Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Resisting US hegemony in the Philippines

"We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population.... Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. 

To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming, and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction.... We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."

- George Kennan, U.S. Secretary of State, Department memo, 1948

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U.S. Imperial Hegemony and the Forging of a Culture of Resistance- by E. San Juan, Jr. FFP Bulletin (Spring/Summer 1990).

Two events sharply characterize the present historic conjuncture in the Philippines: the December 1989 coup attempt and the passage of the 1987 Constitution. 

The coup attempt was symptomatic of the intense contradictions within the Aquino regime. In response to mounting public opposition to the retention of the U.S. military bases, the Constitution outlawed the presence of nuclear weapons in the country.

Anxious that the rationale for the bases might be undermined in the wake of the Cold War thaw and an unprecedented nationalist upsurge amid equally unprecedented brutalities by government-sponsored vigilantes, the U.S. Establishment has buttressed its low-intensity warfare against popular opposition by recycling old hackneyed ideological themes, myths and scenarios via the mass media.

Three books published in 1989 may be cited as weapons in this campaign to regain lost ground: 

  1. Stanley Karnow: In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines;
  2. Gregg Jones: Red Revolution; and 
  3. Richard Kessler: Rebellion and Repression in the Philippines. 

Of these three, Karnow's Pulitzer-winning book, now reprinted as a paperback for mass consumption, is bound to exert a powerful influence in shaping U.S. public consensus. Karnow's text essentially argues that Filipinos cannot fashion their independent future, their sovereign destiny, without the help of the U.S. government and its corporate elite

Replicating all the cliches and banalities of U.S. scholarly expertise on the Philippines -- from Leroy to Hayden and Taylor -- Karnow concludes that the interim accord signed by Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus and the U.S. in October 1988 "represented an indirect admission by Filipinos that they desperately needed American assistance -- and would for years to come."

A paltry version of the "special relationship" between the dominant metropolitan power and the peripheral neo-colony  Karnow's concept of the "shared experience" between Filipinos and Americans reduces the historic truth of colonial domination into a not so harmonious family relationship

The TV documentary derived from the book, however, reveals this family as disciplined and normalized by a patriarchal authority without whose intervention Filipinos would never have saved themselves from (among other evils in this century) the diabolical Marcos dictatorship.

While no original scholarship is claimed, Karnow's tenditious construction of Filipino-American relations has been lauded by Filipinos writing for Philippine News (San Francisco) and Manila newspapers, proof of a persisting colonial fixation, even though criticism of the book (such as Peter Tarr's in The Nation of June 5, 1989) has easily exposed its fallacies.

Chief among these are its espousal of the "Immaculate Conception" view of American imperial policy, "his half-conscious reproduction of the imperialist argument," and his "insulting suggestion that [Filipinos] submitted voluntarily to their exploitation."

But this error is now flagrant. For example, in a Dec. 6, 1989 Hartford Courant editorial, U.S. military assistance for the beleaguered Aquino government is justified by the fact that "The histories of the two nations have been intertwined for nearly a century. Americans and Filipinos fought and died together to defend the promise of a free Philippines."

What such history erases is precisely what Filipino historians like Renato Constantino, Hernando Abaya and others have tried to recuperate: the endurance of the Filipino revolutionary tradition from the time of early anti-Spanish insurrections to the popular resistance against U.S. colonial occupation and its persisting stranglehold over native institutions and psyche.

This submerged or repressed tradition of revolt -- surfacing as lived experience in the everyday praxis of peasants, women, Igorots and Muslims, workers and migrants -- which constitutes the emerging Filipino identity cannot be found in Karnow or in any U.S. archive. It can only be discovered in the current multifaceted struggle of subalterns, a community of victims now undergoing profound radical changes.

The tempo and complexity of these changes render every political judgement unstable and precarious. We are confronted here with a national identity-in-the-making as heterogeneous  protean and dynamic as that of any people inventing the meaning of their lives, their collective destiny, in the arena of world-history.

At the International Philippine Studies meetings held last year in Quezon City, I proposed discussion of the "deconstruction of U.S. colonial discourse" with the aim of developing a critique of the U.S. discursive production of knowledge of the "Filipino." The classic historical texts of LeRoy, Foreman, Worcester, Hayden and Taylor may be said to establish the parameters within which the pragmatism of U.S. colonial and foreign policy operated. 

I intended to show how, for instance, Taylor's paradigm of modernization, focusing on the functionalist value-system and the will/character of the native elite (recapitulated in Kessler's recent study), re conceptualized the role of U.S. hegemony and laid the groundwork for articulating future U.S. political and ideological strategy toward the Philippines. Such a strategy would marginalize alternative modes (pluralist or relatively egalitarian) and outlaw the oppositional (the left critique of U.S. domination).

Taylor thus conserves the policy of liberal reformism begun by Taft and Harrison while at the same time displacing the themes of social justice and democratization as internal or subsumed within the imperatives of political stability and economic growth via "free enterprise" and the fostering of Filipino entrepreneurship.

In the process the nationalist project can be neutralized by placing it in the leadership of a putative middle class under U.S. hegemony (coercion through control of the military plus consent); the Filipino middle class, according to this schema, defines the Filipino identity in a subordinate discourse that reproduces the social relations of the Cold War status quo.

Almost thirty years since the issuance of Taylor's The Philippines and the United States, the neoliberal variant of his model is being recycled in David Steinberg's The Philippines (1982) and Claude Buss' Cory Aquino and the People of the Philippines (1987).

Now this research project is being preempted by the exuberant, fin-de siecle cultural praxis of Filipinos -- from Brocka/ Lacaba's controversial expos‚ of vigilante terrorism, Orapronobis, to the music of Asin, Susan Magno, and Bagong Lumad of Joey Ayala; from the feminist art of Imelda Cajipe-Endaya and Lualhati Bautista to the efflorescence of ethnic productions by Santiago Bose and numerous painters, as well as the postmodernist cinematic texts of Ricardo Lee and Kidlat Tahimik, to cite only the most well known.

No longer should Filipinos be apologetic for second-rate imitations of U.S. commodified cultural products which still clog the shopping malls, TV and radio -- even though some Filipinos continue to indulge in nostalgia for the "good old days" of Villa, Joaquin, and Carlos Romulo.

What is backward or still inchoate is the critical theorizing and reflection needed to historically articulate and ground such practices (which I have tried to supply in Subversions of Desire and Only by Struggle. All acknowledge that the site for sustained, serious exchanges of ideas on aesthetics or philosophy is either absent or held suspect, and any suggestion of inadequacy in this regard is viewed as Western intervention by disgruntled Filipino exiles like myself.

An essay like Vicente Rafael's "Fishing, Underwear and Hunchbacks: Humor and Politics in the Philippines, 1886 and 1983" (Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, 1986), which instructively applies semiotics and discourse analysis to social practices surrounding the Aquino assassination, may not be appreciated by activists still citing Mao's speeches at the Yenan Forum or even Luk cs' notion of socialist realism as the foundational organon. 

And yet Rafael's thesis that resistance praxis is premised on "the possibility of reclaiming the mechanisms and resources for the production of new meanings" is so necessary if we want to counter the sophisticated ideological apparatus of U.S. social science and humanities -- what Edward Said calls the Orientalizing discourse of Western epistemology -- which continues to deny any creative or authentic originality to Filipino expression in the vernacular, to the progressive shaping of a vernacular culture consonant with the struggle for national democracy in politics and economics.

Writing on "Ethnicity and the Tagalog Komedya and Sinakulo" (Kultura, 1988), Nicanor Tiongson, artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, pointed out sensibly that "the best way to preserve tradition is to continually destroy it, to continually change it, to force it to live, survive and flourish in the harshness and fertility of the present." Tiongson is simply describing here the dialectical process of cultural production

He illustrates how the conservative nature of the native theater is transformed by all kinds of semiotic displacements, precisely those discursive mutations traced by Rafael in popular jokes and protest symbolism, so that a new form of art evolves which registers the change of the Filipino as object into a subject of praxis, a historical agent. We need to instigate more theoretical initiatives along this line.

The transformation of the Filipino sensibility has been occurring at a rapid pace in the years since the late 60s with the explosion of revolutionary energies prior to martial law in 1972, in the underground resistance since then, and above ground since 1983. Such developments escaped the reviewer of the TV program, "Batibot," who writes in the Wall Street Journal of Oct. 28, 1986 about how resourceful Filipinos are in successfully copying "Sesame Street" even without appropriate funding. Such seemingly innocent statements are possible because Filipinos, even the supposedly well-informed and worldly wise, continue to beg for money, attention or solidarity from Westerners whose liberal patronage conceals racist and sexist compensations.

Can we continue to profess insensitivity to this dependency syndrome? This is not to promote xenophobia, nor to discourage international exchanges of diverse ideas and all kinds of support. I should like to emphasize the truism here that no people can gain sovereign nationhood today except in the arena of global politics, as the plight of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and Mandela's ANC in South Africa demonstrates.

What I want to warn compatriots and Western allies about in this context is a repeat performance of Imelda Marcos' repertoire of ingratiating fabrications of Third World naivete such as can be witnessed recently, for example, in Celia Diaz-Laurel's advocacy of undiluted anti-Communism purveyed by the notorious CAUSA.

To briefly illustrate the continuing effects of more than 50 years of indoctrination in liberal dogmas, situated in a tributary milieu where the institutional Church collaborates with State violence, consider Laurel's retort to a nun who told her that the rich (like her) don't understand the problems of the poor: "I asked her, 'Sister, do you realize what you're doing? You are dividing our country into classes and you are making one class hate and resent the other class. Sister, I don't know if you remember, but Christ taught us to love one another. That was the spirit of EDSA [Laurel of course doesn't include Marcos in her love at EDSA]. Our family was there for three nights.... We were one Filipino people, one in desire. There were no divisions between us: we loved one another, we were sharing, and there was no rich or poor. That's why we got that miracle.'" 

Here, to be sure, the enunciation seeks to homogenize a society wracked with intense class contradictions. "You" is the outsider, "we" (a signifier for the hierarchical, patriarchal family paradigm of the elite) defines all Filipinos, virtually the nation, as a monolithic undifferentiated whole, led of course by such traditional families as the Laurels.

What cannot escape us is the vicious irony staring us in the face: this claim of "oneness" is inscribed in the disruptive and ruptured space of war, of fierce antagonism between one faction of the elite which had been isolated (Marcos) and another (opportunists from the traditional oligarchy and the politicized military) which was trying to rally the masses to its banner. 

The further irony is that Vice President Laurel (Celia's husband) now seeks to create the sharpest division between his camp of U.S.-oriented militarists and the Aquino diehards so that his wife's alliance with Reverend Moon and her disingenuous defense of U.S. bases (because of the Soviet Threat) can be read as a telling illustration of how U.S. imperial tutelage, now challenged by a resurgent popular dissidence, continues up to now to generate morbid anachronisms, retrograde or atavistic behavior, paranoid and other forms of obsessional symptoms that inflict havoc on millions of Filipinos -- a sickness that only a revolutionary catharsis can cure.

In contrast, the health of the body politic thrives in the continuing conflict between the culture of resistance exposing the facade of unity and "special relations" with the U.S., and the hegemonic apparatuses of discipline and control seeking to perpetuate four hundred years of servitude well up to the twenty-first century. from such a conflict, I am quite hopeful, a new Filipino identity will be born.

E. San Juan, Jr. (, is Professor of Ethnic Studies and American Culture at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. He authored the prize-winning book Racial Formations/Critical Transformations and edited two volumes of Carlos Bulosan's writings for Temple University Press. His recent works are Allegories of Resistance, Hegemony and Strategies of Transgression, and The Philippine Temptation. He was a Fellow at the Institute of Humanities, University of Edinburgh, Fulbright lecturer at the University of the Philippines, and visiting professor at the University of Trento, Italy. He won the 1994 Katherine Newman Award from the Society for the Study of MultiEthnic Literature in the United States (MELUS).

This article was published in the FFP Bulletin (Spring/Summer 1990) published by Friends of the Filipino People, P.O. Box 2125, Durham, NC 27702, U.S.A. It may be reprinted as long as both the author and the FFP Bulletin are credited.

Anti-Imperialist and Solidarity Movements Sentenaryo/Centennial Home Page Copyright © 1990 E. San Juan, Jr. All rights reserved. Text converted to HTML for Sentenaryo/Centennial. Created Sept. 14, 1995 Last modified Sept. 24, 1995


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Hi All,

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