything at all, the FBI files on Bulosan reveal the indiscriminate way the agency stigmatized and threatened ordinary civilians who were either active in the legal union struggles or supported movements to protect immigrants and the foreign-born.
Fellow-Travelling and Other Journeys
Since about 1935, Bulosan was exposed to Communist Party activities in close association with the Babb sisters, Dorothy and Sanora. Last Nov.ember 2013 I was able to access the files of the late Sanora Babb in the Harry Ransom Center Library, University of Texas, and found unpublished letters and writings of Carlos Bulosan as well as Sanora Babb’s notes on Bulosan’s life and works. They all attest to Bulosan’s intellectual involvement with leftists and possibly communist party operatives in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
One letter of Bulosan to Sanora Babb, dated Oct.ober 28, 1954, typed on the ILWU Local 37 stationary, expressed his disillusionment with some union leaders and officers who were “vicious, cruel, power mad people.” But he remained hopeful amid the carnage of war and violence everywhere because “there will always be love, beauty, dignity, decency, compassion, pity among men and women and children.” Since he resigned from the union and was awaiting his unemployment compensation checks, he asked Sanora to lend him $40.00 which he promised to re-pay later by installment. He also repeated some of the facts about the Walter McCarran Act that he had already communicated to Valeros.
In a memorandum dated Nov.ember 13, 1959, to Dolores Feria, who was then occupied with editing “The Sound of Falling Light,” the major compilation of Bulosan letters, Sanora Babb dissuaded Feria from writing a full biography without necessary and lengthy research. She warned Feria not to lend legitimacy to rumors and hearsay about Bulosan’s life. This includes the muddled plagiarism case (publicized without legal documentation by the McCarthyist columnist I.P. Soliongco), alcoholism, vagrancy, communist fellow-travelling if not communist behavior, and other innuendoes cast by Filipino-American academics eager to put the icon down. Babb assured Feria that the violation of copyright suit was definitely won (as I’ve already reviewed in San Juan, “Balikbayang Sinta”). As for his relations with women (Carlos was really in love with Sanora, as demonstrated by dozens of his letters in the Babb files), Sanora states: “This idea of Carlos being parasitic on women as mother substitutes or otherwise is completely false . . . …Easy psychological judgments won’t hold up. . . …. [Carlos] was a very complex man.” Finally, Sanora also asserted that “No manuscripts were found in his room in Seattle after his death[.]….”
But the world of fallible humans constantly offers surprises. We thus wonder why, aside from wrong-headed attacks on Bulosan’s purported misogynism, alcolholism, decline, etc., we are gifted with recently discovered manuscripts of Bulosan such as the novel All the Conspirators. The title is borrowed from the first novel of Christopher Isherwood published in 1928, an antiheroic pastiche pivoting around a mother-son conflict. As noted earlier, Lagda served as the transmission belt for Josephine Patrick’s bequeathal of unauthenticated Bulosan typescripts. We should be grateful to Caroline Hau and Benedict Anderson for stirring up troubled waters by providing this “photographic negative” of The Cry and the Dedication – if it is, indeed, by Bulosan. We have a pretext to conduct another reconnaissance of the Bulosan ruins.
Analysis of style, idiom, characterology, and narrative texture and plotting of the Lagda novel demonstrates its immense difference from Bulosan’s characteristic signature. Bulosan’s meditative mode of narration is clearly displayed in America, The Laughter of My Father, The Cry and the Dedication, the stories in The Philippines Is in the Heart, and in Lagda’s edited volume, The Power of Money. The breathless and often colloquial narrative speed of All the Conspirators belies its imputed genealogy. Moreover, Hau and Anderson’s ascription of psychological motives to Bulosan as an ambitious celebrity-seeker undermines their other more ideological polemics: “For Bulosan faced both racial and political discrimination in pursuit of his literary ambitions in America. If he initially made his name as a Filipino writer, his identity as such tended to ghettoize him. His leftwing politics made it necessary for him to write under an ‘American’ nom de plume, yet at the same time it gave him an opportunity to write as if he were a white man” (xvi). Are Filipinos to blame for ghettoizing themselves as Filipino writers? We are back to the question of power relations, hegemony, subalternity, and the whole problem of grasping what racism/racialism in the United States signifies since the invention of the “white race” or white supremacy in the early Puritan colonies. Once again, Bulosan has become a victim of the assimilationist paradigm of his putative benefactors.
The Angel of History Beholds the Rubble
In the context of this inventory of the critical archive, more than literary or aesthetic questions are involved. No amount of arguing that Dunstan Peyton is really Bulosan, or his alter ego; and that this novel, is the one mentioned in his letters (the main evidence is the letter to Valeros dated Apr.il 8, 1955), can justify a patronizing assignment of authorial responsibility. Biographers have noted numerous friends of Bulosan who helped revise and even rewrite many of his manuscripts, chief of whom was Dorothy Babb and Sanora Babb. But other women writers were accomplices or accessories, among them Ann Dionisio, Mary Gibson-Hatten, Jean Gundlach, Mary Allen, Marjorie Patton, Josephine Patrick, Grace F. Cunningham, together with their assistants or confidants. Perhaps two or more of these friends collaborated to fabricate the Lagda novel.
My suspicion is that “Dunstan Peyton” (only one of Bulosan’s many pseudonyms) or the author of All the Conspirators is Grace F. Cunningham, then residing in Iowa, who has already published stories set in the Philippines. (The name “Dunstan Peyton” appears in the Internet as the name of an African-American soldier in Virginia circa 1870-1879.). Two are still mentioned in the Internet under Cunningham’s pseudonym, Lysle Carveth: Jungle Boy (1945) and Moro Boy (1949), both published by Longmans, Green and Company. Bulosan’s many letters to Cunningham (in the Feria anthology) also evince their close working partnership and consultation on various matters that demonstrate Bulosan’s dependency on her opinions. Someday we will have enough materials to ascertain if Grace F. Cunningham deserves the honor of reclaiming her artifice, currently ascribed to her Filipino “co-conspirator.”
We leave this affair of attribution open for now. Until a thorough research and inquiry into the authorship of the Bulosan papers in the University of Washington archive has been accomplished, we cannot in good conscience pronounce a verdict on this case. As a provisional conclusion, allow me to quote Sanora Babb’s parting advice to Feria: “Carlos is dead. All that remains of him is his work. That is more than most can leave. And some of that work is beautiful, some delightful, etc. and in this sense it adds to the reader. That is what art does, and when it does, the personality traits are not important except in a serious examination of life as related to art” (Babb 1928-2005).

Works Cited
Alquizola, Marilyn and Lane Hirabayashi. “Carlos Bulosan’s Final Defiant Acts: Achievements During the McCarthy Era.” Amerasia Journal 38.3 (2012): 29-51. Print.
Babb, Sanora. Sanora Babb Papers 1928-2005. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University U of Texas, Austin. Series V. Print.
Balibar, Etienne and Pierre Macherey. “On Literature as an Ideological Form.” Marxist Literary Theory: A Reader. Eds. Terry Eagleton and Drew Milne. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996. 275-295. Print.
Bristol-Kagan, Leigh. “Introduction.” If You Want to Know What We Are: A Carlos Bulosan Reader. Minneapolis MN: West End Press, 1983. 5-11. Print.
Bulosan, Carlos. America Is in the Heart. Seattle: U of Washington PressP, 1972. Reprint Rpt. of 1946 original edition.
—. The Philippines Is in the Heart. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Quezon City: New Day Press, 1978. Print.
—. Selected Works and Letters. Eds. E. San Juan, Jr. and Ninotchka Rosca. Honolulu, Hawaii: Friends of the Filipino People, 1982. Print.
—. On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995. Print.
—. The Cry and the Dedication. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995. Print.
Campomanes, Oscar. “Filipinos in the United States and Their Literature of Exile.” Reading the Literatures of Asian America. Ed. Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Amy Ling. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1992. 49-78. Print.
Casper, Leonard. New Writing from the Philippines. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1966. Print.
Chin, Frank, Jeffery Paul Chan, Lawson Inada and Shawn Wong, eds. Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers. New York: Penguin, 1974. Print.
Daroy, Petronilo. “Carlos Bulosan: The Politics of Literature.” Saint Louis Quarterly 6.2 (June 1968): 193-206. Print.
De la Cruz, Enrique and Pearlie Rose Baluyut, eds. Confrontations, Crossings and Convergence. Los Angeles: The UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1998. Print.
Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front. London: Verso, 1997. Print.
De Vera, Arleen. “Without Parallel: The Local 7 Deportation Cases, 1949-1955.” Amerasia Journal 20:2 (1994): 1-25. Print
Feria, Dolores, ed. “The Sound of Falling Light.” The Diliman Review (Jan.uary-Sept.tember 1960): 185-278. Print.
Hau, Caroline and Benedict Anderson. “Introduction.” All the Conspirators by Carlos Bulosan. MetroManila: Anvil Publishing Co., 1998. vii-xxvii. Print.
Lagda, Licerio. “Introduction.” The Power of Money and Other Stories by Carlos Bulosan. Manila: Kaikasan Press, 1990. 7-16. Print.
Le Espiritu, Yen. “Colonial Oppression, Labour Importation and Group Formation: Filipinos in the United States.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 19.1 (January 1996): 29-48. Print.
Lecercle, Jean-Jacques. A Marxist Philosophy of Language. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009. Print.
Lowe, Lisa. “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences.” Diaspora 1 (1991): 24-44. Print.
McWilliams, Carey. Brothers Under the Skin. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1964. Print.
Okamura, Jonathan. “Asian American Studies in the Age of Transnationalism: Diaspora, Race, Community.” Amerasia Journal 29.2 (2003): 171-194. Print.
Quinsaat, Jesse et al, eds. Letters in Exile. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1976. Print.
Reimers, David M. Still the Golden Door: The Third World Comes to America. New York: Columbia UP, 1992. Print.
Root, Maria, ed. Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997. Print.
San Juan, E. Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle. Quezon City: U of the Philippines PressP, 1972. Print.
—. “Internationalizing the US Ethnic Canon: Revisiting Carlos Bulosan.” Comparative American Studies 6.2 (June 2008): 123-43. Print.
—. Balikbayang Sinta: An E. San Juan Reader. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila U P, 2008. Print.
Solberg, Sam. “An Introduction to Filipino American Literature.” Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers. Eds. Frank Chin et al. New York: A Mentorr Book, 1991. 39-58. Print.
Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1989. Print.
Torres-Yu, Rose. “Amado V. Hernandez: Ang Pakikibaka ng Manunulat na Pilipino Para sa Lipunang Makatao.” Amado V. Hernandez: Tula at Tudling. Ed. Rose Torres-Yu. Quezon City: U of the Philippines PressP, 1986. xxiii-lxiii. Print.

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,


by E. San Juan, Jr. Saturday, Nov. 13, 2004 at 11:38 AM

Various strategies of consciousness-raising and political education in the national-democratic movement are possible in theory, but they should all be discussed, analyzed and contextualized in the concrete historical conditions of our society. This essay explores the tensions and possibilities, the objective and subjective poles, in this field of cultural politics.



The little horsecarts with gilt decorations
And the pink sleeves of the matrons
In the alleys of doomed Manila
The fugitive beheld with joy.

–BERTOLT BRECHT, “Landscape of Exile” (1940)

In September 1987 I was invited to give a talk on contemporary trends in critical theory at a colloquium sponsored by the research office of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. After summarizing recent philosophical and aesthetic developments in the West, and focusing on reader-response (Rezeptionsaesthetik) theory in particular, I was suddenly plunged into what I discovered later on as an ongoing shouting match on the topic of whether we should junk Rizal or not in our curriculum. The upshot of it was that it was as if I never spoke at all. In the melee I became a pretext for continuing the factional squabble among the faculty, the “always already” situation I found myself in. All my refined discriminations about historical specification of any text or discursive practice, about the multiple and dispersed readings possible from the readers’ interactions with a given text–all the rhetoric of scrupulous qualifications and reservations quickly evaporated. The fundamental lesson of the cultural materialism which I emphasized, namely, the historically concrete contextualization of any social practice like writing, as well as
the dialectical exchange of reader’s and text’s repertoires in the production of meaning–or, more precisely, the conditions of possibility of meanings–seemed to have gotten lost in the babel of opinions and slogans. In brief, the scene became a veritable marketplace of laissez-faire protagonists for which one can only venture the warning: “Caveat emptor!”
It was, to say the least, extremely instructive. Little did I know that I would now write about it here as a prime exhibit of the post-structuralist thesis that everything is, indeed, always already given or inscribed before one has even written or said anything. One cannot begin from a clean blank slate, as Locke thought. Unfortunately, there is no longer any innocent speaker, writer, or reader anywhere.
Fortunately, however, one young faculty member who graduated from the University of the Philippines had read Toward a People’s Literature and asked me if I still subscribed to my unorthodox view of Rizal which was elaborated in one chapter of my book (San Juan 1984, 1997). To which I replied yes, with minor qualifications. I reiterated again the value of the strategic intervention of the reader’s will (itself a collective agenda embedded in a specific existential situation) which can map the possibilities of articulating Rizal’s texts, in particular the novels, to achieve nationalist, democratic goals. Other strategies can be pursued, depending on the constraints and susceptibilities of a given position.
For those who insisted on an either-or dualistic position, it was difficult to refuse the seduction of a mechanical materialism which either totally condemned Rizal as counter-revolutionary temporizer and thus abandoned his writings (and the example of his deeds) to the reactionaries, or supported a Rizal cult which only glorified the elite dispensation. I switched tactics and offered a parable: Assuming that in your factory, a union has been formed which, later on, members discovered was actually led by “yellow” leaders, what would you do? Would you as a militant worker bolt out and form another union consisting of a handful of believers, thus isolating yourself effectively from the majority, and as compensation boast of your vanguard role? Or would you remain in the “yellow” union and patiently try to win over honest members through education and persuasion and example so that you could generate changes, even though gradually and incrementally? This was offered as an on-the-spot analogy chiefly to provoke a process of dialectical reflection. But I am afraid that nobody then seemed to grasp what I was trying to communicate. Now, in retrospect, I am skeptical whether I did the right thing or not instead of withdrawing from the partisan fray and assuming the proverbial academic detachment of the bourgeoise philosopher.
Since it is a truism that the terrain of political consciousness at any given time is uneven, highly stratified, and suffer unpredictable mutations–cracks and fissures suddenly appear, altering contours and boundaries–the strategy of dual unionism poses the twin dangers of sectarianism and left opportunism. But this truism seems to have escaped our local super-revolutionaries inured to a style of dogmatic self-righteousness. What the “theology of liberation” in Latin America has done, or our Filipino version of “theology of struggle” has so far accomplished in its reading and performance of Biblical texts, should already have provided an invaluable lesson to those stricken with what Lenin called “leftwing infantilism.” But all those lessons seemed also to have been lost, or have not yet been assimilated. What I would suggest therefore is the learning of those lessons and their concrete application to our specific conjuncture, not separatism or vanguardism, if we don’t want to re-invent the upturned wheel of Hegelian dialectics over again.
This, I now suspect, functioned as my first learning situation, an initiating rite which can serve as an emblem to configure the archeology of a milieu and spell out later on the genealogy of an unfolding critique. But let me recall, following this allegorical mapping of our discourse, another incident whose testimonial value will, I hope, become exemplary toward the end of this commentary.
Last August 27, I gave a lecture on the theme of Third World Cultural Revolution in a program sponsored by the University of the Philippines Creative Writing Center and the Department of History (San Juan 1988). On that occasion I emphasized how “writing is a kind of complex social practice involving a specific point of view on selected materials.” In short, writing is a profoundly powerful mode of ideological practice. Writing–conceived in the large sense of the differential narrativizing of experience in time/space–cannot be divorced from the concrete historical conditions of its enactment, its embeddedness in the thickness of discriminations involving gender, race, class, region, and so forth, which ultimately constitute the enabling condition that makes writing, all art, possible. For her part the reader performs a rewriting of the text and thereby releases the play of semiotic difference. Because writer, text (as a form of social practice imbricated in fixed codes and mutable conventions), and reader are all historically interpellated or subjected–i.e., transformed into subjects, writing/reading cannot but be an ideological act par excellence. It is an action, a strategic will intervening in the world, deploying the power of Desire, marshalling the forces of the Unconscious and Tradition, unleashing unsuspected energies that then proceed to catalyze and precipitate changes all around.
Writing is a form of practice, of labor: what Macherey, following Althusser, designates as a process of production. What the imagination works on is the general repertoire of beliefs, assumptions, values, rituals–the ideological itself–from which it fashions its singular repertoire called “the text.” In this connection, I quoted Franz Kafka on the necessarily political complicity of writers, especially those engaged in a “minor practice of a major language” (Deleuze and Guattari 1975). This fits perfectly the predicament of Filipino writers who use English–even English “of a sort” (as Senator Jose Diokno used to refer to our urban vernacular). Kafka argued: “What each author says individually already constitutes a common action, and what he or she says or does is necessarily political.” What a remarkable statement coming from the classic artist-hero worshipped by bourgeois modernists as the high priest of mystification, avatar of the transcendental Absurd. It’s a blanket indictment of all our postmodernizing aesthetes.

Dialogic Confrontations

During the open forum, one professor of English asked whether a writer needs an ideology to be revolutionary. I answered that a writer need not be conscious of operating with an ideology or any idea at all (recall what Henry James said of the artist’s mind: it’s too fine to be violated by ideas), although one can be a Tolstoy who was quite convinced of the moral imperatives of Christian activist pacifism from which part of the didactic and thematic repertoire of his narrative material derives. But, on second thought, I missed the real point of the question.
Perhaps because a previous speaker equated “ideology” (a contentious and problematic term if not defined as concretely as possible, with all its determinations) with national democratic politics, particularly with the creed of the National Democratic Front, the term was then interpreted as a codeword for “communist” or “Marxist” and therefore became pejorative. More precisely, it became a euphemism for everything bad, negative, repulsive. In such an already staged arena, a persisting legacy of Cold War politics still endemic in our society, one has to backtrack and maneuver to clear the ground, so to speak, as already prefigured in my first anecdote.
What I was trying to emphasize at great length–the inscription of writer/reader in a historical palimpsest not of any individual’s making–was completely lost to the articulate members of the audience more interested in questions of “how to,” techniques, methods, instrumentalities–although I must confess that some listeners told me they understood exactly what I was trying to say. Shades of “elective affinities”? In any case I felt that because of the peripheral or utilitarian thrust of the inquiries, it seemed that the basic theoretical questions had already been answered for them (maybe in the latest issue of Ang Bayan, or in the latest pronouncement from Establishment ideologues or mass media pundits) so that all we need to do now, after heaving a sigh of relief, is to act as the proverbial “transmission belts” if not functionaries to implement the latest shift of the party line. Or else we are ostracized, shunned, ignored.
A trivializing and marginalizing modus operandi and its effects may be discerned in this not untypical situation. Minds and bodies conduct themselves to devise formulas and “get-rich-quick-schemes” to implement directives, codes, instructions that are never quite understood, much less questioned or criticized. It cannot all be attributed to hiya, or the presumed “non-confrontational” style of Filipinos. In public forums and exchanges, I have noticed a recurrent syndrome. While some speakers may broach questions of first principles and thus succeed in elevating the exchange to a level of theoretical concreteness, the participants (mostly from the intelligentsia defined loosely in the Philippine context) display a consciousness that operates strictly within the realm of the empirical, the impressionistic and anecdotal level. This is not a shortcoming in itself, as long as it is taken simply as a heuristic point of departure. But the inadequacy of empiricism soon reveals itself. Even when policies or conceptual frameworks informing an administrative decision happen by chance to be introduced for review, people interject with grievances on particular matters (such as allocation of money, incidents illustrating bureaucratic neglect or departmental inefficiency, minutiae of official abuses) as though all those items are equally important, flattened onto one dimension of significance. Somehow the majority of participants are not able to question the rationale of the institution itself, to distance themselves from their involvement so as to critique the structure of power and interrogate its exercise in promoting or eroding the ends of justice, freedom and equality. In brief, it seems that there is a customary, unspoken habitus (to use Bourdieu’s term; Bourdieu 2000) of avoiding conflict over fundamentals, of shirking the challenge of wrestling with the basic inescapable contradictions. Is this the fabled phenomenon of “smooth interpersonal relations” beloved by our sociologists and psychologists?
I venture to suggest that my two anecdotes (I plead complicity in this habit) can be construed in such a way as to betray the symptom of a general impoverishment of ideas, a condition grounded in the hierarchic and patriarchal reification of our neocolonized society, the powerlessness of the majority (including the organic intellectuals of the dispossessed classes) excluded from the crucial decision-making processes, the willing subservience of the masses to the elite whose charisma and weapons depend chiefly on U.S. patronage–a moribund contradictory system accountable to centuries of colonial conditioning whereby attitudes and behavior, “structures of feeling,” are reproduced daily in habitual practices, traditional rituals, in the routine patterns of everyday life. Witness the interplay here of “commodity aesthetics” (to use Haug’s phrase; Haug 1986) purveyed by the transnational corporations, machismo, religion, and the psychology of ressentiment.
I am not just referring here to the result of imperialist subject-ion and manipulation, although that is the context of this somewhat banal diagnosis of our putatively “damaged” culture. If one explains the lack of a climate of serious, open-ended, and informed public exchanges whether in the universities, mass media and other civic forums, by invoking the formula of “colonial mentality,” one is sure to trigger a violent nativist or xenophobic response. (If you happen to be an exiled Filipino or a migrant intellectual who ventures to speak her mind, you are bound to be condemned as an intruder meddling in local affairs, a pariah who knows nothing of local circumstances.) This reflex defensive gesture then immediately prides itself on our self-acclaimed, ingratiating virtues of pakikisama, bayanihan (the Marcos regime was quite skillful in exploiting the resonance and libidinal charge of these populist motifs)–precisely those practices that continue to reproduce the repressive harmony of the terrain our culturalist scholars inhabit. A claim of authentic immediacy–“I know the personalities involved,” “I have inside information,” “I was there and went through it all….”–is made to compensate for lack of intelligence, honesty, tact or simple prudence. Reproducing ways of acting and thinking sanctified by time and the supernatural, the hegemonic culture of the propertied classes cannot foster critical thinking but only consolidate mindless routine. Its hierarchical and authoritarian paradigm will never generate the consciousness and will for popular democratic transformations, for releasing the potential of each individual within the framework of a truly independent nation by guaranteeing (within the constraints of our underdevelopment) the freedom and material security of all.
Lest I be misinterpreted, I hasten to add that there have been significant and perhaps irreversible changes since the Magsaysay period, certainly since the First Quarter Storm. Whatever vicissitudes the popular democratic movement has suffered since February 1986, those mutations of sensibility have been registered deeply enough to generate prophetic reverberations, delayed reactions, nomadic adventures, even nostalgic recuperations. Changes there certainly will be in the coming decades; the urgent question is, who will direct these changes and for whose benefit?
I hazard to state that from Rizal’s time to the present, the nationalist movement has succeeded in introducing the elements of a historical materialist orientation to our cultural life. They may be discerned in mixed plebeian manifestations of opposition and resistance to U.S. hegemonic values and elite mimicries, from the millenial sects to the parodic allegories in comic books, games and jokes, including a variety of satiric and utopian expressions dramatized in folk and popular culture. Owing to various exigencies not to be easily wished away, however, the tendency has led to a one-sided emphasis on the crudely material or economic factors conceived in a deterministic fashion. This tendency to vulgarization–part of the carnivalesque disruption of monologic official culture, as Bakhtin (in his work on Rabelais, for example) has documented for medieval Europe–may have been made necessary by the need to counter the heavy indoctrination of our people with obscurantist metaphysics and religious superstition during the long ascendancy of Spain. This in turn was reinforced by a disciplinary regime of empirical, positivist thinking propagated by U.S. educators and bureaucrats at the time when social Darwinism and racist “common sense” gripped U.S. society at the turn of the century, a miasma of servile habits, petty chicanery, schizoid resentment, and business gangsterism that since then have corrupted the fabric of our psychic life.
In the process of decolonization begun by the Propagandists, however, errors have been committed for the sake of rapid mobilization. The politicization of the Seventies may have been impressively swift but it proved shallow and ephemeral, as the instructive and somewhat tragic plight of the Partido ng Bayan testifies. Formulas and slogans have been memorized, manuals and handbooks produced and disseminated; but the habit of critical thinking has not been instilled despite the skeptical materialist thrust of propaganda. Thus we see mirrored in the actions of people who mouth Marxist or left slogans merely a transmogrification, an unintended mirror-image, of the old ways: feudal patronage disguised in bureaucratic and commandist ways have ruined any attempt at inventing genuine coalitions or trustworthy alliances. Dogmatism and empiricism have replaced dialectics, breeding caricatures of elite machinations without even any pretense of mimicking hypocritical “good taste.” It is too easy to say that all these are caused by Stalinism, our convenient bogeyman, proofs of the excesses of Maoism. Such “bad faith” accusations, however, cannot be condoned. All these have to be analyzed in a concrete historical manner as the result of a dynamic interaction of actors and objectively limiting situations, of intentions and contexts, of creative wills and circumscribing boundaries. This is not meant to excuse or explain away mistakes and perversions. Here I am submitting a modest proposal to initiate a surveying of the field of conjunctural politics and the forces involved to find out why such symptoms recur, a foregrounding of ideology and culture as pivotal mediations at the crux of the problem.
As a reaction to mechanical materialist thinking and its variants diffused in the left, among technocrats, and in that compound of half-truths and superstition that we call the “common sense” of the ordinary citizen, a trend to correct the imbalance has emerged in the wake of the February 1986 insurrection. “Culture” has now become the magic watchword. There are notable scholarly advances in this field, particularly by historians and critics of the theater like Tiongson and Mojares. Such works are meant to supplement and rectify the still prevailing prejudice (born of that famous but misleading base-superstructure metaphor which Marx used only once) that culture is an epiphenomenal outgrowth, a simple reflection of the more important activities in the sphere of economic production. A misreading fortuitously begot the prejudice. This productivist schematism has not only reduced culture and ideology, the kernel of politics, to second rank, but has also distorted Marx and Engels’ conception of the overdetermined structured totality of any society, that is, the indivisibility of the production and reproduction of social life.

Notes from the Underground

From a dialectical perspective, all individuals are social, that is, humanized in society. The measure of what is human is social and implies a “species-being” correlated to work, sensuous practice, which functions as the key to judging the freedom and integrity of any society. This central insight stems from the dialectics of thought and action, of consciousness and the body, signified by the term “praxis.” I should like to stress here the concept of reproduction which involves the vital regions of gender, family, sexual division of labor, religious practices, age, and other determinants not usually comprehended under the category of class. Western socialists, as well as the revolutionaries of Cuba, Nicaragua and other Third World countries, are now re-evaluating the traditional Marxist problematic to take into account the salutary if controversial interventions of Althusser and Gramsci, among others, in particular the latter’s theorizing of hegemony and the decisive function of intellectuals. [I add that especially after the unprecedented changes in Eastern Europe in 1989, this rethinking has now become more urgent and obligatory for Filipino progressives who aim to rediscover, revitalize and enrich our own indigenous socialist tradition; San Juan 1989, 1990, 2000]
We have now proceeded to the point where we can detect in this revisionist trend the opposite error that can be denominated “culturalism.” In order to explain the EDSA upheaval, commentators like Nick Joaquin (otherwise a technological determinist in his apologetics for the long-buried Spanish empire) emphasize the notion of a kapit-bisig custom in a society which has not yet fully evolved from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft (to use Tonnies’ terms). One can appreciate this mode of explanation as a reaction to the economistic approach. But by itself it can only regurgitate a formalist and idealist mode of thinking which replicates the platitudes of a doctrinaire functionalist sociology–unless the historical contextualization of such a practice is properly articulated.
Allow me to cite, as an example, one essay exploring “the culture of revolution” which illustrates the limits of the culturalist response to the purely economistic approach. The author employs as her coordinates the functionalist notions of pakikisama and kapitbisig and other symptoms of client-patron relations in a pre-capitalist mode of production. This not only begs the question, but also vitiates the emphasis on culture by conceiving it as a positivistic phenomenon. Consider such observations:

The culture of Philippine revolution is the culture of the countryside, of the agricultural community…. The culture of revolution, Philippine style, is the culture of sharing, of pakikisama and tulungan rather than of ideology….

The counter-positioning of “culture” to “ideology” not only muddles the problem, but creates the impression that “culture” is the pure, honorific term whereas “ideology” connotes something negative, derogatory, un-Filipino. This ultimately atavistic usage can only authorize a mystique of cultural practice based on the problematic of a unified, homogeneous community (elaborated by the Lynch-Hollnsteiner group and acutely criticized by Virgilio Enriquez) that eliminates other categories (like class, gender, etc.) and therefore any dis-integrative contradiction. It invents the myth of a harmoniously functioning, homeostatic society beloved by Parsons, Merton and their followers. It works in the service of the existing repressive law and order. It renders obeisance to normative integration. It pays homage to authority and hierarchy, bows down to patriarchy. It offers easy rationalization for the continued hegemony of the dominant classes in control of the state ideological apparatuses (schools, media, bureaucracy) and the ascendancy of the institutional church, a lynchpin of the status quo.
What is ironic for our liberal culturalists–and I consider the quote only as a symptom of a general drift–is their unwitting emasculation of the complex term “culture” (whose historical provenance Raymond Williams has so fully substantiated), its reduction to a set of practices which are neither dominant nor emergent, but actually residual (the tributary or feudal mode of reproduction), thus transforming otherwise conflict-ridden individuals into one-dimensional subjects conforming to the universalizing norms of the dominant elite. The “culture of tradition” cannot be isolated and bracketed as identical to the subalterns’ acceptance of their position, as consensus, for this cancels out the oppositional impulse defining their ambivalent subordination to their masters; moreover, that tradition is imposed from above and normalized by years of conformity. In due time, given the uneven and non-synchronized mutation of co-existing but divergent modes of production, those “picturesque” habits of pakikisama or the rituals of the pasyon can be articulated to serve as vehicles for resistance. But it is simplistic to identify the “culture of tradition” as the determinant practice of a monolithic and homogeneous society which makes it somehow “revolutionary.” This culture is precisely what enabled conservative and reactionary forces to dominate Congress and the bureaucracy once again, entrenching themselves there on the pretext of having participated in one way or another in overthrowing the tyranny of the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship. Instead of taking into account the diversity, multiplicity and heterogeneity of the social formation, this deployment of a static notion of culture proves to be not only as reductivist but also brutally instrumentalist, perpetrating the error it seeks to remedy in the first place. Such reductionism becomes clearly obfuscating when, for example, “women power” is inferred from the proposition that “the culture of the agricultural community” produces “strong women” who participate in production, etc. This mystique of peasant vitality and female fertility, one might recall, occupies center stage in German fascist doctrine and in the program of any reactionary irrationalism that glorifies “blood and soil,” Fuhrerprinzip, the organic ties of community, family, and mystical hierarchy.
The term “ideology” is indeed one of those contentious words that have been made equivalent, under the current repressive climate, to everything reprehensible and demonic and therefore anti-Filipino. I have noted this usage proliferate in many scholarly and polemical tracts. This is demonstrated, for example, in Gemino Abad’s conclusion to his introduction to a forthcoming anthology of Filipino poetry in English. He writes: “Their sensibility [the poets from 1905 to 1955], which loves freedom above all, is inherently anti-ideological even against the very grain of thought.” Again, ideology becomes the scapegoat, the stigmata of the accursed and untouchable. To emancipate oneself from ideology, Filipino poets (according to Abad) have to master the nuances and potential of the English language: “Through poetry, after the mastery of its medium and its tradition, the Filipino writer in English has his revenge as it were on the ideology, the very way of thinking and feeling, which the adopted language secretes. English in Filipino hands, under the pressure of his own milieu and sensibility, becomes not English but Filipino. If he is at first possessed, he comes also in time to possess both the medium and the message in his own way, by the language of his own blood.” Notice how the use of “language” suffers slippage into metaphor, a naked ideological maneuver if ever there is one.
While Abad considers “formalism” a trap, just like Romanticism and Populism (which is wrongly equated with “proletarian”), that prevents the poet to “break and create meanings,” and while he does acknowledge language as “the most powerful of ideological machines,” he believes the Filipino poet can transform the machine of language to “a point of crisis, of break-up and judgment.” By postulating the binary opposition of poetry (good) versus ideology (bad), the strategy of ideological resolution in favor of one of the terms is easily carried out.
One can detect in this modified neoAristotelianism the influence of a mystification of language inspired by Heidegger, the privileging of language as combined “medium and message” with demiurgic powers. Just like the hackneyed aestheticism of the “founding father” Jose Garcia Villa and his epigones, this latter-day valorization of the poet as the magical manipulator of the language-machine entraps the critic, and the poet, alas, in what turns out to be the “prison-house of language” (Nietzsche).
A similar fascination for this prison-house afflicts the argument of Resil Mojares in his 1986 lecture “Imagining the Nation: Language and Politics Today.” Invoking this time not Heidegger but Orwell, darling of end-of-ideology prophets and ideologist of 1984 par excellence, Mojares pontificates:

With the expansion of media, the writer appears today in more guises than in Rizal’s time. It is still he, however, who is the keeper of language, the one whose life-interest it is to keep watch over language, preserving that clarity, precision, power, and rootedness in our social and moral life that language must possess if it must continue to define for us both our nationality and humanity.

Here, taking a cue from Pound and Eliot, the critic openly espouses the fetishism of a language which once exorcised of worldly pollution becomes the magic cure for the national wasteland. The Flaubertian ideal of the artist, a reaction to the bourgeois commodification of culture in 19th century industrial capitalism, surfaces–but anachronistically, in a consumerist neocolonial society where this erstwhile “virginal” language is slowly exchanged into petty cash, devalued counters floating in the infinite circulation of simulacra and computer debris, not to speak of the noises issuing from Malacanang and the pandemonium of coups and Congressional blabbering. One doubts whether the writer for Mojares speaks in Taglish, or one of the vernaculars which the writers are still unable to master, let alone keep watch over.
We are confronted with a particular recurrent conjuncture. The privileging of the aesthetic as the space of authentic human value has been analyzed rigorously by Marcuse and other Frankfurt critical theorists and exposed as a symptom of the capitalist reduction of culture to a noumenal, transcendental realm. Commodification and exchange value turns the aesthetic into an anaesthetic. Given the dominance of the culture industry of Hollywood and Madison avenue, this fetishizing of the aesthetic is the inaugurating premise of New Critical essentialism. If ideology were not so stigmatized as demonic and our local critics were more open to the vast horizon of materialist hermeneutics enabled by the renaissance of a creative Marxism and its interface with other postmodernist explorations, in particular structuralist linguistics and deconstructive psychoanalysis, it is possible that they could have avoided such pitfalls that, in the first place, they have been trying to evade. They could have employed such categories as “linguistic work” or “symbolic capital” introduced by thinkers like Ferrucio Rossi-Landi (1983) and Pierre Bourdieu (1991). They could also have availed of the seminal discoveries of Bakhtin whose reading of how “the sign becomes an arena of the class struggle” opens up an immense field of possibilities for constructing a materialist semiotics under the aegis of an emancipatory cultural politics.
All these are telltale signs that we have not even begun to understand the insidious legacy of colonialism–three centuries of feudal indoctrination, about ninety years of U.S. “tutelage” in the self-aggrandizing hubris of entrepreneurial liberalism. We have not really grasped the effects of reification and “commodity aesthetics” in mass consumer society so as to be able to critique and dialectically transcend it in counter-hegemonic praxis. Hence versions of functionalism, positivism, and empiricism persist in crippling the sensibility of otherwise well-meaning scholars, exacerbating the schizoid mentality of those affected by them, and at the same time propagating the illusion that we are enjoying full freedom to write and create what we want, freely able to partake in the postmodernist sublimity of the U.S.-Japanese-European supermall.
Part of the problem, of course, is fear of “ideology” and radical thought as an imperialist trick, an imposition by the alien outsider. A more intractable bias is the notion that the activity of theoretical analysis is an ivory-tower luxury completely removed from social practice, and practice itself is seen as day-to-day activity devoid of any conceptual underpinning. This dichotomy of theory and practice is in fact a product of what Lukacs calls bourgeois reification. Without a theorizing of, or second-degree reflection on, the contingencies of lived experience, such experience remains unintelligible. Experience as mechanical action or instinctual response remains locked within the most rigid biological and environmental determinism, the antithesis of what revolutionaries call “praxis.” Without a critical theorizing of the whole process, Mao’s pear-eater (in On Practice) remains an abstract enigma, neither here nor there–another Chinese conundrum.
In my view, the practice of theoretical criticism is the contextualizing of action in history, the endeavor to control our environment (including ourselves) by understanding and grasping the concepts and categories that will guide action toward humanly intelligible ends and purposes. This fear of critical understanding which I have remarked above may explain the paucity of focused intellectual exchange in our society, the lack of healthy supra-personal debate on ideas, ethics, and alternative visions of society. Dissent evolves according to cliches and conspiratorial fiat. Because our intelligentsia cannot separate ideas from personalities, so enmeshed are they with self-reproducing tribal decorums, familial piety and honor, etc., they continue to stagnate in self-congratulating coteries, incestuous barkadas, and mutual admiration clubs. This apprentice milieu is a peculiar byproduct of our peripheral or dependent formation, an outgrowth of the articulation of discordant modes of production with temporalities of the archaic, modern, and futuristic all mixed in one incandescent brew.
I suggest that we conceive theoretical practice for the moment as a critical reflection on the agendas of diverse cultural politics representing a plurality of sectors, constituencies, classes. This plurality of inscriptions falls under the rubric of conjuncture or milieu. By “milieu” here I don’t mean merely a geographical setting or environment but, more importantly, the categories which allow us to comprehend individual phenomena as part of a network of differences, of institutions, belief-systems, socially-defined practices (habitus, in Bourdieu’s terminology). Milieu is thus best understood as a dialectical interaction between contradictory forces, between what one projects in the mind and what the given stage of development of society and its constraints allow to be accomplished. Here I would like to enter a parenthesis–a brief but not irrelevant comment on the recently published second volume of Writers and Their Milieu.


This collaboration of Doreen Fernandez and Eddie Alegre is highly commendable in preserving the memories of our writers in English most of whom are now in an advanced stage of being completely forgotten. I confine my remarks here to the question of milieu, the level of social consciousness and ethico-political commitment of writers in English. With the first generation of writers that included Villa, Lopez and Bienvenido Santos, one can perceive the signs of innovative albeit limited experimentation and rudiments of a critical interrogation of society which are starkly absent in the second generation. This of course can be historically understood in a figural sense as the delayed effects of the 1896 revolution, specifically the fierce mass resistance against U.S. genocidal barbarism in its first Vietnam.
With a few exceptions, the succeeding generation which includes Gonzalez and Arcellana, perhaps as an Oedipal rebellion against their progenitors, manifests a certain self-satisfied fascination with art as a self-sufficient craft. Their outlook is, in general, characterized by the narrow calculations of an artisanal mentality that aborted the rise of any critical awareness of the colonial parameters determining the subordinate status of their writing practice. We know that this can be partly elucidated by the influence of Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, and the gratifications offered by a technically-oriented New Criticism.
Part of the explanation foregrounds the artist’s social position in the pacified imperial outpost of the Commonwealth. While the writers in English withdrew into their private workshops, the vernacular writers (with the exception of S. P. Lopez and his colleagues) surpassed their provincialism and acquired global awareness as they registered in their class-conflicted texts the international discourse of resistance against capitalist decay and fascist insurgence in Europe and Asia. One can observe how the younger contemporaries of Arcellana and Gonzalez, like the Tiempos, visibly suffered from the stifling domination of mentors like Paul Engle and the sterility of New Critical formalism during the Cold War period. Its sequel, postcolonial deconstruction and other postalities, has severely damaged the sensibility of Filipino academics since the late seventies up to the present (for the U.S. scene, see Zavarzadeh and Morton 1991). We don’t even find any trace of a naive, parochial nativism, any hint of the virile pastoral realism that once flickered in Arguilla, Laya and Javellana. Except for outright apologists like E. Aguilar Cruz, who pathetically wants to forget the whole sad affair of his collaboration with the Marcos machine of corruption and brutality, the second generation testifies to a loss of that elan or expansive pioneering spirit that its predecessors flaunted even if only to impress their U.S. tutors. Because of limited space, I cannot elaborate here on the complex overdetermining contexts of these generational shifts. Just to give a token of the undiagnosed malaise afflicting the Cold War writers, consider this exchange between the interviewer and Demetillo:

DGF: What is your wife’s role with regards to your being a poet? Does she read your poetry and discuss it with you?
RD: Well, I discuss my books with her a little, but I think the virtue of my wife is that she leaves me largely alone, and does not talk too much of this and that. She’s very faithful in the kitchen and in the dining room, and she is more practical than I am….She is the better man in the family.

Now I think the problem of evoking less than what might have been disclosed from the writers’ answers by a different strategy of questioning lies in the theoretical narrowness of the concept of “milieu” which informs the framework and implicit methodology of the interviewers. While information about such sociological data like schooling, family, influences of writers, travels abroad, etc. are interesting for future biographers and curiosity-seekers, they subsist on the level of raw empirical data (the one on Jacinto is a model of triviality and trivialization) lacking a more rigorous and sophisticated critical theorizing of codes, both literary and social. What is lacking is the failure to consistently connect the writer’s work (themes, forms, genres) with the major social concerns of the nation and the world (for example, the Huk problem, Cold War politics)–an avoidance of ideology similar to those pointed out earlier, or simply its marginalization. There is scarcely any deliberate investigation of the ethical and moral issues affecting the practice of individual writers, not to speak of the political role some of them played. Such issues, I would like to insist here, are urgently crucial to the task of clarifying the function of literature in a colonial society such as the Philippines, a nation distinguished by a living tradition of revolutionary struggle against imperial oppression.
That, I suggest, is the most serious inadequacy of the interviews, a lacuna which in turn induces a complacency and misplaced pride in the really meager, somewhat dilettantish productions of such highly-touted and bemedalled artisans like Carlos Angeles, among others. (We wonder why some writers who have not really written anything worthwhile were included; meanwhile, a whole generation of truly incomparable writers in Pilipino and other vernacular tongues have passed and are passing away without benefit of tape-recorder and video.) Perhaps the nullity of their accomplishment is made up by their gossipy, congenial manner of confession, which of course doesn’t in the least compensate for the failure to intuit, much less comprehend, the large sociohistoric forces that have shaped and determined the contour of their writing lives. The pathos of this generation of writers can perhaps be epitomized by the touching disclosure of Manuel Viray, the only one who insinuates the power of the “political unconscious” which renders inutile the bulk of the writings alluded to: “I don’t know why I went into it [literary criticism]. This literary criticism, does it have any validity?” Responding to Alegre’s sympathetic urging that Viray continue to write, Viray says: “No, that is not enough. That is not enough.” Could this admonition not be taken both as a summing-up of the unresolved predicament of Filipino writers in their Babylonian captivity to the language of the colonizer, and as a much delayed stirring of their uneasy conscience?
I would like to suggest, at this juncture, that the origin of left and right opportunisms–whether the crude mechanical materialism of the traditional left, or the voluntarist and wrongheaded culturalism of those reacting against the former–may be traced to the theoretical roots of economism: the misleading base-superstructure analogy. That analogy or metaphor privileges invariably the economic base (in the narrow sense) and reduces everything to class. Every other category–gender, race, ethnicity, religious belief, etc.–is subsumed in the totalizing concept of class defined in relation to the ownership or control of the means of production. From this reckoning, ideology and politics, all culture in general, are conceived as a directly or immediately reflected superstructure and thus labelled “false consciousness,” deprived of any autonomous effectivity. To conceal this dogmatism, qualifications are entered. But these token gestures–for example, the superstructure (art or literature) reacts on the base–only re-validate the primacy of the economic instance construed in the most crude empirical fashion, always asserting itself “in the last analysis.” Not even Althusser (in Lenin and Philosophy) was able to escape the fallacy of “determination in the last instance”–one reading is that this instance never comes, never arrives; it is the absent cause that enables the structure in dominance to produce its effects. In any case, we witness progressive cultural groups who, unaware of the fatal blindness of economist assumptions so ingrained in their everyday conduct, treat official documents from above as sacred scriptures, thus reproducing all the reductionist one-sidedness, fatalist resignation to objective determinations, apotheosis of the wisdom of the organization’s elite, and corporatist self-righteousness and apologetics which have historically characterized the oppositional movement since its inception. From this follows defeats, betrayals, setbacks, and demoralization–unless a demand for rectification from the “unlettered masses” and recalcitrant critics interposes to save the faithful. Does this indigenous sound and fury signify anything?
These symptoms of the fate that this Western import–the philosophy of historical materialism–suffers particularly in a Third World formation like the Philippines can be transcoded to signify the peculiarities of the conjuncture we are living in/through. In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci has acutely analyzed the hetrogeneous and overdetermined nature of any conjuncture. He writes: “…the philosophy of a period cannot be any one individual or tendentious system; it is the totality of all the individual or tendentious philosophies, plus scientific opinions, plus religion and plus common sense.” Now, in the Philippines unlike Italy where Crocean idealism prevailed as the dominant current of thought side by side with Catholicism, the ascendant tendency in the majority of Filipino intellectuals (whether progressive or reactionary) is bourgeois empiricism and pragmatism sanctioned by the authority and prestige of U.S. cultural institutions and ideological apparatuses represented by our subservient economy and politics, cultural exchanges, scientific publications, doctorates gained in U.S. universities, etc. This constellation of ideas, attitudes and sensibility, a habitus reinforced by disciplinary regimes and collective practices of everyday life, continues to exercise a powerful influence on the intelligentsia and the middle strata as well as on the general population. It is the hegemonic ideology which underwrites property relations, the alienated nature of work, the iniquitous distribution of wealth, manipulated political representation, etc. This hegemony, as I’ve discussed earlier, exists precisely because it is able to accomodate the crude materialism of folk-religion, Christian rituals, libertarian impulses, reformist programs, and metaphysics of all kinds. It promotes individualist competition above all and allows certain forms of communal ownership so long as it does not threaten or outlaw the elite’s (and foreign corporate’s) extraction of surplus value from the working people.
In the case of the national democratic movement, we have observed that every political impulse or intellectual trend is subordinated to the class-oriented program of the basic masses (workers and peasants). It may be that of late there has been some revision of this formula for public consumption. At any rate, this prioritizing obstructs precisely that hegemony (moral-intellectual consent as the matrix of leadership voluntarily given) which the political party of the proletariat can win only by sacrificing its narrow corporate interests for the sake of a national-popular, broadly based consensus identified with a historic social bloc that transcends any one class interest and succeeds in articulating all interests (specifically gender, race, ethnic and religious ones) under one nationwide program. I submit that this program can only be the project of attaining genuine independence from foreign (in particular U. S.) domination. In struggling for self-determination, the participating masses become consciously transformed as a historic agency into a sovereign, autonomous nation [see Part Two of this book]. So far this hegemony, as an ongoing project, remains still utopian despite heroic efforts to construct it which was inspired in the past decades by, among others, Claro Recto, Lorenzo Tanada, and Jose Diokno.
One other evidence I might cite here of vulgar materialism in its pragmatic-empiricist version is the knee-jerk attitude of cadres and even some “responsible” leaders that you don’t need to do any theoretical study–“those are only for academic pettybourgeois individuals not fit for ‘the long march’ in the countryside”–or engage in discussions over philosophical categories and methods. In fact all you need to do, if you don’t want to be chided as an ivory-tower intellectual or unreconstructed book-worshipper, is to plunge into the slums, immerse yourself in the life of the basic masses in factories, plantations, guerilla zones, so that you can get the necessary practice that will earn you the honorific title of “revolutionary.” Here, obviously, theory and practice are conceived in the metaphysical dichotomizing fashion as two separate realms in contrast to the concept of “praxis” in Theses on Feuerbach. Of course this should be diagnosed and criticized as “expressions of historical development,” as Gramsci advises. The cardinal Marxist principle of historical specification and its dialectical concretization (spelled out, for example, by Lukacs and Korsch) must be pursued if we are going to correct the distortions in the drawing up of strategy and tactics. In this connection Gramsci acutely perceived our unresolved dilemma: that “remnants of mechanicalism still persist, since theory is spoken of as a ‘complement,’ an accessory of practice, as an ancillary of practice.” Although formulated for the political situation in Italy of the early Thirties, these remarks target the roots of corporatism and sectarianism that still characterizes segments of the radical left today. This charge of “mechanicalism” may explain why, conversely, for intellectuals who are entrenched in Establishment circles, the term “ideologue” and “ideology” remain derogatory and pejorative while “pure theory” (formerly the preserve of the experts) has now, caught in the antagonisms of the moment, been irretrievably sullied by the hands of “dirty” practical interests.
It would take a long treatise to anatomize in detail the sociohistorical determinations of economism in the left (dating back to Crisanto Evangelista’s workerist orientation to the opportunist pragmatism of the Lavas and Tarucs). But a step toward carrying out that task can begin by taking seriously this insight from Gramsci’s instructive essay “Marxism and Modern Culture” where the need for organic intellectuals of the proletariat is addressed. These intellectuals (not all party hacks or frontmen) take on the challenge of evolving and elaborating a coherent, systematic philosophy that will sublate (that is, cancel, preserve and elevate–aufheben) remnants of both materialism and idealism in society into a hegemonic culture representing a new historic bloc of popular forces capable of articulating the emerging identity of the Filipino nation. Gramsci writes:

Marxism was confronted with two tasks: to combat modern ideologies in their most refined form in order to create its own core of independent intellectuals; and to educate the masses of the people whose level of culture was medieval. Given the nature of the new philosophy the second and basic task absorbed all its strength, both quantitatively and qualitatively. For “didactic” reasons the new philosophy developed in a cultural form only slightly higher than the popular average (which was very low), and as such was absolutely inadequate for overcoming the ideology of the educated classes, despite the fact that the new philosophy had been expressly created to supersede the highest cultural manifestation of the period, classical German philosophy, and in order to recruit into the new social class whose world view it was a group of intellectuals of its own. On the other hand, modern culture, particularly the idealist, has been unable to elaborate a popular culture and has failed to provide a moral and scientific content to its own educational programmes, which still remain abstract and theoretical schemes. It is still the culture of a narrow intellectual aristocracy which is able to attract the youth only when it becomes immediately and topically political (Gramsci 1957, 85).

This mode of grounding thought in concrete social reality, the axiomatic desideratum of historicizing the object of analysis required by dialectical thinking, may also provide a clue to answering why, in general, the majority of our intellectuals (note that generalizations like this must always be qualified) remain marginal in the current struggles. But they prove in effect to be unwitting agents of re-colonization because of their uncritical parroting of received ideas (sanctified by years of military and economic coercion) and what passes for “common sense,” a brew of myths and mystifications like “Philippine society is matriarchal” or “The Filipino is essentially this and that….” This superfluous and peripheral status of the intellectual may also be taken as an index of the dogmatism and sectarianism afflicting the progressive movement which has been unable to remold and educate them. Despite claims of opening up, democratization, etc., the problem persists especially among the ranks of those who abstractly privilege armed struggle as the principal or primary path of radical social transformation, and among those who conversely cry peace at any price.
So far the now legendary “democratic space” has been evenly divided into these two camps while Fr. Ed de la Torre and others keep busy eluding vigilante death squads. We are still caught between the horns of the dilemma outlined by Gramsci, still in the interregnum between the old dying order and the new struggling painfully to be born, an interlude when morbid symptoms continue to torment and haunt our waking hours.
To conclude provisionally these “low intensity” notes on the cultural battlefront, allow me to recount finally one last incident which took place last year in Metro Manila. I had (in retrospect) the misfortune of having been invited again for the second time by a woman’s group to participate in a forum on “feminism.” Today, of course, it is no longer permissible to have a male (however sympathetic his fellow-travelling may be) represent women–Filipinas today can and do represent themselves. Let there be no doubt about this. However, the woman (biologically speaking) invited to react or oppose me–a “female” writer whose reputation as an aggressive hustler and self-promoter now based in Manhattan is exceeded only by her arrogant claim to be the sole trusted representative of the party–exhibited a paleolithic mentality when, unable to grasp what I was saying, puzzled angrily and maliciously over my simple statement that “gender is a social construct.” This notorious party flunkey typifies the froth of bohemia once patronized by the Marcos cultural commissars, born-again opportunists to whom revolution is also grist to the egocentric mill. This anti-feminist female’s mentality is admittedly a notch above the usual ilustrado personalities gracing the panel of WOMANWATCH, but certainly an embarrassment to Maria Lorena Barros and others who have struggled and died not just to glamorize themselves. The mainly feminist audience saw nothing wrong with this egotism or its inverted machismo. Feminists, beware of saboteurs in the fold. I cite this incident only for its value as a symptomatic index that even so-called progressive comrades cannot escape the reductionism of the movement bureaucrats and their offensive elitist style, with all its horrible political consequences. Is class struggle nothing but an elaborate power game or ego trip, a mirror image of traditional clientele politics? Well, then, in this game who can match Cory and Gringo? Or Cardinal Sin with the Church’s heritage of thousands of years of gorgeous theatrical hallucinations, epic carnivals of miracles, luxuriant visions, phantasmagoric arabesques, transgressive thrills of catharsis, kaleidoscopes spinning pleasures–deaths and resurrections and transfigurations!–ecstasies exploding beyond the reach of any mortal’s fantastic dreams!
E. SAN JUAN is co-director of Philippine Forum, New York City, and heads the Philippine Cultural Studies Center in Connecticut, USA He is at present visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at the National Tsing Hua University and Academia Sinica fellow in Taiwan. He was 2003 professor of American Studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Among his recent books are RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke University Press) and WORKING THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell University Press). Two books in Filipino were launched last July: HIMAGSIK (De La Salle University Press) and TINIK SA KALULUWA (Anvil).

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