Through a Glass, Darkly, 1949

Through a Glass, Darkly, 1949
by Francisco Arcellana

ALEJANDRO G. ABADILLA is a poet-critic in Tagalog who is unique in that he is perhaps one of the few vernacular writers who is at all in touch with writing in English, local and overseas. This position gives him an enviable distinction: he is able to, by virtue of it, suggest leads and direction to emacular writers.

He is primarily a poet whose Tagalog verses are a complete and absolute departure from the conventional Tagalog poem: his verses in Tagalog bear the same relation to other Tagalog verses that perhaps the poems in Leaves of Grass have to contemporaneous poems written and published in America. He is also a critic of both the Tagalog poems and the Tagalog short story whose influence has been to keep these forms open to the revitalizing effects of experimentation in the same forms in English that have seen performance in the past generation.

Before the war, along with Clodualdo del Mundo, another avant-garde writer in the vernacular, he used to select the best poems and the best short stories of each year. Roughly he was doing the same service for writing in Tagalog that Jose Garcia Villa was doing for writing in English: he was setting up strict standards of achievement based not on the local resources available but on the world of writing as a whole; was evaluating writing not in terms of the local tradition but of the world’s; he was regarding Tagalog writing as possibly belonging to the mainstream of the art of writing. Needless to say, his work was more than salutary: if anything, it made the Tagalog writers more conscious as artists and craftsmen. It can be said that mainly through his efforts emerged a new generation of Tagalog writers who were in touch with the most recent trends in writing.

After the war, he decided to move from the more or less impermanent form of the annual selection to the more or less imperishable form of the book collection.

He put together what he believed were the finest Tagalog short stories written over a definite period of time and published them in a book called Mga Piling Katha. It was not the first book of its kind. Other anthologies of the Tagalog short story had been published before it; other collections were going to be attempted after it. But it had the advantage of being edited by him who had always both by word and gesture signified his sympathy and attachment to what is exploratory and experimental in writing.

Only recently he put together Parnasong Tagalog, published by the Panitikan Publishing Company. This book is regarded by experts and specialists as indeed the first of its kind: for the first time between book covers are gathered what may be regarded as the choicest flowers of Filipino poetry in Tagalog. The book is not only happy for being the first of its kind but also for filling a real need: for a long time now a book like this has been contemplated and the need for it made vocal but not until Alejandro G. Abadilla and the Panitikan Publishing Company achieved it was there any talk of its performance ever.

Parnasong Tagalog is not along unique for being the first book of its kind?a collection of the best poems in Tagalog from its earliest beginnings to the present?but also for the fact that it carries an introduction in which also for the first time is made an attempt to evaluate Filipino poetry in the vernacular in terms of the great stream of world poetry and its technique. And considering how difficult and inaccessible poetics can be even when rendered in the language in which it was originally expressed, it is indeed remarkable how much it seems to me this poet-critic has succeeded in conveying to Tagalog readers and his fellow poets the deep and real need for breaking insularity and thinking in terms of the poetic impulse everywhere

September 18, 1949

The Ghost Manifests Or Safeguard and Foucault’s Social Subconscious

The Ghost Manifests 
Or Safeguard and Foucault’s Social Subconscious
by Carl Javier

The ghost, it manifests! On the four-cornered tube! The glass teat! The idiot box! TV!

What ghost? Some old notion that the TV is filled with ghosts in the way that a camera takes your soul?

No. Not really, but something like that. Just keep in mind, we create our own ghosts.

It’s really about the last Safeguard soap commercial I saw lately. I may not be a big fan of Pinoy TV shows, but I enjoy checking out commercials. And it was this commercial that struck me.

Maybe in real life ghosts are all around but we can’t see them. But sometimes, one will pop up, show itself. And in the same way, there’s something about TV’s ghosts that we don’t see, and in this particular commercial we had it screaming good and loud, rattling the chains.

The commercial runs simply enough. It has a kid coming home from school with his report card and showing it to his mom. The mother takes it and finds that the boy’s grades have gone down. In her motherly concern she begins to wonder why her son isn’t performing well.

This bit of introspection occurs in the woman’s head. Her conscious mind talking to herself, considering things, trying to piece things together. It occurs to her that her son has been sick lately with colds, forcing him to stay home and miss school. These absences, she assumes, are the reason for her son’s faltered performance.

Now this bit plays out the way most of these kinds of commercials do. Most commercials will have the person stepping back, doing some introspection with the help of a voice over, as done in this commercial, then let the character come to the conclusion that whatever the product the commercial is pushing is the thing he or she needs.

And this is where the ghost manifests. No, not like the ghost in Three Men and a Baby- It is the ghost of the subconscious.

At the point when she realizes what’s wrong, she’s stuck. She doesn’t know what to do. Then an apparition, looking exactly like her, and appearing in such a way that you’d expect two to appear, one on her right with a halo and the other on her left with horns. But it’s not temptation and conscience.

This apparition talks to her. The conscious mind somehow detached from this apparition of the other Self. Of course it would be detached though. It’s not part of her conscious, but rather, the manifestation of her social subconscious. And as such, it tells her, the conscious part of the mother, that if she wants her son to improve his school performance, then she should have him use Safeguard so that she can protect him from germs, viruses, infections, yadda yadda yadda.

The rest of the commercial goes as expected; mom uses Safeguard, kid’s protected, he comes home with a report card and his grades are back up. But the rest of it isn’t important. What’s important is the way that the conscious mind is shown and the manifestation of the subconscious to tell the conscious the correct course of action.

You may think it’s just a commercial and want to put this away. But it’s precisely because it’s a commercial that the piece lends itself to this kind of interpretation.

First off, what’s the purpose of marketing in general? It’s to turn possible consumers of a product into actual consumers. But it’s not so much to convince that person to go running out of the house after seeing the commercial and buy the product. The idea is to embed the product name or gimmick into the possible consumer so that when he or she goes out shopping that person will remember the commercial and buy the product.

To illustrate, let’s say I’m sitting around, channel-surfing. Then I see Michael V. and I stop at that channel because I happen to find Michael V. funny and want to see what he’s doing there and if he’ll be funny. It so happens he’s trying to sell Joy Dishwashing Liquid. I watch the commercial, and owing to Michael’s V.’s performance, I find myself amused and remember the commercial. However, I don’t feel compelled to get up, go to the supermarket, and buy myself some Joy. What happens though, is I have to wash the dishes one day, and I step out of the house and head to the grocery store. I just know I need something for the dishes. Then pop! Some neural passage between the conscious and subconscious connects and I realize, “Gee, I should get some Joy dishwashing liquid because that’s what I remember.

So there, their marketing bit was a success. They had me programmed to believe that when I needed dishwashing liquid, Joy was the way to go. But it’s not like that’s in my mind all the time, that I’m conscious of the idea that if I will buy dishwashing liquid, it must be Joy. And the great part of it is I’m not even aware that they’re pulling one over on me.

I connect this to Foucault’s idea of the social subconscious. According to the Frenchman, society programs us to believe what we do, creates this body of knowledge embedded into our minds from childhood that this is right and this is wrong and this is morally upright and this is sacrilege. And oftentimes we can’t break from that kind of thinking and we’re not really aware why we feel that way or even that we do feel that way about a particular situation. Until the situation arises and the social subconscious kicks in.

The social subconscious is better known sometimes as the conscience, because it serves a similar purpose. However, the concept is different. There is righteousness in the voice of the conscience, supposedly. While the social subconscious is a product of society and the process of socialization.

We consider, then the social subconscious as a part of our identities, although mostly latent until the time for it to pop out arises. Then it goes on to inform our conscious minds what we should do. Think of it this way, sometimes our subconscious minds have answers, but because they can’t encroach on our conscious minds while we’re thinking, they can’t give us the answer.

It’s like when you’ve been thinking about something for so long and you can’t remember what the answer is and you’re just racking your brains trying to get at it. Then, you decide to take a nap, maybe get rested and come back to the problem. Then, after taking a rest, even without thinking more of the problem that you’ve just slept on, the answer just pops in your head. 
The subconscious is there to provide answers, but of course the kind of answers the social subconscious will provide will be those programmed by society.

Now, let’s go back to the Safeguard manifestation. It is the ghost of the subconscious popping up, screaming Hey1 This is the answer! But what is the answer? Your kid’s always sick and the solution’s not to pay closer attention to him or, the obvious solution, get some vitamins. The solution offered is a product. But of course, since it’s the product being sold that gives this commercial a purpose.

Pushing the idea further, what is in our social subconscious then? Is it filled still with values and mores and traditions and all the other things that we were supposed to know and believe unwaveringly and without question? Or is it now the doctrine of the product? Another marketing tool?

If we jump from the idea that that ghost is a manifestation of the subconscious, then we can assume that it was created through the tidal waves of commercials rushing in and flooding the neural pathways, washing out old values and bringing in a more consumerist approach to things.

Again, we say that we are consumers. And perhaps that’s how we are being socially programmed, to want to buy things, want to buy particular things.

The funny thing about the commercial is the way that it shows the ghost. It borders on the David Blaine audacity that I will fool you, right in your face, and you won’t even know it.

Things like programming the social subconscious are covert operations, You can’t go around telling people you’re brain washing them. You can’t say to people, Hey, I’m putting an idea into your head that will benefit me. So the closest we come to showing the ghost in other ad campaigns is maybe a bit of introspection. Otherwise, you don’t see it, it’s hidden by the smoke and mirrors of the marketing team.

But here comes the Blaine-like Safeguard commercial. Come here, I’m going to show you something, it says. And it shows you the ghost. This is you. This is the other you, your other Self, that Self you’re not aware of but will take hold of you at times. And you don’t even know it. I’m showing it to you right here. It’s here, I have you programmed, see.

Indeed, the other Self is programmed, can recite things about the product that the conscious mind could not. The other Self informs the conscious Self that Safeguard kills 99.9% of germs. Kind of like the way I remember when I walk into the dairy section that Yakult has Lacto-Bacillus which is good for me. Why should I even know that? What is Lacto-Bacillus? I don’t know, but I’ll probably buy Yakult because aside from tasting alright, it turns out that the Lacto-Bacillus it contains is good for me.

So then that figure shown in the commercial is not only a manifestation of the social subconscious, but could give us some insight on the nature of the social subconscious. What does it talk about? Values? Beliefs? That body of knowledge that the society considers truth?

According to Foucault there is no single truth, but rather truth is created. It is a consensus of the people in control of the Dominant, the paradigm or mode of thought for a society. In this case the truth of the matter is controlled by the makers of the commercial.

And what’s the truth being established? That these products are good for us. These are the things we need. We’ll be much happier people if we buy these products.

So we go back to the ghost, the ghost that the society surrounding us, through mass media, has created. Something that we have also cultivated and shaped by accepting and not questioning. We find a problem, like the mother in the commercial, and the ghost starts talking, feeding us the info. And she takes it as truth. What my son needs so that he doesn’t get sick is to use Safeguard.

These products are good for us, the commercials will tell us. And while we sit back and don’t realize it they are programming the social subconscious, establishing their versions of the truth in our minds.

Sugod, Mga Sugo! Speculative Fiction In Filipino Popular Television

Sugod, Mga Sugo!
Speculative Fiction In Filipino Popular Television
by Emil M. Flores

Speculative fiction or SF is a blanket term used by writers and scholars for the genres popularly known as “science fiction” and “fantasy.” I will use this term because it is a broader term, thus avoiding the intricate definitions of both popular terms. I also use this term because one television show in my discussion, “Krystala” seems to be an amalgam of science fiction and fantasy due to its use of another popular genre, the superhero. For this short discussion, I will focus on two popular Filipino television shows, “Mulawin” and “Krystala.” I will also focus more on the speculative aspects of the shows even though the soap opera aspect is very much integral to them.

To keep things simple, author Orson Scott Card calls speculative fiction “the literature of the strange” meaning the stories “take place in a setting contrary to known reality.” This definition includes stories set in the future (the more common view about science fiction), stories with alternate histories (What if Rizal wasn’t killed?), stories set on worlds (whether alien or an imaginary medieval Europe), fictional prehistoric or lost world stories, and stories that go against a known law of nature (stories with magic, time travel, invisible man stories etc.)

Card also states that SF (speculative fiction) is “defined by its milieu.” This point is similar to John Clute’s assertion that SF “argues for a changed world.” This change can be brought upon through fantastic or scientific means. This is what separates the two as Card states in his simplified differentiation:

“If you have some people do some magic, impossible thing by stroking a talisman or praying to a tree, it’s fantasy; if they do the same thing by pressing a button or climbing into a machine, it’s science fiction.”

In Philippine popular media (film and television in particular) SF is mainly used for a single purpose: escape. Indeed, many critics have lamented the sate of Philippine cinema and television, calling it escapist. It is rare that SF is used to examine or make a profound statement about the human condition as has been done in other counties. However, if entertainment is the primary goal of the project, then SF provides it. And in the process, the shows still demonstrate how Filipinos use SF in their stories.


The television program “Krystala” follows the current trend of superhero shows but can also be considered a television continuation of the superhero films from the 1950s. Not even the American heroes can boast of a series of superhero films per decade like Darna. As with the quintessential superhero Darna, Krystala follows the Filipino superhero concept of a person with a pure heart being given magical powers to fight evil. As with most Filipino heroes, she plays the role not necessarily a champion of justice but of a savior. She is chosen by a white fairy to save the land from the dark demonic beings. The hero’s origins are mythical in nature and even take on a quasi-religious aspect with her foes looking like the Catholic devil (Harimon) and dark druids. The set up was promising enough with aspects of Philippine folklore combined with anime sensibilities demonstrating current hybrid trends. Later on, a science fiction flavor was added with the arrival of a soldier from the future and a future offspring, which served to complicate matters. As artist Alex Ross points out, the superhero genre is essentially and amalgam of fantasy, science fiction, action and adventure and so even if the later episodes veer away from the original fantasy concept, it is in tune with the genre (Darna fought both aswangs and aliens for example).

Thus, the world of Krystala is open enough for creatively designed and named foes (the batwoman Kabagona, gravity controlling villain Gravigat etc.). However, in many instances, the soap opera elements overpower the SF or superhero motif. Online superhero fans have complained that in early episodes, we see the heroine mop floors and be oppressed rather than see her have adventures as her super powered alter ego. More focus is given to her love life rather than her mission. In a subplot, (an obvious ploy to get the fans of a popular love team to watch the show) the romance between Mysterio, the soldier from the future and his Korean dalliance is threatened not because of Mysterio’s mission (plus the fact that he’s from a different timeline) but because of the girl’s father in Korea wanting her to marry someone else. In the superhero genre, it is important to balance the adventure and the more personal stories. And even the personal drama and complications must come from the superhero aspect. Otherwise, it becomes a soap opera disguised as a superhero show. Hopefully, as the confrontation with the major villain comes, the show will pick up on the superheroics. Then again, the show seems to be popular enough among soap opera fans so perhaps that is the main goal.


The television program “Mulawin” creates a magical world were human-animal hybrids and fairies abound. The speculation seems simple enough. What if there were other creatures created by Bathala and they coexisted with humanity albeit in a remote place? The speculation may have begun with bird people and then moved on to cat people and fairies. Like with any good SF, the creators of the show took time to create its mythology with its own rules and limitations. This is important to SF. In order for the strange world to be realized, it has to have its own rules and the narrative has to play by those rules. The motifs also have to be consistent. The Mulawin’s costumes, weapons and names (Aguiluz, Alwina, Aviona, Bagwis, Pagaspas etc.) are all connected to the bird of prey motif. The other beings are also consistent in design and characterization.

While there is a clear distinction between good and evil (Mulawin vs. Ravena) characters switch sides (and change their appearance depending on which side they’re on) due to very human traits (jealousy, anger, betrayal, resentment of family or loved ones) satisfying the soap operatic expectations for the show. But the show is not a soap opera disguised as an SF show. In fact, the soap operatic emotions are heightened by the SF elements. And for the most part, the SF elements move the narrative and create the complications. For example, Aguiluz is appointed guardian of the scared tree and yet has to abandon his post when his love Alwina is threatened. His being guardian enhances his gift of foresight and thus, he knows that Alwina’s death will surely come to pass. This particular situation satisfies the soap opera conflict while remaining within the SF world.

As with most Filipino heroic stories (Darna, Captain Barbell, Ang Panday, Krystala), the main characters play savior roles. This reflects what Filipinos expect from heroes, they do not fight for justice nor are they conquerors. They are instruments of salvation. And yet, when they make a mistake, they are judged severely and even reviled. The townsfolk have high expectations from their heroes and when bad things happen which may be out of the heroes’ control, they blame their own chosen heroes.

In the beginning, Mulawin almost fell into the melodramatic plot plaguing most soap operas (love triangle, oppressed poor girl etc.). But when the mythology was explored more closely, when the milieu was brought to life, it has proven to be a solid SF show appreciated not only by the mainstream mass audience but also by SF fans who would normally be interested in American, British or Japanese SF offerings.

Reintroducing Balagtas and His Work

Reintroducing Balagtas and His Work
by Romeo G. Dizon

AN ATTEMPT TO SITUATE BALAGTAS IN THE proper historical perspective and to determine his rightful place in the era beyond his own is indeed an enormous task.  But this is precisely what the present book tries to accomplish.

It may not be possible, neither will it be fair, to quantify the success of this book vis-à-vis its prescribed aims.  What will seem proper is, first, to appreciate the manner with which the author proceeds with the undertaking; second, to evaluate the methodology employed, and third, to show whether the thesis actually emerges from the harvest of said methodology.


Methodology:  Unorthodoxy as Innovations

The manner  with which the author undertakes his task of establishing both the social conditions which shaped Balagtas’ consciousness and sensibility and the heritage the poet helped fashion and bequeathed to the generations to come may be likened to a concentric pattern―to borrow a term from Professor Lucilla Hosillos of Philippine literature.  This configuration consists of a center which generates endless circles around it, each assuming a distance from the one behind it.  Throw a stone into a calm river and this exact pattern emerges!  But one innovative difference in the case of Fred Sevilla’s approach is that these circles do not only move outward concentrically, but they also “retrace” on another level the circles in an inward direction.

Thus:  Fred Sevilla privileges Balagtas.  Events, here and in countries which were in an historically vantaged position to affect conditions in colonial Philippines and which thereby constituted the socio-economic formation of the period, decades before Balagtas, are dwelt with on the author’s assumption that they exercised a dialectical influence in shaping the poet’s outlook and literary sensibility.  In like manner, those which transpired, during and long after him, bore the imprint of Balagtas’ legacy.

By way of illustration, the book devotes its initial chapters in redefining the causes of the upsurge of nationalism in the 1900s as it was concretized in the Filipinos’ militant response to American colonial rule.  From here, it has become necessary to move back in time in order to retread the paths taken by American colonialism and recapture its impact on the indios; further back, the book shows the conscious moves taken by both Spain earlier and America later in vilifying the natives as a lowly race.  This results in instilling a negative consciousness of slavishness on the part of the indios.  To placate them from this sorry state, to uproot this vicious disease, and in its place awaken a feeling of national pride, took decades and decades of slow and ardous reeducation.  Balagtas and his literature largely initiated this nationalistic flux.

Thus Fred Sevilla’s book  recaptures and recreates:  be it a series of historical events or a geographical area, like a province or a district, in so far as these were salient to the mapping of Balagtas’ life and milieu.


Inference and Deduction as Historiography

When there is an utter dearth of information, materials and meaningful sources on one’s object of inquiry, one recourse, perhaps the only one left, which may be taken is to resort to inference, deduction and careful speculation.  For this kind of a critical situation deprives the scholar of the use of standard historiography.  To a certain extent, Hermenegildo Cruz employed this method in his seminal work.  Aside from benefiting from Cruz’ work, Fred Sevilla, to a large extent, took this path, too, in his enterprise of recapturing, with astonishing details, every bit of the life and times of Balagtas.

Some random examples are in order.  First:  As a way of recouping the period of Balagtas’ childhood, the book recreates the town of Bigaa in Bulacan.  Consistent with his concentric methodology, the author goes as far back as the early years of the 18th century if only to establish the naturalness of the panorama of “people, places and events… and profile of indio life in the rural community…”  Sevilla takes a traveler like Father Miguel de Zuñiga who toured the province of Bulacan in 1802; mapping his steps throughout the territory, picturing life in the course of the journeyman’s itinerary.  And then:

Keeping in mind that Balagtas just three years before, must have taken the same route (although traveling in a reverse direction from Bigaa to Manila in the course of his first adventure into the big city), it is interesting to retrace the town-hopping journey of Father Zuñiga in the illustrious company of Admiral Ignacio María de Alava and his naval retinue.  They started their journey in Arroceros, outside Intramuros, and stopped, on the first leg of the trip, to lunch at Bigaa―a distance of about 25 kilometers which in those days was considered quite long because of the warm climate and the condition of the road.

Or let us see how Balagtas must have fared psychologically in his migrant days in the district of Tondo Manila:

The sensitive young Balagtas, no doubt, also went through difficult and trying situations suffered by early 19th century migrants to Manila.  However, it is highly probable that during his initial stay in Tondo, he lived with or was in close contact with resident relatives and friends, who helped to alleviate his emotional stress and hastened his eventual adjustment to urban life.

While pursuing the process of inferring and deducting, the author does not forget to exercise critical evaluations of similar measures taken by other studies on the same subject.  For instance, he took notice of Hermenegildo Cruz’s work and indicates errors (reminiscent of Rizal’s annotation of Morgas’ Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas) which he stresses are crucially significant.  Hermenegildo Cruz inferred that Balagtas’ trip to Manila to pursue higher education caused apprehension and great fear on the part of his parents for the reason that indios with high education became “target of government surveillance as potential political troublemaker.”  Fred Sevilla contends this was not so until the last decades of the 19th century, the period of the Reform Movement.  And that far from the romanticization of Hermenegildo Cruz that Balagtas worked his way through college by becoming a domestic help in some rich household, it seems reasonably clear that the main purpose of Balagtas in coming to Manila was to pursue higher education which was an opportunity not available to any ordinary indio boy.  It appears quite likely that Balagtas’ trip to Manila could be part of what would be better described today as a scholarship program especially planned, perhaps for pious and humanitarian reasons, by certain influential and sympathetic individuals with the help of other sponsors who took cognizance of the precocious qualities shown by the young indio boy from Bigaa.

As it becomes repeatedly evident in many parts of the book, the author recreates not only the biography of the place but also its ambience, thus completing the detailed picture of the period under which Balagtas spent a chapter of his life.  For example,

From his home in Bilbao, Tondo, Balagtas would walk some three and a half kilometers by way of San Nicolas, Binondo and Santa Cruz to get to the Colegio de San Juan de Letran… Balagtas, on his first entry into the enclosed city, would have been awestruck by the great size and stately elegance of Intramuros…  After he started attending classes as a day student at Colegio de San Juan de Letran, Balagtas would have, in no time, explored all the nooks and corners of the city.  And, as he had, no doubt, began to discover, almost every major structure and site of Intramuros had their own historic and colorful tales to tell.

One interesting inference verging on the archeological, and there are number of these, concerns the establishment of Balagtas’ family tree―in the course of it, histories and etymologies of titles and towns and districts are undertaken:

Manila, as Goite found it, was ruled conjointly by the young and fiery Sulayman also known as Rajah Mura (Young King) to distinguish him from his aging benign uncle Rajah Matanda (Old King) who was also referred to in the Spanish records as Ladia (Laya).  (They were traditionally addressed as Rajah, the Hindu term for sovereign.)  Right across Pasig River on the opposite bank lay the principality of Tuldok (Point)―or Tondo as corrupted by the Spaniards―the domain of Rajah Lakandula, a younger brother of Rajah Matanda, also an uncle of Sulayman.  The ruling families of these Tagalogs principalities were related to the royal families of the Sultan of Brunei and a flourishing economic and social bond between them existed for centuries.  Sulayman was married to a daughter of the Sultan of Brunei.  On the other hand, Rajah Matanda was possibly the same person―referred to by the survivors of the Magellan expedition as the young Luzon prince and admiral of the Sultan of Brunei―they took as captive off the coast of Borneo in July 1521.  Also, as earlier mentioned in this chapter, a certain Prince Balagtas―a name which in Tagalog means “to crossover” ―made a historic trip to Luzon sometime between 1335 and 1380, to consolidate his dynasty that included Manila, Bulacan, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija and Cagayan Valley.  Also married to a daughter of the Sultan of Brunei, Prince Balagtas had a great-grandson, Fernando Malang Balagtas, who is known to be related to Lakandula:  the possibility exists that the descendants of Lakandula and Fernando Malang Balagtas in Tondo were distant relatives of the family of the father of Balagtas in Bigaa.

As a vital part of his historiography, Fred Sevilla’s handling of time―historical time―is far from linear.  Periods overlap, the recent past being dealt with at times ahead of the distant ones.  Or the “present” is deduced through an examination of the past, and the “future” becomes an anticipation.  In parenthesis, one cannot help recalling to mind the similar manner in which Latin American writers, notably Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his fictional works like One Hundred Years of Solitude, reconstruct and reconstitute their histories.  For example:

With the knowledge that Balagtas, as an eleven-year-old boy, would travel to Manila alone, thus displaying a venturesome and bold spirit, it is easy to imagine that, before his adventure to the big city, he must have scoured the length and breadth of his home province to discover the interesting places just outside his parochial world of Bigaa.  Like those indio boys who tailed the Alava entourage through various towns and all the way up to the smelter plant of Angat, he may have tagged along on some of the earlier visits of other prominent Spaniards and dignitaries who rode through Bulacan’s major towns―one of which could perhaps have been Marilao, close to Bigaa, where a few years before, an assembly of high-ranking Church officials converged in the course of an ecclesiastical visitation.  (The diocesan authority exercised the privilege of inspecting and touring the parishes in their jurisdiction.  This became the source of a long-drawn internal conflict between the bishops and the fiars who administered many of the parishes.  The friar parish priests strongly refused to submit to such visitation, claiming exemption under an old Vatican edict and insisting that they were subject only to the authority and supervision of the superiors of their Orders).


Mainstream and Otherwise:  A Balagtas in the Academe

Pioneering scholarship on Balagtas includes a number of studies, which, particularly in terms of their content, show commonality of data and complementariness of evaluation.  Earliest among these is Hermenegildo Cruz’s Kun Sino ang Kumatha ng “Florante: (1906).  Especially because of its relative historical proximity to Balagtas’ time, acquiring the necessary information from primary and basic sources, e.g. from surviving relatives, friends, colleagues and other contemporaries, was still possible.  Much of a seminal piece, this work thus makes accessible to subsequent researches on Balagtas (the present book not excused) valuable data on the life of the poet, his milieu and works.

As if conceding to its comprehensiveness and finality in so far as the area of historical and biographical contexts were concerned, subsequent critiques and researches dwelt instead on those aspects Hermenegildo Cruz’ work did not concern itself with and began to utilize new critical approaches in studying Balagtas, particularly those which were introduced by the scholarship of the new colonial dispensation.  Therefore a decade after, in “Balagtas y Su Florante” (1916), Epifanio de los Santos would set his eyes on the formalistic qualities of the poet’s masterwork, delving meticulously not only on the poet’s manner of versification rhyming and the like but also on what he termed “castillanismos” where he enumerated words used which originated from the Spanish language but had thus far been appropriated into the Balagtas lexicon.

In 1955, Lope K. Santos pointed out what he believed were the primarily thematic significance of Florante at Laura in “Ang Apat na Himagsik ni Francisco Balagtas” (The Four Rebellions of Balagtas).  Inspite of the awit‘s (metrical romance) seeming innocuousness, concrete areas of concern were perceived within the text by Lope K. Santos which he noted thus:

v     Himagsik laban sa malupit na pamahalaan (Rebellion against oppressive government);
v     Himagsik laban sa hidwaang pananampalataya (Rebellion against false beliefs);
v     Himagsik laban sa mga maling kaugalian (Rebellion against wrong practice);
v     Himagsik laban sa mababang uri ng panitikan1  (Rebellion against inferior literature).

Lope K. Santos initiated the socio-political reading of Florante at Laura.  Although couched in the innocent lines of beautiful poetry, he was able to detect rebellion and protest against the established order of things:  the brutalizing colonial government, the imposed religion which subverted the unity of the people and effected distortions in their mores and customs.  Likewise, beneath the seamlessly woven awit, he discerned the poet’s lament against the fostering and proliferation of a low quality culture and literature.  To Lope K. Santos, these noble deeds were clear acts of nationalism which should have merited the accolade of national hero on Balagtas much more ahead of the co-illustradoes of later decades who would later be accorded such eminence.

There were subsequent works on Balagtas, particularly on his Florante at Laura.  While most of them were ultimately celebratory, nevertheless they contributed fresh insights and unravelled new areas of interests.  Perhaps, these were all the more made possible by the unprecedentedly fast growth of  scholarship and the emergence of an array of approaches and tools to literary studies which were now made readily accessible in the academe.

Significantly, through a period stretching from 1967 to 1984, three works by three academics saw print one after the others:

v     First it was Bienvenido Lumbera’s “Florante at Laura:  The Formalization of Tradition” (1967);
v     Two years later, Epifanio San Juan, Jr. came out with Balagtas:  Art and Revolution (1969);
v     Finally, more than a decade after, “Florante at Laura:  a Transcendence of Romance and Allegory” (1984) by Lucilla Hosillos was published.

These three works have an essential interrelationship, for the second work took to task the first, and the last one attempted to hurl the last word on the two.  In the aftermath, it seems irrelevant who won in this verbal combat.  What is more important in the fact that this spirited exchange only affirmed the richness and multilevel significance of the great awit.  However, in themselves, these three works ushered in the further legitimization of critical tools appropriated from the Western academe in the enterprise of studying Balagtas.

After his hortatory notation of Balagtas’ erudition in classical knowledge like Greek and Roman mythology, Virgil and Homer, proceeding to the thorough elucidation of the awit‘s poetics, Lumbera, in the aforementioned study, profounded the thesis that this great poetic narrative marked the “formalization of tradition” in Tagalog poetry in the sense that its “salient characteristics. were to become fixed qualities of Tagalog poetry”.2 He went on to cite some of these characteristics e.g., the manner in which the subject of courtly love was treated in the poem; the utilization of emotion as a key to the development of the subject matter; the departure from folk poetic practice in the use of imagery by activating the potential for “flight of fancy” of rhetorical devices like apostrophe, personifaction, metonymy or synedoche; the dodecasyllabic line becoming the metering norm for secular poetry even after Balagtas’ time; and so forth.

Furthermore, Lumbera cautioned against the propensity for political interpretation.  Even when he extolled the fact that it was Balagtas who was the first ever to employ the sentiment of patriotism in poetry, Lumbera still contended:

The tradition of attributing a deliberately political intent to Baltazar’s work ignores the fact that the poet’s emphasis falls on the love of Florante and Laura, and anybody who reads it as a political allegory leaves a lot of details in the poem unaccounted for.3

By his own admission, Epifanio San Juan, Jr., likewise made use of a formal analysis in reading Florante at Laura in the monograph Balagtas:  Art and Revolution.  But unlike Lumbera whose examination of the formalistic richness of the awitbecame an end to his critique, San Juan trod on this inescapable path to be able to interrogate what he believed was the central point of Florante at Laura:  Balagtas aimed to expose the absurd:  the “fetishim” of colonial tyranny and implicitly the alienation of the human spirit in Christian feudal society”.4

Marshalling a wide variety of approaches culled from theories identified with Karl Marx, Soren Aabye Kierkegaard, Sigmund Freud, from Gestalt psychology, and from other eclectic array of devices of analysis, San Juan sought to explain the problem of class conflict, alientation and fetishism which he perceived in the text.  In his own formulation, he presented his argument thus:

Florante is a sustained poetic interrogation about the nature of justice, truth and the human commitment to social-political equity.  It concerns the meaning of oath and contract, promise and betrayal, individualism and solidarity.  It concerns historical relations:  between father and son, ruler and ruled, lover and beloved, Christian and Muslim, man and woman.  Love (piety) and force (heroism), passion and society are counterpointed to the mutable response of the characters.  Balagtas wrestles ultimately with the dialectic interaction between reason and reality, being and consciousness.  What is actual and what is possible.5

Hegel’s dialectical logic became the main method through which San Juan waded through the different approaches he used.  This entailed the determination of thesis and antithesis, binary oppositions and interaction of poles in order to arrive at a synthesis and meaning and signification.

Thus San Juan discerned in the polarity between Florante and Adolfo, between the Persian Aladin and his father the Sultan, the materialization of contradictions in the systems inherent in each of their societies developing in mutual esclusivity into sharp antagonism; while the binary character in the relationship forged by circumstances between Aladin and Florante, and between Laura and Flerida as one with less antagonistic character.  In these examples, the synthesis which arose was conditioned by the very character of said contradiction.  That is, in the former, a radical social change was called for where authoritarian power was vanquished by social equity; in the latter, a happy confluence of humanity, a meaningful brotherhood between the Muslim Aladin and Flerida and the Christian Florante and Laura.

In all these dualities, San Juan concluded that:

Balagtas certainly envisaged the conflict and subsequent struggle of social groups to resolve the inner contradictions of life.  But since he subscribes to a charismatic solution, he is unable but obliquely to project the class as an economic social unit.  Epic totality is diminished by lyric, empty ideality.  Balagtas’ notion of class is at best existential, somewhat analogous to Malraux’s Faustian martyrs of the Absurd.  In amplifying Florante’s agon, the poet reinforces the romantic stress on feeling and sensation.  The stage is a theaterical landscape.  Nature materializes first as the arena of the hunter (in Florante’s childhood, one perceives the aggressive personality cult of the elite), then as nemesis and hell.  Balagtas converts eros into agape; sympathy disintegrates artificial barriers….  But pathos and passion predominate, elevating potentiality into historical actuality.

Balagtas’ plastic medium counterpoints epic and lyric rhythms to compose a unique expressive-intuitive harmony of the spirit engaged in a critical enterprise.  Centered on the ultimate issues of freedom and truth, the poem avoids preciosity or mere formalistic exhibitionism….  Florante strives for integration, the mediated immediacy of life comprehended not in solitude (the soliloquy is pure nihilism) but in dialogue; he emerges as the individual who represents the type.  For this consciousness makes events intelligible, imbued with purpose, and thus begets history.  Born from a nostalgia for communion, lyric insight confronts terror, the absurdity of existence, to discover the freedom of will fused with consciousness.  The obstacle and inhibitions imposed from the outside, inducing renunciation, also unfolds Florante’s inner resources―the germinal kernel of the spirit―as the alienated ego encounters finitude (physical immobility) and the resistance of time.  The spirit thrives in jeopardy, bondage, impurity; its subterranean prospect, assimilating the other (spatio-temporal contingency, dependence), breeds infinite possibilities out of negativity.  Lyric inwardness metamorphoses into epic adventure at the point where the “negation of the negation” transpires.  Adventure then becomes quest, aspiration, hope.  In transforming the objectifications of existence, the poet becomes a historian.  Art becomes a revolution.  Time is redeemed.6

San Juan’s work stepped into the area which Lumbera precisely cautioned against:  the political.  And in the Postscript of said monograph, San Juan curtly belied that there indeed was a formalization of tradition:  “what tradition is being formalized?  And “Why should tradition require formalization in a single work?”7

Professor Hosillos, on the other hand, put forward a point which was not raised by neither Lumbera nor San Juan―originality―which to her was the only way towards achieving “freedom” and individuality in poetic art.”  The problem, however, directly concerned the literary milieu which surrounded Balagtas and his era.  The poet’s craft and medium were the metrical romance and allegory, which in this period had been “overused” and consequently “stereotyped.”  How could the theme of love which had suffered trivialization in the tradition of the Tagalog metrical romance be hurled and elevated to the level of poetic art?  Furthermore, all these popular forms were not indigenous, hence, they might not be adequate to express “Philippine realities and experience.”

The solution, accomplished by Balagtas in Florante at Laura, was explained thus:

Originality as vengeance required that Baltazar transcend the very forms and elements he was using.  This he did by transmuting these forms and elements in terms of native poetics, his own personal experiences, and social realities.  To sing of his insufferable sorrows and miseries, his lost joy, his griefs, his misfortunes, and the life of one unjustly deprived of liberty in a country where the rich and the powerful oppress and tyrannize could only be done by allegory.8

In other words, while borrowing the European literary form of the awit, with all its basic elements and fundamental structures, Balagtas rejected the inscribed intent of “mere romantic entertainment” and escapism.  In its place, the poet utilized the form to surreptitiously register and make known his the poet utilized the form to surreptitiously register and make known his protest through the technique of allegory.  And Hosillos expressed certainty that “such originality could only come from an awakening of consciousness which conditioned his intention, his conception of the poem, and his selection of materials that determined the subject and shaped the configuration of the poem9

From hereon, Hosillos entered into the fray.  To start with, she contended thatFlorante at Laura appeared “the apogee of the poetic formalization of elements of the European metrical romances and of vernacular poetry in the corrido and theawit over the centuries”;10” contrary to Lumbera’s claim that it formalized tradition in Tagalog poetry; evoking, to Hosillos, the erroneous assumption of the existence of such a tradition in Tagalog poetry.

Most of all, Hosillos took to task Lumbera’s new critical approach and “universalist interpretation” of the poem, saying that Lumbera privileged the autonomy of the art work, isolating it from its social realities.11

However, what Lumbera did was merely to unravel the intrinsic values of the narrative poem.  If such values were indeed crucially important, then to imperil their appreciation by subordinating their importance to political signification would result into a lopsidedly unjust valuation of the work.

The initial salvo on San Juan was directed on the fact that he “burdens the poem with terminology, ideas, and meanings from Western philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, and other disciplines that are too heavy for the poem to bear”12―nonetheless Hosillos herself sprinkled her paragraphs with the term dialectics, perceptively with a conviction that was suspect in its credibility.  While she disagreed with Lumbera’s “formalization claim,” she branded San Juan’s demand for a body of literary production to effect such claim as “illusory perfectionism in scholarship”.13

Lastly, Hosillos leveled on the first two adversarial works the failure to show from the fine mesh of allegory the ideological construct of nationalism as the overriding and totalizing concern of Balagtas in Florante at Laura.  For Lumbera, it was more a conscious omission rather than a failure of discourse because it was inevitable for him to succumb to this “sin” by simply adhering strictly to the logical conclusions of New Criticism.  On the other hand, she attributed San Juan’s failure “to provide the much-needed clarification of the poem’s niche in Philippine literary history, especially as a fountainhead of elements for our nationalism literary tradition”14 to his propensity for a pluralist and multidisciplinary treatment of the poetic work.

In parenthesis, it would be interesting to note that in 1986, Lumbera published a book entitled Tagalog Poetry 1870-1898 where the work under contention had been made a part of.  Expectedly then, the author thought it opportune to include in its Preface an admission of his limitations in so far as tools of literary criticism were concerned at the time he worked on the  aforementioned piece.  Then he proceeded to announce that he had since “forsaken formalism in its strictly aesthetic form in favor of a critical method that probes the dialectical relationship between the work of art and the society that produces it”15 while he stood pat in his belief that New Criticism was still useful in analyzing the intrinsic merits of a literary work.

There were a number of other studies on Balagtas, that were far less confrontational.  These included the following:

v     Teodoro A. Agoncillo:  “Sa Isang Madilim:  Si Balagtas at Ang Kanyang Panahon”  (In a Dark:  Balagtas and his Time) 1974;
v     B.S. Medina, Jr. “Balagtas:  The Passion Defined” (1976);
v     Patricia Melendrez-Cruz:  “Mga Tapyas ng Brilyanteng Florante at Laura” (Chips of the Diamond Florante at Laura) 1986; and
v     Virgilio S. Almario:  Kung sino ang Kumatha kina Bagongbanta, Ossorio, Herrera, Aquino de Belen, Balagtas, atbd.Mga Imbestigation sa Panitikan ng Kolonyalismo.  (Who wrote Bagongbanta, Ossorio, Herrera, Aquino de Belen, Balagtas and others-Investigations on Colonial Literature) 1992.

Significant insights on Balagtas’ art and politics were invariably contributed by these works, the last two utilizing the latest trends in literary scholarship.

Clearly, Fred Sevilla’s work can very well be a source book, not only on Balagtas, but also on pieces of historical moments recapitulated with rich material details.  It is more than apparent that in the course of pursuing his thesis, Fred Sevilla consciously avoided paradigms fondly and sometimes indiscriminately used by the academe.  What emerges is an entirely different narrative which successfully tackles the thesis of relocating Balagtas in our history, or reintroducing the poet, as he should be.

Indeed, Balagtas must be replucked from the thick abstruseness of prevailing scholarship and hortatory ritualism.  He must be repositioned, rightfully, in the hearts of the popular masses.  His nationalistic and literary heritage must be restirred in the consciousness and psyche of the Filipino people.

Before transcending Balagtas, he must first be privileged historically.  Only thus can his true worth be properly appreciated.  This book has done just that!

1Santos L. K.  “Ang Apat na Himagsik ni Francisco Balagtas,”Himalay; P. M. Cruz and A. B. Chua (eds.), p. 68.  1988.
2Lumbera, B.  “Florante at Laura:  The Formalization of Tradition, Himalay; p, 137.
3Himalay; p, 127.
4E. San Juan, Jr.  “Forward,”  Balagtas:  Art and Revolution, 1969, p. i.
5Ibid, pp. 3-4.
6 Ibid, pp. 59-61.
7 Ibid, p. 63.
8Hosillos, L.  “Florante at Laura:  A transcendence of Romance and Allegory,”  Himalay; p, 248.
9 Ibid, p. 257.
10 Ibid, p. 250.
11 Ibid, p. 261.
12 Ibid, p. 264.
13 Ibid, p. 265.
14 Ibid, p. 264.
15Lumbera, B.  “Preface,”  Tagalog Poetry 1570-1898.  1986, p. IX.

Random Thoughts of a Mindanaoan Artist

Random Thoughts of a Mindanaoan Artist
by Marili F. Ilagan

Yupanaw yang kanak lumon nga usog ngadi sangaon. Laong niya way kausbawan ngadi sa taas. Laong niya tukay sang baba yang kausbawan. Laong ko daw mali siya. Laong ko daw di paras ngadi sa taas yang baba… Iibanan ko yang kanak ama pati ina ngadi hangtud yukani yang mga yaka-unipormeng usog. Yagda silan ngadi sang kagubot. Gikan silan ngadto sang baba. Laong nilan silan yang mga tig-da sang kausbawan… Isa ka gabi sangaon, baynti dos kanilan. Madaig pa sang bilang ko sang kanak mga alima pati siki. Isunog nilan yang kanami baryo. Ipuwersa nilan kami nga laongon nami kanilan kung hain da yang mga rebelde. Tapos, isunog nilang sang tabako yang kanak likod… Yagkalantaon da lang ako. Ini na kanta yang yakahatag kanako sang paglaum para mabuhi. Katigam ako, mokani pag-isab yang kanak lumon. Tapos, dua da kaming magtukod pag-isab sang kanami i-puy-an.

That was my first writing in my mother and grandmother’s language. That was part of a monologue piece.

Since childhood, I have listened to my mother talk with her parents and tell stories to her siblings in that language—a strange one that she didn’t speak with my father and with us, her own children. I never understood it, never dared ask what it was. Years passed, and like magic, the language began to unravel, though I never got to speak it. I kept the unraveling to myself until I learned about the “culture of silence and assertion” in the early 1980s. In 1986, in one of our regular theater productions for nationalist advocacy, I spoke the language and even performed it.

I am part Mandaya, one of the ethnolinguistic societies in this country. I come from Davao, in the island of Mindanao, the southern Philippines. In terms of land area, it is the largest city in the world.

The cultural heritage of Davao is all about its being a melting pot of different peoples. In the early 1900, the government brought in the Northern and Central peoples of our country to occupy Mindanao’s vast lands. These increased the then 4.5 million original inhabitants—the talainged (now called lumad) and the Moro—of the island. By the middle of the century, these migrant settlers had established their supremacy in Mindanao, at the expense of the indigenous population.

My father was a later generation of these migrant settlers, though his coming to Mindanao was purely on account of his courtship and marriage with my mother.

With the waves of migration to Mindanao, intermarriages occurred. Major strains developed. One of these manifested in language. Davaoeño came into being, the language my great grandmother’s tribe created from infusing other migrant languages into their own Mandaya language. Davaoeño is a language that seems to be confined to being spoken and not written. Today, it remains oral, and is shunned in formal situations. It is the language that I used in introducing this presentation.

The piece comes from a vignette of Kaliwat theater Collective’s production titled Nag-alintabong Kabilin (Burning Legacy). It involves a girl who narrates the story of her village. Her brother left their mountain village for the lowlands in search of progress. Their old parents were left in her care. Shortly after, soldiers descended upon them, claiming that they were bringing progress to the mountain folk, but were actually in hot pursuit of some rebels. The girl tells us how the soldiers set fire to their village and forced them to give information regarding the rebels. She laments how the soldiers burned her body with cigarettes. She tells us her wish to survive. She tells us her hope that her brother would return soon so that they could rebuild their home and village.

My first involvement with theater was through writing, though I was a reluctant writer. In contrast, how I loved to perform! I say “reluctant” because I wrote in a language that, at some point in the past, had been imposed in our school. This imposition generated tension in my use of the Tagalog language, then considered as the national language. Tagalog is the language of the country’s urban capital, together, of course, with English.

I have not written too many plays, as well as poems and short stories. My play, Ang Titser, won first prize at a secondary school competition in 1975, and has been performed. I agreed to write in exchange for a role to perform. I was vying for the Best Actor prize. I wrote the play in Tagalog. Though I spoke Tagalog at home, I never spoke it straight because I also spoke Bisaya in the neighborhood. Anyway, I was unsatisfied with my first play. I felt that its language was stiff and not conversational. I won somehow, and I brought home four pens in assorted colors. I had really wanted to win as Best Actor.

As I grew in theater, so did the opportunities to perform. At that time, we were into collective theater work, including collective writing. For that, my colleagues and I felt that, rather than impose a body of rules, it was more important to create an atmosphere within which we evoked vivid themes from the real world. We shared personal experiences, thus establishing a community of thought and feelings. Our output was oftentimes a series of theater vignettes integrated with music and dance.

One output had been written, directed and performed by two women, a colleague named Geejay Arriola, and myself. It made a whole lot of a difference—writing and performing stories from the women’s perspective. The piece was Pagbati, stories of women during and after childbirth. It revolved around the view of women being the source of life. We wove poetry, songs, sketches of drama and comedy, and our favorite elements—chants and indigenous dance.

Why chants and dance? Probably because we moved in and out and among the indigenous peoples, particularly the talainged and the Moro.

With the talainged community, I began to know more about bubay, libon, malitan—the woman. “Talainged” means “of the earth, from the earth.” In my first visit to a B’laan village, I heard one elder libon say, “You’ll never know how we write our own epics, songs and riddles, and how we move our own dances until you come here and live with us . . . until you settle down with our Mother, the Earth.” As the libon was saying this, she chanted and moved about. It looked like she could not chant without body movement. That was all in their tradition—exactly like the fact that the talainged could not live without the land, just as order and sustenance were never separated from the meaning of life.

Literature and the performing arts are lived among the talainged. These are not merely read, written or watched. The talainged themselves don’t simply read and watch because their literature and performing arts are an integral part of their living.

Take the tale of Matutum. I do not see it as an idle tale but a reality lived by the B’laan, a product of the daily reflection of their experiences. Matutum, a maiden who lived in South Cotabato, took care of the weak Sandawa of Davao. Matutum and Sandawa eventually fell for each other, bore children, aged, and died. From their burial grounds, two mountains slowly rose, so the tale went. Matutum and Sandawa’s children, who were believed to be the talainged of Mindanao, now believe that Mt. Apo and Mt. Matutum were their ancestors. This explains their uncompromising stand regarding their land and ancestral domain.

Having found rich material from my immersion and being part-talainged, I dared use the said tale for a theater-playback in one of our cultural action projects among the B’laan of Columbio, Sultan Kudarat. I felt I had to return the art of making and enjoying theater to the people from whom drama emerged in the first place—the indigenous peoples, the talainged. It was very difficult for me because I preferred material that was generous with dialogue—which was not the way of the indigenous folk. So, I found myself translating my Bisaya, Tagalog and English into their language. I had hoped that in so doing, I’d be able to communicate with the talainged. I sensed that something was not right, that it was not merely a question of translation.

Then I explored the chants and dances and found them the more effective forms for the Mindanaon audience. Concluding a play also posed a difficulty for our theater collective. We invariably ended up doing a theater forum, with the audience providing the ending themselves.

With the program of immersion in the indigenous communities, I took up a new challenge in the field of writing—like integrating the traditional expressions with the migrant settlers’ language and the talainged vocabularies, or learning a talainged language and writing in the talainged language with a libon or malitan editor. In the end, the writings came out mostly as dance—theater or music—theater.

In Mindanao, we have few women artists who are solely playwrights, and they are outstanding. But unlike them, I have only written plays as an actor or director, never solely as a text author.

Seven years ago, the women theater artists of Mindanao organized Ova, a cultural event that stemmed from our years of passion as cultural workers. We could never rub out from memory the women and the children clinging in their arms as they told the tales of generations through their lively talks, soulful eyes, exhausted bodies. We’d like to think that Ova gave some meaning to the audience. But for starters, some men artists questioned their non-inclusion in the project. We thought we had to do it on our own to make a specific point.

For Ova, a colleague named Tisay Opaon and I wrote and produced the play, Ugpaanan. The two of us worked with some talainged groups regarding their right to self-determination. Tisay and I gathered stories that demonstrated the oppression, as well as the strength, of the talainged women. Ugpaanan or “Sanctuary” is a one-act play integrated, again, with dance and music. Far from being a masterpiece, it somehow fulfilled theater’s basic function of creating a worthwhile impact on the audience. The story is a moving testament to the unending struggle of the women of the talainged, who have been cast aside in society. The narrative carried the stories of three women—a 15-year old Manobo girl, a young lowland-assimilated Bagobo mother, and an old Mandaya shaman. All three lamented the plight of the talainged who lost their right to their God-given land and its blessings. Strangers to each one, the three found themselves together after having been driven from their homes. The culprits were the logging concessionaires and ranchers. Narrating their stories, the women were drowned in mystification and mistrust. But trust it was that was forged among them in a climax of a powerful tribal dance that signified their collective unity to define the future of their people. Now read this.

Felisa (the mother), carrying her baby and a transistor radio, enters, looking for her brother. She notices the old shaman, approaches her, then sits on a rock. She is about to nurse her baby but finds her turning blue… She hysterically approaches the old shaman. The old shaman is about to help her but Felisa panics. Felisa runs away.

As Felisa runs away, Igay, the young girl, comes running and shouting. She looks for a refuge. Apo Dyamon, the old shaman, is silent in one corner. Twilight comes and a blurred moon appears. Apo Dyamon takes a corn and hangs it to offer to the spirits. Then she lights a bright torch. Apo Dyamon does the ritual for the sick, she dances to drive away the evil spirit. Then she goes into a trance and engages her goddess in a conversation.

Meanwhile, Igay watches Apo Dyamon unnoticed. She tries to move away, fearing that she will be discovered. A house post falls and gives her away. The noise awakens Apo Dyamon from her trance. She sees the girl, crouches on the ground and chews her betel nut. Noting the girl’s fear, she wooes her attention by telling her a story.

Felisa enters weary and beaten from her long search. She switches on her radio. Igay bumps into her. Felisa tries to look for her but can’t find her. She faces Apo Dyamon and stares. Then slowly, she tells her story—about her baby lost from a previous illness, her husband who went off with the armed rebels, and her brother who is said to have been abducted.

The talainged culture is a painfully difficult subject for me to write about. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the bigger sectors, like the workers, peasants, etc., are also the bigger and more accessible subjects, while the talainged are always seen as the less significant and difficult sector. This means spending more effort and time for research and seeing to it that the subject is stageable. I could, of course, write a play on the talainged subject and leave the production to someone else. But I choose to write talainged or talainged-inspired plays because I am also committed in seeing them staged, and in experiencing the satisfaction of my words brought alive in performance.

Writing plays for me combines the individual creative process with the benefits of collaborative work, even if I am not always present in rehearsals. On the whole, I must, in a sense, ‘come out.’ I cannot hide behind text, and I am subject to the scrutiny and demands of co-workers—directors, performers, etc. For me, my work is never separated from the actor, audience, director and source.

The second reason for my hesitation to write relates to playwriting as a form. Writing plays commonly entails writing in dialogue. It is not that I am a stranger to talainged languages, but that I am accustomed to Tagalog, Bisaya, English. Though I have been learning one or two talainged languages, knowing even just one is torture enough if one doesn’t have the passion.

In general, I have found freedom in theater. Perhaps because theater (the way we define it in Mindanao), like oral tradition, doesn’t set rigid standards. As long as I live it, as long as I am clear about my development through the phases of reflection, protest and self-discovery, I’d be fine writing talainged or talainged-inspired plays. It is not my foremost aim to be published or to win an award, though publication or winning will definitely boost my efforts. As of the moment, I can only share and tell our stories though chants, dance, drama, and songs.

Now I would like to end my sharing with a story I read and which strengthened me regarding my role in society. There is so much more to do to make us, women, trust in our own capacities and believe in the wisdom that our femininity holds.

This is a story of how the earth was formed from the excreta of an earthworm caught by Bayi, a woman. Holding the wriggling thing in the palm of her hand, she stimulated it to produce the earth. She also gave birth to many descendants. From her fingertips came the wild boar, deer and other animals of the mountains. The next set of offsprings came from the tips of her toes. These were the marine and freshwater creatures. From her calves came the dogs, cats and chickens while her thighs yielded wild birds. Her genitals, as traditionally expected, produced three handsome sons.

This paper was read at the 2nd Conference on Asian Women and Theater in Mt. Makiling of Laguna in December 2000 by Marili Fernandez-Ilagan.


Gémino H. Abad

The real is the poem. To write the poem is to get real.

The real is what we call “our world.” But our world is only our experience of it. If so, the world is only, for each one, that little time-space where we “ex-ist” or stand out as conscious beings; the world is only our consciousness of it in our experience of it. It is our only world; we have no other. A cat’s world is its own; we have no access to it: the living of it.

What we call reality is only, and forever, a human reality: what we are able to perceive. The world of matter is our science; the world of spirit is that of our world’s religions.

And who are “we”? – Not I, not you, not the other; it is in their interconnectedness that we are: thence, you and I and the other, and thereby we are.

“To experience” anything, in consciousness of it, has from its etymology in Greek,enpeiran , and Latin, experiri , both an active and a passive sense: it is “to try or attempt, to pass through, to undergo.” The word in both Greek and Latin is associated with going on a journey, faring, meeting with chance and danger, for in setting forth nothing is certain. Such the meaningfulness of our English word “experience.”

But then, it is only with words and words that, after the event – that “fundamental entity,” the experience – we again try and remember, undergo and pass through what we call our world. This other journey is verbal; it may end nowhere, the trial fail, the experiment pall. But working our language – soil and fallow of all human thought and feeling, our only ground – we invest our words with a power to evoke, to call forth, to our mind and imagination a meaningfulness that we seem to have grasped in that human event or experience: indeed, whether that event did happen, or had only been dreamed or imagined, or is only an inextricable conflation of fact and fiction; indeed, too, that we call an “event” or experience may only be a thought that seeks a clearing or a feeling that haunts. And in that finished weave of words – the very text – our aim is to apprehend, to understand, the living of it, the full consciousness of the event or experience: its very sensation.

When we speak, write, or read a word, we begin to create our world again – our world in our image, in or from our language; this is so because it is with words that we connect to reality with each nerve of perception – a filament of feeling, a spore of thought: we have no other means for connection but our words; with our words, we give a meaningful form to the feeling or thought that pulses with our grasp or apprehension of the world in our experience. And that apprehension sows our mind with images of the encompassing reality and thereby re-forms our language and shapes us, forms us within. We are in-formed, we are formed within.

To understand our experience then is with words and words to stand under a cloud broken by shafts of light from a makeshift sun. To understand, to stand under, for the immense Reality of creation is essentially, infinitely mysterious. Here is the poem, this poem, and that poem: we journey from sun to sun, then pass to night again. What we understand is not a meaning, fixed and stable, but a meaningfulness of the living of it: the very sensation of it.

Yet the living of it is only one human being’s memory of it: as Eduardo Galeano says, “to remember is to pass through the heart.” And the reader, another human being, also remembers what he may have lived or passed through: the living of it as he now imagines it himself. And thus, as he reads alive, he dwells where all things live – that universal plane where his humanity is always achieved, for that moment, as he reads, as he is also read. Here, indeed, on that plane, is that vibrant interconnectedness of the human community: each one immersed in a history, a culture, and a natural environment – all change, transformation, energy. The words chosen, to convey that vibrancy of interconnectedness, are cathected : that is to say, invested with mental and emotional energy.

Poems are forms of thought and feeling wrought from language by an individual mind and imagination. Feeling is deeper and wider than thought; it is also the most honest part of oneself. And, as Derrida suspects, peut-être, “perhaps, there may be forms of thought that think more than does that thought called philosophy.” The poem leaps over Derrida’s perhaps ; for what is wrought there is what has been lived as imagined . We may see only what our words permit us to see, and yet, with imagination, we are enabled, also with words and words, to see beyond them the infinite possibilities of invention and innovation; we perceive other worlds, other possibilities.


So here then is my own poetics, in response, it may be, to present and future critics:

Poems are forms of the imagination. The imagination has infinite possibilities of apprehending a human experience in the very living of it. Thus, my critical standpoint seeks to engage with the varicolored forms of the imagination because, for me, what is most imagined is what is most real. I would much rather go by what Wallace Stevens says of “the nobility of the imagination.”

The word “criticism” and its kin, “crisis,” both come from Greek krinein , “to divide and judge”: that is, to discriminate, to perceive distinguishing features, to use good judgment. Thus, in any critical approach, from any standpoint, it is in fact much simpler, and more honest, to say just what you mean. It is also much more exciting to be free to draw from all sources of possible enlightenment: for revel and revelation. You need only choose your words with care and respect for their freight of meaningfulness.

This is why I would much prefer for my standpoint not to be pinned by any label on the critical board. All labels are constrictive: formalist, feminist, Marxist, deconstructive, poststructuralist, postmodern, postcolonial, other “posts.” My chief care and concern is to rescue the living experience from the discombobulations and borborygmus of theory and ideology – to rescue the experience, as lived as imagined , even from the words that would evoke it: just as though the words themselves were a hurdle to leap over. One aspires to that state of contemplation where no words break – where one no longer has even any need for words.

Only for convenience of overview, I here encapsulate certain assumptions about language, about the literary work and its form, about the writer’s playing field, and about a country’s literature as its image. The “field work” in research – that is, the reading of the poetic texts themselves over the last century, our poetry from English since Man of Earth through A Native Clearing to A Habit of Shores; our short stories through English, 1956 to 1989 so far in my field work, from Upon Our Own Ground to Underground Spirit – all that field work enabled me to clarify to myself, chiefly by the inductive method, those assumptions. The argument is as follows:



About Language

Particularly when the work is literary, linguistic usage is essentially translation. The word, “translation,” is from Latin transferre, translatus , meaning “to carry or ferry across.” When we write, we ferry across our words our perceptions of reality. Such working or tillage of language is work of imagination: it makes things real to the mind, for it is the mind that has the imaginative power. This implies that one’s sense for language is the basic poetic sense. It is intimately bound with one’s sense of reality. As Albert Camus says, “When the imagination sleeps,” says Albert Camus, “words are emptied of their meaning.” The same tillage or cultivation of language implies that the meanings of our words do not come so much from the words themselves as from lives lived. This is why, in the critical response to literary works, the stress falls not on meaning but on meaningfulness. We translate a thought, a feeling, or an impression into the words of a language; the translation could fail. We try and choose the right words in the right order, we invent or even reinvent our words, or transform or even subvert their accepted syntax, in order that we might ferry across them our own soul’s freight without hurt.

I might note here that English is already one of our Philippine languages, not regional, but national. We have used it for our own purposes for over a century now, and it ischiefly through that language, in speech and writing, that we are understood in the world outside our shores. English is already a national language like Tagalog, Cebuano, and Ilocano; that cannot be helped, it was simply inevitable, for their speakers live all over the archipelago, and even globally. Only by legislation is Tagalog-based Filipino the national language. This certainly is not to assert that Filipino is adventitious; it is an inherent aspect of our aspiration to be our own country, one people. That aspiration should be rooted in respect for all our languages and their cultivation in literature because our literature presents our image of ourselves. Personally, I believe that there is no English, no Tagalog, no Filipino: there is only one language – language itself. And that language is most manifest in our finest writers, whatever the provenance of their idiom.

About the Literary Work

The literary work itself, without Theory, isn’t mute. The word “theory” is from Greektheoria , meaning “a way of looking.” Any theory then is only a way of looking, and essentially heuristic; none has monopoly of insight. Now then, for me, a literary work’s chief appeal is to the imagination, and the basic requirement for intimate engagement with a work of imagination is a sense for language. There in any literary work a human action, a human experience, as imagined as lived, is feigned or mimicked in language; be that human action or condition only someone’s mood or train of reflection, as in a lyric poem, if it is then shaped or endowed with form, it becomes meaningful. Not a fixed meaning, but meaningfulness. That meaningfulness is its moral or ethical dimension. And that moral dimension raises it to a universal plane. That plane isn’t the site of eternal verities, it is the clearing of everlasting questioning.

Granted a fair enough sense for language, to read an essay or a poem is first to interpret the text on its face, to deal with it by and on its own terms. The text, after all, has come to terms with itself. That close reading, attending to the form of the literary work, is the antidote to the text’s predestination, that is, the privileging of Theory over text such that the text is read to conform to the theory one prefers. Such theory-bound dealing with the text is eisegesis: that interpretation of the text by reading into it one’s own ideas. The critic aspires to a reading of the text that isn’t beholden to any theoretical or ideological commitment.

“To interpret” is from Latin interpretari , from interpres , agent, negotiator, interpreter. To interpret then is to present in understandable terms, as when you interpret a dream. You might say that the literary text is the dream on the page. To interpret is also to bring to realization by performance or direction, as when you play a role in the theatre. You might say that the literary text is a stage on which a moment or a life is lived.

What I have in mind is first-level interpretation, for the literary work is already interpretation of a human experience, it already represents that experience by means of art. First-level interpretation then means that you present that experience again in understandable terms. You bring to realization in your mind – and in the reader’s mind – that experience as already interpreted and realized by the means of art. You have to deal with those means of art. The human experience in the literary work has already been performed and directed in the text by those means of art.

This is what is meant by close reading of the text.

When we read a story or poem, we need to imagine the human action, the human experience, that is mimicked or simulated there. That is the form of the literary work. It is that which must direct and validate the interpretation of its content. For the form that has been wrought is that by which the content is achieved, that is, endowed with a power of meaningfulness by which we are moved. Form is the matter of art, content the matter of interpretation. When Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr., was asked whether his stories are true, he said, Yes, of course, because “on the page,” where the story is, “is the life that matters.” That life is achieved by the story’s form.

In practice, it may be useful to distinguish the literary work as a work of art from the literary work as discourse . In my view, the work of art precedes the discourse. There is no meaningfulness without form; but form is achieved content; in discourse, the focus is on cultural and ideological content, but in a literary work, content is achieved by the means of art.

About the Writer’s Playing Field

The writer’s playing field is the field of imagination. For the writer, poem or short story is only a convenient label; when they write, they do not adhere to any fixed criteria or theory of the literary work. They only aspire to creating something unique in their playing field: they make things anew or make new things. Without a masterful use of language, no literary work can rise to the level of art. For that thing made anew, or that new thing, is the very form of the human experience as imagined as lived that has been simulated by a particular use or deployment of language, a particular style. Albert Camus speaks of such style as “the simultaneous existence of reality and of the mind that gives reality its form.”

We shouldn’t forget that the word “poem” is from Greek poiein , “to make.” The poem or short story is a thing made of words, an artifact. It may sometimes be claimed that “in English, we do not exist.” But of course, nor indeed in any language, except in and through the poem, where – as the poet Isabela Banzon says – “the lights mutate from artifice to real.”

About a Country’s Literature as Its Image

A country’s literature is its own imagination of how its people think and feel about their world and so, justify the way they live. In short, its literature is its lived ideology. In that light, our writers and scholars create our sense of country. Our writers and scholars do not proclaim their nationalism, their love of country; their works proclaim it – but of course, as with everyone else, not only their writings, but all the other things that they do.

Let me make myself clearer by stressing the obvious. The things that a people do make their country. Writing is also doing, and more: those who write create a people’s sense of their country. In their writing is a people’s memory, and a people is only as strong as its memory.

For one’s sense of country is basically how one imagines her; essentially then, a poetic sense: an imaginative perception of our day-to-day living in the very element of our history and culture. While it may be shared through education, the mass media, the arts, and other means and institutions, our sense of country is, in the first place, personal and subjective, but that doesn’t make it any less real. It is more image than concept, more feeling than thought. Which of course is why that sense is more readily apprehensible in the artistic media – painting, film, theatre, song, the literary text. The literary text, as language purposefully worked, may be the clearest expression of one’s sense of country; in that light, a poet’s sense for language – whatever the language he has mastered – may be his most intimate sense of his country’s landscape and his people’s lived lives.

For the writer, one’s country is what one’s imagination owes its allegiance to.

Gémino H. Abad

20 October, 19, 30 November 2008

U. P. Faculty Center, Rm. 1062


*ICW Panayam Centennial Lecture series, UP Faculty Center, 5 December 2008. This lecture sums up earlier essays: “Poiesis: Toward the Lyric – A Way To Hear,”Tomas 10 / The Literary Journal of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Studies, March 2006: 54-59; “Creativity and Philippine Literature” in the University of the Philippines Forum , vol. 7, no. 3, May-June 2006: 1-3; “As Imagined as Lived: Sense for Language, Sense of Country,” Bookwatch / Quarterly Publication of the National Book Development Board, Apr-Jun 2008: 14-17 (from my Centennial Fellow lecture, in U.P. Mindanao, 29 Feb 2008).


Postcolonialism and Filipino Poetics*

Postcolonialism and Filipino Poetics*
by J. Neil C. Garcia

This paper is an abridged version of a chapter from my forthcoming book,Postcolonialism and Filipino Poetics, which itself comes out of my recently completed dissertation in Creative Writing [1] at the UP Diliman. The book is comprised of essays and critiques on poetry—the former being personal reflections on themes, aspects, occasions, influences and concerns of my poems over the course of roughly ten years, the latter being a critical interrogation, from the perspective of postcolonial discourse, into the dominant poetic theories in the Philippines today.

For this presentation, I will attempt to synthesize my critiques of the poetics written by the foremost commentators on Filipino poetries in Tagalog and in English—namely, Virgilio S. Almario and Gémino H. Abad. Here, I summarize their individual “positions” on the question not only of poetry but also of agency and identity. Proposing a reconsideration of my earlier polemic against each, I shall conclude by describing an alternative, postcolonial “frame,” within which to revaluate their respective projects.

First, a statement of the obvious: the foremost critics of Filipino poetry are themselves its producers and/or promoters.

Nonetheless, that the most sustained work in this otherwise scholarly area of Filipino poetic theory has not come from the critics but from the writers to me reveals howroutinary this activity is: it seems, in this country, there’s no division of labor between scholars and artists, so much so that most of them happen to be both. Despite its implications regarding the incestuous insularity of the country’s literary community, still I find this an inspiriting thought. To my mind, it indicates the presence of a measure of reflexivity in our writers, who may be seen to “reflect” on the intricacies of the creative process, now and again.

In engaging the writings of the foremost critic of Tagalog poetry, the poet Virgilio S. Almario, as well as the musings of his counterpart in Filipino poetry in English, another poet, Gémino H. Abad, I have availed myself in this study of a generous helping of theories of postcoloniality. Examining these Filipino critics’ premises and contentions in the dappled light of postcolonial discourse, we discover that while there are clear divergences, there are also, surprisingly enough, convergences between them.

Unlike Almario’s study of twentieth-century Filipino (actually, Tagalog) poetry, Abad’s work [2] has primarily been the anthologizing of what he considers the most “important” poems of the country’s most “important” poets in English. Nonetheless, in his introduction to the anthology’s last volume, he articulates a theory of Filipino poetry. Its intriguing thesis is that Filipino poets have succeeded in Filipinizing, in the course of a hundred years, the otherwise foreign medium of English. To him, the three phases of Filipino poetry in English—Romantic, Formalist and Post-structural—adumbrate the contours of this history of Filipinization. Our poets have accomplished this goal using the power of their imagination, an intuitive faculty which has been guided by a collective desire to return to the Filipino’s “spiritual homeland.” For Abad, a country is how its poets figure her, a nation is nothing if not “a work of imagination.”

By emphasizing the poet’s role not only in the imagining of the nation but also in the decolonizing of English, Abad’s may be called an “expressive” theory of poetry, in the main. He doesn’t much talk about the role of the reader, nor of the reading and writing contexts of Filipino poetry in English, which constitute what are otherwise known as the affective and referential functions of literature.

Crucial elements in his expressive theory are, first, the strangely “Romantic” contention that a “natural” language (like English, Tagalog, French, etc.) is merely a tool or technique which a writer avails herself of, and which she uses and isn’t used by; and second, the reason poetry is able to “decolonize” the language in which it is written is that it is, in fact, another language altogether, whose evocative power enables the writer to “transcend” the cultural and historical ground in which she writes, for every poem is, in the end, not in any natural language but from it.  And yet, despite downplaying the mimetic function of poetry, Abad does emphasize the “Filipinoness” in his selections. What’s significant is that, in his articulation, this Filipinoness would seem to lie not so much in a poem’s stylistic qualities as in its representational content. Thus, his “transcendental” tendencies notwithstanding, Abad views Filipino poetry as having a very real, referential link to Filipino social and historical realities.

On the other hand, Almario’s work, [3] spread out over several books, describes a more dizzyingly plural (as he put it, masalimuot) terrain. His project in his monumental study from 1984 is to attend to the tensions between traditional and Americanized systems of poetic composition, which he calls Balagtasismo andModernismo, respectively. The former is comprised of both indigenous and “naturalized” elements from the Hispanic cultural legacy in the islands, while the latter stands for all the ideologies of modernization introduced into the country from the American period onward. As a whole, we can see his preference for modernist poetry, not the least because of all the verbally invigorating innovations it has wrought on the otherwise stodgy and “backward” tradition of Tagalog prosody that had been codified by and as Balagtasismo. In any case, despite their differences in terms of aesthetic concerns, both ismos are, paradoxically enough, equally committed to various projects of nationalist liberation. (They champion the emergence and spread of a national language, for example.)

It must be clarified that such ideologies and influences have largely been “indigenized” (isinakatutubo) by the Filipino poet, who would seem to be, for Almario, the person best equipped to undertake such a task. In a later book, he assigns to the poet the task of rediscovering what he alternately calls the “Filipino genius” (henyong Filipino) and the “national self” (pambansang kaakuhan). In fact, the method of poetic analysis he endorses—a method he calls “Bagong Pormalismong Filipino”—may be seen to lean toward the examination and celebration of just this “genius/selfhood” In other words: precisely because it is a politically and culturally interested kind of formalism, this criticism’s main mission is to identify and ap/praise all the formal choices which the Filipino poet makes in the process of creating his Filipino poems. Here, we realize that, just like Abad, Almario is pursuing an “expressive” theory of poetry.

Absent in Abad but present in Almario is a lengthy diatribe against the old kind of “colonial” literary criticism that uncritically employed Western theories and concepts in the reading of local texts. Not surprisingly, such criticism found these selfsame texts “wanting.” Almario makes certain intriguing pronouncements in this respect, and they all have to do with his belief in the unassailable agency of the native in the face of the colonial project. For Almario, the cross-cultural “contact” that was imperialism may be described as the invariable victory of the native in its struggle (tunggalian) against the foreign.

In his account of things, the colonized have never lost the power to transform and indigenize the “colonial imposition,” to turn it relevant and responsive to the native situation— needless to say to divest it of its ideological baggage, and thereby make it “originally Filipino.” His own decision to “adapt” Western terminologies and even, in his critiques of individual modernist poets, philosophies like Existentialism, Romanticism and Marxism—in seeming violation of his own declared polemic about the need to abadon all colonial mentality—proceeds from his unflinching confidence in his own ability to nativize, to borrow what is useful, and to throw away what isn’t. Unfortunately, just exactly what cognitive, linguistic and/or cultural mechanism makes this “native opportunism” work remains unclear in his discourse.

Another distinction in Almario’s work is its “programmatic” quality. That all his critical engagements profess an avowed agendum may be witnessed in his discussion of Filipino national culture and the especially fraught question of the national language.

To Almario’s mind, Filipino national culture is fed by three sources, which he calls “constellations”: the Filipinized Hispanic legacy (chiefly Christianity and the colonial system of feudalism); the Reform and Revolutionary movements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and finally, the oldest, most important and least acknowledged source of all—the many indigenous cultures, of whose invaluable wisdom the great majority of Filipinos have yet to become aware. In a particular critique, he dramatizes his preference for this third source—this native “constellation” of nationalist awareness or pambansang kamalayan—by lauding the efforts of two young poets in “appropriating” images and objects from various Philippine myths.

Missing in his “conceptual galaxy” is Filipino culture during and after the American conquest—a predictable omission, come to think of it, since in all his books he consistently displays a suspicious if not downright hostile attitude toward Americanization’s most enduring legacy, the English language. It would seem that despite his periodic acknowledgment of the “debt” Filipino Modernists owe the Americanization process—for instance, he surmises that it was precisely because of their colonial education that a number of Filipino writers came to realize the beauty and “greatness” of their own native culture—Almario will not grant the possibility that Filipino writers working in English may, in fact, be “good” nationalists as well.

As compared to Abad, Almario bears the extra burden of “theorizing” not only poetry but also the national language. Thus, while both of them traffic in their own versions of nationalist polemics, Almario’s critical oeuvre covers ground that Abad’s simply cannot. Perhaps as an extension of his “inward-looking” and “indigenizing” perspective on matters of poetic “importation,” Almario defends the idea of a linguistic “standard,” a selfconscious “basis” in the otherwise “natural” and unselfconscious evolution of the supposedly aborning national language, the Philippine lingua franca henceforth to be called “Filipino.”

Unlike the other players in the boisterous game of the pambansang wika, Almario doesn’t mind declaring that Filipino ought to be based on Tagalog, especially as far as its grammatical structures and orthographic principles are concerned. On the other hand, he welcomes the prospect of lexically “enriching” this Tagalog-based Filipino by allowing it to assimilate the culturally unique words (especially nouns and pronouns) of the “regional” languages. Thus, Almario’s belief in the indigenizing power of the Filipino writer is an expression of his generally conservative attitude toward cultural transformation as a whole, both as it occurs in literature and in the broader field of language. In the same way that he insists contemporary poets “go native,” despite their modernist inclinations, Almario prescribes a fidelity to the traditional grammatical and orthographic principles of Tagalog. This prescriptiveness is apparent in his bellicose critiques of Taglish, swardspeak, and all other hybridizing registers of the native language. (The names he calls the words such registers engender are all variations on the “mongrel” theme.)

It should be clear, then, that both Abad and Almario propose comparable theories of agency that do not seem to recognize its historically and culturally constituted and therefore constrained “nature.”  They also make very similar assumptions regarding the essential difference, or “gap,” between the native and the foreign, the colonized and the colonizer, the powerless and the powerful. Their idea of the poem as the logical and extraordinary result of an author’s “formal” decisions bespeaks a humanist attitude toward the unproblematic knowability of the poetic object. They both believe in the all-important role literature plays in national liberation, and apotheosize the Filipino poet as the exemplary kind of writer who can, in Almario’s case, recover the indigenous self, and in Abad’s somewhat “messianic” discourse, lead her people back to their “spiritual homeland.” If only because of their unshakeable faith in the Filipino poet’s ability to successfully “negotiate”  the cultural content of language (among other amazing feats), we may conclude that there appear to be clearly personal and “expressivist” investments being made in their otherwise critical and even  “historiographic” enterprises. This is only to be expected, after all, since Abad and Almario are also poets.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that Almario’s  ambitious study of Tagalog modernist poetry and Abad’s survey of a century’s worth of Filipino poetry in English are primarily accomplishments of a highly deliberate, analytic and critical sort. Thus, as has been my own considered judgment in my critical study, they must finally be treated as such. We must remember that disavowing any theoretical affiliation is itself a theory—”Romanticism” or “Post-Romanticism,” we may for the most part call it—and even as this supposedly “atheoretical” position simply seeks to celebrate the artist’s individual genius and sovereign imagination, in the end it doesn’t offer a personal theory of artistic creativity alone. Romanticism is, despite its humanist claims and the ease with which it seemingly lends itself to the pleasurable use of such claims, also a critical theory. [4] That is to say: it purveys a certain method of “viewing” or “thinking about” literature—an interpretive approach, thus. Nevertheless, the Romantic nostalgia for lost origins is clearly at the heart of both Abad’s and Almario’s theorizings, which purvey comparable notions of an essential Filipino soul, selfhood, etc. that are supposedly pre-social and beyond historical determination. Admittedly, in this respect, it is Almario who has, however, covered a lot more ground. Not only does he purvey a poetics, he also offers a literary history as well as the outlines of a national language policy. 

By virtue of these orientations, Abad’s and Almario’s theorizings evince similar “problems,” especially in relation to postcolonial theory. As my study has demonstrated, these involve questions of hybridity, language, essentialism, universalism, and in Almario’s “pro-Tagalog” case in particular, internal colonialism. Insofar as both of them profess nationalist beliefs, we might say that these problems have a lot to do with the hegemonic discourse and practice of the species of Filipino nationalism to which they subscribe, and of which they probably are, within their own respective “fields,” the most popular proponents.

Central to all these is the question of “agency”; that is, of exactly how colonized peoples are able to respond and resist, given the overwhelming determinations of colonial power. The Algerian revolutionary, Frantz Fanon, believes that there is, in the “cultural nationalist” phase, a teleological movement away from false consciousness toward true consciousness that “naturally” exists in any decolonizing project. [5]

From being utterly and helplessly “enslaved,” the native subject of colonialism awakens from her slumber and progressively becomes more and more aware, until she is able to challenge the imperial dispensation, first through culture, and then, finally, through armed revolution. This Fanonian model isn’t what Almario and Abad obviously believe in—even as it partially accounts for them—for while they assume a similar narrative of cultural national “awakening” and discursive struggle against the foreign aggressors, they do not and perhaps cannot imagine the need for a material revolution to complement what to them is probably a permanent period of cultural nationalism.

Like Fanon, however, who built his model on a refunctioned version of Enlightenment “humanism,” both Abad and Almario forego problematizing the question of agency in their poetics, positing the existence of a native self, consciousness or imagination, that exists apart from the epistemological structures that colonialism set in place, and attributing to this self, as with Fanon, the same humanist hubris of self-determination, sovereignty, and a form of transcendental knowing. In both their reflections, it is the poet who is the exemplary Filipino, for it is she who can decolonize and indigenize the foreign (in Abad’s case, English; in Almario’s all the “modern” ideologies and practices of Americanization, except for the pestiferous scourge of English, which obviously needs to be expunged), as well as recover the erstwhile lost “Filipino homeland,” “country,” or “indigenous self.”

Precisely because of their comparable obsessions with nationalist questions of identity, what  Abad’s and Almario’s poetics will be similarly had put to answer to is the postcolonial critique of essentialist politics, as well as the kind of critique that the late Marxist critic, Petronilo Bn. Daroy, as early as the 1960s, already valiantly proposed: situating all issues of literary and cultural “development” within the context of the Philippine nation-state’s dominant mode of production—which is to say, its socioeconomic system. [6] We might say that in the past century, the class-oriented critique mounted by Daroy and other Filipino Marxist critics against the purely “culturalist” position of nationalists like Almario and Abad offers what may well be one of the strongest and most challenging theories of the Philippine postcolonial situation. In the first place, in Western academe where it was first recognized, postcolonialism represented and continues to represent the return of “class” as an index of analysis, [7] all questions concerning Europe’s former and present colonies being inescapably linked, to the Western critic’s mind, to the issue of political and economic power, after all.

It is in locations within the “non-West”—for instance, the Philippines—that the specifying of class needs to be visibilized inside the broader spectrum of anticolonialist discourse, for in these places power is so dispersed across multiple hierarchies and structures that resistance against colonial domination cannot necessarily be seen as leading to a liberation from all forms of social depredation, inequality, and “poverties.” Fanon may have wisely foreseen that new and oppressive bourgeoisies will continue to hold sway in post-independence nations, which is why he needed to qualify that in the “natural evolution” of things a revolution is unavoidable, despite or precisely because of the intervening period of cultural nationalism. But like many other Marxists of his time, he did not completely realize how issues of identity and subject-positionality other than class—namely, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, etc.—would end up complicating the question of liberation, thereby effectively confounding the “national problem” itself. As I hope to have limned in this study, postcolonialism and its polyvalent critiques and analyses represent such a complication and “confounding.” On a certain level of argument, and especially in relation to the imbricated questions of power and class, postcolonial discourse may be seen as nothing if not an updating or a “reworking” of  Marxist ideals. [8]

Because postcolonialism—despite the singular experience of colonization to which it arose as an oppositional response—isn’t quite a unified movement across the world, postcolonial accounts of agency are admittedly split along the opposite lines of “determination” and “freedom,” as well. In recent years, however, on account of postmodern revisionings of the central precepts of Western hegemony, postcolonial theory has tended toward a more dialectical and complicated rethinking of the problem of resistance and agency. In my analyses of Abad’s and Almario’s poetics, I invoked Homi K. Bhabha’s theory of hybridity, inasmuch as I feel it provides one of the more cogent—not to mention, interesting—explanations for the necessarily “agonistic” relationship between colonizer and colonized in the necessarily ambivalent colonial space. [9]

Bhabha expatiates upon this ambivalence using a recognizably Freudian vocabulary: both the colonizer and the colonized deride and desire each other, and this is because their respective identities are nothing if not fantasies constructed against (and thus founded upon) an Otherness they secretly crave and yet  passionately disavow.[10] Moreover, the mimicry by the latter of the former may be seen as enactments of this ambivalence, for the colonial subject ends up becoming an “approved, revised Other” who embodies both a likeness and an unlikeness, “a difference that is almost the same, but not quite.” [11] Precisely for this reason, colonial mimicry poses a menace to imperialist authority, simply because at its very best it can only amount to a mockery and caricaturizing of the colonial models. Finally, all this leads Bhabha to conclude that “in the very practice of domination the language of the master becomes hybrid—neither the one thing nor the other.” [12]

As I have argued in my critiques, what Bhabha is crucially implying is that no colonial imposition ever maintains its original integrity and no “imported” concept ever stays the same in the context of a local culture that always manages to syncretize, resignify, renew  and “transculturate” them. Thus, colonial power isn’t anything like the monolithic and totalizing mechanism that Edward Said’s Orientalism assumes it to be, for it is always already mimicked and menaced, hated and loved at the exact same moment of its arrival in the “native” space. [13] Obviously, as against the xenophobic and “reverse ethnocentric” dogmatisms of Philippine nativist discourse, Bhabha’s complications of the colonial encounter and its aftermath are necessary if we wish to come to even the remotest understanding of the situation of our ambivalent, helplessly hybridized lives.

The charm the notion of hybridity holds for me is that, precisely, it offers a way of rereading what is otherwise the dominant defeatist narrative of native supremacy as far as the colonial encounter is concerned. I say this is defeatist because, obviously, practically all of Filipino culture cannot be called, short of lying through one’s teeth, native or indigenous anymore, and if we are to follow the dictates of this form of “purist” nationalism then we will have no choice but to reject what is, to all intents and purposes, already, undeniably, us. Almario’s dismissive tirades against “colonial-minded criticism,” for instance, foreclose the possibility that such criticism isn’t hopelessly colonial at all, but rather—as is typically the case in postcolonial literatures—intimately informed by local forms and thus, hybrid. We might say, because he chooses not to benefit from such criticism, Almario ends up depriving himself of a vast repository of local critical sapience.

In a famous study, [14] Isagani R. Cruz discovers that “Formalist” and “New Critical” are misnomers when attributed to even the early critics of Filipino poetry in English, who apparently were performing other, extra-literary tasks alongside what used to be seen as strictly formalist analysis: for instance, myth-making and nationalist polemicizing. And in an anthology of contemporary literary criticism in English, I register a similar realization: judging from the twenty-three essays I selected, it’s clear that no matter the conceptual sophistication and level of verbal difficulty, current literary criticism in the Philippines invariably assumes a social value indissociable from the literary act, thereby preserving, in the critical enterprise, a surprisingly old-fashioned, didactic character. [15] This “feature” obviously derives from and harkens back to earlier, more local traditions in literary appreciation, and thus provides incontrovertible proof, even in the otherwise “advanced” field of theory and criticism, of a kind of “hybridity,” too.

This only goes to show that Almario’s supposedly brave and “principled” perspective redounds, tragically, to summarily surrendering what it  seeks to defend and emancipate. We see a comparable distrust or disdain for hybridity, especially as concerns its linguistic manifestations, between the poetics of Abad and Almario, for they both assume “standards” for English and Filipino (actually, Tagalog) respectively. The latter of course articulated it in his columns for the now-defunctDiario Filipino, which subsequently came out in a book, Filipino ng mga Filipino,[16] while the former’s linguistic orthodoxy, his preference for the grammatically precise and polished poetic language, is implied in his selections for his anthologies.[17]

And then, generally speaking, Almario’s theoretical “quandary” has precisely been the question of how to keep his nativist claims of cultural authenticity and integrity alongside the screamingly obvious syncretism that inheres even in his own subject-position, his own erudition and tastes, needless to say in each and every one of his  “scholarly” utterances. In the absence of a theory that can offer a way of liberating the “colonially contaminated” from its dogmatic rejection and negation, Almario’s puristic species of discursive “nationalizing” is bound to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

Proposing that we look at our contemporary “transcultural” situation through the lens of cultural hybridity doesn’t mean that we need to overlook those spaces in our local and national life that are obviously still being “governed” by imperialist imperatives. Hybridity doesn’t deny the reality of neocolonialism, even as it seeks to clarify just how possibly it functions as a mode of representation, what its discursive fate most likely is, in the ambivalent context of non-Western cultures. In such settings, as we have seen, Western dualistic logic most likely gets refracted, modulated, deformed, hybridized. The African philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah, writing about contemporary art and literature in his native Africa, acknowledges that “the postulation of a unitary Africa over and against a monolithic West—the binarism of Self and Other—is the last of the shibboleths of the modernizers that we must learn to live without.” [18] He is thus quite skeptical of nativist attempts to retrieve any pure “essence” of a fully indigenous African culture, for, as he says, at this point in global history and owing precisely to the global experience of imperialism “we are already contaminated by each other.” It is the theory of hybridity that can most capably address this “contamination,” and rather than declare it a contagion, refunctions it as one of the more effective grounds of resistance, as a powerful form of postcolonial “cure.” It is this theory that can most convincingly explain the postcoloniality (that is to say, oppositionality) of otherwise colonial literatures, especially those written in the various languages of colonization.

Another African critic, Abdul JanMohamed, makes a related point. His work on imperialism’s “cultural logic” offers the following analysis: the binaries of colonial discourse—Self-Other, inside-outside, civilized-primitive, us-them, etc.—are “Manichean polarities,” and like all dualisms, they are inherently unstable and available to deconstruction. [19] Thus, he proposes that critics locate those moments of anticolonial rupture, those instances of subversion and dissidence in the many contemporary literary texts coming from the “Third World”— relative to the master narratives of which they are “re-inscriptions,” to which they all transgressively “write back.”

Needless to say, in order to ascertain these critical “locations,” the postcolonial critic must first be willing to accept colonial hybridity and its necessarily “complicit” character in those texts that allude to and seemingly revel in the logics and enticements of the imperial center. What’s interesting is that reckoning with cultural hybridity or “impurity” seems to prove difficult not just for our country’s grantedly Romantic and nostalgic poets, but also for its “nationalist” thinkers in general, as Caroline Sy Hau points out in her wonderful and devastating analysis of the cultural and linguistic “turns” in recent Philippine scholarship. [20] In her critical survey, Hau examines the studies written by the most influential Filipino historians in the last three decades—Reynaldo C. Ileto, Vicente L. Rafael and Zeus Salazar—all of whom proceed, to her dismay and despite the scintillating promise of their varied topics and fields of expertise, from the same idealized “linguistic” premise concerning the comparable Philippine national “communities” to which they attend.

Hau suggests that Filipino scholars begin rethinking the issue of language-and of languages-in more dynamic and plural terms. She also recommends that they be sensitive to the uses and limitations of various linguistic approaches, as well as critical of their own privileged position as “intellectuals.” Above all, they must complicate and particularize their theories by focusing on the “structures of everyday life.” Turning their attention to these “micro-exercises of power” entails giving up the search for an “authentic” or “pure” Filipino culture, soul, self, etc.—a foolish obsession, really, that misrepresents and misapprehends Philippine history itself, whose vicissitudes and dynamics cannot be completely appreciated using naively culturalist or indeed “discursive” terms alone. Hau concludes that in order to become truly relevant, Philippine scholarship needs to take greater stock of the tremendous economic and material forces that are constantly shaping and reshaping Philippine realities.  Given that Abad’s and Almario’s poetic theories both intend a nationalist polemics of “postcolonial liberation” exclusively through literary and “culturalist” means, for this very reason their respective theorizings may be said to be oblivious to Hau’s admonishing, which is the call to integrate considerations of political economy in Philippine literary theory and criticism.

As we have seen, Almario also seems quite incapable of successfully accounting for the realities of hybridity and “contamination,” mainly because his nativist dogmatism has deprived him of the ability to read ironically, that is to say, subversively.Because it is the nature of subversion to undermine “from within,” Almario, refusing as he contumaciously does to “enter” the contaminated space of colonial discourse (for instance, Filipino literatures in English),  simply cannot do it. This insular andretardataire position comes in stark contrast to that recently adopted by a companionable nationalist thinker, Bienvenido Lumbera, who in a keynote lecture at the first Iligan National Writers Workshop several years back [21] declared the need for national academe to relax its orthodoxies concerning issues of cultural identity and creative writing, and to allow and encourage the innovations by young Filipino writers—including those writing in English—so that an “authentically Filipino voice” can finally be heard. What Lumbera would seem to be saying is that it is through the subversiveness of “new” or “young” (need we say, hybrid?) Philippine literatures that a less defensively fearful and more confident sense of “Filipinoness” can prosper. Like many other postcolonial thinkers, he must have intuited how, ironically, subversion rather than complete and utter rejection from a purely native space or coign of vantage is the only possible form of resistance, for all anticolonial reactions are necessarily underwritten by the terms laid down by the experience and reality of colonialism itself. Because colonialism is the “constitutive other” of postcolonialism, the postcolonial position that fancies itself the most “native,” may well be the most colonially invested position of all.

On the other hand, while occasionally speaking of the primacy and prevalence of the indigenous “consciousness” or “sensibility” in such poetic phraseologies as “Filipino matter,” “the spiritual homeland,” and “a native clearing,” Abad’s notion of the Filipino imagination comes very, very close to the liberal humanist, for he refuses to recognize how it can be determined by the cultural context in which it historically exists. The struggle this imagination needs to mount against the essential “emptiness of words” sounds very much like a romantic or post-romantic jab at postmodernism’s routinary voiding of language, [22] rather than, perhaps, an anti-imperialist critique of contemporary Western culture’s self-referential epistemology. Admittedly, Abad hasn’t really expounded on his ideas of subjectivity enough, and even offhand, his poetics comes across as being not as nativistic as Almario’s, whose mystical Filipino selfhood regally rides on top of the “carabao” of linguistic determinism. Nonetheless, Abad’s own essentialist beliefs present themselves clearly in his imputing of a singular “sense and sensibility” to all Filipinos, poets or otherwise. Thus, the universalist orientation is more “universal” in Abad, who has absolutely no qualms quoting French, Spanish, and other poets and literary commentators, believing, as he must, that there is, at bottom, an undeniable commonality in the poetic experience across the world. This relative freedom to quote and traffic in global avenues of knowledge and information is an upshot both of humanism and of the new global reality of postmodernism, which strikes me as a supremely ironic thing.

If only because it is within postmodernism that the most radical dissections and re-sections of the monstrous conceptual mother called humanism initially took place, we may need to relate it more fully to the postcolonial question. Postmodernism and postcolonialism have often been confused with one another. This is because they share certain common preoccupations: the deconstruction of Western “master narratives”; the inversion of binaries like center-margin, Self-Other, inside-outside, etc.; the “turn to language” and its rhetorical strategies, like irony and parody; the sophisticated and dialectical analysis of power; the “indeterminacy of textual meaning”; the dismantling of the Self, [23] among many others. And yet, postcolonialism isn’t merely a political deployment of postmodernism, for it is primarily a critique of the colonial enterprise, an analysis of the various material and discursive effects of colonization, a sustained theoretical challenge to Western hegemony which has, of late, taken the form of postmodernism, precisely.

Postcolonial discourse realizes that a good part of the world isn’t leading a postmodern but rather a postcolonial existence, and that should postmodernism be seen as slowly becoming globalized nowadays it is because the old colonial structures of Eurocentrism remain stubbornly in place. In terms of literary studies, postmodernism differs from postcolonialism in that it encourages a return to the Canon (especially the post-Romantic Canon), [24] even as its primary intention for doing so is admittedly a polemical and critical one. On the other hand, because postcolonial challenges to the Western canon problematize the idea of canonicity—and of literature, in general—for this very reason they cannot, indeed may not, ever be confused with the poststructuralist project of decentering meaning for its own sake alone. As we have seen in the discussion of postcolonial literatures written inenglishes across the world, there still are non-Western modalities of meaning of which postmodernism hasn’t fully taken cognizance, and that for this reason the wholesale rejection of the search for meaning cannot be haphazardly carried out by and in postcolonial theory.

The usefulness to postcolonial discourse of postmodern decenterings of the subject and of signification can be seen from the perspective of what they say regarding the question of universality and specificity. That is to say, in the mutually constitutive terms of sameness and difference.  Simon During explains that postmodern thought has two interlocking “moments.” [25] The first recognizes and celebrates difference, the second denies the possibility that difference can ever be fully represented or known. What makes postmodernism germane to the postcolonial project is that it “refuses to turn the Other into the Same.” Meaning, postmodernism opens up a space for alterities, including those which postcolonial societies and “beings” represent.

On the other hand, postmodernism, as a philosophical stance, is also informed by the “crisis of representation” and the peculiarly postmodern concern with meaning’s indeterminate nature, and so it very quickly qualifies that there exists no way for the Other to actually “speak of itself as Other.” (Here Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s caveat concerning the danger and foolhardiness of seeking to make the subaltern speak serenely comes to mind.([26]) This corollary postmodern thought threatens postcolonialism, which in this particular economy of representation is precisely to be seen as an Other that wishes to speak (for) itself.

The only way out I see from this impasse is to qualify that while postcolonial theory has obviously benefited from the postmodern challenge to universalist humanism—quickly appropriating the space it has cleared for all manner of lived and indeed “suffered” difference in the world—it nonetheless needs to insist that there are certain occasions when postmodern assumptions that represent new forms of universalism simply need to be challenged or at least “contextualized.” In the end, despite the obvious postfoundationalist orientation to be found in my critiques of Abad’s and Almario’s poetics, I need to acknowledge that the question of identity and/or agency needs to be seen as one such possible occasion of demurral. To the nationalist question of identity I shall once again recur, for it is obviously the one issue that demands the most careful and sustained reconsideration in the whole of postcolonial discourse.

The tendency of postmodernist criticism is to challenge and dismantle all essentialist notions, precisely because they refuse to allow for the recognition and proliferation of differences that they conceptually subsume into a deluded and finally inequitable “unity.” The “national self” is one such notion, and indeed, in my critique of Abad’s and Almario’s poetics I simply needed to champion the “plurality and difference” of the people whom history has come to call Filipinos, in view of their overeager desire (Almario calls it lunggati) to collapse, summarize, and reduce to an abstraction what really aren’t just bloodless ideas but actual persons and lives. But perhaps, at this point of closure in my disquisition, it is only appropriate that I modify this objection a bit, although I certainly am not saying I am giving it up altogether: as I have already indicated in relation to Spivak’s concept of “strategic essentialism,” perhaps I need to relax the postmodern/postcolonial grip on the handle of the whip called difference for the moment, and seriously admit that, in certain contexts, dwelling and insisting on sameness can have its own felt usefulness.

In his essay dedicated to N.V.M. Gonzalez, Resil B. Mojares decides that the ailing body that is the Filipino nation is haunted by the possibilities it has yet to become, and that its “soul” needs to be rethought and revisioned by its artists and thinkers.[27] He thus carries out a rather wondrous “nationalist poetics of the soul,” which pursues the various indigenous explanations for why the soul is lost or leaves the body:  because of “shock, seduction, and sin.” Using his own soulful “national allegory,” he reads these as the trauma, allure, and depredations of colonialism, and true to the folk belief, insists there is still a way to halt this process of “soul loss” or “soul drift,” and to “call the soul back.”  Mojares then argues that, using the Malay animist conception of the spirit as a guide, we must think of the national soul not as essence but as process, not as fixed but as ambulant, and finally, not as singular but as multiple, and plural.

Mojares’s proffered reimagination of the Filipino soul—his poetics of the Alma Filipina—bespeaks a wish to open up the notion of national unity to the heterogeneity of cultural and local communities, indeed to re-imagine the Filipino nation itself so that it reflects less Mario Vargas Llosa’s view of the nation as being a “malign fantasy,” [28] and illustrate the validity of Benedict Anderson’s faith in “the goodness of nations.” [29]   Thus, we might say that even as he recognizes the abuses that have been committed in the name of such monolithic norms as the Filipino identity, Filipino selfhood, etc., he nonetheless cannot completely turn his back on the ideal of a community that the nation luminously promises. Thus, in his own poetic way, he argues for a strategic essentialism that can recuperate all the lost objects, memories, lives, and indeed souls, from the forgetfulness that is colonialism, back to the healing space of the national present.

Of course, all this is easier said than done, for Mojares’s mystical and soulful poeticizing is itself haunted by that spectral and unspoken truth: what he speaks of as the “national soul” does not and cannot pre-exist the formation of the nation-state, which discursively enforces it and constitutively imagines and narrates it as its transcendental point of origin, even when it is really the other way around. Borrowing the insight of queer theorist Judith Butler on the performative “nature” of gendered identity, [30] and rephrasing it for the purposes of this discussion, we might say that the performance of the Filipino identity retroactively produces the effect of some true or abiding essence behind that identity, when it is really the repetitive and ritualistic performance of the Filipino norm that constitutes the Filipino self, and that socially produces the performative effect Mojares lyrically calls the Filipino soul.

So, it’s not as though Mojares can recover this soul from outside the discourse, facticity, and “performative life” of Filipinos as they presently are—a state which he lamentingly confesses as being “depressing,” “miserable,” and horribly “littered with the unburied dead.” The national soul, if it does exist, is precisely what is present, what is undeniable, what is real in the lives of the people who have helped constitute it as a retroactive and regulatory fiction. The national soul never left the body it supposedly now haunts. Or if it has, then perhaps it simply never was. Thus, even as he argues for a more plural and “less essentialist” (if such can be possible) conception of the Filipino soul, Mojares nonetheless cannot escape the “trauma, seduction, and sin” of nationalist thinking itself, for if indeed it traffics in things soulful and metaphysical, then it naturally forecloses any inquiry into the ground of itsconstructedness, its finite truth inside space and time. Perhaps the violence that shocked the Filipino soul out of place and caused it to wander in strange lands is nothing but the epistemological violence of the Filipino nation itself—a violence that dissimulates itself behind the veil of transcendental unity, a violence that relentlessly turns the other (or rather, the others) into the same.

I suppose all I’m saying is that essentialism is, indeed, “risky business.” And yet, like Mojares and the Peruvian poet, Cesar Vallejo—whom he quotes in his essay’s rather oracular conclusion—I find myself by turns loving and hating the ideal of the Filipino nation. This is because despite my refusal or inability to consciously engage with the question of nationalism in my writing, I suppose I must have had a modicum of awareness of it, after all, as my avidity in reading the works of international writers, in immersing myself in cross-cultural imaginations, in locating alternative forms of community founded on the viscerally irrefutable truth of my bodily libido, was itself motivated by a form of inchoate “nationalist” sentiment. As Fanon puts it, “it is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows.” [31]

I am thus compelled to consider adopting the position at which the Caribbean critic, Stuart Hall, has arrived, after giving the subject of postcolonial identity much thought. According to Hall, there are two distinct ways of understanding the question of identity, ways that should now be familiar to us because of the structuring power they exercise on virtually all thinking: the first defines it in terms of sameness, the second in terms of difference. [32]

In the first, identity is a matter of a common culture, a shared or collective “true self,” that inhabits the artificially imposed “selves” of people who share an ancestry and therefore, a history. This conception of identity is precisely what postcolonial struggles initially upheld¾a nativist search for that pristine point of origin that can unify and “resolve” the contaminated incongruities of the present. This is what Almario and Abad themselves propose, in their appealing to such essentialist abstractions as the “native self” (katutubong kaakuhan) and “the Filipino spiritual country,” and in their niggling willingness to confront the hybridity of the present Filipino realities they seek to understand. And yet, it’s clear, as we’ve seen, that this “search” isn’t so much a rediscovery as an invention. It offers a way not so much of recovering as of retelling the past. This is a very crucial point, certainly: in imaginatively revisiting the Filipino past, nativists like Almario do not so much find it as reconstitute it.  Which makes the whole project all the more dangerous, and a sustained critique of it immensely necessary and important. Needless to say, the past is extremely important because it provides the terms by which the present can be imagined, by which it can be made tolerable, by which it can be “lived.”

The second position on the question of identity begins with the recognition that it isn’t so much sameness as difference that characterizes “who we really are.” To a great extent, it was the intervention of colonial history that brought this about, making being in the postcolonial world a constant state of becoming. As a marker of difference, cultural identity belongs to the future as well as to the past. It doesn’t “really exist”— meaning it isn’t transcendent of history—but is rather always transforming precisely because of the “unfinished” character of that history. Hall believes that only by thinking of identity in this manner can the “traumatic character of the colonial experience” be clearly appreciated.

Like Hall, we might think of postcolonial cultural identity as being “split” along the axes of similarity and difference, of continuity and rupture. We need to realize that our identities as postcolonial peoples are not fixed but rather “subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture, and power.” This is another way of saying that we must accept the hybridity of our identities and lives, and that we should not look to the “recovery” of a glorious past if we wish to discover who we are. Instead, we need to be aware of just how we are using the past in order to find ourselves in the present. Thus, we need to rethink the irremediable gap between that unified vision of the past and our own cloven and hybrid realities in the present. We need to be ever mindful of the provisional and fundamentally fractious character of the “we” that we must always take the utmost care to speak. We must ever be conscious of the fascism our provisional utterance of this “we” is perfectly capable of performing upon the irreducible differences “we” thereby presume to successfully unify, represent, and enflesh. To my mind, Hall puts it perfectly, when he says that “[i]dentities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.” Identity, then, isn’t fixed or inevitable but rather a kind of “self-arrogated fiction” made necessary by an awareness of historical exigency, a choice of identification with a norm that is as much personally expressed as socially ascribed.

In the end, like Hall, I suppose I do not really want to condemn the nativist project per se. As postcolonial critics, we simply must remain sensitive to the contexts within which claims about identity are being made—to understand why they are being made, and to offer alternative conceptions of identity when and where they are so needed. Given the “violent” and fantastical duality that Almario and Abad propose on the question of Filipinoness, I have thus felt it necessary to insert into their poetic discourses the notion of the “Third,” the hybrid space of irresolvable crisis, within which Filipinos tortuously—yet unquestionably—exist. As Bhabha explains it, this is the space of cultural liminality or “difference,” the indeterminate space of translation and negotiation in which authority and signs are not fixed but rather open to reading and re-reading, uniquely vulnerable to appropriation and rehistoricizing by those whom power subordinates. This is the discursive and temporal context where culture is finally located, and where postcolonial peoples “may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of [them]selves.” [33] To repeat what has often been said, nativism—which in its “best” form is the strategic use of essentialist notions of culture in the project of reversing colonialism’s “violent hierarchies”—may be necessary during the initial decolonizing moment, but not any more after that.

It’s just that, already, it feels quite late in the hour of imperialism.

Which is why I refuse to believe we are only now awakening from its charmed gift of sleep.


* Read  by the author at the International Conference on Philippine Studies, Leiden, the Netherlands, 19 July 2004.

[1] J. Neil C. Garcia, “Kaluluwa: Poems and Poetics,” dissertation in English Studies: Creative Writing, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, July 2003.

[2] For the purposes of my study, I engaged with the following critical works by Gémino H. Abad: ed., A Habit of Shores: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English, 60s to the 90s (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2000); ed., A Native Clearing: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English Since the 50s to the Present (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1993); “A Way Through Language.” Keynote Lecture, Iligan National Writers Workshop, May 1996, Jaime An Lim, Christine G. Ortega and Anthony Tan, eds.Where the Water Falls (Iligan: Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Research and Extension, Mindanao State University, Iligan Institute of Technology, 1997); “Mapping our Poetic Terrain: Filipino Poetry in English from 1905 to the Present.” Gemino H. Abad, ed. The Likhaan Anthology of Philippine Literature in English, from 1900 to the Present (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2002); “One hundred years of Filipino Poetry from English: Language as a Site of Nationhood,” Philippine Literature in English 1. A Course Syllabus in Comparative Literature 150, unpublished manuscript, University of the Philippines, first semester, SY 2001-2002; Gémino H. Abad, “Language: Corral and Ivory Tower or, the Community and the Individual Speaker,” Mithi 20: Filipino Aesthetics and Beyond(Manila: Writers Union of the Philippines, 1989), 12-17; “Writing as Filipino,” Poetry Workshop I: Introduction to the Writing of Poetry, A Course Syllabus in Creative Writing 220, unpublished manuscript,  University of the Philippines, First Semester, SY 2002-2003; and Edna Z. Manlapaz, eds., Man of Earth: An Anthology of Filipino Poetry and Verse from English, 1905 to the mid-50s (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1989).

[3] In particular, my critique focused on the following works by Virgilio S. Almario: Balagtasismo versus Modernismo: Panulaang Tagalog sa Ika-20 Siglo (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1984);  “Kapag Isinangkot ang Pagtula: ang Panulaang Filipino tungo sa Bagong Milenyo.” Bulawan: Journal of Philippine Arts and Culture. No. 2 (2001): 62-79; Mutyang Dilim: Ang Bagong Pormalismong Filipino sa Pagbasa ng Tula (Marikina City: Talingdao Publishing House, 2001); ed.  Parikala.( Quezon City: Kalikasan Press, 1990); Tradisyon at Wikang Filipino (Quezon City:  University of the Philippines, Sentro ng Wikang Filipino, 1997).

[4] More than just critical it is also an “imperialist theory,” in the main. As many postcolonial critics have been eager to point out, one of the distinctions of postcolonialism is that it interrogates the “Romantic Canon” the apolitical varieties of poststructuralism unwittingly espouse, simply because they seem to be strangely fixated on this specific period in European history, and routinely attend to its many, secretly “imperialist” texts. Spivak makes this point rather well in her famous essay on the subject. See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” in Henry Louis Gates, ed., “Race”: Writing and Difference (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1986).

[5] See Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1963).

[6] I am referring here to Daroy’s Marxist “siting” of the local debates between “traditionalism” and “modernism,” as they were voiced by the supposedly ideologically “opposite” camps of Filipino writers in English and Filipino writers in Filipino (actually, Tagalog) in the 1950s and 60s. Daroy’s devastating conclusion is that the linguistic and aesthetic divides are moot, for  all “literature… from the 1900 up to the First Quarter Storm was… in the service of US imperialism [and] capitalists,” after all. See Petronilo Bn. Daroy, “On the Eve of the First Quarter Storm: Dialectics, History-Knowledge, and Agency,” in Rizal: Contrary Essays, Dolores Feria and Petronilo Bn. Daroy, eds. (Quezon City: Guro Books, 1968). Quoted in Edel E. Garcellano, “The Arrogance of Imaginary Power,” Knife’s Edge: Selected Essays (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2001), 236-237.

[7] Bart Moore-Gilbert, Gareth Stanton and Willy Maley, eds., “Introduction,” Postcolonial Criticism (New York: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1997), 3-4.

[8] Of course, many Marxists don’t think so at all. For instance, Aijaz Ahmad, who may well be the harshest and most persuasive critic of postcolonial discourse today.

In sum, Ahmad sees postcolonialism as the disastrous domestication of “real material struggles” against Western-led globalization. His position is that in the new global order workers across the “Three Worlds” are comparably exploited by a globally entrenched bourgeoisie; thus, rather than nationalism and its allied discourses (including postcolonialism), he advocates the return of Marxism as the sustained critique of global flows of capital. See Aijaz Ahmad, “From In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures,” in Moore-Gilbert et al., 248- 272.

[9] Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994).

[10] Bhabha, 45

[11] Bhabha, 86.

[12] Bhabha, 33.

[13] For more on this point, and for a competent summary of many of Bhabha’s key concepts, see Peter Childs and Patrick Williams, An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory (Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall, 1997), 136.

[14] Isagani R. Cruz, “The Other Other: Towards a Post-colonial Poetics,” The Likhaan Book of Philippine Criticism (1992-1997), J. Neil C. Garcia, ed. (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2000), 50-61.

[15] See J. Neil C. Garcia, “Introduction,” The Likhaan Book of Philippine Criticism (1992-1997), x-xi.

[16] Virgilio S. Almario, Filipino ng mga Filipino: Mga Asterisko sa Istandard na Ispeling, Estilo sa Pagsulat at Paraan ng Pagpapayaman sa Wikang Pambansa (Manila: Anvil Publishing, 1993).

[17] On the other hand, on a more general level, we may see that Abad does advocate a kind of “hybridity” or impurity too, for his entire poetic project may in fact be summarized as a plea to “nationalist passion” not to “discard” the poems written by Filipinos from English—English being part of what “we have already become.” See Gémino H. Abad, “Introduction: The Language of Our Blood,” Gémino H. Abad, ed., A Native Clearing: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English Since the 50s to the Present (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1993), 10.

[18] See Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post in Postcolonial?”, Critical Inquiry 17 (Winter 1991): 336-357.

[19] Abdul R. JanMohamed, Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa (Amherst: University of Massachussets Press, 1983).

[20] Caroline Sy Hau, “The ‘Cultural’ and ‘Linguistic’ Turns in Philippine Scholarship,” Corazon D. Villareal et al., eds. Ruptures and Departures: Language and Culture in Southeast Asia (Quezon City: Department of English and Comparative Literature, University of the Philippines, Diliman, 2002), 36-70.

[21] Bienvenido Lumbera, “Young Writing and the Subversion of the Academe,” Keynote Lecture, Iligan National Writers Workshop, May 1994. Published in Jaime An Lim and Christine G. Ortega, eds.,Stoking the Fire (Iligan City: Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Research and Extension, Mindanao State University, Iligan Institute of Technology), 5-10.

[22] Interestingly enough, Almario himself notices this in one of Abad’s more “philosophical” poems, and critiques him rather mordantly for it. The problem is, Almario’s position is itself untenable, for while taking Abad to task for denying the representational viability of nonpoetic language, he nonetheless retreats to the extreme nativist position that only the native language—which, if must be strict about what “native” means, most certainly cannot be Almario’s much-vaunted Filipino—can accurately capture and represent native meaning. In the end, we can only conclude that both Abad and Almario succumb to their own kinds of humanism: the former being Western liberal, the latter being nativist. To the degree that they deny hybridity, both are equally complicit with the extension and propagation of neocolonialism. See Virgilio S. Almario, Mutyang Dilim (Marikina City: Talingdao Publishing House, 2001), 140.

[23] Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin, eds., The Postcolonial Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 1995), 117.

[24] Bill Ashcroft et al., 118.

[25] Simon During, “Postmodernism or Post-colonialism Today,”Textual Practrice, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1987): 32-47.

[26] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?: Speculations on Widow Sacrifice,” Wedge 7 (8) (Winter/Spring, 1985): 120-130.

[27] Resil B. Mojares, “The Haunting of the Filipino Writer,” inWaiting for Mariang Makiling (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2002).

[28] Mario Vargas Llosa, Making Waves: Essays (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 300.

[29] Benedict Anderson, “The Goodness of Nations,” The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia, and the World(London: Verso, 1998), 360-368.

[30] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 24-25.

[31] Fanon, 247-248.

[32] Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” Jonathan Rutherford, ed., Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1990), 222-237.

[33] Bhabha, 39.

Philippine Literary Workshops and Contests

Philippine Literary Workshops and Contests
by Cirilo F. Bautista

As a communal text, any literary discourse is a contrived utterance that addresses several levels of reality, but to communicate through this text, writer and reader must put into operation certain sociological processes that will make it intelligible. “I write, therefore, I am,” might as well provide the structural foundation of this sociology. To write a poem or a story involves the deliberate reworking of social elements to achieve the writer’s intention. But it is, first of all, a linguistic construction, fixed in a situs of specific explication, demanding of the writer and the reader a vast expertise in language, in the first, to configurate the human condition according to a planned aesthetics, in the second, to be able to embrace it.

Grammatical and compositional knowledge – the first level of reality – clears away impediments to the comprehension of the work’s literalness, that is, the human condition as articulated through concrete and physical verbality. Matters of diction, idioms, and phraseology when clarified and refracted in relation to the writer’s sociological perspective will ultimately lead to the formula that encodes the work’s thought or idea. At the same time, when linkages between the cultural milieu and the linguistic character of the work are established, semiotics produces the metaphoric significance. In this second level, figurative language processes literalness to make it yield additional facets. Meaning becomes more than literal and offers itself to cultural interpolation. Consequently, the work encourages the reader to draw from the wellspring of his societal consciousness those materials that will complete and validate his interpretation.

In this sense (the poem or the story) must be properly situated in relation to the subtext (the social or human conditions) before a signification is gained. Their context (relationship) often produces in the reader a particular perception of the textual idea. A creative discourse, then, is ultimately culturally determined. It cannot be understood without reference to the human factors that provide its framework. Also, it emerges as a rational conjoining of individual and national experiences, the raw materials really of any creative product. Shelley meant this when he wrote that the “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” because, through their meditations on human affairs, their texts become the uncredited almanac of the human development. The power of such works as Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and Hernandez’s “Isang Dipang Langit” resides in the ability to pragmatize in artistic terms the crisis and exigencies of the human condition.

The world of literature itself, it must be apparent now, comprises another level of reality. All existing literary discourses exert a tremendous pressure on the human mind and heart, compelling them to examine things in a new and, sometimes, perilous manner. This “intertextuality,” occurring on the cultural level and intervening in the operation of the other levels, improves our comprehension of the text, and the same time, provides a rigorous criticism of any aspect of personal and social existence. The writer labors in isolation, and he is not even sure that the poem or story will turn out the way he intends it to. He only has himself to rely on in his attempt to explicate the mysterious meanderings of his soul. It is a painful and demanding commitment. Consequently, he inclines to the invention of devices that will postpone it, even if momentarily only. Such ritual evasions – smoking cigarettes, taking a shot of whiskey or a bottle of beer, fussing over pages of notes, cleaning the computer, making that last-minute phonecall to someone suddenly remembered — are ostensibly intended to oil the machinery of his imagination but in reality are diversionary tactics to justify the delay. For man is a social animal, and writing frustrates his contact with his species. Dylan Thomas called it a “sullen art” because it effects a melancholia in the writer. “The most terrible thing for a poet is to be confronted by a blank sheet of paper.”

To write is to wrestle with that horrible blankness, to squeeze it and to bleed it and to maul it until it surrenders to fruitfulness. The struggle debouches into a war whose rules are unclear but whose pain is all too real. Only after his war with words can the writer be at war with other men, Thomas adds. That is why it is imperative that the writer be adequately equipped for this job. It is not enough that he knows the principles of grammar, diction and composition — the basics of linguistic usage – but he must know their aesthetic ramifications as well. The role of metaphor, the forms of versification, the reason for rhymes, and the balancing of illusion and reality, for instance, once comprehensible to him, will confer on his work an unmistakable direction and a convincing excellence.

The Third World environment, in general, does not offer the writer sufficient equipment to accomplish his task. In fact, there is a certain amount of hostility with which the writers are viewed in the Philippines, truncating their efforts to make creative writing a profession. It is almost impossible for a writer to survive through writing alone in the milieu. Why this is so is another subject, but it is relevant to mention in passing that we are a “seeing” society, not a “reading” society. The trimedia of radio, television and newspapers are the dominant purveyors of what is called “literature in a hurry,” which reflects the primacy of simple survival in a society that is not yet prepared for the refinement of its national intellect. The trimedia productions overwhelm the social mind, influence the social taste, and determine cultural direction.

In such an environment, creative writing workshops, literary contests and such literature-related activities as seminars and conferences perform significant roles in influencing the writer’s artistic growth, his creative potential and, ultimately, his literary productivity.

The importance of creative writing workshops started being felt in the 1970s. Writers before then had to learn the craft largely on their own, mainly through trial and error and emulation of their favorite authors. On the side, they relied in their friends’ critical evaluation of their works. Their language teachers, if any good, taught them skills with which they understood the first level of reality; their literature teachers, if any good, encouraged them to read the classical and contemporary masters. But the matter of stylistic refinements, of philosophical and cultural groundings needed to situate their discourses in aesthetic excellence – these they had to learn on their own.

But the coming of workshops helped clarify misty areas of creativity and craftsmanship. Teachers with sufficient training in the creative art fashioned pedagogical models that served as guidelines to the beginning writers. Lectures during sessions delineated linguistic and artistic concepts that helped the writers focus on specific problems and their solutions. Discussions of various critical theories and their influences on writing techniques provided a variety of options for literary approaches. Finally, and this was the heart of the workshop, a communal critique of works submitted brought out the strength and weakness of the authors. The analysis involved a close reading of the poem or story to discover how it internalized the elements of coherence, harmony, counterpoint, etc.; to justify or reject prosodic or narrative tactics in the context of the work’s aesthetic direction, and to evaluate the clarity of its meaning within the boundaries of its function.

The machinery of today’s writing workshops are no different, except perhaps in the sense that it is more organized, more momentarily sustained, and more attractive to aspiring writers. The National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City was the first to be set up in the country. Directed by Edilberto Tiempo, it is patterned after the famous Iowa Writers Workshop in Iowa City, U.S.A., which they themselves had attended.

The creative writing workshops in Iowa, it must be remembered, has three levels –the undergraduate, where students majoring creative writing are accommodated; the graduate, where students majoring in creative writing are accommodated; the graduate, where students taking up the degree Master of Fine Arts major in creative writing are guided in their areas of genre concentration; and the international, which is really a separate and independent workshop for writers from various parts of the world. Participation in the international workshop is by invitation only, and participants are acknowledged major writers from their specific countries. It is not really any more a workshop for, as its Director, the late Paul Engle, averred, participants were already masters of their craft, and the workshop was really meant to give them a “vacation, to do whatever they want to do.” It was after the first two levels of the Iowa workshops that the Tiempos shaped their Silliman writers workshops .

Practically all Filipino writers off any importance have joined this workshop at one time or another, either as fellows, lecturers, or panelists. It is held for four weeks every summer amidst the pleasant and quiet surroundings of the seaside city,. It will be an understatement to say that it has a significant influence on the growth of our literature. The applicants wanting to join it increase in number each year, and the works and the works of writers who have passed through it continue to enrich our arts and letters. The amount of learning these writers got from this workshop is incalculable, and is measurable only in the way they have contributed to the qualitative and quantitative growth of our literature. Being a pioneer, the Silliman Writers Workshop occupies a premier position in the history of creative writing in the Philippines.

The U.P. Creative Writing Workshop is held also in summer, with the venue being any of the university’s campuses all over the country. Understandably, it has the widest coverage in terms of participants, for it can draw from thousands of potential writers among the university’s vast student population.

The Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of De La Salle University, established in 1991 in honor of the noted fictionist, holds a workshop every December. Following Santos’s expressed wish, the workshop gives priority to new writers, from our mass-based universities — U.E., F.E.U., Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, P.U.P. – and from La Salle campuses.

The Iligan National Writers Workshop, in the short three years that it has been operating, has already established a firm reputation as an excellent training ground for aspiring poets, fictionists and dramatists. Conceived and managed by Jaime An Lim, Cirilo F. Bautista, Tony Tan, Christine Godinez-Ortega, and supported by funds from the MSU-IIT Office of the Chancellor for Research and Extension, NCCA, and private corporations, it brings together some fifteen writers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao for a weeklong intensive literary interaction. It is the only workshop that publishes in book form the fellows’ works taken up in the discussion and the transcripts of the panel discussions.

The U.S.T. Creative Writing Workshop, directed by Ophelia A. Dimalanta, holds sessions for two weeks in April. 
The aforementioned are the “institutionalized” workshops. There are other, smaller and irregular ones sponsored by the offices and agencies. Writers in English and in Filipino get training from workshops sponsored by Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Filipinas (UMPIL), Galian sa Arte at Tula (GAT), the Rio Alma Poetry Clinic, The Cirilo F. Bautista Poetry Repair Shop, Palihang Amado Hernandez, Writers Academy of the Philippines, Carlos Palanca Foundation, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, to mention a few.

What impact do these workshops have in the production of Philippine literature in English? A very significant impact, I would say. From the ’70s to the present, “literary workshoppers,” to coin a convenient term, have formed the first order of literary artists who have, to a large extent, determined the configuration and philosophy of Philippine literature. Most of them are college graduates or have had college experiences. Because are inextricably linked to the academe, they have a sustained faculty of mentors and well-managed programs. We must not forget that Philippine literature in English was born in the campus as an initial adjunct to Filipino students’ obligation to learn the English language. Because the American teachers in our schools used literature to teach the language, linguistic and literary skills were acquired by the students at the same time. Those with literary ambition were encouraged by their teachers and, if they went on to the teaching profession themselves, they in turn encouraged their own students. Before the ’70s, therefore, the linkage was tenuous and temporary, depending on the presence of teachers with the literary inclinations; afterwards, with the workshops being set up and managed by the English departments in the universities, student writers’ training became more systematic and directional.

This training eventually developed into two branches: the criticism of creative writing and the teaching of creative writing.
The first is really the focal interest of most of our writers’ workshops where the participants do not actually do any writing but where their submitted works- the workshop materials – are subjected to rigid and varied critical scrutiny. In effect, literary analysis serves the purpose of showing the writers the different philosophies and techniques of writing. Depending on the persuasion of the panelists, therefore, the writers, in the end, may be convinced to adopt this or that school of thought in his craft. The Tiempos, for instance, are very strong exponents of New Criticism; the U.P. Writing Center inclines heavily towards all forms of Marxism; the De La Salle Writing Center encourages various kinds of engagement, and U.S.T., to a large extent, remains Thomistic.

The second emerged with the offering of creative writing courses in the universities. By the ’80s, the academic community realized the growing needs to organize and systematize the teaching of the writing craft. Literary production, they admitted, could only be improved in quality and quantity by a conscious program to uplift the literary producers. In De La Salle and U.P., for instance, there are bachelors if arts degrees major in creative writing as well as MFA degrees in the graduate schools. In other universities, creative works are accepted as theses requirements for graduation in undergraduate levels. With creative writing degree units in formal educational curricula, students with literary ambitions get competent and sufficient instructions from teachers with adequate preparation and experience in literary craftmanship. Many of them are writers themselves who pass on to their students invaluable knowledge not found in textbooks. It is also worth noting that there has been a significant increase in the number of students pursuing creative writing degrees. In DLSU, where I teach, the idea of offering creative writing courses in the undergraduate and graduate levels was unthinkable five years ago. This semester, we have our fifth batch of graduate creative writing students.

Thus, these two branches provide the serious beginning writers with sufficient support and encouragement to fulfill their potentials. At the same time, they have attracted more and more new writers. The mergence of the classroom and the workshop, as it were, has brought together all the forces necessary to make creative writing a profession, with the underlying assumption that literary production, like any human discipline, can be taught and learned in a controlled environment. In addition, the quality of writing continues to show marked improvement. In addition, the quality of writing continues to show marked improvement. The new writers, possessed of the advantages of the expert teachers and technological facilities, are more familiar with recent developments in literary theories, techniques and philosophy. Consequently, their immersion in the world of letters hastens their expertise and mastery of their craft. Also, with more writers joining the field, national literary titles exhibited in the various book fairs held more frequently now.

There are those of course, who belittle the effectiveness of writing workshops. They argue that workshops do not make writers; they even unmake them. What can be learned in workshops can be learned somewhere else. A sane enough attitude, on the surface, especially when we hear of the insanity of some workshop panelists, like the one who would tear a poem to pieces to register his displeasure with it, or the one who would insist that young fictionists would do the country a lot of good by giving up writing and planting camotes instead. We remember Sinclair Lewis telling participants in workshop on how to write fiction, “You want to know how to write a novel? Well, go home and write a novel.”

But that is not as easy as it seems. One does not simply go home and write a poem if he does not know what a poem is or how to go about creating it. True, he can read poems, and books about poems, but he would not have the benefit of another consciousness explicating to him the phenomenology and problems of writing. He would not, in short, have the appropriate direction suited to his potential and limitation. Only teachers can do that. True, there are teachers who abuse their position, but they really the exception rather than the rule. Alone, it will take the beginning writer some time to master his craft, with the help of workshops and literary courses, the time span can be significantly reduced. With his sensitiveness and imaginativeness unhampered by misconceptions, he can apply himself more productively to the acquisition of those qualities that will maximize his writing potential.

Taken historically and psychologically, then, the effectiveness of these workshops is beyond doubt. The Tiempos of Dumaguete believe that workshops confer on the participants an amount critical skill by which they are able to examine a text rationally and dispassionately though they may belong to different philosophies and personalities. “Communal text investigation,” as I call it, exposes writers to crucial and even nebulous aspects of creativity which will have profound repercussions on their own craftsmanship. Knowledgeable in the ways of the New Criticism, the Tiempos emphasize poetic integrity and resonance, formal excellence and veracious autonomy – qualities a work must possess by necessity and not endowment of external agencies. “Many Palanca-awardees come to us to find out if they can really write,” Ed Tiempo once averred. He implied a suspicion for awards, for they are, at best, palliatives. Workshops, Edith Tiempo said, “teach a writer to be his own severest critic.” If he learns anything at all, it is to exercise the ability to tell when the parts of a work succeed, and how to functionalize these parts through judicious selection, paring, repairing, and harmonizing. In due time, his expertise may lead him to introduce innovations in the structure and concepts of the literary genres. Indeed, as a literary editor and critic, I have come across such innovations in the works of Filipino poets and fictionists.

The Carlos Palanca Foundation has of late realized the value of creative writing workshops. Through A.B. Battung, executive director, it started last year as a series of workshops designed for emerging writers in the provinces. “In this way,” Battung said, “we would bring the benefits of literary know-how to those who are not able, by reason of time or distance, to join workshops in Metro Manila.” He has put together a team – composed of fictionist Jose Dalisay, Jr., poet Cirilo Bautista, and dramatist Rene Villanueva – which manages three-genre workshops for pre-enrolled participants. The team has held workshops in Bicol at the Ateneo de Naga University, in Cebu at the San Carlos University, and in Ilocos Norte at the Divine Word College. “In holding these workshops,” Battung added, “the Palanca Foundation is signaling its recognition of the important role that our writers carry, not only in advancing our literary development but also in shaping our national cultural taste.” Several outstanding writers from the provinces have been discovered through the Palanca workshops.

Also, the usefulness of writing workshops is evidenced in the patronage that our cultural institutions have been giving them. For years, the Cultural Center of the Philippines extended funding assistance to creative writing workshops. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts, understandably, has been very supportive of writing workshops.

In summary, it is evident that there is no need for statistical figures to confirm the factuality of creative writing workshops’ effectiveness. Indeed, there is no need for statistics. After all, the effects of workshops are cumulative, rather than periodic. But the effervescence evident in the writing scene denotes a reinvigoration of the creative spirit, and this alone, is an encouraging sign. Big or small, these workshops answer the need for a rational and sustained effort to build up the country’s literary resources by attending to the requisites of its primary component: the writers. The number of books published by literary workshoppers increase annually, thus fattening the literary treasury. Creative writing workshops attract more and more new writers who realize the beneficence of the workshops’ intention to develop persons extremely sensitive to the human condition, to the alterations and flow of the cultural milieu, and to the determination of the national consciousness. Writer’s contribute to the sharpening of the people’s desire for the finer things in life, for the improvement of the national intellect. Through their literary productions, they propose ways of upgrading the quality of national life. Their works, when judiciously inputed by the state of authorities in their national policies, may provide them with ideas for social amelioration. The writers’ honest and profound critique of social realities is their ultimate contribution to the formation of an uplifted national intelligence. But the sensitivity, the imagination, and the craftsmanship they need to accomplish this critique is inaugurated to a great extent in the environment of writing workshops.

The effect of literary competitions in the production of literature in English, on the other hand, is quite a different thing. At best, the matter is speculative, for these contests are arbitrary, limited, and often short-lived, making it difficult for us to make conclusive statements vis-a-vis literary production. From the Commonwealth Literary Awards of the 1940s to the Palanca Literary Awards of the 1990s, certain currents of creative energy can be stipulated, and this can be the basis of some tentative findings. It stands to reason, however, that the popularity of these contests definitely exerts certain influences on individual writers’ attitude toward literary and social realities, and these can be understood only if we ask the writers themselves.

The major and minor literary competitions that we have — the Palanca, the CCP, the Free Press, The Graphic, The Panorama, the Procyon, and the Home Life — confer a psychological, and not an artistic, beneficence on the writers. Winning them has a palliative effect — for a while the writer is a few thousand pesos above the poverty line and enjoys some degree of admiration –but cannot be equated with the winner’s ascendancy over other writers. It would be erroneous, if not pretentious, to assume that a contest winner is a better artist than a non-winner. I have known many naive writers who think winning the Palanca is the highest achievement for a Filipino writer; there are even those who think it is the equivalent of literary apotheosis. They ignore the fact that it is just a contest, that is all, and a winner is just lucky that the judges, who have their own nebulous system of rating entries, were favorably disposed to his work. It is indisputable that there are many outstanding writers who have never won any literary prize.

Why then do writers join these contests? In an attempt to find some answers, I posed that question to some twenty (20) respondents in an informal, random survey. They were a mix of established and beginning writers, of winners and non-winners. The tally I had at the conclusion of the survey included all responses, even multiple ones from the same respondents.

Why do you join literary contests?



1. To find out if I can really write


2. For the money


3. To know if I’m good as others


4. To know if I have potentials


Insufficient as it is, the survey can give us some idea of the psychology of literary contests. Response #1 indicates the writers desire for the “confirmation” of his literary ability; that is winning will be a validation of his artistic capability. This is the most satisfying effect of contests, for it resolves for him questions that otherwise would remain unanswered. The Palanca Prize, in this regard, is perceived as the best validator; its prestige, history, and scope make it a reliable measuring instrument. Winning it provides entry into the exclusive group of outstanding writers whose excellence has passed a rigid test and who would, from now on, be forces to consider in our literary development.

Confirmation gives the writer the signal that the pursuit of letters is not, after all, a futile thing for him. “I want to find out if my estimation of myself as a poet is correct, ” a respondent said. “Am I getting anywhere with my writing – I want to know,” another said. In effect, confirmation is a highly personal search for the justification of a writing life. The writer, as it were, competes with himself, not with others. Winning finally settles for him questions about writing as a serious engagement.

Response #2 reflects the practical attractiveness of contests. Writers join them for the money — the bigger it is, the more their desire to win. Those who gave this response were either already multiple winners or financially hard-pressed. For the first, sure of their ability, the money, as it were, has already been earmarked for certain things — a TV, a vacation, to pay a debt. Winning has become not only a habit for them, but also a source of steady income. For the second, winning is a small refuge from the perils of insolvency. These are the struggling writers whose social circumstances make them look at contests as an agency for temporary salvation. All of them said that present contest prizes are unrealistic and should be raised to meet the demands of our actual cost of living.

Response #3 shows the writers’ interpretation of contests as a canonical agent. They compete to prove that they are as good as, if not better than, writers who have won already. Their competitiveness assumes a hierarchy of writers where winners occupy top ranking. To win is to be elevated to the pantheon of the literary greats. “When I won my first Palanca,” one of them said, ” I could not sleep for a week. I felt so high.” “I joined because I got sick and tired of the boastfulness of one winner. When I won, all of a sudden he became silent.” These respondents also think that the more contests one wins, the more excellent an artist he becomes.

Response #4 exhibits the naivete of some writers. The respondents thought of contests as an instrument to discover whether they had talents, and they ended by losing. The truth is, the Palanca and the CCP contests are not for those without talent, and if one is just trying to find out if he has, workshops are the appropriate venues for him. Amateurish entries in these contests are easily weeded out by the judges who have vast experience in this kind of thing.

Whether literary contests and other similar projects contribute to the production of literature, as I have said, is difficult to ascertain. It is not farfetched, however, to say that they improve the quality of writing in the country. The high level of competition, the increasing number of contestants, and the spread of knowledge about literary techniques and theories, force a contestant to upgrade his skill. By comparison and contrast, by absorption or opposition, he posits himself against others and undoubtedly learns from the experience. I know many writers who study the style and techniques of contest winners with the aim of understanding the finer elements of literary discourses.

The psychology of contests, particularly focused on the human desire for recognition, compels the beginning writers to prove to themselves and to others that they are worthy of membership in the society of letters. In the process, they struggle to grow artistically in order to meet the standards of the contests. Because they cannot win if they are no good, contests exert a subtle educative influence on the participants. In this manner, contests are invisible workshops, which hone the skills of the beginning writers desirous of literary notability. They are one way of learning and excelling in the craft, albeit a difficult one.

Creative writing workshops, literary contests, literary seminars and conferences, it must be clear now, have a definite role in the literary growth of our literature. Each in its own particular way has direct and indirect influences on the quality and quantity of literary production. Taken together, they are a dominant force in the formation and strengthening of our national soul and in the direction of our social life.

Reference: from the book Illumined Terrain: The Sites and Dimensions of Philippine Literature

Philippine Gay Culture: Conclusion*

Philippine Gay Culture: Conclusion*
by J. Neil C. Garcia

In my Introduction to this study, I enumerated the three most important questions a Philippine-based gay theory should address: cultural incongruity, gender oppression, and the class struggle. After undertaking this inquiry into the writings and history of Philippine gay culture in the last thirty years, I can nearly presume that the “answers” to each of these broad concerns should involve the genealogy of sexuality in our history as a colonized people, a revaluation of our present-day concepts of maleness and femaleness, and a theoretical elaboration of the semi-feudal, capitalist class structures which have guaranteed the oppression of homosexuals in terms of occupational pursuit and symbolic relations. In the first part of this work, some of these conclusions were brought to bear on the very history that had countenanced them. Although short and woefully incomplete, I therefore believe this study has adequately, if provisionally, answered the most basic requirements of a tentative gay theory in the Philippines.

There are still other insights this study has yielded, and they have to do with: 1) how the demonization of same-sexual activity is as old as the Catholic Church’s history in the islands, 2) how inversion can be an instance of containment, and 3) what some of the special problems of gay historiography in a neocolonial context are.

First, this study has made it clear to me that the damning attitude of the Catholic Church in the Philippines toward homosexuality may have initially been conflated with (xenophobic) issues of race. In the archival component of this work, I came across not a few accounts by the Spanish colonial administration that blamed sodomy on the largely bachelor Chinese community just outside the walled city. This early in the history of the Christianization of our peoples, it therefore became apparent that demonization based on and compounded by racial conflicts had played and would continue to play a major part in shaping our country’s dominant religious attitude in regard to sodomitic sex.

John Leddy Phelan, in The Hispanization of the Philippines, very much doubts the accuracy of the Spanish accounts (by Morga, Ribadeneira, Benavides, Santibañez, and Alcina) that all lay the blame for the prevalence of sodomy in the archipelago on the Sangleys. According to Phelan,

these Spanish observers were vituperative Sinophobes who hated the Chinese as intensely as they were dependent upon them for certain economic services . Sinophobia may be unconsciously responsible for inventing the charge that the Chinese introduced sodomy to the Filipinos. [1]

Phelan concedes, however, that “the incidence of homosexuality increased among the Filipinos as a result of the coming of the Chinese.” While this may have been the case—and the de facto economic ascendancy of the Chinese may have indeed been the underlying reason for this Sinophobia—Phelan nonetheless fails to see the distinction between sodomy and homosexual activity. As I have earlier attempted to clarify in the section on precolonial gender-crossing, sodomy as a general term for “unnatural acts” did not preclude the many heterosexual acts and “methods” which for the friars were not within the realm of the “ordinary.” Hence, even this concession of Phelan’s may yet be misleading, since those many different acts that might be called sodomitic could only have been around so much earlier than the Spanish conquest. In fact, all the other accounts on the existence of penis pins, licentiousness and lack of chastity among the pre-Conquista indios and indias seem to indicate this to have been the caseNeedless to say, it is almost impossible to prove that the influx of the Chinese merchants into the Philippines caused the many practices of sodomy to become any more or less widespread than they had already been.

Aside from the economic, another reason behind the Spanish sexual xenophobia about the Sangleyes-though I myself haven’t really attempted to explain it here-may also be linked to the self-confessed fear of many friars that their efforts at converting the natives were constantly being undermined by the Chinese. Not a few Spanish missionaries pointed to the Chinese as the culprits behind the backsliding in faith of natives who “returned to their old ways” every time the Spanish frayles-who were supposed to guarantee their salvation at all cost-weren’t looking. [2]

Second, containment theory may be most logically invoked in relation to inversion, the dominant discourse of homosexuality in our society at the present time. In many ways, I have precisely invoked it, as when, for instance, I insisted toward the conclusion of the first part of this study, on the Coming Out of gays from loob tolabas. I have offered the binary of loob/labas (“inside/outside”) as the central node around which Tagalog-Filipino gender and sexuality are obsessively constructed, and hence offered the cultural reading that the depth model for identity is still operative-or we may even hazard to say, perhaps has for a very long time been operative—in our local cultures, subordinate or otherwise. Nonetheless, it may also be said that psychosexual inversion, once selfconsciously understood, is itself a radical gesture, for it arguably denaturalizes gender and restores its otherwise transcendental meaning into the social, rendering it contingent rather than necessary. What is lacking in the case of the local  homosexuals is the transgressive reinscription of Philippine gay culture’s various acts of inversion—for instance, female impersonation and cross-dressing—and the necessary predisposing attitude to be able to accomplish this is one of irony. Finally, one of the primary admonishings in this work is that local homosexuals—transvestic or not—must exhibit and nurture more irony toward and about themselves and their actions; and that, consequently, gay intellectuals also need to perceive and to appreciate these exercises in irony, and to textualize these in their writings or whatever other discursive project they choose to engage in.

In this respect I find myself taking issue with Vicente Rafael’s remark in his introductory essay to a recently published “cultural studies” book on Filipino cultures. In “Writing Outside: On the Question of Location,” Rafael says that as things stand, the bakla is already fully self-ironic as an identity:

The (Western) notion of the gay identity (is) tied . . . to a generalized anxiety about stable ontologies . . . (while) the Filipino conception of the bakla by stressing the performative aspects of gender differences,parodies as it reinscribes the gap between the masculine and the feminine. [3] (Italics mine).

The anxiety of Western civilization toward its many different genders— not just masculine and feminine—finds its fecund expression in the varieties of camp (butch/femme) and transvestisms (macho, queer, transvestophilic, transgenderist, etc.) which, over the last century, have come to be institutionalized as legitimate self-expressions within the gay and lesbian cultures of the United States, Europe and Australia, This anxiety is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian metaphysical tradition which, until recently, was a rather inexorable force in the Western subject’s life. On the other hand, this study has argued that the Philippines has its own dualist tradition in respect of sexual identity, and although it would seem that the effeminate baklaand the mannish tomboy attest to the fluidity of gender concepts and roles in our culture, at the level of desire they merely reinforce the babae and the lalake, whose pale reflections they are. Rafael cannot be farther from the truth when he ascribes tokabaklaan the parodic and self-reflexive character which it doesn’t (yet) possess.

As things stand, the dominant conception of the bakla identity strictly confines thebakla to an agonistic effeminacy (a poor copy of femininity). In fact, the masculinebakla is simply unthinkable. He therefore must be a closet case, or a double-dealing fraud (silahis). Suffice it to say, then, that at the core of the social construction of thebakla is “coreness” itself. As a recent ethnography reiterates, the bakla is a “man with a woman’s heart” who, like a real woman, deeply desires a real man to be happy. [4] (And this ethnography may be found in the very same book that Rafael edited). This inversion, though apparently camp on the outside, is actually underwritten by a very serious script of depth-obsessed, “psychospiritual”—which is to say, loob-generated-authenticity.

Third, and slightly related to the first, the search for a precolonial “sexual utopia” (which is to say, a simultaneously pre-Christian and naturally perverse society) which apparently nearly existed in the Philippines—at least as suggested in the early “scandalized” chronicles of Pigafetta, Loarca, Morga, et al.—should have to take cognizance of the “other archive” that more or less talks about how sodomy—a word which referred to a broad catalogue of “unnatural crimes” (crimes against nature), including same-sexual activity— was hardly to be observed among the natives in early colonial Philippines. An example of this would be this passage taken from Marcelo de Ribadeneira’s account:

By nature they are not very lewd, nor did they ever commit the nefarious sin, like other pagans, and if somebody fell into it, they tied him to a stake and stoned him to death. [5]

The supposedly rare instances of the “nefarious sin” (sodomy) to be observed among the Philippine early colonial indios in this passage are confounded, if not downright contradicted, by other chronicles and histories that mention sodomy to be a problem among the converts. Hence its obsessiveness to be evidenced among all the confession manuals in the different regional languages which were published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nonetheless, Ribadeneira’s account is not atypical, and an archivist venture into early colonial sexual practices may not so easily disregard it.

My own attitude toward the sodomy narratives of the early colonial period of the Philippines is more or less one of meticulous caution and care, inasmuch as all such accounts were necessarily overseen and underwritten by imperialist and rather orthodox Christian interests. Nonetheless, a romantic picture of a “gay-friendly,” pre-Spanish Philippines is not entirely tenable. Thus, a gay historiographer has no choice but to address the more relevant and urgent concerns of current-day homosexual oppression, rather than continually harken back to a perfect past which cannot be textualized without some form of significant qualification. (Certainly, the first qualification here should be that at this time, homosexuality, let alone gayness, had not been invented yet).

It might also be germane to this specific discussion if we contextualized the various accounts on the “unnatural sin” written by early Spanish chroniclers in the Philippines within the Renaissance discourse of sodomy. This project should prove particularly insightful in relation to representations of the Indians of the “New World” (America) who, in the early colonial period, came to be known as being “all sodomites.”

Jonathan Goldberg, in his book Sodometries, discusses the unstoppable production of sodomitic Indians to be found in the early colonial Spanish texts coming from the New World after 1516, the year in which the earliest account of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa’s encounter with Panama’s Queraqua Indians first appeared in Europe in Pietro Martire d’Angheira’s De Orbo Novo. [6] This story details the killing of 600 Indian warriors of the Queraqua tribe, after which Balboa fed to his dogs 40 other Panamanians, whom he accused of being sodomites. This story of a sodomitic New World immediately became engraved in the European mind, as proven by subsequent sweeping pronouncements of sodomy-ridden nations and tribes populating the continent of America, from the relations of Hernan Cortes (1519), Tomas Ortiz (1525), Gonzalo de Oviedo (1526), Bernal Diaz (1526) and Cabeza de Vaca (1527), and as literalized by a dramatic engraving of the Balboa narrative in the 1594 edition of Thomas DeBry’s America. In fact, it was in the face of this hysterical condemnation of the entire continent—whose indigenous inhabitants had come to be perceived in Europe as being utterly and irredeemably sodomitic—that Bartolome de Las Casas came to the defense of the Indians by 1542. Las Casas, writing in his Brevisima Relacion, debunked the European myth that all Indians were cannibals and practiced “the nefarious sin.” (Despite such a brave defense, Goldberg reminds us that Las Casas still cannot be completely praised by students of colonialist history, inasmuch as he maintained that sodomy and “cannibalism,” just in case they were indeed a widespread practice among any Indian people, should be enough grounds to exterminate their race).

The desire to exculpate the indios of the Philippines from this same intransigently occidental charge of a wildly exuberant sodomitic nature must have been part of the production of nearly all these early Spanish texts—for instance, in the passage cited above, Ribadeneira’s—that all declared the Islas de Filipinas free of the “unnatural crime,” or at least laid the blame for its existence in the archipelago on the corrupting influence of the Sangleyes, and not on a pre-given proclivity to commit it on the part of the natives themselves. This must have been the case since the Spanish colonial administration in the Philippines was constantly under Royal pressure to justify its presence in the archipelago, which proved very difficult to govern on account of its overwhelming distance from Europe. [7] One way to do this was to declare its resident Indians sufficiently worthy of evangelization, or “noble” enough to be redeemed from their “ignorance” and “barbarity” by the Spanish “liberators.” Hence, by proclaiming sodomy an extraneous reality in the lives of the Philippine indios, the Spanish frayles and gobernador-generales in effect declared that their moral weakness could easily be overcome by a sustained religious guidance, catechism and civil tutelage coming from the Spanish friars and administrators. This task was, despite its appearance, a possible one to accomplish, insofar as it was really an outside force—an alien, Sangley culture-that was the culprit in the introduction and proliferation of this specific evil among them. 

The Chinese came very handy indeed for the purpose of carrying out this particularly villainous “role,” insofar as sodomy in Renaissance Europe itself wasn’t so much a performance of certain kinds of forbidden (unprocreative and/or extraconjugal) acts between men and men, women and women, men and women, or women, men and animals, as the accusation of the performance of these acts. And history shows that such an accusation is always most easily leveled against social groups that threaten patriarchal power the most: heretics, spies, traitors, enemies of the Church, etc. (And as Goldberg would seem to gesture, in light of recent events in the United States, homosexual people in general—who, by virtue of a U.S. Supreme court ruling onBowers vs. Hardwick, have effectively become the new heretics of the modern world).

The irony here is that while Renaissance sodomy laws were used exclusively as a weapon against these potentially hostile classes of non-white, non-Christian peoples, hegemonic male-male bonds that formed the core of European society at this time existed under the benevolent cloak of the family, and were facilitated by the exchange of women between households. Under the aegises of “friendship” and “patronage,” servants and students, teachers and pupils, kings and minions, and (perhaps even) queens and ladies, were sharing the same erotically charged beds without fear of corrupting the spirit of alliance or marriage, the institution sodomy laws were meant to protect and perpetuate from the very start. Sodomy, indeed, was “utterly confused” as a category (as Foucault so exasperatedly—and in Goldberg’s book, axiomatically—declares), during the sexual regimes that came before the advent of modern sexuality in the mid-nineteenth century, to the degree that at these times it wasn’t possible to self-identify as a sodomite at all: sodomy named sexual acts only in certain stigmatizing contexts. These racial, religious, economic and gender stigmatizations functioned in assuring the preservation of patriarchal power against its many “imagined” enemies. Hence, during the Renaissance, sodomy was an “empty category,” into which the powerless were thrust by those who dictated the scope and signification of its use. [8] Certainly, however, the “namers” of this crime never imagined it possible to place themselves under its demonizing ensign even though, strictly speaking, they were already committing the acts that defined it.

In seventeenth-century Philippines it was the Chinese who represented the most visible (economic) enemy of the Spanish colonial administration, and hence they became the logical target of the charge of “unnatural sin.” This charge, in fact, was just as unmotivated as all the accusations the conquistadores made against the American Indians at the beginning of the Conquista. None of the Spaniards who pronounced the Indians sodomites actually saw sodomy being committed by these peoples. Instead, they read sodomy into the Indians of the New World—and in the case of the Philippines, the Chinese merchants living in the Parian just outside the walled city-because they were really reading themselves (and consequently, their own desires) into the context of these otherwise undecipherable realities. Goldberg’s intriguing deconstruction of the American case makes the point clear that the naked bodies of the Indian males were the only things the Spaniards saw; and that sodomy was read into these bodies on account of their many perforations which were filled to overflowing with gold ornaments. The naked, hole-ridden and goldenly bedecked male bodies of the Indians were the very same bodies the Spaniards secretly desired to divest of their treasures and convert into slaves who could be-and indeed were-exchanged for money and merchandise in Europe. (On a related point, Goldberg says the charge of cannibalism made by the Spanish against the Caribs was simply a projection of their very own rapacity and belief in the Eucharist).

For finally, the Spanish conquerors of the New World felt they could legitimately call these Indians sodomites by virtue of an unspoken identification with them: underwriting their ethnographies was the belief in a universal “Logos of Man.” Goldberg notes that this universalist re/presentation of the concrete and historically specific reality of the native peoples of the New World can clearly be seen in the fictionalized attribution of Moorish dress among the Mexicans. The Spaniards, fresh from their liberation from the Moorish Empire in the decisive Battle of Granada in 1492, not so strangely “discovered” Moors among the peoples of the “New Spain”! And since the Mexicans were somewhat Moorish too, their conquest would only serve as a deja-vu, or a kind of “repeat performance,” for the conquistadores. In the Philippines, the projects of conversion and conquest were similarly made possible only after the Spaniards could define the natives of the islands as indios who, despite their external and local differences from each other, were ultimately “human” like them, too. (It shouldn’t be strange, therefore, that all the different indigenous peoples that were found in the many colonies of Spain at this time all came to be conceptualized by the Spanish colonizers under the monolithic rubric of the “Indian.”) This discourse was not a unified one, in any case, as alongside this declaration of Humanist sameness was foisted a political teleology of civilization, in which the indiooccupied the bottom rung of a proverbial ladder of cultural development, at whose apex unfurled the banner of the European conqueror himself.

*   *   *

Because of this study’s “findings” on the predominance of inversion as the pattern of homosexuality in current-day Philippines, certain speculations about the present local gender system seemed to be called for. A return to archival renditions of precolonial and early colonial cross-dressing and cross-genderist behavior was therefore provided in this study in response to this intriguing nexus. The male babaylan, a religious/political figure from the prehispanic past, exhibited gender transitivity by virtue of the babaylan’s fundamentally “female” function. Although what is inarguable is the male babaylan’s transgenderal attributes, the assertion about his sexuality can only be made provisionally. In fact, such a connection may at best be largely hinted at, and not in fact proven. Nonetheless, the paucity of actual references to sexual practice among the early colonial, “womanish” babaylan must only be taken in the context of how, until the sixties, even the bakla himself was represented as though he had no sexual nature.

In other words, it is likely that the same if not a stronger Christianity-ordained “denial” of sexuality operated in the friar-mediated, early colonial babaylanchronicles. In the “permissive” atmosphere of the seventies, however, the Coming Out of the bakla signalized the appearance of his “sexuality”: a substrate knowledge which had been disallowed from showing itself previously. This “disallowance”—which, by the way, may have been part of the disavowal of sexuality within Philippine society at large—may also be seen in the way homosexuality does not even get vaguely mentioned in the proceedings on Problems of Counseling in Philippine Colleges and Universities, which were published in 1961. [9]

The “silence” of local psychological institutions in the early sixties about homosexuality and homosexual counseling seems strange, given that globally, the problems of adolescent homosexuals never fail to make it in the agenda of any conference on juvenile mental health (for only obvious reasons). By the rest of the 1960s, as well as the early seventies, however, this situation had palpably changed, and homosexuality was made to belong under the aegis of psychological science, as may be proven by the existence of positivist works on it which were written around this time. (A partial listing of the sundry academic studies on homosexuality in the Philippines is included in the last section of this book). The consequence of this is the renewed and intensified medical psychopathologization of the bakla as inversion’s homosexual: a man whose psychological being does not coincide with his anatomic sex. Only this time, his sexuality has become the central defining feature of his by now “psychosexually inverted” identity.

That the native cultures of the Philippines never really became obsessed with the sexual object choices of people per se, but rather with their functions in the community as gendered persons, can only suggest that a more egalitarian (or at least, more sex-positive) gender system obtained during much earlier—perhaps, much better—times. Should it therefore be desirable for gay culture’s beginning student—such as I mainly am in this book—to insist on the homosexuality of the bakla, and not simply let things be?

About this admittedly “queer” dilemma I have very little to say, except that perhaps it is not up to me or anybody else to decide on whether or not the bakla should be considered this or that. The choice doubtless has already been made for us: the discourse of Western, binarized sexuality is already with us, and the bakla is now a homosexual. (This does not, however, mean that the boundaries of these two concepts have all of a sudden become perfectly contiguous). More than this, thebakla, even without becoming homosexual, is an identity already leaving much more to be desired, considering that effeminacy in macho societies such as ours is quite already a burden as it is. To this bit of easy sense may be added the much earlier, non-sexual yet still undesirable denotation of the word bakla as “fearful” and “cowardly.” Nonetheless, the realization that, for a long time even before theConquista, there have probably been various forms of gender-crossings among the native cultures of the Philippines, brings now to mind a documentary film on thekathoey, Thailand’s equivalent identity to the bakla, made by a German gay filmmaker, Jurgen Bruning. [10]

In Bruning’s film, several kathoey impersonators are interviewed, and just as with thebakla, we realize that their oppression stems from their being symbolically situated as “second-class women.” (The similarity among the “inversion” patterns of homosexuality within southeast Asia and its neighboring island groups may be traced, hypothetically, to the Kulturkreis to which such cultures may be shown to collectively belong). [11] In the Philippines, this is also to be seen in the Third Sex rhetoric which swards and gays had themselves subscribed to and reproduced in the seventies, and which thenceforth cast them as “handicapped, fake women.” The more interesting insight in this documentary, however, comes from the way Bruning the filmmaker frames the film from his viewpoint, and in the last scene, the camera rises above Bangkok, airplane-borne. (This scene, I assured him, should be a sufficient ideological caveat/”marker” that would insulate him from the charge of exploiting the “Third World”; actually not entirely so). Somewhere in the middle of the film, a voice-over says that Thailand does not want (or need) the Western versions of sex and sexuality which in the last ten years have continually been imposed on its people. Bruning’s value judgment is telling: Can it be that a Western gay who knows the homophobic repercussions of homosexuality is warning those cultures which do not have it yet to never ever do?

Unlike Thailand, the Philippines can hardly be salvaged anymore from Western cultural encroachments such as those concerning homosexuality. Four centuries of colonization have simply been too much for any culture to resist such implantations. A Thai homosexual intellectual who gets interviewed in the movie is sure that until a little over a decade ago, the Thais had no word for a man who wanted to have sex with another man as a man, and not as a kathoey. And this word is “gay,” precisely. The same medicalization is attached to the label, and with the AIDS pandemic already getting graver and graver in Bangkok and elsewhere, Thai gays just may suffer the same stigma Western gays have suffered. This may be why several gay organizations are already being formed there; likewise, this may be why coming out as homosexuals has also become the most critical issue for Thai gays, who are not too keen on being identified with the “second-class” kathoey, but are not too sure if staying inside the closet is all that desirable either. In fact, based on the letters fromkathoey to “Uncle Go”-a popular advice columnist in Bangkok, whose columns Peter Jackson analyzes in his book Male Homosexuality in Thailand: An Interpretation of Contemporary Thai Sources [12] -the kathoey are considered “fair game” and gullible by most Thai males. This contemporary, negative attitude toward the kathoey feeds, I feel, on the newly implanted medicalized discourse of homosexuality, the increasing masculinization of Thai society, and perhaps also on a more indigenous bias against all effeminate men in general. In fact, not a few kathoeysuffer from police harassment and rape by men whose socially and culturally sanctioned desire for a warm sexual cavity finds itself most conveniently fulfilled in thekathoey who, Jackson concludes, “together with female prostitutes, probably represent one of the most vulnerable sections of Thai society.”

There are other parallels to be drawn between homosexuality in Thailand and the Philippines. In his book, Jackson explains that unlike the kathoey, the traditional Thai ideal of the “complete man” is one who is masculine in appearance and demeanor, as well as insertive in his sexual practice; moreover, he is a husband-father. In the context of traditional Thai society, a man does not suffer humiliation or degradation just by virtue of engaging in sex with a kathoey, because outside the marital level of sexual relations, the “complete man” is allowed two other kinds of relationships: with a concubine and with a prostitute. It is into these categories that kathoey invariably fall.

At once, here, the difference between the Philippine bakla/bayot and the Thaikathoey becomes obvious, despite their offhand sameness: while both display the same characteristic effeminacy and sexual passivity (receptivity) in relation to the “complete/real man,” the former is not popularly perceived as a prostitute or a concubine, unlike the latter. Likewise, Jackson’s conclusion that it is, in terms of actual sexual activity, the bisexual male who occupies the apex of the sexual structure of Thai life may not be very easy to make here. The homo/hetero distinction operates more ineluctably in Philippine sexual life than in Thai culture simply by virtue of our longer cultural detente with, and domination by, the West. Jackson’s book seems to imply that actual physical bisexuality is rather openly accepted in traditional Thai society, and this can scarcely be imagined true in the case of the Filipino macho male. The bisexual act with which the Philippine “real man” is (un)likely to be charged, has itself already been rationalized by the culture beforehand through various “arguments,” foremost of which is the economic. Call boys and those local men in general who agree to play the (largely) insertive role in sexual encounters with thebakla/bayot invariably are paid for it; thus, they are really “heterosexual” despite their actions. This arrangement is itself the opposite of what Jackson observes in Thailand, where it is the kathoey who gets to be paid (or oftentimes, is forced) for the sexual service. Hence, it can be said that the acknowledgment of the existence of their homosexual—or at least bisexual— desire, is easier for the Thai than for the Filipino males, to make. The kathoey need not bear the burden of being the only one who actively desires sex with another male; this symbolic and economic burden, by contrast, is the bakla/bayot’s sole onus.

The Catholic component in Philippine sexual life ultimately distinguishes it from the model of traditional Thai sexuality which is overdetermined, in religious terms at least, by the less doctrinally homophobic Theravada Buddhism. In the first place, it is easy to see that Jackson had his entire work cut out for him, inasmuch as the textualization of homosexual behavior—and later on, of gay consciousness—is not all that difficult to make in Thailand. Jackson merely had to collect the many available texts and interpret them. In fact, “Uncle Go’s” advice column, and even its many different clones, have been appearing with nary a hitch in Bangkok tabloids and dailies for the past two decades. A similar case cannot be found in the Philippines. Nor is it true that the same kind of glib easiness and volubility about the topic of sex can be expected of Filipinos (even of those who are living in the big cities, like Manila). This is simply because the religious suppression of sexuality indeed has been, as a whole, successful in the more official spaces of our culture. Likewise, there is much paranoia to be found in the attitudes of Filipinos in general to homosexuality. Even the peculiarly Western debates on gays in the military, for instance, have been entertained by the media in recent years.

Nonetheless, the important similarity between Thailand and the Philippines as far as the homosexual question is concerned, lies in the fact that in both cultures, it is inversion and/or effeminacy that is definitive of exclusive homosexuality. Consequently, both cultures look down on femininity and feminine sexuality as inferior to masculinity and the sexuality of the “real/ complete man.” Therefore,  we can probably conclude that both cultures are masculinist and anti-woman, in the end.

The many possible regional and Western connections among understandings of sexuality/gender and the local concepts of bakla/bayot/binabae/etc. are therefore rather also important for this project. Between the two it is admittedly the Western “encounter” which has riveted my singular attention. Tie-ups between the gay liberation movements in Europe and the United States and Philippine gay culture, though not explicitly made in this book, are nevertheless apparent in the discourse of ‘Third Sex,” and of gay liberation itself, which became ascendant in the West, and by osmotic neocolonialism elsewhere after the Stonewall riots in New York, in 1969.

These tie-ups are mutually constituted and “enjoyed,” however. In fact, homosexuality in the Philippines continues to function as Western gay culture’s alterity to the precise degree that Western scholars continue to objectify the sexual lives of Filipinos in the 1990s. [13] The most enduring theme of Western(ized) academic and popular literatures on the subject of homosexuality in the country is that it is “tolerated” therein. Whence does this blatantly misguided opinion emanate if not those Western commentators on the Philippine bakla/bayot of the last thirty years, who have precisely denominated and hence constructed these indigenous identities as “homosexual”? And indeed, by constructing the non-Western subjectivities bakla/bayot into homosexuals these colonial architects of contemporary Philippine society, have unwittingly reproduced the homophobia that always follows at the heels of the very idea of homosexuality. But despite the brute fact that it is the West itself that has introduced—and thus, produced—homosexuality in the Philippines, there continues to be staunch and unequivocal denial coming from Western sociologists that the bakla/bayot are comparably as oppressed as the Western gay in any way. The reason for this may very well be that the presence of an exoticizing contrast remains necessary in imagining the Western Self and reconstituting its identity at the exotic Other’s expense. Obviously, in this case, the Philippine bakla/bayot have, over the last three decades, enjoyed a truly rare privilege of becoming the object of such perfervid and weighty imaginings.

For instance, an article on the Philippine homosexual situation that appears in the two-volume Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990), refuses to entertain the slightest notion that homosexuality’s tolerance by Filipinos is not really what it appears, or that tolerance should not even be tolerated by those homosexuals who are extravagantly given it. Its author, Frederick Whitam, conducted a sociological study of the bayot of Cebu City sometime in the 1970s. (In that study, he arrived at basically the same conclusion of how Filipino homosexuals have it easy compared to Western gays). And according to this article, “the Philippines enjoys a reputation as one of the contemporary societies most tolerant of homosexuality,” chiefly for the following reasons:

1. Philippine penal laws and other statutes don’t even mention homosexuality. 
2. Filipinos generally hold a benevolent attitude toward homosexuals, to be seen in their allowance of the bakla/bayot to participate as cultural performers in big social events. 
3. Transvestic homosexuals are praised during fashion shows and beauty pageants, which normally function as family entertainment showcases. 
4. Homosexual characters in Philippine media (movies and television) elicit “claps and shouts of approval from the many children in the audience.” [14]

Whitam offers these four statements as “proof” that to be a homosexual in the Philippines isn’t such a bad thing. To the extent that this book has attempted to reconstruct a “history from within” Philippine gay culture, it has also sought to invalidate Whitam’s “proof.” It has done this by calling into question its mode of production (Read: Whitam’s strictly positivist ethnography does not even care to take cognizance of the crisis of representation); and by offering the textual productions of bakla/bayot as testimonies that provide a more nuanced (if truer) source of knowledge of how Filipino gay life has been lived by Filipino gays themselves.

The list Whitam draws of how Filipinos show their tolerance of homosexuality is admittedly not just his own. A slew of social science researchers and journalists, over the past decades, have said exactly the same things. Nonetheless, none of the items in this list makes the distinction between the indigenous concepts that refer to effeminate males (bakla/bayot) and the Western concept of the homosexual person. Obviously, this list should only forgo such cross-cultural complication, seeing as how it appears in an article that is included in an empirical compendium of global same-sexual behavior—an “Encyclopedia of  Homosexuality” no less. But Whitam’s sad refusal to examine more closely the symbolic world of the bakia/bayot whom he simplistically takes to be homosexuals causes him to vitally misunderstand these identities. By taking them out of the context in which the concept of effeminate gender and sexuality signifies, he fails to appreciate the nuances of oppression to which the effeminate male is subjected in Philippine society. For instance, the cultural reality being described in the fourth item in his list, cannot be fully understood in its presently truncated form. Those particular gay, mass-media characters that evoke “claps and shouts of approval” do so because they portray ridiculously uproarious roles whose entertainment value singularly derives from their gender anomaly, as well as other equally obtrusive things: neither man nor woman; coward; unreal; bakla,precisely. (That Whitam fails to make that most commonsensical connection between this Tagalog-Filipino pejorative and the many Western terms of gay insult—faggot, queer, fairy, sissy, etc.—is beyond me). It is with these universally familiar, painful cultural scripts in mind that the childish “shouts” Whitam heard in the movie house ought to be appreciated.

These native identities are already homosexualized in the current time— this seems increasingly true, despite the fact that as portrayed in media the screaming and swishing onus of their difference all but completely overshadows the sexual dimension of their personhoods. But even as purely gendered categories,bakla/bayot already leave more to be desired. Effeminophobic rage hardly needs to be legislated hereabout, inasmuch as it finds its gleeful, everyday target in the effeminate (“non-male”) bakla, whose real social purpose may well be to remind Filipino children what they should never be. (Alas, not everything native is good!) But to the degree that these identities possess a homosexual orientation—and to the degree that their homosexual orientation has come to be definitive of their innermost and most authentic sense of self—then we can safely say that their already oppressible gender arguably becomes vested with an extra layer of oppression: sexuality. The irony is that Whitam makes no bones about including the obviously non-Western personhoods of the bakla/bayot in a global survey of homosexuals, and yet denies the possibility that as homosexuals these very persons can only be oppressed just by the simple fact that they possess non-normative sexual desires.

Likewise, the same kind of woeful, Western linkage may be evidenced in the importation of homophobic evangelism during the last few years of the seventies. Slightly more flagrant and shameless than Whitam about his agenda of “Othering,” American Reverend Eddie Karnes put out a local edition of his book Tears in the Morning in 1979, under the auspices of former Vice-President Fernando Lopez and then First Lady Imelda Marcos, whom he boldly likens in the frontispiece to the infamous American beauty queen and gay-bashing bigot, Anita Bryant. [15] Actually, Karnes hardly really wrote his book, for even a cursory look reveals that it is merely an unapologetic and prejudiced compilation of news clippings, which supposedly show the “horrors” of urban gay life in the U.S. Says Karnes in the Introduction—which, apart from the Conclusion, is the only original portion in the entire thing—

My research has led me to believe that the gay world is a jungle… the  glue that holds the gays together is cosmetic… it is penis-oriented. It is a movement that worships at the altar of the erect penis … an animalistic, lustful sexual world that drains the beauty, youth, and morals from its converts, and damns the teachings of parents, the Church, the Bible, and of God.

The book and its message of hate hardly made a splash locally, if only because the very enterprise of homophobic persecution could not be accommodated by the native culture nor accepted into the native sexual sensibility, given the epistemological disparity inherent in the bakla/homosexual dynamic. Just as the different Western models of homosexuality have not all become interwoven into the strands of Philippine sexual life, so too have the various kinds of paranoia which Western civilization has always attached to same-sexual behavior not become completely ingrained in and integral to our own culturality. Because sexuality is not as fully organized as a field of knowledge in the Philippines as it is and to a certain extent has always been in the West—and therefore because sexuality remains largely untheorized and unconscious among the masses of the Filipino people—homophobic anxiety between the West and our own societies remain clearly disjunct. Hence, as I hope to have shown in this study, the quality of homosexual oppression between them must only be different, too.

Nonetheless, the fact such a violently vitriolic anti-gay book was put out during Martial Law (and at the behest of La Imelda herself!) should clarify the agonistic situation of gay culture at the same time that all other progressive movements in the country were being militaristically silenced. However, this does not detract from the other fact that, ironically enough, the Marcosian  seventies also bore witness to the increasing sexualization of the bakla (and hence, to the dissemination and fecundation of gay culture, in general).

As for part two, however, it may be true that these early gay writers may properly and tentatively be called “radical humanists,” but this is only because they were significantly determined (and comparably anguished) by the Christian narratives of identity within which they wrote their fictions. Also, the metaphysical underpinnings in their works may also be said to derive from more native ideologies, too, and this connection is something that I have to explore better in my examination of the dominant discourse of interiority or loob as a powerful local idiom for metaphysical depth and plenitude. Humanist transgressions, nevertheless, are finally susceptible of dogmatism and displacements of conflict within the very community they wish to alleviate. It should not be strange, therefore, that by attempting to transcend the conflict of his own homosexuality, Tony Perez ends up denigrating the bakla.Actually, not just him, but also Severino Montano, whose novel does not even make mention of the bakla, even when it is supposed to be a homosexual novel set in post-War Philippines.

It is this study’s conclusion that the bakla is the only kind of (male) homosexual Philippine culture has, relatively speaking, known; and therefore also the only (male) homosexual Philippine culture has discriminated against and/or dismissed as sick, deviant and sinful—as bakla, precisely. Any local text proclaiming itself gay or homosexual cannot help but relate itself to and to situate itself within kabaklaan,hence. Orlando Nadres, of the three early gay writers in this study, has not only addressed this vital concern, but also concretized in the most truthful and sincerest of terms the conflict between two “kinds” of homosexuals of Philippine popular culture: the covert and the overt. Nadres recasts this classification into “in” and “out” (in seventies’ swardspeak, this binary would translate into  buko and wa buko), and passes the judgment that the former has to come out or else his life is meaningless, and the latter has to accept his similarity with the former or else he is deluded. Of the three texts I examined I am convinced that it is Nadres’ play that offers the most rewarding and insightful commentary on Philippine gay culture, and this may well have been true ever since it was first staged in Fort Santiago two decades ago. As I attempted to illustrate in my critique, the play’s ineffable beauty is that, in and through it, Nadres celebrates kabaklaan in the staunch and irrepressible character of the lowly but indomitable beautician, Julie.

The movement away from “one’s own”-the romantic dalliance with American and international “sensibilities” which Perez and Montano undertake-may hence be seen as one of several typical strategies to be observed in early gay writing. Actually, my own life may likewise be said to have been propelled into the same trajectory: I have always maintained that there is something very attractive about appropriating and/or flirting with “foreign” objects and ideas, when one’s own cannot give one these very same things-when all it can give/call one are words like bakla and others too terrible to mention. Although I have generally become influenced by my readings on the gay movements in the U.S. and Europe, the true impetus for this research has come from my own experiences as a bakla in my life’s own “lived ground” (which is to say, my own here and now). I must admit that such experiences have not all been unpleasant, and they only serve to remind me that the impetus to liberation emerges from the liminal zone between one’s own home culture and what exists outside it. While I can confidently say that my insistence on the political expediency of humanist radical politics is rooted in a belief in subjective struggle for the ends of social transformation-and in the possibility of transgression even when faced with so much institutional and even progressive challenge and persecution on the local front-I am likewise aware of the fact that this faith only draws its energy from the very same cultural forces which have necessitated and spurred my movement away from my own culture in the first place.

Nonetheless, all such textual moves can only become logical when seen against the backdrop of Philippine gay culture within the last thirty years or so. It is culture itself, as it has been constructed and as it constructs, that is largely responsible for, and is the result of, the production of such reactions.

*   *   *

In the first part of this study I aimed to accomplish two basic things:

1. Using both academic and popular texts, I wished to trace, catalogue and analyze the different expressions (self- and ascribed) of the male homosexual identity in Philippine metropolitan gay culture within the period of the last three decades (1960s-1990s). 
2. My other aim was to account for, wielding this knowledge, the absence of a gay liberation movement in the country.

The issue of Coming Out relates to both these aims in rather intimate and significant ways. Any history of Philippine gay culture is at most “apparent history” to the degree that only those male homosexuals who have come out and become markedlybakla are represented in it. The class conflict between homosexuals who are “out” and “in” the closet has in the main been responsible for the failure, if not the absence, of a truly formed and visible gay movement. This conflict, nonetheless, is not specific to Philippine gay culture alone. In Stephan Likosky’s book, Coming Out: International Gay and Lesbian Writings, an article [16]  that comes straight out of the beleaguered gay communities in Guadalajara, Mexico, serves to remind us just how similar situations across the world can be, especially as they pertain to the oppressive effects of heteronormativity (of course, Mexico is a country whose Latin, macho culture, for historical reasons primarily, the Philippines logically shares to a more or less salient degree). What this article essentially talks about are the difficulties of maintaining a gay organization in a cultural milieu in which effeminate and/or cross-dressing homosexuals may be observed to harbor the same hatred toward macho-looking gays that the local swards and gays of the seventies and up to now have had for the silahis, closet queens, and Men who have Sex with Men, or MSM (and as always, the same holds true the other way around). Taken together, these identities may well be the most popular self-expressed male homosexual selves that have come to constitute Philippine gay culture in the last three decades. Nonetheless, the same obstacle to the formation of a gay liberation movement in the Philippines likewise obtains in Mexico, an obstacle compounded of the crisis of coming out, and of transvestophobia.

Actually, reading the other articles in Likosky’s book has shown me that there are many other parallels among the qualities of “homosexual’ oppression and the response from the “homosexuals” all over the world. The most telling sameness, for me, has been the “reformist” attitude of the Third World “gay” communities in relation to the “gay movement,” most clearly seen in the pleas for acceptance and tolerance, the call for integration into the mainstream heterosexual society, and the concern with questions on the gay identity. The reason for this may be the fact that in much of the Third World, machismo intersects with an ironic allowance for homosexuality among the macho males themselves. For instance, macho males in the Philippines and in Latin America are not totally averse to the idea of having sexual relations with other males so long as they are the activo (or insertive) partner, and so long as some semblance of the intrinsically oppressive heterosexual norm (of there being a man and a woman in the whole affair) is maintained. Hence, in this specific context, the definition of a specific gay identity is made problematic because according to this schema of sexual identities, macho males do not understand themselves to be homosexual/gay (both in the Western sense), even when they clearly engage in same-sexual erotic acts. [17]

Another article mentions the importance of naming—that is, “coding”— homosexuals, and among the countries in Latin America, the introduction of the word “gay” in the early seventies was the first step toward the establishment of various community-based organizations which would push for the protection of the rights of males whose love objects were other males, whether or not they perceived themselves to be gay. Nonetheless, it is understandable why the gays who belong to such a culture ask for acceptance. They do so simply because, all their lives, they have been brought up to regard themselves as subordinates to the macho males, to whom they have been culturally—and erotically— subordinated for so long. Hence, such gays—most especially the Philippine bakla-think and believe with all their “female hearts” (in our case, pusong-babae) that they are “fake women” who need the love of “real men” to be truly happy.

However, the gay liberation movements in Europe, America and Australia have opted for a more “revolutionary” perspective on the issue of the homosexual identity, primarily by problematizing the concept of sexuality in general. Rather than just calling for liberation for homosexuals, the gay movements in Germany, Australia, Great Britain, Italy, and the U.S. have sounded the call for the liberation of all sexualities and sexual desires, and therefore, of all persons who, at one time in their lives or another, possess such desires. The force of this “rallying cry” taps into the Freudian thesis of polymorphism and bisexuality, which assumes that sexuality and sexual identity are far from assured essences, and are merely narrative accomplishments. From the male child’s plenitude of desires and outlets of desire, the individual subject of post-industrialist capitalism undergoes, by patriarchal interpellation, a repressive sublimation into genital heterosexuality at the service of the heterosexual kinship system, thereby becoming effectively “a man.” According to this theory of sexualities, compulsory genital heterosexuality may still be modified or critically exhausted as a category by such sexuality-sensitive groups as the gay and lesbian movements. For revolutionary thinkers such as the Australian gay liberationist Dennis Altman, then, the repression of sexualities is simply a strategy to get civilization—and this particularly patriarchal and capitalist civilization—underway. Within this theoretical framework, the movement away from the discourse of homo- and heterosexuality, and into the discourse of polymorphous perversity (now to be seen as good), is tantamount to the liberation of all human potentiality. [18] This philosophy of unbridled sexuality arguably was crushed, however, by the AIDS pandemic, so the gay liberation movement remains, globally speaking, clearly linked to a question of rights and civil liberties, rather than to some metaphysical transcendence into an ultimate freedom to become bisexually perverse. (As some have argued in the past: this revolution can never be entirely tenable, as such would spell, following the heteronormative Freudian equation, the end of civilization itself).[19]

For this particular project, then, I have made use of both the “reformist” and the “revolutionary” views with regard to homosexuality and gay culture.

In the first part of this study, I have called these perspectives “minoritizing” and “universalizing” respectively (after Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick). Sedgwick’s difference from other thinkers of this debate—between “essentializing” sexuality as an identity, and “constructing” it as merely acts, potentialities and bonds—is that she has found it possible to keep both perspectives and not end up schizoid in the end. For as has become apparent in this study, there exists an identifiable homosexual minority whose agitations for reformist—which is to say, civil— changes that will somehow benefit it, whose pleas for acceptance/tolerance, must not be dismissed right away with a cursory swish of the theoretical hand. The ghettoization of gays, though not observably serious in the Philippines, is nonetheless being accomplished in the specification of gay occupations, and in the institutionalization of the heteronormatively defined and “scripted” gay bar, to serve the sexual needs of this minority: a legitimated, social release of tension. More specifically, the markedlybakla homosexuals in our culture are not allowed to get away with their homosexuality without first being subjected to a certain “institutional treatment” which would de-radicalize their various acts of transgression. They have to become subordinated to the heterosexual male by thinking of themselves as symbolically and actually less than he is—in fact, as not even male to begin with.

On the other hand, it is in regard to this specific construction of the bakla that the revolutionary/universalizing/constructivist perspective should prove most useful, by basically calling into question the very distinction—too pat and suspicious to begin with—between the “homosexual” bakla and his “heterosexual” macho partner.

While I was carrying out this study, this perspective paved the way for the unmasking of the dominance of psychosexual inversion as the model for homosexuality in Philippine gay culture, which may well be called—for the sake of locally mediated heuristics—a discourse of loob. According to this model of Tagalog-Filipino selfhood—a model that obviously valorizes psychospiritual depth (loob)- one’s sexuality and identity are based on one’s interior subjectivity, and not on one’s external actions (which are merely panlabas). Hence, genital males who engage in sexual activities with other genital males can maintain the sexual self-understanding that they remain “really male” (whose sexual love objects are females) because theirloob is “attached” to neither the same-sexual act nor their same-sexual partners. Likewise, hence, otherwise genital males can harbor the self-understanding that they are females, simply because their loob tells them so. This discourse is essentialist (and heteronormatively so), and the way to neutralize it is by moving from metaphysical depth to playful surface: a discourse of constructed and (de)constructible bodies, or labas, for which the issue of homosexuality necessarily applies once two physically male bodies are involved in the sexual act. I find this to be the more desirable view to take, as it avoids the needless complications of heterosexual macho fantasy and liberates the discussion out of desire’s metaphysical (and heterosexual) teleology that has oppressed Filipino gays for the longest time.

Nadres’ reformist play proves particularly instructive of the hostility between the two kinds of homosexuals who ostensibly make up Philippine gay culture: the covert and the overt homosexual. The essentialist views taken by all the three early gay writers here may be taken on their own terms, and not necessarily dismissed as incorrect, although perhaps it would be safe to conclude, in a manner of speaking, that such views are needfully incomplete. In this study, I have needed to engage Nadres’ distinction between gay culture’s dual identities. Following Sedgwick’s lead inEpistemology of the Closet, I have employed the markers “gender-transitive” to mean the overtly effeminate and transvestic gays, and “gender-intransitive” to signify the covert, or masculine-looking and -acting homosexuals. Although such a dichotomy in the first place does not lay claim to anything political, Nadres thinks otherwise, and renders it as a political division precisely when it is the question of Coming Out which overarches everything. The unwillingness of Fidel, the covert gay, to admit his homosexuality to Efren, the boy he has been supporting and secretly in love with, is about his fear of becoming branded as a homosexual, well as his fear of being dismissed as bakla by the polite society to which all his life he had been trained to pander, and which in this play Efren represents. Julie emerges in the play triumphantly and unhypocritically homosexual, although it’s also true that Nadres does not mince words about what Julie’s own tragic dilemma is: he is “unreal” (not a real woman) in his kabaklaan, just as Fidel is “not real” (which is to say, not truthful) to himself and others by staying closeted, too. Therein lie their common tragedies, but Nadres holds out hope that a friendship strong enough will bind them together to a common purpose and goal.

Recently, I have been rethinking the binary of covert/overt (and its more politically incorrect version, “respectable/vulgar”), and have attempted to reconsider the terms of each. Perhaps the qualifier selectively for the first term and completely for the second will recast these poles in a continuum, and relocate the entire structure under a newer, less harsh and not-so-absolute light. A consequence of this would be: there may no longer be a clear distinction between gays who are inside the closet or covert, and outside it or overt, for both kinds of homosexuals are actually already overt, or “out,” only one is selectively so, while the other is more completely out.

I am convinced that Nadres, if he were alive today, would not complain about this “revisionist” vision of his politics of male homosexual identity, except that in his play, Fidel really is “in,” and Julie “out.” To be the former is to deny one’s sexual orientation and/or preference, primarily; to be the latter is to both scream and cross-dress, and to be homosexual, first and foremost. In other words, between the two, it is the beautician who is out because his occupation, his appearance, and his very being are, right from the outset, an immediate and socially recognizable affirmation of his sexuality, of his sexual desire for other males. Fidel, on the other hand, by not identifying with Julie’s sexual inversion, still needs to affirm his sexuality; and also, he still needs to accept that he and Julie are not very different from each other, after all. For Fidel, the second epiphany seems harder to undergo, because it is only to himself and in the proper place and time that he has already explored his sexuality (by turning to palpably prostituted sex). On the other hand, to identify with and as Julie would be tantamount to forsaking all his years of painstaking labors to become “respectable.” A class dynamic is undoubtedly at work here.

Finally, the current-day homosexual situation may be shown to partake of a different ethos from the one Montano, Nadres, Perez and other gays of their generation operated in, if not subscribed to. The proof of this is the already precarious existence, in the local milieu, of certain degrees of what Barry D. Adam in his book,The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement, enumerates as the characteristics of a “modern gay world”:

1) Homosexual relations have been able to escape the structure of the dominant heterosexual kinship system: 2) Exclusive homosexuality, now possible for both partners, has become an alternative path to conventional family forms. 3) Same-sex bonds have developed new forms without being structured around particular age or gender categories. 4) People have come to discover each other and form large-scale social networks not only because of already existing social relationships but also because of homosexual interests. 5) Homosexuality has come to be a social formation unto itself, characterized by self-awareness and group identity. [20]

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that these characteristics of “gay modernity” are goals nearer and more attainable now than in the time of Montano, Nadres and Perez, for these are “goals” which have somehow already been selectively attained by certain Filipinos within their own exclusive communities. (One such community is implicitly the subject of the book on homosexuality by Margarita Go-Singco Holmes, A Different Love: Being Gay in the Philippines [21] ). In other words, none of them may be true yet for the general bakla/homosexual population in the country. Nonetheless, it is possible that, nowadays, among members of the urban upper middle class, some of these realities already obtain (for example, nowadays, for many Filipinos, there is probably less pressure to marry when one is a man, especially a gay man, for the simple reason that marriage and family may already have become less desirable economically speaking).

An alternative model for homosexual love—one between two consenting, fully self-possessed gay men—is also already available for the members of the current generation, as exemplified by the MSM. But the identity of the MSM is not a gay identity, because it isn’t “out” or politically homosexual to begin with; at most it is anti-bakla, if not AIDS-specific. Of all five elements of the modern gay world, therefore, it is the fifth, which concerns gay identity politics, solidarity and community-formation, that is most crucial and, sadly, the least to be observed in the Philippines at the present time. What is easily probable, in any case, is that the coming decades will see more and more alternative expressions for homosexuality and the homosexual identity—including perhaps the blurring of sex/gender categories which the advent of transsexual surgical operations (performed surreptitiously in a Manila hospital for nearly a decade now) signalizes. [22] At least these forms of psychic polyvalencies and sexual self-fashionings are to be hoped for, if the largely metaphysical—i.e., transcendental and loob-specific-oppression by heterosexually constituted desire of Philippine gays should at last and finally be cast off.


Between the time I “finished” writing this book (c. 1993) and the time it was being considered for publication (c. 1995), so many things have happened- both to the locus of discursive formations that is my “self,” and the culture in which this very self signifies and performs (or rather, is signified precisely because it performs).

The most famous “sexual space” in the city hitherto granted Filipino gays-the gay bars-seems to have gotten preciously scarce, if not increasingly dangerous to go to. I am not too sure if this recent precariousness can be attributed to a shifting sexual consciousness among local gays (who may well have found other venues in which to strut their stuff and/or pursue their sexuality), or to the government’s sustained efforts to make prostitution less and less visible. For one, Manila mayor Alfredo Lim has been unrelenting in his drive to shut down the last remaining bars (both gay and straight) in his city by characteristically starving them through periodic raids. Lim first received his mandate as a “moral crusader extraordinaire” during the incumbency of former President Corazon Aquino, whose reputation as a morally upright person seems unshakably firm, the scandalous behavior of her youngest-and thespically disastrous-daughter notwithstanding. In the late eighties, Aquino ordered General Lim (who was then the police thief of Manila) to clean up the red light district in Malate, in a token-making effort to clean up the country’s image as one of the leading flesh markets in Asia. [23]

While all this “cleaning up” was arguably oblivious of distinctions of sexual orientation, the government seemed to have taken a special liking to gays when, around the same time as the Malate raids, constabulary agents cracked down on the homosexual pedophiles who had set up shop in the resort town of Pagsanjan in the province of Laguna. The demonization of homosexuality not strangely became the upshot of Aquino’s xenophobic, anti-pedophile campaigns, and the Catholic Church and its consociate civic groups lost no time in condemning gays wholesale. In Pagsanjan, for instance, an organization was formed to protect the town’s children from pedophiles; and yet, this organization’s real agenda was clearly embodied by its name: Alyansa Laban sa Kalalakihang Bakla. (Alliance Against Gay Males). [24]

As of the last count, only a handful of gay bars remain open in metropolitan Manila. (For obvious reasons, I am not even going to attempt to name them). Nonetheless, according to a wonderfully disguised oral history of cruising as it has been rehearsed by metropolitan gays in the last two decades, the phenomenon of the gay bar (numbering around three dozen in the 1970s) has given way to the relatively recent phenomenon of gay massage parlors, which have continued to proliferate in the city ever since the first such facility opened around twenty years ago. [25] The same account mentions a similar constriction happening to what used to be the alfresco “social” clubs for gays, namely the public parks. At the same time, however, shopping malls may have become these parks’ heirs apparent. The Mehan Gardens and the golf course in front of the Senate building in Manila have been lighted up and fenced off; Ugarte field in Makati has been left desolate. But to the degree that shopping malls may be said to have currently taken over the function of public parks, the very heavy cruising that used to take place in these parks has simply moved indoors. Likewise, the movie houses inside these malls serve as veritable poaching areas for quick and uncomplicated sex among willing participants, thereby extending the reach of gay sexual culture beyond what were its identifiable locales. To illustrate: Galaxy and Ideal no longer exist (and Delta has recently been converted into the leading television network’s studio); but the supermalls all boast dozens of dark, airconditioned venues that each offer pretty much the same anonymous amenities.

Obviously, all these changes indicate a kind of stasis. Despite the fact that the metropolis is changing its increasingly congested face, the things that have always happened in it continue to happen in Ramos’ mega-city nightmare that is Philippines 2000. For male homosexuals, however, these changes may well mean a profound shift in terms of the (in)visibility of the things that they usually do. Thus, at the same time that a liberal sexual climate seems to be augured by the ever-expanding Third World metropole, this very same liberalism may mean more persecution for those individuals and groups who practice suddenly visible, oppressible sexualities and/or profess suddenly visible, oppressible sexual identities. In fact, thus far, it is the nineties which have arguably been the most sexualized decade in the history of an increasingly sexological Philippines: blame it on the Church, AIDS, feminism, or gay discourse itself! In talking about sex for whatever purpose it may serve (diverse and rather important ones), these interest groups have contributed to transforming the collective fantasies and desire structures of inhabitants of the metropolitan centers of the country; and such phantasmatics actually comprise what has come to be denominated, in our century, as “sexuality.” Thus, while the dominance of the traditional models of sexual relations in our cultures persists (for instance, that one between the bakla and the “real man”), it does so amidst an ever-thickening traffic and confluence of new and proliferative sexualities that are engendered by, as well as engender, the cityscape’s restlessly transforming erotic body.

In the meantime, the traditional enemies abide, and have notably prospered in their malignancy. For one, the Philippine Catholic Church, in its medievalism and obsequious attitude toward the Vatican’s whimsies, continues to clutch its bigotries close to its magnanimous chest, and to trample on the rights of Filipino sexual minorities, most especially on the right of women over their own bodies and desires. This it shamelessly did in 1994, in the months that led up to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo, Egypt. Homosexuality didn’t escape the tirades of the Manila archbishop (and his toadies in frock) either. In typical demonizing fashion, the Catholic clergy and its puppets in the laity lumped homosexuality together with all the ignominious vices that ostensibly pose a threat to the sacrosanct heterosexual family, in order to prove the point that the government policies on population were (mistakenly) trying to mimic the lifestyle of the decadent West, and thus were nothing less than devil-inspired. In a supreme example of unselfconsciousness, the Philippine Catholic Church forgot that it, too, was a Western importation. By blaming all the social ills of this mendicant country on the very civilization that manufactured the impossible office of the infallible Pope, it undermined its very own position. (This retardataire position of the country’s religious and political right didn’t go unremarked, however. In September 1994, the month of the ICPD, a collective statement of gay and lesbian groups in the Philippines was issued to media in order to articulate their unequivocal disgust at the way the Church had meddled in and muddled the entire proceedings).

Another religious twist which the gay culture of metropolitan Manila has taken—and will likely continue to take—in the 1990s has to do with the desire certain homosexual individuals in the country are beginning to have for a specifically gay spirituality. Certainly, such a desire has been met in equal measure with fundamentalist zeal and animosity. The establishment of a Manila chapter of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a gay Christian church founded by a former Pentecostal priest, Troy Perry, in Los Angeles in 1968, signalizes the beginning of gay evangelism in a country that hitherto had no need for such. Having close to 300 extension churches worldwide, the MCC’s most popular service—for which it has produced so many detractors, from both within gay circles and without—is the solemnizing of same-sex partnerships (also called gay and lesbian “marriages”). In the Philippines, MCC has extended this very service through its pastor, ex-Catholic priest Fr. Richard Mickley. [26] Meantime, as MCC was starting its operations in its little chapel in Malate, another American Christian fellowship was being founded in Manila. Bagong Pag-asa (“Renewed Hope”), it is called: the goal of this Christian ministry is to deprogram homosexual men and women, and, according to its brochure, “to bring wholeness and restoration to the entire individual, including his or her sexuality.” An extension of American-based Exodus International, Bagong Pag-asa was originally contemplated in 1990, but only after “many speaking engagements and seminars” was it deemed necessary and proper to begin this ministry in Manila sometime in 1993. (One wonders whether MCC and Exodus International are not actually trying to outdo each other in their mission to re-colonize the Third World).

But cultural effervescence has not been the monopoly of moral crusadings alone. Gay and lesbian artistry has seen a quickening as well: gay plays and books and journalistic works have been appearing with appreciable regularity in the metropolis. It’s almost like the seventies again: one-man shows, exhibits, theatrical presentations, television programs, parades, movies, and the invariably brilliant write-ups on these by politicized gay or gay-sympathetic critics. Although this time, such affairs tend to happen in the mainstream and are denominated—politically—as gay and lesbian precisely. This politicization of gay life in the Philippines, though lacking the organization and logistics that more properly exist within a unified social movement, indicates a continuing sexualization of Filipinos that has begun to translate itself into selfconscious identity-formation among those who find themselves at a visible disadvantage precisely because of such sexualization’s inequities and demonizing effects. Class-inflected gay and lesbian communities are aborning in certain sections of the metropolitan population, usually in the guise of AIDS and Women’s Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs). As communities with their own personnel and wherewithal, they attempt to answer their constituents’ needs for moral support and social interaction. One such answer has taken the form of local community newsletters that circulate in certain gay- or lesbian-identified areas of the metropolis, such as: Gay Men’s Exchange, being put out by gay urban professionals from the posh financial center of Makati City; Break Out, a newsletter of the lesbian organization Can’t Live in the Closet; and Switchboard, a journal of the NGO, Women Supporting Women Committee. Gay and lesbian organizings have not yet happened together or alongside each other under any single aegis, in any case.

Philippine academe, on the other hand, remains eerily unresponsive to all these developments: an eerie thing indeed granting that, as everyone knows, teaching is basically a feminine/effeminate profession, according to Philippine culture itself and even to its caretaker, the Secretary of Education, Culture and Sports. A seeming response may be seen in the opening of the first gay literature course in the University of the Philippines, in which I have had a semi-reluctant role to play. The first time the course was offered at the UP in June 1994, both local and international press thought it novel. After a blitz of media reports on the course, there I was, caught in a corner frenetically giving interviews to newspaper reporters and television anchorpersons. Certainly, this novelty tended to the facetious for certain media practitioners. In the report that came out in the country’s most popular daily broadsheet, an accompanying caricature had me fully made up, coiffed and in fishnet stockings teaching to a bunch of ineffectual, limpwristed students. [27] This didn’t get my goat all that much. Being generally languid of body and mind has preserved me from much damage all throughout my sudden career as a gay academic-cum-advocate It did, however, serve as an embarassingly unmistakable reminder of the difficult task of raising the issue of homosexuality and kabaklaan out of the humorized morass in which it has languished for the last half-century (or using an essentializing optic, perhaps even much earlier than that). This course is the necessary token, I’ve always known that. Nonetheless, that it existed at all will be empirically inarguable to the gay scholar of the future. Moreover, the full impact of its rhetorical weight has yet to be ascertained. (That this very same impact was felt by me—at least—provides a certain measure of comfort at the same time that I find it most unfortunate and myself most pathetic that I had to even think of it in these terms).

Perhaps the most politically recognizable gay act that has thus far occurred in the current decade is the Gay Pride March that happened in June 1994 on the grounds of the Quezon Memorial Circle (an apt and meaningful venue, as any local gay will know). Organized by the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (PRO-GAY Philippines), the march was the first politically motivated and received gay march in the Philippines; an ecumenical religious service officiated by MCC pastor Fr. Mickley was followed by the reading of a gay manifesto that contained PRO-GAY’s demands concerning sexual and gender equality. [28] In terms of the number of actual participants, the PRO-GAY rally may have indeed been negligible. But it certainly may have achieved much more on the level of symbolic investment. Because it happened at all, the march might now be commemorated every year thereafter, with perhaps more and more coming to attend it while the mythology of gay liberation continues to gather momentum and to convert more and more Filipino believers. (This is a wishful thought I beg sufferance for in my readers).

On the other hand, the political trajectory of that rally as well as of PRO- GAY itself betokens a reformist minority movement that will call for the eventual bestowal of gay rights. [29] As has been the caution of this study, minority politics, though necessary to those gays who indubitably need it, just might end up counterproductive for all gays in the end, for it reduces what is really a very complex reality—”homosexuality”—to a simple issue of cross-identification and rights. (Thus, it preserves the hierarchical dualism of hetero- and homosexuality, a dualism no longer borne out by what most contemporary people actually do and feel, on the level of their everyday eroticism). In sociopolitical terms, the call for gay rights invites less the idea of a revolution in the sexual logic of our society than a legitimated release of social tension: a token gay literature course here, a token gay ghetto there. This caution achieves a particularly salient cogency once we see how unviable is the very idea of “minorities” within the present-day structurations of Philippine governance. Unlike in the West, where multiculturalism reigns supreme as a social theory (and in many ways, a regnant practice), the Philippines has not been specifically well-known for taking care of its many ethnic minorities. By virtue of Manila’s intranational imperialism over the rest of the country, the rights of the country’s many tribal communities over their ancestral lands, natural resources, etc., continue to be violated with gleeful impunity—all in the name of national progress. Given the pertinacious exploitativeness of such dispensation, can the bakla minority really expect to fare any better than the increasingly evanescent T’boli? Obviously, therefore, the project of liberation will have to be negotiated by gays using both essentialist (reformist) and constructionist (revolutionary) tacks. While gays may militate for their rights as members of a sexual minority, they must never for a moment forget that the parameters of this very minority are immensely permeable to the outside (to the point that perhaps, an inside/outside distinction hardly seems to be there at all).

It is scarcely doubted by anyone vaguely conscious of the reality of a gay culture in the Philippines that the lack of an organized and concerted effort by gays (the lack of a gay movement in other words) follows only from the economic depression of the Philippines as a whole. The same person may even point to the history of the homosexual movement in the West and say that the increasing power of gays and lesbians to assert their rights has always had a direct relationship to the heightened economic power of the First World’s middle classes after the Second World War. This sort of analysis has not been the persuasion of this book. To think the same thing of Philippine gay culture is not to be saying much about the meanings with which its actors and participants negotiate themselves, as well as to not be saying anything new at all. I hope that despite this study’s deliberate inability to link up the de rigeurconcerns of political economy to the economy of homo/sexuality (an economy of fantasies, to be sure), certain equally vital tasks have been accomplished.

One task is simple enough: remembrance. This book can and most likely will be received in many ways—a lot of which may not be germane to its writer’s original intentions. That it answers to the need for memorializing (and memorizing) I don’t think anyone for whom this book matters will disagree (or want to disagree). Another goal is just as undisguised: liberation. And given the invigorated state of homophobic persecution in an increasingly sexually self-aware Philippines—to be evidenced in such improbable forms as a Vice-President’s condemnation of gays and lesbians in showbusiness, [30] and the no-gay policy currently being enacted in certain tertiary schools in Metro Manila without any word coming from the Education Department [31] – then this book’s many extravagant gestures toward an end to the slavish acceptance of injustice just might prove more than just a shedding of all these copious, academic tears.


* This is the concluding chapter of J. Neil C. Garcia’s Philippine Gay Culture: The Last Thirty Years, Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM(Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1996), 319-344.

[1] John Leddy Phelan, The Hispanization of the Philippines: Spanish Aims and Filipino Responses (1565-1700) (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1959), 186-87.

[2] A sample account of the Spanish friar’s distrust of the Sangleyesmay be found in the testimony of Fray Juan Ibañez, Regent of the College of the University of Santo Tomas, before the ecclesiastical Commission headed by the Archbishop of Manila, in 1688: “He (the Reverend Father Fray Ibañez) started preaching to all and except for the Sangleyes and the Chinese, others asked for his forgiveness… he does not trust these Chinese people since he has heard that those who have repented before have gone back to their old ways, though they do it with much secrecy and fright.”

This translation of Domingo de Perea’s account on the Spanish colonial church’s efforts to curb the recurrence of “demonic idolatry” among the newly converted indios and Chinese, may be found under the file, In San Gabriel Extra, in the library of the Institute for Women’s Studies, Malate, Manila.

[3] Vicente L. Rafael, “Writing Outside: On the Question of Location,”Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Cultures ed. Vicente L. Rafael (Manila: Anvil Publishing, 1995), xxiii.

[4] Fenella Cannell, ‘The Power of Appearances: Beauty, Mimicry and Transformation in Bicol,” Rafael, 241.

[5] Marcelo de Ribadeneira, History of the Islands of the Philippine Archipelago and the Kingdoms of Great China, Tartary, Cochinchina, Malaca, Shun, Cambodge and Japan (Barcelona 1601), ed. Legisma, Mardid (1947), 50. This quotation is an unpublished translation by William Henry Scott.

[6] Jonathan Goldberg, “Discovering America,” Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford University Press, 1992), 179-222.

[7] Benedict Anderson, “Cacique Democracy in the Philippines: Origins and 
Dreams,” Rafael, 5.

[8] Goldberg cites Alan Bray’s New Historicist work on the Renaissance concepts of male-male friendship in explaining the “other side” of the discourse of sodomy. See Goldberg, 14-18.

[9] Proceedings from the Second National Conference on Student Mental Health, Problems of Counselling in Philippine Colleges and Universities (Quezon City: Philippine Mental Health Association, 1961).

[10] Jurgen Bruning’s film about the Philippine and Thai gay (sub)cultures is really a trilogy entitled Maybe I Can Give You Sex? I had the chance to view it early August of 1993, and after the preview the audience got the opportunity to talk about the film with Bruning. Apparently, he had shown the film before an American audience, and they had criticized him for cashing in on and exoticizing the “Third World.” I had to tell him that there really shouldn’t be any problem about the film’s ideological point of view, since it was clearly articulated (and confessed) in the film. But still, the production of knowledge of whatever kind about countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, when its consumption is meant for the West, is and can only be fraught with political implications.

An interesting point of discussion—not so much between Bruning and the local gays but among the local gays themselves—was about the preponderance of so-called filmic and literary “alternative gay representations” that all use as either background or actual focus the homosexual (prostituted) subculture. In other words, even the sections in Bruning’s film that talk about the Philippine gays are still gay bar-specific. Not only does this obsession with the flesh industry give a lopsided idea of what gay culture mainly is about and what it can still be, this choice of imagistic focus is keenly susceptible of imperialistic exploitation. I ended up saying that there are so many other aspects in being gay in the Philippines other than that aspect about prostituted sex, and everybody could only assent. Of course, this obsession is also telling of how precisely homosexual love in the local context has been framed and contained within the notably feudal, native patron/ward structure.

[11] Historian Wayne R. Dynes, arguing against the diversitarian tendency among social constructionists to insist on the fundamental uniqueness of all cultures, invokes the ethnological concept ofKulturkreis or “supraregional cultural entities. (that are composed of) a large complex of societies in which certain cultural constants can be found.” Dynes further remarks that despite the 5,000 distinct human cultures which have been identified in the field, “six categories suffice to classify those in which the sexual configuration is known.” To prove this point, Dynes demonstrates that it is basically the same berdachepattern which may be seen in the ethnographic records of North America, Western Siberia and Madagascar. See Wayne R. Dynes, ‘Wrestling with the Social Boa Constructor,” Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy, ed. Edward Stein (New York: Routledge, 1992), 209-38.

[12] Peter A. Jackson, Male Homosexuality in Thailand: An Interpretation of Ccntemporary Thai Sources (New York: Global Academic Publishers, 1989), 228.

[13] For instance, this book has looked into two recent ethnographies on the Philippines authored by London-based anthropologists and discovered their Orientalizing projects. See: Fennela Cannell, “Catholicism, Spirit Mediums and the Ideal of Beauty in a Bicolano Community, Philippines,” unpublished dissertation in anthropology, London University, 1992; and also Mark Johnson, “Cross-Gender Men and Homosexuality in the Southern Philippines: Ethnicity, political violence and the protocols of engendered sexualities amongst the Muslim Tausug and Sama,” paper presented at the European Conference on Philippine Studies in London, 13-15 April 1994.

[14] Frederick Whitam, “Philippines,” Encyclopedia of Homosexualty, ed. Wayne R. Dynes (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990), 980.

[15] Rev. Eddie Karnes, Tears in the Morning (Philippine Publishing Company, 1979).

[16] Joseph M. Carrier, “Gay Liberation and Coming Out in Mexico,” Likosky, 482- 98.

[17] Stephen 0. Murray and Manuel C. Arboleda, “Stigma Transformation and Relexification: ‘Gay’ in Latin America,” Likosky, 412-18.

[18] Dennis Altman, “Liberation: Toward the Polymorphous Whole,” Likosky, 123- 52.

[19] This may no longer be true in certain parts of the West. Queerness has emerged as a signal for the return of the revolutionary perspective on sexual (no longer just gay) liberation. Queer signifies the polyvalencies of desire which do not fall within the normative homo/hetero dualism, and it arose in the 1990s because of the stigmatizing effect of using “gay” as a self-identificational sign for young queers and because of the increasing visibility of bisexuals within the Gay and Lesbian Movement. It signalizes new identifications across race and gender primarily on the grounds of non-normative and dissonant sexuality and gender. See Simon Watney, “Queer epistemology: activism, ‘outing,’ and the politics of sexual identities,”Critical Quarterly 36, no. 1 (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, Spring 1994): 13-27.

[20] Barry D. Adam, The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987), 6.

[21] Margarita Co-Singco Holmes, A Different Love: Being Gay in the Philippines (Manila: 
Anvil Publishing, 1993).

[22] Doctors from the Medical City hospital in Manila have been quietly performing sex change surgeries since the early eighties. One of the first pre-operative transsexuals to undergo sex change in this hospital was Vinna—formerly Cavino—Santiago-Robinson who bravely faced the media in the early nineties (after the collapse of her six-year marriage to a British man), supposedly in order to enlighten the general public on the complex nature of the transsexual surgery. See Joanna U. Nicolas, “Sex Change,” Moneysaver: the Discount Card Magazine 3, no. 12 (December 1994): 7-9.

[23] Whitam, 982.

[24] Lorna Barile, “Pagsanjan and Puerto Calera Revisited,” National Midweek (15 January 1992): 12-15.

[25] Eric Catipon, “Cruising,” Sunday Times Life Magazine (21 February 1993): 3-6.

[26] Cora Lucas, “Breaking Free,” Sunday Times Lfe Magazine (27 March 1994): 7.

[27] Doreen Jose, “UP offers course on Gay literature,” Philippine Daily Inquirer (8 June 1994): 1.

[28] Oskar Atadero, ‘Philippine Gays Go Mainstream,” Mr. & Ms (19 July 1994): 16-17.

[29] The clamor for gay rights in the Philippines has apparently been heard by certain magnanimous souls. One such soul is Congressman Reynaldo A. Calalay of Quezon City, who has just filed a bifi providing for a “third sex” sectoral representative in the House of Representatives. See Ceres Doyo, “Encounter: Rep. Reynaldo A. Calalay, A Champion of Gay Rights,” Sunday Inquirer Magazine (24 September 1995): 10-11.

[30] Gerard Ramos, “Going, Going … Gay,” Philippines Free Press(6 August 1994): 26-27.

[31] Venir Turla Cuyco, “No-gay school policy,” Philippine Daily Inquirer (25 July 1995): 9.

Our Revolutionary Tradition

Our Revolutionary Tradition
by Adrian E. Cristobal

(Inaugural of Plaridel Lecture, August 27, 2005)

The talk about revolution in our interesting times makes us pause for some serious thought, mainly because it comes from privileged sectors like the military, acclaimed authors, and respected academicians and not from social malcontents.

Last July, the Young Officers Union, as distinguished from the Young Officers Union “new generation,” announced that it was breaking its truce with the government. This is not idle talk, as YOU, better known had already shown, in the Oakwood incident, its capability for action, although what it tried to mount was a coup, not a revolution. This time, YOU is speaking of an “unfinished revolution,” tracing its origins to the true nationalists of 1898. This is significant, for only a generation ago, the military suppressed student activism for being subversive. It became the anchor of the martial law regime, from which RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) “broke away” because the communists were growing in numbers and getting stronger. The “breakaway” launched the EDSA revolution, a revolution pitted against Marcos’ “democratic revolution,” a revolution that restored a democracy that for its failings is now threatened by talk of revolution.

YOU’s manifesto is a less elegant version of the Nationalist Manifesto of 1959, which characterized colonial Philippines as a “clerico-fascist society,” denounced foreign domination and the brazenly iniquitous social order, and was consequently denounced by Catholic prelates as “godless” and “subversive” and “Marxist” and “communist” by now acclaimed authors, who now say that they have been impatiently waiting for a revolution, presumably for much of their life.

Isn’t it significant that the military is no longer monolithic and that yesterday’s frenetic anti-communists are now passionately preaching revolution? But, of course, it’s understood they do not mean a communist or leftist revolution, neither do they mean a rightist revolution. What they want is a righteous revolution, dedicated to setting things right in the rotten state. If memory serves, EDSA was also acclaimed as the triumph of righteousness, as it is so celebrated to this day, although with diminishing conviction.

The notion of a righteous revolution brings to mind Apolinario Mabini’s famous counsel for an “internal revolution” that ought to go hand-in-hand with an “external revolution.” In the once current term, it’s some kind of “moral rearmament movement” within the womb of revolution.

This leads to the respected academicians’ advocacy for a “revolutionary council,” which immediately raises the question whether a revolutionary council could be created without a revolution. YOU’s manifesto provides some kind of answer, but it’s anyone’s guess whether the acclaimed authors, who have been impatiently waiting for revolution, will accept the ramifications. Certainly, these advocates of revolution have read and heard that revolutions are no picnic, that revolutions have not nicely discriminated between the innocent and the guilty, exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed, that they have spawned an orgy of vengeance, collective and individual, ideological and personal, before things settled down. If even the peaceful EDSA revolution-if that is not an oxymoron– was not a model of rectitude, how can anyone be sure that a more earnest revolution would be any better?

Ironically, for all the talk about revolution, public sentiment is said to be against another EDSA, against so-called people power, thus providing aid and comfort to the Administration. The leaders of the revolution known as EDSA are now weary of it. Fidel V. Ramos recently warned that another people power revolution would be a bloody one, and that, of course, he is against it. Let us not also forget that the beneficiaries of the two EDSA’s are also weary of people power. Does this mean that they are against revolution or potential “counter-revolutionaries”? Does it matter?

The fastidious historians among us will have noted by this time that revolution, the word, has been used in different senses. They will rightly ask whether Revolution is spelled with a capital “R” or a small “R,” or whether Revolution without quotes is illegitimately equated with revolution with quotes. This is what happens whenrevolution is freely used to describe innovations in cuisine, fashion, technology, and sexual behavior. It’s no wonder that revolution has become a fashionable and respectable word, thus reducing its awesome power.

As intellectuals, it’s our mission today to liberate revolution from the confusion created by the communication revolution. But, first, a word of caution: I am not assigning an exalted meaning to the term intellectual, I am simply giving a name to persons with a passion, wisely or foolishly, for ideas and expressing them. They may be doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists, bartenders, or anything so long as they are educated in some sense, united only by their common interest in social and political questions, in sum, in public issues. The Americans have recently called thempublic intellectuals, redundantly, I might add, for I cannot conceive of a private intellectual , unless he or she is confined, like Oblomov, to a small room, lying in bed and looking at the ceiling, which, by the way, is an occupational hazard. I caution you then not to regard ourselves as special beings entitled to the awe and respect accorded to tycoons, high public officials, prelates, jueteng lords, terrorists and law-enforcers.

All the same, there was a time when intellectual merited a halo, particularly in our case when he was also referred to as illustrado, identified in turn with the intellectuals, the so-called intelligentsia, of the American, French, Russian, Chinese, and Cuban Revolutions. As every Filipino schoolboy knows (provided he has had the rare good fortune of having a good teacher and getting the right books), the aforementioned revolutions were inspired and led by intellectuals, by Jefferson, Hamilton, Rousseau, Robespierre, Marat, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao Zedong, Castro-but you know all that. Similarly, we attribute our Revolution of 1898 to the Propaganda Movement which gave us Jose Rizal, and, of course, Marcelo H. del Pilar, the patron saint of Plaridel and UMPIL, whose annual meetings are held approximately on del Pilar’s birthday.

The role of intellectuals in the great revolutions accounts for the conservative wisdom that they are a sinister force in societies. By their words, they give a shape and form, spirit and body, to discontent. Conservative wisdom even accuses them of even creating discontent in the midst of stability. And yet when revolutions succeed, they are honored by the new order for what they have wrought. Still intellectuals are never satisfied, unless they have been co-opted, and so the time inevitably comes when they find themselves again on the side of subversion. Like journalists, to put it in the vulgar sense, intellectuals “do not stay bought,” not by ideology, love, or money. Julien Benda’s stinging rebuke in his famous book, The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, is a familiar theme.

In this light, we can rightfully say that our nation was born of the Revolution inspired by the intellectuals of the Propaganda Movement. By their words, intellectuals espoused and exposed our human condition, and by their deeds (imprisonment and death) aroused our indignation. It is not surprising, then, that the spirit of revolution throbs in the hearts of us all.

The Revolution bequeathed to us our political vocabulary. We have only to recall Ramon Magsaysay’s “revolution of the masses,” Carlos P. Garcia’s “Filipino First policy,” Diosdado Macapagal’s “unfinished revolution,” Ferdinand E. Marcos’ “democratic revolution,” also labeled as “revolution from the center,” and the EDSA revolution of Juan Ponce Enrile, Fidel V. Ramos, Corazon C. Aquino, and Jaime Cardinal Sin. The heart of these revolutions is the plight of the poor masses, described by Mabini as “the inarticulate” in whose behalf “the articulate” made Revolution. It’s also in their name that we have embraced globalization, a revolutionary new economic order that still awaits their liberation in our time and place.

Before we again ask ourselves the tired question of what went wrong, let me recall the words of Colonel Kalentong to the leaders of the Philippine Revolutionary Government. In all humility, since he was unlettered, Colonel Kalentong wanted to know whether the condition of common people like him would be alleviated with the triumph of the revolution. It’s anybody’s guess whether he had read Rizal’s admonition about “today’s slaves” becoming “the tyrants of tomorrow,” but if he were immortal, Kalentong would have gotten his answer today. The masses are immortal and they know, by their suffering, the answer to Kalentong’s question.

By the time Kalentong asked his question, the Revolution was no longer in the hands of Andres Bonifacio, it had passed on to abler hands of the elite, the illustrados, the educated, the propertied. But there is a lesson there that requires an elaborate, even circuitous, explanation.

Consider the fact that the great revolutions, the American, French, Russian, Chinese, were ideologized and “strategized”-if one may use that ugly word-in English, French, and Chinese. The revolutionists and the people, the elite and the masses, were not separated by a foreign language. It didn’t matter that the French butcher didn’t read Rousseau, that the American woodsman did not speak the stately language of Jefferson, that the Russian peasant could not follow Lenin’s dialectical materialism, or that the Chinese coolie did not read Mao Zedong’s numerous lectures, but they were moved by the harangues, tracts, pamphlets, and slogans of revolution in their own languages.

Revolutions do not descend from heaven in a foreign language. It’s therefore a mistake to credit the illustrados with the making of the Philippine Revolution. To say that is not to diminish their heroism, but merely to point out that there’s nothing in La Solidaridad, nothing in the satires and polemics of the Propagandists that can be constructed as an incitement to revolution. Though they were damned asfilibusteros, persecuted and martyred as heretics and traitors to Spain, they argued, eloquently and bravely, for reforms: representation in the Cortez, freedom of the press, and what we now call human rights. They did not seek separation from Spain. Like Sinibaldo de Mas, the Spanish diplomat assigned to study the situation in the Philippines, they warned that the abject condition of the oppressed would make them rise against their oppressors. Our heroic propagandists wrote in Spanish for the edification of the Crown and liberal Spaniards, for their mission was to convince the colonial power of the urgency of reforms.

The one exception was Plaridel, whose savage satire on the Lord’s prayer was addressed to his fellow Indios in their own language. History has since recruited Balagtas’ Florante at Laura in the proto-revolutionary canon. Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are also regarded as sparks that started the prairie flame. But has anyone ever researched how many Indios of the time had enough Spanish to read these great novels? Were they translated in any of the native languages before the American colonial period? That the novels were meant for the Spanish-speaking Indios, a minority, and Spain’s liberals and satraps in the Philippines can be deduced from Rizal’s attempt at a Tagalog novel, MakaMisa. It can be argued that by this time, he had advanced from reform to revolution, although it was his martyrdom that became the password for the revolutionist Katipunan.

The Fili has been misread as a summons to revolution, when it is in fact a warning. Why did he make Simoun fail? Why did he kill Elias instead of Crisostomo Ibarra, who later became the sinister Simoun? And why did he write the chapter on acochero’s Christmas where the poor man asked Basilio whether the King of the Tagalogs had freed his other foot from his chains? In that chapter alone is a whole anthropology of the Indios’ craving for a legendary liberator, which is still the mark of our masses.

But the Revolution did come, organized not by intellectuals, unsupported by the elite and the illustrados. It was only when the Katipunan was disenfranchised by the Philippine Revolutionary Government that the elite had joined the fight against the Americans in what should really be called the War of Philippine Independence. Subdued, the American regime courted the elite, placed them in positions of power, paving the way for their eternal sway. It will be recalled that Antonio Luna and Apolinario Mabini joined the Revolution when it was no longer in the hands of the non-illustrado, Andres Bonifacio, the man from Tondo and outsider from theprincipalia. There is no intention here to denigrate the illustrados of the 19 th century, who, after all, sacrificed but their so-called heirs in the 20th and 21 st . Their main advantage is the English language, the language that makes them socially, politically, and economically dominant, an advantage, moreover, shared by acclaimed authors and prominent academics, for which reason they cannot reach the heart of the masses.

Consider: the French had their Ecrasez l’infame, not to mention liberte, egalite, fraternitie, the Americans ‘Give me liberty or give me death!,’ the Russians kto kvo(who/whom?), the Chinese “fish to water,” and the Cubans’ venceremos- words, words, words, but words that moved the masses who heard them. True, our home-grown revolutions-let’s have in mind the communists-speak the language of the masses, but what their most eloquent appeal is in English, the so-called letters of transmission of the Huks were in English, making them understandable to the ruling powers-and for what? One doubts if any of the rebellious had read the Communist Manifesto in English. Those who have been won to rebellion and dissidence credit experience rather than manifestos.

Our own slogans are inspired by the moment, without resonance, even dissonant, in the course of time. Ibagsak si Marcos disappeared with Marcos, Marcos’ Alis Dyan! in the 1965 elections taken from the sitcom starring the comedian Pugo. They were “point of sales” verbalizations of the electoral moment.

Intellectuals may believe that injustices can be overwhelmed by verbosity but only if their language is shared by many in a country of many languages.

Consider again that until Bonifacio spread his manifesto entitled Ang Dapat Malaman ng Mga Tagalog through the Katipunan organ, Kalayaan did the Katipunan count a membership of 30,000. Parenthetically, a nationalist historian translated Mga Tagalog to Filipinos, which, to me, borders on the perverse, for certainly Bonifacio meant the Tagalogs, as he had no way of knowing that Ilocanos, Visayans, and the rest would be moved to revolution, although he must have known that the Ilocanos and Visayans had revolted against the colonial authorities. Conditions may be ripe for revolution but language makes it raw.

Conditions explained Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s words as quoted in his biography, “American Caesar.” He said, “They tell me that the Huks are socialistic, that they are revolutionaries, but I haven’t got the heart to go after them. If I walked in these sugar fields, I’d probably be a Huk myself.” Too bad the sacadas had no MacArthur that it took Tagalogs, pardon me, to try and organize them.

The recurring theme then of our revolutionary consciousness is social justice, mouthed relentlessly and indifferently pursued. Our Englished leaders were moved in the days of the Commonwealth by an oration entitled “I am the Tao.” It was eloquently elocuted by Raul Manglapus. There was a tremor in the hearts of the elite, it’s now a murmur.

In this brief exploration of revolutionary history, with capital “R” and small “R”, without and without quotation marks, the purpose is far from resuscitating and aggravating the language issue. That is probably futile, since English has won hands down because the mantra is that we must go “global.” The prevailing Taglish in media is temporary, for sooner or later, the education system will just have to improve so that it will produce perfect English workers for burgeoning call centers. In some ideal time, all Filipinos will be adept at English, which means that prosperity will drive out unseemly thoughts of revolution, since English is the language of success. There will be no more talk of revolution.

Meanwhile, however, we are complaining, so many of us are restive, but that’s only natural in a democracy, and we are a democracy, believe it or not.

“Western observers are looking for attributes of, or departures from, normal democratic procedure. But our elections are different. The big falsification is the big falsification of the whole political process, the falsification of almost all participants in that process. There are no real political subjects, no real independent political actors.”

That observation was made about Soviet democracy by the Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Polokhalo, in Andrew Wilson’s book, “Virtual Politics: faking democracy in the post-Soviet world.’ Wilson argued that to enter what he called the “black arts of political manipulation, the dilettante would require a whole new vocabulary.

” Kompromat can be placed in a ‘poisoned sandwich,’ a positive news piece contaminated by a nagging bit of slander. Kompromat can alternatively be aired by the satirically dubbed ‘General Prosecutor,’ who, while staging a ‘war on corruption,’ really works as a PR agent airing allegations against rivals just before elections. The Prosecutor’s allegations need not be grounded in evidence and are quietly dropped after the damage at the polls is done. The ‘conveyor belt’ involves hiding a falsehood in a general parade of truth. The ‘toss’ is the ‘news’ story pitched onto the Internet and picked up by mainstream media. Of course, if a player has the funds, he or she can publish a whole bogus newspaper or political poster allegedly ascribed to the rival party and designed to make the rival look like an anti-Semite, a raging nationalist or hard-core Communist. ‘Clones’ are politicians who are hired to take up the campaign promises of a rival in order to steal vote. ‘Clones’ differ from ‘doubles,’ who are candidates that run with nearly the same name as a rival so as to confuse voters, ‘Administrative resources’ describes a range of activities in a politician’s toolkit, from ballot-stuffing, selective taxation and prosecution, and just plain threats employed to command local bureaucrats to get out and/or obstruct the vote. Secret agents infiltrate rival parties to ‘cut short’ or ‘disrupt’ the enemy camp by creating disputes between members and thereby discrediting the organization in the eyes of the rank and file. Of course, one can set up a whole sham party designed as a bogey, such as a Communist or extreme nationalist party, to scare moderate voters or win support from the West. Often the election is so sewn up by the ruling elite that the biggest problem political technologists encounter is in finding a ‘credible loser to run against a predetermined winner, such as Putting in 2004.”

If one didn’t know better, one would think that the above quotation is a description of aspects in our own political universe. The book, written in English, is certainly not going to be translated into Russian, at least not just yet. The despotic democrats wouldn’t risk Petrovich’s and Petrushka’s access to it.

Revolutions do come in the native tongue, as Rizal said, speaking through Simoun speaking to Basilio, that it was right that the Indios were not taught in Spanish so that they would discover their souls. But what can be accomplished in a nation of tribes speaking different languages and dialects, moved by different values and beliefs, producing as everybody knows, numerous associations in contention against one another? Everyone has lamented how Filipinos abroad behave without a common feeling for one another, unlike Italians and Mexicans. Many reasons have been given, but an interesting one is that they are alienated from one another.

We are the only country in Asia where a national language and two official languages have to be legislated, official languages, one of which is used only for entertainment, elections, and informal communication. Even when Tagalog, euphemized and elevated as Filipino, is taught to students who unashamedly find it more difficult than English, proficiency in it marks one as merely bright without reducing the elite status of those who are not proficient because they speak and write-English.

English is not the enemy, it’s the absence of a common language. We can, as intellectuals-whether writers, journalists, orators, politicians-fulminate as much as we can against an unjust social order-but it’s doubtful that we can move our multitudes to revolution. We cannot touch their minds and hearts because we speak in a foreign language, because despite all protestations, we are also of the elite by virtue of our alien education. We gain prestige, we can even achieve glory, but we shall remain out of touch because we cannot reach the hearts and minds of the many. For to reach the heart of the Filipino requires the discovery of its language.

But let us not despair. Nothing can stop us from speaking and writing. It says so in the Constitution. We shall be remembered when at some unimaginable time,Revolution will have recovered the name of action.

Many years ago, when I was still young and desperate enough to be brave, I wrote:

“We writers, as inventors of tales, and we intellectuals, as inventors of meaning, are surely so entitled, but only with the proviso that our only privilege is the genuine use of our critical and moral intelligence. That this privilege does not include the happiness of the romantic who found love among the cannibals nor the comfort of the middle-class creature who ‘assesses’ the Vietnam War watching television in his minimalist den, his consciousness far removed from the scenes of rude reality. There are conveniences that we cannot claim for ourselves.

“The coin of our privilege is an all-embracing solitude that is the endurance of a bad conscience. For whatever we do, whether as liberals marching for a cause, or as radicals juggling pen and pistol, or prelates agitating for the alleviation of poverty or promising salvation by white violence, we must understand, provisionally at least, that these have no meaning for the men, women, and children who today live lives of unimaginable horror and whose daily companions are terror and pain and whose only happiness is death. But all the same, we owe them a meaning.

“They-these men, women, and children-are the only true judges of our worth. They constitute the parameters, the parable, of our unresolved existence, and we owe it to them to shed the subterfuges of solitude by accepting with good grace the ineluctable fact that we can only endure a bad conscience. That is what it means-and no other-to be an intellectual today.”

The intellectuals of a century removed, the illustrados, but not their heirs-certainly not their heirs -had a good conscience.