ni E. San Juan, Jr.
Kailan lamang sapilitan tayong na-detour
Ng walang-hiyang Yolandang ibinunyag ang bulok
Na pamamalakad ng gobyernong buktot
Nalubog sa putik ng kasinungali’t korapsyon

Pabalik mula sa Tacloban ng mga Romualdez
Naligaw tayo ng patayan sa Mamasapano, sinilip
Kung saan idinuro ni Marwan si P’Noy nasipit
Utos ng Kanong sa pandarambong di mailigpit

Di naharang nina Jennifer Laude’t Veloso, biktima
Ng patuloy na neokolonya’t alipin ng dayuhang kapital
Liku-likong landas ang tinahak ng berdugong Palparan
Tinutugis ng multo nina Burgos Empeno’t Cadapan

Hirap ituwid ang liku-likong daan nina Marcos & Macapagal
Vigilante ni Cory mula Mendiola’t masaker sa Ampatuan
Daang madugo’y lumawig mula Davao Bukidnon hanggang
Surigao del Sur ng Magahat-Bagani ng AFP, ng Alamar

Di maituwid ang tusong landas nina Monsod at Coloma
Sisihin man ang NPA o Abu Sayyaf at libu-libong Lumad
Dagdag na ang 280 biktima ng rehimeng P’noy, huwag kalimutan
Ang pinaslang sa Hacienda Luisita–Ay naku, matinik na landas

Ang tatahakin ng U.S. imperyalismong sa krisis nahulog
Habang tumatawid sa lupain ng Moro’t Lumad, sinakop
Ng korporasyong kasabwat ng mga oligarko’t trapong
Yumaman sa pagnanakaw–paano na ang hustisyang pangako?

Kung walang katuwiran sa “daang” binaluktot, imbi’t taksil
Ang hagkis na dahas ng gobyernong suwail
Sa masang tuwirang bumabanat, naghihimagsik
Upang tuwiring makamit kalayaa’t kararinlang minimithi. -##

Posted in DISCOURSES ON CONTRADICTIONS | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment



Babb with Carlos
Thanks to the Library of Congress and other sponsors of this historic celebration of this Filipino writer’s achievement, Carlos Bulosan—let’s call him Allos, as though we were his kasamas in Binalonan, Pangasinan, or in Manilatown in Los Angeles—is returning for the second time to Washington, DC. His spirit, or ghost, I mean, though it is presumptuous, maybe even sacrilegious, to invoke it, much less assume we can impose our wish or will on it. Individuals really exercise only very meager control on how decisive circumstances unfold, even though we (especially academics) pretend to have some say or “agency.” Ditto for philanthropic “do-gooders” professing “Marxist” credentials (more later).

Proletarian Pinoy Meets Ilustrado

The first and probably last time Allos was in DC was in November 18, 1943, based on his article as contributing editor to the magazine, BATAAN (August 1944. pp.13-15) on the occasion of the death of Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon. He said he was writing the 28th chapter of his book “In Search of America” (now AIH) when President Quezon requested his visit to DC. He then met vice President Sergio Osmena, Col. Carlos Romulo, the president’s wife and daughter, and other assistants. He writes that President Quezon was prompted to call for him after reading his essay “Freedom From Want” published in the Saturday Evening Post. In this elegiac tribute, Allos evinces zealous praise for Quezon, identifying the story of Quezon with the last 45 years of the country’s emergence into modernity. His oral homage to the president prompted Quezon to ask him if he could write his biography, to which he gave a coaxed gesture of assent. His admiration is, in some ways, self-serving, a kind of fantasy projection. He writes:

…I began to ask myself why he [Quezon] felt so close and confidential to me. I began to contemplate what I was a year ago, a common laborer, a migratory farm worker, who had lived in the slums of both America and the Philippines—was it because this man, the avowed leader of his people, was also of humble origin and went through heart-rending deprivations in his youth? It was then that I felt kinship with him, a feeling so great that it sustained me in my perilous trip back to Los Angeles and immediately afterwards, became the dynamic force that moved me to interpret him to the misinformed Filipinos in California (1944, 14).

Allos had no real solid knowledge of Quezon’s “humble origin” or the “heart-rending deprivations” of Quezon’s youth. But when he read the attacks on Quezon in fascist-inspired Filipino newspapers in California, Allos came to the defense of the exiled Commonwealth government. It was still “united front” politics then. Allos proceeded from DC to New York (where he met Jose Garcia Villa) to sign his contract with Harcourt Brace before returning to California.

President Quezon telegrammed him afterward for a “memorandum on the Filipinos in the West Coast.” Allos failed to fulfill his promise; instead, he “hoped that my autobiography…would give him all the materials he would need…that in presenting the life story of a common Filipino immigrant, who had just attained an intellectual integrity that could not be bought, I would be presenting the whole story of the Filipinos in the United States” (15). Note how a radical reversal occurs here. It is Quezon now who will compose, endorse or ratify Allos’ biography, not Allos acceding to the ilustrado’s request. Allos, the uprooted peasant, re-invents himself as the emblem or ethnic index to the whole uprooted community, not the coopted ilustrado. Some kind of retributive transposition occurs—symptom of peasant ressentiment?
At the end of this tell-tale article, Allos bade farewell to Quezon who, conducting the “good fight…died at a time when it seems sure that our country will be free again, and will assume her independence in a world federation of free and equal nations” (15).
That future of “free and equal nations,”contrary to Allos’ sentiment, remains in the future. Allos, to be sure, not only felt almost filial kinship with Quezon and his family, but also also a tributary, even quasi-feudal loyalty to Quezon as a symbol of the nation’s struggle for independence. This is a traditional peasant view of the elite. At this point, we need to interpose some historical perspective and assay the relative importance of Quezon as a representative of the entrenched propertied interests in the context of the recurrent grievances and revolts of Filipino peasants, workers and indigenous communities, throughout the Commonwealth period and the two and half decades before 1935. One can cite here the repression of the Tayug and Sakdal uprisings, among others, as well as Muslim dissidence, in which the oligarchy and later Quezon himself acted as partisans of the status quo. During the Cold War period and the McCarthyist witch-hunt, the State was for Allos and his brothers/sisters in the union a merciless persecutory force to resist.
The extant account of Allos’ travels in the U.S. are sketchy, so it is difficult to determine what other links he had to the personnel of the exiled Commonwealth government, for example, to Romulo, J.C. Dionisio, Villa, Bienvenido Santos,and others. We do not have any information whether he met the members of the Philippine Writers League (either Salvador P. Lopez, Federico Mangahas, or Arturo Rotor—major writers in English in the thirties) who attended the Third Congress of the League of American Writers on June 2-4, 1939 (Folsom 1994, 241). Allos was certainly acquainted with Lopez, the most significant critic of that period, evidenced by his letter in The New Republic “Letter to a Filipino Woman” (San Juan 1995, 210-14) whose death he prematurely announced (he mistook the guerilla writer Manuel Arguilla, murdered by the Japanese, for Lopez).
One question I would ask the future biographer is whether Allos met the poet and militant unionist Amado V. Hernandez when Hernandez visited the U.S. after McArthur’s “Liberation” of the colony. Allos protested Hernandez’s arrest by the government and included an article by Hernandez, “Wall Street Chains the Philippines,” in the August 1952 issue of the 1952 Yearbook, Local 37, of the International Longshoremen’s & Warehousemen’s Union in Seattle. *

Class as Network of Social Relations

Earlier I mentioned Allos’ attitude of being “beholden” to Quezon, an attitude carried over from the conformist ethos of a section of the peasantry. This is the moment I would like to address the issue of “Americanism” in AIH by way of engaging the question of social class. Herminia U. Smith recently e-mailed Reme Grefalda, editor of the e-zine In Our Own Voice, about this, complaining about people generalizing that “the Manongs came from the Philippine peasantry; that they were uneducated, and that’s why they were ‘only’ laborers.”
Allow me first to quote first Allos’ thoughts on education and labor expressed candidly in his letter to his nephew dated April 1, 1948:

…it is not really important to go to the university. A college degree does not mean that you are educated…Education comes after school, from your relations with your fellow man, from your understanding of yourself…Education is actually the application of this discovery: that you are a human being with a heart, and a mind, and a soul. Intelligence is another thing, of course… [Maxim Gorki] wrote books about the poor people in his country that showed that we poor people in all lands are the real rulers of the world because we work and make things. We make chairs, we plow the land, we create children; that is what Gorki means. But those who do not work at all, those rich bastards who kick the poor peasants around: they contribute nothing to life because they do not work. In other words, Fred, we can still have a nice country without money and politicians. We just need workers. Everything we see and use came from the hands of workers….(1988, 36-37).

My first comment is that the term “laborers,” though often derogatory or pejorative in intent, becomes so because we live in a system distinguished by class hierarchy. Due to the division of labor in class society, from slave to capitalist, manual work has been degraded by being associated with the unpropertied, unlettered groups; and thus people deprived of land, tools or animals, are confined to sell their labor-power and do manual“labor” while those free from laboring with their hands, supposedly educated, occupy a higher position or status. This is not a result of being uneducated, but of being dispossessed, racialized and colonized. Obviously, we all oppose class differentiation and discrimination, and I hope we are all united in rejecting such an insulting class-ridden system.

The Peasantry Intervenes

I would use the term “peasant” as a descriptive category defining a group in relation to the means of production, in this case, land. It does not refer to status or life-style as such. It does not imply lack of education or low status—except from the viewpoint of the privileged idle landlord and business elite. Historically, in Europe, the peasantry was a complex group classified simply into the rich peasants who owned land they cultivated, did not employ landless persons as serfs (such as the feudal landlords) and had some power and prestige; the middle peasants who may own land or not but who have independent means, and the poor or landless peasants reduced to debt peonage and serfhood. You can refine this category further by including ideology, ancestry, customs, etc.
In the Philippines, however, the Spanish colonial system narrowed the classification into two main ones: the Spanish landlords who owned fiefdoms and operated through caciques and hired overseers, and the majority of dispossessed natives. Even Rizal’s family had to lease their farms from the Dominican friars. Objectively, Rizal came from the rich peasantry; but their access to education and lineage aligned them with the ilustrado fraction who, while not owning land, accumulated some wealth through farming, trade, etc., that enabled their separation from the landless poor colonized subjects. Because Filipino peasants became proletarianized when they moved to the towns and cities while maintaining the peasant ethos of the traditional village, their sensibilities and behavior reflected the vacillations typical of the youthful Allos and his social class. Thus we observe Allos’ strong spirit of solidarity and egalitarianism mixed with his desire to move beyond the traditional regime of submission to authority, to the power of the inheritors of prestige and privilege founded on property.
When the United States colonized the Philippines, the legal idea of land ownership with torrens title became part of the legal and political system. Ordinary peasants acquiring the means were able to buy land. Some feudal estates (esp. those owned by the friars) were broken up, but not all; in fact, as William Pomeroy documents in American Neocolonialism (1970), tenancy increased during forty years of direct U.S. colonial rule. The landlord system, though weakened, was in fact renewed and strengthened with the U.S. cooptation of the oligarchy in managing the State apparatus, bureaucracy, schools, etc. In Allos’ case, the family owned some land (Allos mentions this land as a gift from his father’s friend) which they had to mortgage or sell to pay for both Aurelio and Allos’ passage. The farm was foreclosed. Allos writes in a sketch published in Poetry magazine:

My father was a small farmer, but when I was five or six years old his small plot of land was taken by usury; and usury was the greatest racket of the illustrado, and it still is although it is now the foreigners who are fattening on it. My father had a big family to support, so he became a sharecropper, which is no different from the sharecroppers in the Southern States. Years after, because of this sharecropping existence, my father fell into debts with his landlord, who was always absent, who had never seen his tenants—and this was absentee landlordism, even more oppressive than feudalism. Then my father really became a slave—and they tell me there is no slavery in the Philippine Islands! [circa 1943]

So when historians trace the genealogy of the “Manongs” to the peasantry, it is not meant to debase them as “uneducated” or “only” laborers. Studies of the peasantry (in itself, a rigorous scientific discipline) by Eric Hobsbawm, Eric Wolf, James Scott, Theodor Shanin and others have demonstrated the sagacity, intelligence, shrewdness, and wisdom of the peasantry. Their adaptive skills have not been surpassed by the modern urban entrepreneur. Needless to say, formal education is not a measure of intelligence or wisdom. The best illustration of this is Allos’ The Laughter of My Father, as well as other stories collected in The Philippines Is in the Heart.

As for the degradation of workers and laborers, this is part of the history of the rise of capitalism. The Depression was a crisis of this system, worsening the plight not only of unemployed and starving millions of citizens but, more severely, of people of color like the “Manongs.” They were not, strictly speaking, immigrants (not until the Commonwealth would there be an immigrant quota for Filipinos) but colonial subjects barred from access to citizenship. In addition, they were also a proletarianized and racialized minority. Productive labor, of course, is the source of social wealth, though from the viewpoint of a market-centered economics, labor is downgraded from the view point of capital and ownership of land and productive means. This is the effect of judging everything in terms of exchange value, not use-value, the result of translating all values into money, possessions, or commodity-fetishes.

“Little Brown Brother’s” Burden

This is the moment to confront the problem of white-supremacist “Americanism” posing as minority-model “Marxism.” Practically all readers of AIH, with some exceptions, read it only as an immigrant story, or at best, a “Popular Front” collective biography, as Michael Denning and others have done. Obviously it is far from being an exemplary narrative of immigrant success. There is arguably more allegory, gothic melodrama, and utopian fabulation in AIH than in Laughter. As I have stressed in my paper, the inability to understand the substantive function of the first part of AIH, from chapter 1 to 12, is a symptom of the larger failure to understand the political and cultural actuality, significance, and consequence of the colonial subjugation of the Philippines from the time of the Filipino-American War of 1899 up to 1946, and its neocolonial dependency thereafter. It is a crippling failure which leads to all kinds of vacuous, ill-informed pronouncements (which I will illustrate in a moment).
This is the reason why I propose that we decenter the Bulosan canon and begin with The Cry and the Dedication, Laughter, his essays, poetry, and his other writings in approaching the totality of his achievement (see my paper “Blueprint for a Bulosan Project” in the online journal, In Our Own Voice). The other works avoid the celebration of “America” as the totemic paradigm of freedom and democracy. We hope to correct the formalist framework of intelligibility that would exclude the historical context of the profound colonial subjugation which Allos and the Filipino people as a whole experienced from 1899 up to the present. It would result, first, in espousing 200% Americanism; second, confusion in making sense of the contradictory messages of the narrative; and third, a cynical acceptance of immigrant success leading to a dismissal of the work as tedious, naïve, a multiculturalist factoid. (See Jessica Hagedorn’s visceral repudiation of Bulosan in The Gangster of Love.) I will not go into the reasons why AIH turned out to be such an ideological pastiche well before the vogue of postmodernism—I have supplied some reasons in my paper.
Take the case of Kenneth Mostern’s essay, “Why is America in the Heart?” published in the UC Berkeley journal, Critical Mass (1995). Mostern, a self-proclaimed Marxist, faults AIH for its “Americanism” and its unquafied endorsement of “American democratic institutions, even at their worst” as “the vanguard of world politics.” Was Allos really guilty of this? I think Mostern imputes to AIH a spurious teleology which springs from his assumption that the Philippines as a classic colony was really being shaped by U.S. policies to be a fully democratic, industrialized society, an organic part of the metropolis. Not only is Mostern not aware of the series of U.S. legislation and policies (from the Jones Act to the Bell Trade Act and their sequels) that defined Philippine subalternity for the last century and the next. His analysis also exhibits a remarkable insensitivity to the experience of racialized subjugation, a flaw rather astonishing for those boasting of being schooled not only in Marx and Lenin but also in W.E.B. DuBois, Fanon, Said, Freire, and a whole battery of thinkers who have exposed the limits of Eurocentric teleology which Mostern claims to reject. Consider the following:

….I am not claiming that Bulosan’s desire to bring technological development to the Philippines—seeing its economy as needing…”development”—is what is wrong here. While the Philippines is poor and oppressed the attempt to bring some of what the U.S. has to it is obviously appropriate and deserves the support of all U.S. leftists, whether or not we are Filipino….Just as the wealth of the United States, earned in part through imperial presence in Asia, allowed Bulosan the space to become a writer, such a continuing disparity of wealth, where it occurs, and the colonial legacy, even where it doesn’t, may ensure the continuation of this pattern [of allowing the Philippines to develop into a full-blown industrial capitalist power] (1995, 49).

Mostern’s argument is now considered rather embarrassingly inept, to say the least. It is based on the crude mechanical view that social development goes through the evolutionary stage from slavery and feudalism to capitalism, and the latest is of course superior to what came before it. When Marx heard that his followers were attributing this linear teleology to him, he famously remarked: “If that is marxism, then I am not a Marxist.” A clear sign of Mostern’s chosen stance of ignoring the impact of U.S. colonial domination, and what it signifies for Filipinos who sacrificed 1.4 million lives to defend the gains of the revolution against Spanish despotism, is this remark:

Bulosan opens the book with a moment of disjunction, an explicit contrast between a young peasant boy, Carlos himself, working the land with his family and the intersection of this apparently primeval scene with the outside world, most specifically the world of a war in Europe, where Carlos’s brother Leon is fighting. No reason is given why a Filipino boy would be fighting on another continent; instead, the fact of the global situatedness of the peasant economy is the theoretical premise of the book, what which the intelligent reader must already know (1995, 46).

What Mostern forgot was precisely his self-professed duty to apply materialist dialectics to this “global situatedness,” one which is mediated by U.S. colonial rule. He forgets what almost everyone knows: Filipinos, just like today, are enlisted to fight U.S. corporate wars; that the serflike or slavish existence of landless peasants like Allos’ father and millions like him have been legitimized by the preservation of the power of the oligarchical landlord class as a political strategy of neocolonial rule; and that the fight for independence against U.S. colonial oppression is what motivated the popular-front struggle here and in the Philippines against fascism (part of the oligarchy supported Franco in Spain) and Japanese militarism (part of that oligarchy believed it was a useful foil to U.S. imperialism).
Reading AIH as a glorification of “Americanism” or American Exceptionalism may in part be due to the editorial cleansing of the text itself. It is, as some have duly suspected, a very sanitized text in its silence over the destructive effects of U.S. colonial rule, especially the years from 1914 to 1948. Given the Filipino rejection of Spanish autocratic rule and religious authoritarianism, American proclamation of its “civilizing mission,” complete with Thomasite teachers, public education, etc. was attractive. There was no other choice under the flag of “Manifest Destiny.” Except for the allusion to the January 1931 Tayug peasant insurrection, there is no mention in AIH of the Tangulan movement (1930-31) nor the Sakdal uprising of May 2-3,1935 and its aftermath.
Nonetheless, it is absurd to erase or wholly obscure the scenes and chapters that expose the savage truth of “Americanism” in action, represented in white-supremacist violence on behalf of agribusiness and monopolies. Nor is it correct to assume that the presumed proletarian politics of the later part of the narrative has replaced “the peasant society” portrayed in the first section. In a revealing gesture, Mostern calls the Filipino workers “expatriates” whose “backwardness,” however, he deplores repeatedly in favor of an enlightened “leftist” United States Studies which turns out to be a vapid token of pettybourgeois wish-fulfillment.
Mostern’s self-righteous act of patronage is typical of postmodernizing scholars guilty of the excesses of what Pierre Bourdieu (2000) calls “scholastic reason.” Presuming to be bearers of an omnipresent panoptic mind, they pass judgment on the world without any awareness of their own accessory location, their ineluctable inscription in the social-historical text of which they claim to be free. This stance of presumptuous objectivity may be simply dismissed as innocent, a self-indulgent reproduction of trivialities, or dangerous in being complicit with forces producing misery and horror for millions of human beings. Mostern wants to take out the “America” of the brainwashed subaltern in a sanitized “U.S. Studies—but is “United States” any less of a “rogue state” (Blum 2005) than the exceptionalist “America” of Anglo leftists in elite U.S. academies?
Notwithstanding these caveats, thanks to Mostern’s nominalist syndrome, we are now alerted to the dangers of imposing formulaic solutions to neocolonial “backwardness” masquerading as latter-day “benevolent assimilation,” the Anglo’s “civilizing mission” in ultra-left disguise. “U.S. Studies without America,” any takers?
One symptom of peasant subaltern ambivalence I mentioned earlier may be found in its affinity for millennial or messianic movements which reflect the reality of their isolated, fragmented lives. As Hosbawm notes, the unit of organized action for subaltern groups is “either the parish pump or the universe. There is no in between” (1984, 20). This may explain the inflated rhetoric of an “America” inhabited by an indiscriminate “common people” or “toiling poor, a utopian space beyond class and state, as well as its fragmentary segmented nature, a fact registered in the episodic, repetitious or segmentary flow of the narrative. These stylistic and formal qualities linked to the peasant world-view contrasts with the more cohesively class-conscious part of the narrative which reflects the basic social reality of proletarian existence—that is, of migrant contract workers who are colonized/racialized subjects—in being concentrated in groups of mutual if forced cooperation in farmwork and in organized union activities.
What illuminates the contradictions in AIH is thus not a contrived formulaic schema such as the one imposed by Mostern, based on his limited world of leftist sectarianism, but our grasp of the historical and social reality of the Filipino peasantry in the colonial“lost” homeland, and of the Manongs, bachelors in barracks, moving from place to place, ostracized from normal life by massive laws, by customary prohibitions of everyday life, etc.—a violently distorted, grotesque, and terror-filled landscape beyond the comprehension of sheltered academics, a milieu perhaps approximating what our ethnic communities may be experiencing after 9/11 in the “homeland security state.”

The Manongs’ Red-White-and-Blue Blues

One other approach to understanding the charge of Americanism is to consider how the “America” utopianized rhetorically in AIH resembles Clarabelle in Allos’ “The Romance of Magno Rubio.” The story of course is not a realistic but a satiric portrayal of a contrived situation, with strong allegorical and didactic elements. Like the vignettes in Laughter, both story and play mobilize the tendentious potential of caricature, incongruities, and ribald exaggeration found in the genre. They ingeniously expose the fakery of the invented and fantasized object inhabiting Magno’s imagination, a fantasy-contagion that infects all the “little brown brothers” from the Asian colony. Here, of course, the Americanism or American Dream whose quasi-floating signifier is the figure of Clarabelle—the fixation on money, consumer goods, white-skin privilege, etc.—which is humorously exploded as a mirage, a hallucination. The recurring refrain, attributed to Claro, the astute letter-writer, already foregrounds the hyperbolic discrepancies to which the honest Magno Rubio seems wrongheadedly blind:

Magno Rubio. Filipino boy. Four-foot six inches tall. Dark as a coconut. Head small on a body like a turtle. Magno Rubio. Picking tomatoes on a California hillside for twenty-five cents an hour. Filipino boy. In love with a girl one hundred ninety-five pounds of flesh and bones on bare feet. A girl twice his size sideward and upward, Claro said… (1996, 118)

But are Claro and Nick, the knowing smart guys, always to be trusted? Magno’s “love” turns out to be a collective trauma, a group fixation, to which systematic education (or mis-education, as Renato Constantino would put it) and ideological manipulation in the colony, among other forces, had made these lonely bachelors highly susceptible. The “romance” in the title, caused partly by anti-miscenegation laws but mainly by their colonized/racialized position, refers to this collective psychic illness whose origin and cure seems to inhere in the unsettled, unfixed but also regimented condition of contracted/recruited workers from the colony. Unlike the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, Filipinos bear the singularity of being considered “savages” or “barbaric” for their fierce resistance to American “pacifying” troops circa 1899-1902 (as witness the “water cure,” retrenchment of entire villages, anti-sedition laws, and other ethnocidal measures) and their obssession with independence. Disillusionment for Magno begets a sense of pathos, but comic distance supervenes, and life returns to routine work in the end.
This theme of sharing a perceived good or value, whether it is an object, person, information, or a dream, finds a memorable embodiment in the story “The End of the War.” I should point out that the publication of this story in the New Yorker in September 1944 occasioned a charge of plagiarism against Allos, which the magazine settled out of court. For this, Allos was vilified in the Philippines by journalists like I.P. Soliongco and others who disliked his radical politics. The charge is not serious, I think, because Allos’ story is not an exact copy of “The Dream of Angelo Zara” by Guido D’Agostino. There is an obvious similarity of plot, in the same way that Shakespeare’s plays borrowed plots from Italian, Greek, Roman and other sources. While for D’Agostino’s Italian characters, the dream of seeing Mussolini dead is shared and passed on from one character to another, none privatizing the original, in Allos’ story, one person’s dream of the occupying Japanese soldiers surrendering to the Filipino infantry testifies to Allos’ desire for the empowerment of the entire community, not just for individual self-gratification. This is a key difference that makes “The End of the War” quite exceptional in refracting the anomie-ridden, violently disintegrated life of the “Manongs.”
On the whole, the characterization, setting, imagery, and style all exhibit Allos’ singular trademark, with an uncanny resemblance to the collective sharing of an illusion in “The Romance of Magno Rubio.” There is the same exchange of a value without the mediation of money or some reifying fetish. In Laughter, Allos reworked many traditional fables and anecdotes whose provenance in Arabic and Indian folklore is well-known and whose plots, motifs, and character-types continue to be reproduced by authors in many languages and cultures. It is the folk, the people, who function as the original authors; Allos’ task was to mediate between this world of subaltern folk and the world of industrialized capitalist modernity.
We are not sure all of Allos’ characters in “The Romance” derive from the peasantry. All display in varying degrees the naivete, cunning, intelligence, resiliency and solidarity of peasants whose labor, while alienating, also preserves a certain humanity in them. Magno and his worker-friends were definitely not “guests of the State,” nor immigrants; they were, as many have noticed, colonial wards subject to all the disciplinary regime of anti-miscegenation laws, prohibitions and exclusions of all kinds. But the whole lesson of AIH is the transformation of the Filipino subaltern consciousness, fragmented but at the same time cosmic and global, into a critical and cohesively class conscious intelligence, through the process of affiliating with the organized political movement of a multiracial working class. This act of self-liberation through class liberation, however, is incomplete unless it is dialectically mediated through the emancipation of the colonized homeland, through national liberation. I think this is the ultimate lesson that cannot be gained without reading The Cry and the Dedication, the 1952 Yearbook, and the social contexts informing them.

Vogue of Transnationalisque Chic

There is a fashion nowadays of claiming to be cosmopolitan or transnational as a safeguard against neoconservative fundamentalism, a latter-day version of multicultural Americanism, or pragmatic American Exceptionalism (see Ponce 2005; San Juan 2004). Transnationalism, however, apologizes for the hegemonic pluralism that legitimates imperial conquests and justifies the predatory market consumerism that passes for globalization. There is no escape from distinguishing between imperial nationalism and national-liberation struggles of oppressed peoples. What Hobsbawm once said remains true despite the vogue of neoliberal globalization: “The scale of modern class consciousness is wider than in the past, but it is essentially’national’ and not global…The decisive aspects of economic reality may be global, but the palpable, the experienced economic reality, the things which directly and obviously affect the lives and livelihoods of people, are those of Britain, the United States, France, etc.”( 1984, 22). Allos’ sensibility, with its peasant/populist ethos, mutated via a process of self-education and disillusionment into the more focused class-consciousness of the writer committed to the concrete program of union reforms and specific political principles of which the rejection of imperialism, segregation and racial apartheid, and support for the emancipation of colonies, are obligatory demands.
One of Allos’ last public act of commitment to his vocation is the campaign to defend Chris Mensalvas and Ernesto Mangaong, militant leaders and officers of Local 37, ILWU, who were facing deportation, accused of being communists. The leaflet accompanying this campaign against Cold War McCarthyism condemns “the drive to deport foreign labor leaders” as “part of the hysteria that is terrifying the nation today. It is the vicious method of Big Business Race Haters to cripple organized labor and its gains, destroy civil rights and liberties, and abrogate the American Constitution.” Allos wrote a poem, “I Want the Wide American Earth” (echoing the earlier poem, “If You Want to Know What We Are”) to benefit the Defense Fund. In it he affirms that we, the multitude of productive men and women “have the truth/ On our side, we have the future with us” and “we are the creators of a flowering race.” (1979, 15). It is a Whitmanesque ode charged with universalist and utopian impulses, invoking a cosmic protagonist, an heroic egalitarian multitude. That millenarian or chiliastic tendency persists, though in a muted subterranean form, in The Cry, whose bold counterpoint is the recovery, simultaneously hypothetical and imperative, of a free and prosperous homeland.

Ultimo Adios

Always mindful (unlike his critics) of the need for anyone passing judgment on the world to factor in his/her position in self-reflexive critique, Allos gives advice to his nephew at the end of World War II that witnessed decisive and irreversible transformations in his life, and the beginning of the Cold War, a new era of social cataclysms. I conclude here with an excerpt from Allos’ letter to his nephew dated April 1, 1948:

And when you are old enough to go away, Arthur, do not hesitate to go out and face life. And whatever the future has in store for you, I request you to challenge it first before giving up. But never forget your family, your town, your people, your country, wherever you go. Your greatness lies in them…If someday you will discover that you are a genius, do not misuse your gift; apply it toward the safeguarding of our great heritage, the grandeur of our history, the realization of our great men’s dream for a free and good Philippines. That is real genius; it is not selfish; it sacrifices itself for the good of the whole community. We Filipinos must be proud that we had the greatest genius in Jose Rizal, who sacrificed his life and happiness for the people (1988, 36). (Facsimile of letter reproduced in Campomanes and Gernes 1988, 31-37)
* One of the points I raised in my paper—accessible to all, courtesy of IN OUR OWN VOICE—is the need for scholars to do the necessary detective work and document Allos’ fabled “mobility” which has puzzled or confused numerous Asian American pundits. In short, we need more critical research into Allos’ life in the Philippines and here from his birth to his death on Sept. 11, 1956.
We need younger unprejudiced scholars to shift through the papers in the Bulosan archive at the U of Washington Library, and elsewhere, and classify everything in a systematic way. Because of the neglect of this necessary work, texts like All the Conspirators have appeared which cannot be authenticated properly. The late Dolores Feria and others suspect that many writer-friends who helped Allos throughout the years, in various capacities, had a hand in many of his texts, some even responsible (in my view) of composing them. Too bad that Josephine Patrick and Sanora Babb can no longer answer our questions; but their papers, in particular those of the Babb sisters, may provide clues. Numerous letters to a wide variety of correspondents here and in the Philippines need to be added to the pioneering collection that Feria edited in 1960, Sound of Falling Light.
In a letter to me dated Sept 30, 1976,a certain PC Morantte disputes the birthdate of Nov. 24, 1914 which Allos put down in his autobiographical sketch for Stanley Kunitz’s Twentieth Century Authors (1955)—Morantte conjectures it was Nov. 14, 1914. In the sketch for Poetry magazine, Allos put down Nov. 24, 1913 and his arrival in Seattle on July 22, 1930, compared to 1931 in the earlier account.Morantte also contends that, based on information from Allos’ brother Aurelio, Allos finished third year high school (not three semesters) in 1929, serving as editor of his high school newspaper. Some Filipino-American enthusiasts have been misled by Morantte’s self-serving prevarications. Morrantte denies that Bulosan ever had leftist or Marxist sympathies. The FBI records recently secured by Professors Hirabayashi and Alquizola, aside from the 1952 ILWU Yearbook and Bulosan’s letters and numerous texts, reveal the opposite.

Blum, William. 2005. Rogue State. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 2000. Pascalian Meditations. Stanford: Stanford University P.
Bulosan, Carlos. 1944. “Manuel L. Quezon—THE GOOD FIGHT!”
Bataan (August): 13-15.
—–. 1978. The Philippines Is in the Heart. Quezon City: New Day Press.
—–. 1979. “I Want the Wide American Earth,” Unity (July 13), 15.
—–. 1988. “Two letters.” In “Two Letters from America: Carlos Bulosan and the Act of Writing” by Oscar Campomanes and Todd Gernes. MELUS 15.3 (Fall): 31-46.
—-. 1996. “The Romance of Magno Rubio.” In Asian American Literature, edited by Shawn Wong. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc.
D’Agostino, Guido. 1943. The Best American Short Stories 1943, edited by Martha Foley. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Folsom, Franklin. 1994. Days of Anger, Days of Hope. Boulder, CO:
University of Colorado Press.
Morantte, P.C. Personal letter to me, dated Sept. 30, 1976.
Mostern, Kenneth. 1995. “Why is America in the Heart?” Critical Mass, 2.2 (Spring): 35-64.
Pomeroy, William. 1970. American Neo-Colonialism. New York: International Publishers.
Ponce, Martin Joseph. 2005. “On Becoming Socially Articulate.” Journal of Asian American Studies 8.1 (February): 49-80.
San Juan, E., ed. 1995. On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of
Carlos Bulosan. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
—-. 1996. The Philippine Temptation. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
—-. 1996. “Searching for the Heart of America?” In Teaching American Ethnic Literatures, edited by John Maitino and David Peck. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 259-72.
—–. 2004. Working Through the Contradictions: From Cultural Theory to Critical Practice. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.
Smith, Herminia U. 2006. E-mail to Reme Grefalda, dated March
24, 2006.




Ni E. San Juan, Jr.

Ako’y may tapat na irog saanman paroo’y kasunod-sunod;
Mapatubig ay di nalulunod, mapaapoy ay di nasusunog.

Mayroon akong alipin, sunod nang sunod sa akin.

Kung araw, yumao ka; kung gabi’y halika;
Sa araw ay nagtataboy, sa gabi ay nag-aampon.

Laging nakasakay ngunit di nagpapasyal.
Lumalakad ang bangka, ang piloto ay nakahiga.

Hindi hayop, hindi tao, walang gulong ay tumatakbo.
Takbo roon, takbo rito, hindi makaalis sa tayong ito.

Nang maalala’y naiwan, nadala nang malimutan.
Pasurot-surot, dala-dala ay gapos.

Dalawang magkaibigan, unahan nang unahan.
Dalawang batong itim, malayo ang nararating.

Maputing parang bulak, kalihim ko sa pagliyag.

Apat katao, iisa ang sombrero; paa’y apat, hindi makalakad.

Ang bahay ni Pedrito, walang pinto, puro kuwarto.
Mayroon pitong bentanilya, tatlo lamang ang naisasara.

Isang bahay na bato, ang takip ay bilao.
Isang bakuran, sari-sari ang nagdaraan.

Kakalat-kalat, natitisod-tisod; kapagka tinipon, matibay na moog.

Nagbahay ang marunong, nasa ilalim ang bubong.
Limang magkakapatid, tig-iisa ang silid.

Bahay ni Santa Maria, naiinog ng sandata.
May bintana, walang bubungan; may pinto, walang hagdanan.

Bahay ni Ka Huli, haligi ay bali-bali, ang bubong ay kawali.
Bahay ng anluwagi, iisa ang haligi.
Maliit na bahay, puno ng mga patay.

Sarado roon, sarado rito; sarado hanggang dulo.
Kung saan masikip, doon nagpipilit.
Isang butil ng palay sakop ang buong bahay.

Kung gabi ay hinog, kung araw ay hilaw.
Nagbibihis araw-araw, nag-iiba ang pangalan.

Sa araw ay nakahimbing, sa gabi ay gising.
Lumuluha walang mata, lumalakad walang paa.

Kulay rosas ang pulseras ng reyna, pumuputok walang bala.
Walang ngipin, walang panga, mainit ang hininga.

Kung bayaan ay nabubuhay, kung himasin ay namamatay.
Kung ako’y mamamatay, pilit siyang madaramay.

May katawa’y walang mukha, walang mata’y lumuluha.
Kung kailan pinatay, saka humaba ang buhay.

Kung bayaan ay nabubuhay, kung himasin ay namamatay.
Kung kailan pa ako pinatay, saka nagtagal ang buhay.

Iisa na kinuha pa, ang natira ay dalawa.
Kapag ako’y minsang pinatay, buhay kong ingat lalong magtatagal.

Apat na kapapang kumot, di matakpan ang tuhod.
Isang butil ng trigo pinapagsikip ang buong mundo.


Isang reynang maraming mata, nasa gitna ng mga espada.
Nakayuko ang reyna, di malaglag ang korona.

Ang sombrero ni Bernabe sa bundok itinabi.

Maliit pa si kumpare, nakaakyat na sa tore.
Naunang umakyat, nahuli sa lahat.

Nakatindig walang paa, may tiya’y walang bituka
Naligo ang kapitan, hindi nabasa ang tiyan.

May likod walang tiyan, matulin sa karagatan.
Lumuluha’y walang mata, lumalakad walang paa.

May ulo walang tiyan, may leeg walang baywang.
Tag-ulan o tag-araw, hanggang tuhod ang salawal.

Mataas kung nakaupo, mababa kung nakatayo.
Ang ina’y gumagapang pa, ang anak ay umuupo na.
May dala, may bitbit, may sunong may kilik.

Di matingkalang bundok, darak ay nakakamot.

Kay raming nakahiga, iilan lamang ang abot sa lupa.
Masarap na hantungan, ngunit iniiwasan ng tanan.

Maputing dalaga nagtatalik sa lila.
Isang reynang maraming mata, nasa gitna ng mga espada.

Balahibong binalot ng balat, balahibong bumalot sa balat.
Pagsipot sa maliwanag, kulubot na ang balat.

Tubig na binalot sa papel, papel na binalot sa bato
batong binalot sa balahibo.
Kawangis ay palu-palo, libot na libot ng ginto.

Nang wala ang ginto ay doon nagpalalo,
Nang magkagintu-ginto, doon na nga sumuko.

Gintong binalot sa pilak, pilak na binalot sa balat.
Tinakpan bago minulatan.

Itinapon ang laman, balat ang pinagyaman.
Abot na ng kamay, ipinagawa pa sa tulay.

Binalangkas ko’t binalutan, saka ibinilad sa araw.
Kinalag ang balangkas, sumayaw nang ilagpak.

May kawalang lumilipad, nakawalang kumikislap.
Bumbong kung maliwanag, kung gabi ay dagat.

Isda sa Kilaw-kilaw, di mahuli’t may pataw.
Munting hayop na pangahas, aaligid-aligid sa ningas.

Hayan na, hayan na, hindi mo nakikita, buto’t balat lumilipad.
Walang pakpak, mabilis lumipad.

Hawakan mo ang buntot ko, sisisid ako.
Munting tiririt, may baga sa puwit.

Ang ibabaw ay tawiran, ang ilalim ay lusutan.
Tubig na sakdal linaw, nadadala sa kamay.

Nakaluluto nang walang init, umaaso’y malamig.
Sa init ay sumasaya, sa lamig ay nalalanta.

Di man isda, di man itik, nakahuhuni kung ibig.
Maliit pa si Kumare, marunong nang humuni.

Nang munti pa’y may buntot, paglaki ay punggok.
Hanggang leeg kung mababaw, kung malalim hanggang baywang.

Nang umalis lumilipad, nang dumating umuusad.
Itinanim sa kinagabihan, inani sa kinaumagahan.


Nakatalikod na ang prinsesa, mukha niya’y nakaharap pa.

Mukha ko’y totoong tinikin, ngunit busilak ang kalooban.
Aling mabuting litrato, kuhang-kuha sa mukha mo.

Isang panyong parisukat, kung buksa’y nakakausap.

Hindi pa natatalupan, nanganganinag na ang laman.
Binuksan ang kanyon, perdigones ang nakabaon.

Dalawang bolang sinulid, abot hanggang langit.
Kung manahi’y nagbabaging, dumudumi ng sinulid.

Binili ko nang mahal, isinabit ko lamang.

Mataas ay binitin, kaysa pinagbitinan.
Pusong bibitin-bitin, masarap kainin.

Kinain mo’t naubos, nabubuo pang lubos.
Nagpiging ang bayan, iisa ang hugasan.
Tubig na pinagpala, walang makakakuha kundi bata.

Nang bata ay nakasaya, naghubo nang maging dalaga.
Nang maliit pa’y nakabaro, nang lumaki’y naghubo.

Tatlong magkakapatid, sing-iitim ang dibdib.
Magkakapatid na prinsesa, lahat nama’y pawang negra.

Maitim na parang alkitran, pumuputi kahit di labhan.
Nagbibigay na, sinasakal pa.

Isang balong malalim, punong-puno ng patalim.
Tubig sa ining-ining, di mahipan ng hangin.

Dalawa kong kahon, buksan walang ugong.
Sa buhatan ay may silbi, sa igiban walang sinabi.

Dumaan ang hari, nagkagatan ang mga pari.
Hindi pari, hindi hari, nagdadamit ng sari-sari.

May binti walang hita, may tuktok walang mukha.
Sumususo ang anak habang lumilipad.

Punong layu-layo, dulo’y tagpu-tagpo.

Hinila ko ang baging, nag-iingay ang matsing.
Binatak ko ang baging, bumuka ay tikin.

Aling kahoy sa gubat ang nagsasanga’y walang ugat?
May puno, walang bunga; may dahon, walang sanga.

Bawat dahong binabaksak ay araw na lumilipas.

Limang punong niyog, iisa ang matayog.
Tinaga ko sa puno, sa dulo nagdugo.

Usbong nang usbong, hindi naman nagdadahon.
Sa araw ay bumbong, sa gabi ay dahon.

Tinaga ko sa gubat, sa bahay umiyak.
Halamang di nalalanta, kahit natabas na.

Bunga na, namunga pa.

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.


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




— ni E. San Juan,Jr.
ANG tao ba ay katumbas lamang ng kanyang katawan, o bahagi nito? Ang kasarian ba ay walang iba kundi organong seksuwal? Seks ba ang buod ng pagkatao?

Kung hindi man ito kalakaran, ang tumututol ay siyang nagtatampok ng problema, bagamat salungat sa namamaraling opinyon o doxang pangmadla. Sinomang bumanggit ng seks ay kasabwat na ng mga bastos at mahalay. Sabi-sabi ito. Batikusin mo, ikalat mo’t palaganapin. Bakit mali ito?

Ang usapang seksuwal ay di na masagwa o mahalay ngayon. Buhat noong maging sikat, bagamat kontrobersiyal, ang “Vagina Monologues” ni Eve Ensler, tila hindi na nakasisindak tumukoy sa mga maselang bahagi ng katawan ng babae. Ang estilong bugtong o talinghaga sa seks–gawaing pakikipagtalik–ay itinuturing na sintomas ng neurosis o maselang sakit ng budhi. Paano ang seks ng transgender, hybrid o cyborg? Ordinaryo na…

View original post 1,653 more words




— ni E. San Juan, Jr.
ANG tao ba ay katumbas lamang ng kanyang katawan, o bahagi nito? Ang kasarian ba ay walang iba kundi organong seksuwal? Seks ba ang buod ng pagkatao?

Kung hindi man ito kalakaran, ang tumututol ay siyang nagtatampok ng problema, bagamat salungat sa namamaraling opinyon o doxang pangmadla. Sinomang bumanggit ng seks ay kasabwat na ng mga bastos at mahalay. Sabi-sabi ito. Batikusin mo, ikalat mo’t palaganapin. Bakit mali ito?

Ang usapang seksuwal ay di na masagwa o mahalay ngayon. Buhat noong maging sikat, bagamat kontrobersiyal, ang “Vagina Monologues” ni Eve Ensler, tila hindi na nakasisindak tumukoy sa mga maselang bahagi ng katawan ng babae. Ang estilong bugtong o talinghaga sa seks–gawaing pakikipagtalik–ay itinuturing na sintomas ng neurosis o maselang sakit ng budhi. Paano ang seks ng transgender, hybrid o cyborg? Ordinaryo na lamang ang seksuwal chitchat. Bakit hindi kung laganap na ang advertisement sa Viagra at iba pang drogang nagpapaudyok sa hindutan? Anong masama sa masarap na “dyugdyugan”? Di ba utos kina Eba at Adan: “Multiply…Magparami kayo!” Kung di kaya, uminom ng pilduras o di kaya’y virgin coconut oil. OK ito sa mga pariseo ng simbahan.

Wala bang sariling ating pukaw-pukyutan? Katutubong pukyotan-putakang pangsarili. Biro ng iba, kung instrumento ng progresibong sektor ang popularidad ni Ensler, bakit di pumatol ang “Penis/Balls Monologue”? Kung sobrang tsobinismo o makismo ito, e di symposium o colloquium ng mga genitalia? O sunod kina Bakhtin at Levinas, diyalogo ng balun-balunan, bukong-bukong at puwit? Demokratikong pagpapalitan ng kuro-kuro at kiliti. May reklamo ka?

Pambihirang Pakulo

Iwan na muna natin ang katawang performative. Dumako tayo sa milyung espirituwal, sa palengkeng neoliberal. Pambihira talaga. Walang clone si Ensler. Isa na siyang korporasyon ng Power Elite ng Global North. Isang haligi ng Imperyong U.S. Naging selebriting burgis si Ensler, kumita ng di-makalkulang yaman at prestihiyo sa di umano’y peministang hamon sa moralidad ng puritanismong lipunan.

Nagsilbing kultural kapital ang cause de celebre, ginawang passport o pretext para isalba ang kababaihan saan mang lupalop tulad ng neokolonyang Pilipinas. Talo pa niya si Mother Teresa. Ililigtas sina Mary Jane Veloso, Andrea Rosal, Wilma Tiamson, at iba pang inaaping babae sa rehiyon ng BangsaMoro at Lumad.

Huwag nang idawit ang Birhen, o babaylang Reyna sa TV at pelikula. Hindi biro, naging talisman o magayumang lakas ang seks ng babae. Sino ang may reklamo sa One Billion Rising ni Ensler? Ang Vagina Men sa Quezon City o sa Congo? Pati mga gerilya ng New People’s Army ay nagsasayaw sa direksiyon ni Ensler sa tulong ng mga kakutsabang kabaro. HIndi na monologo kundi koro ng mga diwata sa gubat kung saan ang masa ay mga isda, ayon kay Mao.
Magaling! Tuwang-tuwa ang mga hito, talakitok, dilis, bia, tanggigi, bakoko at tilapya. Mabuhay ang rebolusyong umiindak, naglalambing. Kung hindi tayo kasama sa sayaw, sambit ni Mother Jones, bakit magpapakamatay?

Karnibal ng mga Paru-Paro?

Kaalinsabay ang usapang puk# sa liberalisasyon ng diskursong seksuwal sa klimang anti-kapitalistang protesta sa buong mundo. Tampok dito ang Women’s Liberation movement (simula kina Simone de Beauvoir o Shulamith Firestone) noong dekada 1960-1970. Bumunsod na nga sa pagturing sa prostitusyon bilang sex work/trabahong makalupa. Ewan ko kung anong palagay ni Aling Rosa at mga Lola ng “Lolas Kampanya Survivor” na naglakbay sa kung saan-saan, salamat sa tulong ni Nelia Sancho, ang coordinator ng grupo.

Sa ngayon, 300-400 Lola ang buhay pa sa bilang ng 2000 “Comfort Women” sa Pilipinas. Wala pang hustisya sina Lola Jullia, Lola Fedencia, atbp hanggang ngayon. Patuloy nilang iginigiit na ang ginawa ng mga Hapon noong giyera ay hindi pag-upa sa babaeng trabahador kundi talagang gahasang tortyur, panggagahis sa sibilyan, isang masahol na krimen laban sa humanidad. Usapang putangna iyon, walang duda. Ang babae ay makinang ginamit upang magparaos ang mga sundalong Hapon, tulad ng mga “hospitality girls” sa Angeles City, Olongapo, at iba pang R & R sentro ng US sa kanilang pandaramong sa Vietnam, Cambodia at Laos noong mga dekada 1960-1980.

Radikal at Mapanuri? Bawal! Huli ‘yan!

Bago sumabog ang peminismong radikal, mahaba na rin ang tala ng rebelyon ng mga alagad-ng-sining laban sa sensura, ipokrisya’t pagbabawal sa malayang paglalahad. Historya ito ng ebolusyon ng modernidad. Kasi, laging pinaglalangkap ng Patriarkong Orden ang militanteng sining at pornograpya. Hindi sumusunod sa istandard ng burgesya. Taktikang pagbubusal iyon sa kritikang kamalayan. Isipin na lang ang kaso sa dalawang nobelang Ulysses ni James Joyce at Lady Chatterley’s Love ni D.H. Lawrence, o mga libro ni Henry Miller. Pati Catcher in the Rye at Huckleberry Finn ay pinagbabawal sa ilang aklatang pampubliko sa U.S.

Nakakabagot itong ipokrisya, testigo sa paghahati ng lipunang mapagsamantala’t makahayup. Huwag na nating balik-tanawin pa ang mga sinaunang halimbawa ng Satyricon ni Petronius, Decameron ni Boccacio, Gargantua at Pantagruel ni Rabelais, at mga akda ni Marquis de Sade. Sinubok nilang sugpuin at pigilin ang pag-unlad ng kamalayan. Laging umiigpaw sa kontrol ng mga naghahari ang lasa at nais ng madla, hindi ng mga awtoridad na umuusig sa mga “ideological State apparatus” ng makauri’t mapagsamantalang lipunan.

Sa larangan ng pintura, masilakbo’t maengganyo ang balitaktakan. Armadong puwersa ang nakapangingibabaw, hindi argumentong rasyonal. Nakasalalay ang kapangyarian ng Patriyarkong Burgesya. Pwedeng banggitin ang eskandalo tungkol sa “Olympia” (1865) ni Edouard Manet, “The Origin of the World” (1866) ni Gustave Courbet, “Ecstatic Unity” (1969) ni Dorothy Iannone, at mga litrato ni Robert Mapplethorpe. Halimbawa naman ng mga paggamit ng tema o imaheng relihiyoso, mababangit ang eskandalo tungkol sa “Piss Christ” (1987) ni Andres Serrano o “The Holy Virgin May” (1999) ni Chris Ofili.

Sa atin naman, magugunita ang pagsasara ng “KULO” exhibit at ang “Politeismo” (2011) ni Mideo Cruz. Kung itinanghal ang “KULO” sa Pransiya o Italya, marahil walang problema. Baka naging mabenta pa ang mga mapangahas na likhang-sning, karibal ng mga milyong dolyar na produkto nina Andy Warhol at De Kooning.

Ngunit sa neokolonyang mahal, ang diskurso ng libog o praktikang pukaw-pukyutan ay tabu pa rin, sa pangkalahatan. Merong pasubali. Sa akademyang sekular, umiiral ang regulasyon sa takdang lugar ng usapang libog. Ngunit nananaig pa rin ang tradisyonal na moralidad ng iba’t ibang simbahan–mga ugali, gawi, kostumbre sa kilos, salita, at sentido komun ng bayan.Sino ba ang nakikinabang sa ganitong paghihigpit? Di na tayo makababalik sa hardin ng karinyo’t lampungan. Magtiyaga na lang kayo sa kampo ng mga nudist. O pornograpikong eksena/video sa Internet. Mag-ingat ka, ang surveillance ngayon ay di lamang estratehiya ng pulis, kundi maniobra ng mga espiya sa Internet, satellite, drones—wala kang ligtas! Puputaktahin ka ng isang katerbang buwisit at kamyerdahang panghihimasok.

Hamon kina Gabriela Silang at Mga Babaylan

Paano kung ambisyon mo ang tumulad kay Shigeko Kubota? Lalaki ka man, puwede ka ring gumaya kay Kubota.

Sino itong Kubeta? Kubota po, hindi kubeta. Ipinanganak siya sa Niigata, Hapon, noong 1937, kalahi ng mga Budistang monghe. Naging kasapi siya sa organisasyong Fluxus sa New York noong dekada 1960. Si Kubota ay tanyag na avantgarde video-iskultor, lumilikha ng video installation, sumusuri sa pamana ni Marcel Duchamp, ama ng modernismong sining. Kalahok ang mga maraming likha niya sa Dokumenta 7, Kessel (1982) at iba pang museo’t galeri. Naging propesor siya ng teknolohiya ng video/pelikula sa iba’t ibang unibersidad at institusyong global. Unang napag-aralan niya ang komposisyon ni John Cago noong 1963 sa pagsasanib niya sa grupong musikero sa Tokyo, ang Ongaku, kasama si Yoko Ono.

Naging tanyag si Kubota sa “Vagina Painting,” na ginanap sa Perpetual Fluxus Festival,Cinematheque, New York noong Hulyo 1965. May foto ng akto niya sa libro ni Peter Osborne, Conceptual Art (New York: Phaidon, 2002), pahina 71. Subaybayan din siya sa Internet sa dokumentasyon ng “Vagina Painting” at iba pang likhang-sining niya.

Sa pangyayaring ito, inilatag ni Kubota ang isang malapad na papel sa sahig. Doon nagpinta siya nang abstraktong linya sa pulang kulay sa bisa ng galaw ng brotsa. Nakakabit ang brotsa sa singit. Huwag mo nang itanong kung gaano katagal ang aksyon at ano ang reaksyon ng awdiyens noon. Sinasagisag ang kanyang vagina bilang bukal ng inspirasyon. Ang pulang pinta ay kahalintulad ng dugo sa regla na hulog mula sa lugar na tinaguriang kawalan ng phallus (sa metaporikang pakahulugan; ibig pahiwatig, hindi penis o titi). Sa gayong palabas, pinasimulan niya ang isang perspektibang makababae sa tipikal na pagtatanghal ng Fluxus hinggil sa operasyong pagbabakasakali, pasumala o patsansing-tsansing(“chance operations”).

Iminungkahi ni Kubota sa kanyang akto ang isang alternatibo sa agresibong teknik ng action o drip painting ni Jackson Pollock. Isang hamon din ang ginanap ni Kubota sa papel ng babaeng artista na laging pinapatnubayan, ginagabayan, at inuugitan ng kalalakihan–awtoritaryong disiplina ng mga Patriyarko. Dagdag pa, pinuna ni Kubota ang paggamit sa babae bilang brotsang buhay, nilubog sa pintang kulay asul, na pinagapang sa kanbas, na masasaksihan sa Anthropometrie serye ni Yves Klein noong dekada 1950-1960.

Salungat si Kubota (na asawa ng bantog na si Nam June Paik) sa ganoong paggamit ng katawan ng babae, isang uri ng “human traffiking” ng kababaihan. Kapanalig niya sa krusadang ito sina Yoko Ono at Carolee Schneeman, na hindi masyadong nagustuhan ng kanilang grupong Fluxus.

Makibaka, Huwag Magsipsip

Sunod ba ang One Billion Rising sa pintang pukyutan ni Kubota? Aktibo pa rin si Kubota sa New York. I-Google ninyo. Uliran ang kanyang halimbawang napasimulan sa pagpukpok sa pukyutan upang pukawin ang bihag at nakukulong na kamalayan. Isang sandata iyon sa conscientization ng madla. Bakit hindi? Bakit hindi gamitin ang katawan–na siyang lugar ng “Kingdom” ng Tagapagligtas–upang palayain ang pagkatao’t kaluluwa (kundi pa naisangla o naipagbili)? Bakit pa nagkaroon ng inkarnasyon kung tayo’y mga anghel na walang puwit o bunganga, walang titi o puk%?

Anong reklamo mo? Manunuod na lang ba tayo ng “Fifty Shades of Grey” at YOUTUBE seryeng pornograpiko, at mga artifaktong pabalbal sa Internet tulad ng “Kakantutin ka lang nila” (mahigit 4,081,933 ang taga-subaybay? Kuntento na ba tayong laging nakatungaga sa mga strip-tease at sirko ng mga egotistikong selebriti sa TV at pelikula? Marami tayong reklamo, sigurado, kaya dapat ipahayag na ito. Pasingawin at ibilad ang mga pasakit, himutok, hinanakit. Kundi, baka magkarambulan sa sikolohiyang pantayo’t pambarkada.

Alam nating lahat ang tunay na situwasyon. Tulad ng anumang bagay, puspos ng masalimuot na kontradiksiyon. Lahat ng bahagi ng katawan ay may reklamo, laluna ang sikmura, uhaw sa hustisya. Marami nang pasubali: kaya bang ipahiwatig ang damdamin ng buong body politic sa makitid at partikularistikong paraan ng Vagina Monologue o Vagina Painting? Binugbog at pinarusahang mga katawan ng sambayanan, isinasangkot sa pambansang mobilisasyon ang lahat ng kasariang inaapi. Bukod ito sa One Billion Rising.

Pag-ugnayin muli ang pinagwatak-watak na bahagi ng katawan upang mabuo muli ang kalayaan at pagkakapantay-pantay na winasak ng imperyalismo’t kapitalismong global. Usapang mapagpalaya, hindi lang usapang puk%, ang rebolusyong sumusulong, kabilang ang lahat ng nakikiramay ngayon kina Ka Leoncio Pitao at Ka Vanessa Limpag, biktima ng barbarismong kabuktutan ng rehimeng Aquino at US imperyalismo. Mabuhay sina Kumander Parago at Ka Vanessa, bayani ng lahi, laging buhay sa puso ng masa.–###



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.

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.

UP National Writers Workshop. 2014. “Summary: Mark Angeles, Mdoerated by Virgilio S.
Almario. Accessed: February 21, 2015.

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.

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