02 December 2006

Split-Level Americanization: A Case Study of McDonaldized Philippines

If there is a place on earth that seems more American than the United States of America, that place is the Philippines.

A typical American city does not have a McDonalds on every street corner. There is a McDonalds or similar American fast-food outlet on every street corner in Metro Manila.

A typical American businessman wears a suit (or more likely, a sports jacket or even a blazer) to work and takes off the jacket when the room becomes too warm. A typical Filipino businessman wears a real suit to work (or even to parties) and never takes off the jacket even if the temperature in Manila ranges from 25°C to 28°C. In fact, a jacket is called by Filipinos an americana.

There are four national newspapers in the United States (Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal). In the Philippines, there are nine national newspapers in English (Business Mirror, Business World, Daily Tribune, Malaya, Manila Bulletin, Manila Standard, Manila Times, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and Philippine Star).

A typical American buys 17 movies on DVD a year (as of 2004, according to USA Today). A typical Filipino probably buys 17 American movies on DVD a month. (Of course, DVDs in the Philippines are very much cheaper because they are pirated.)

The Philippines is the only country in its region with an American-type presidential form of government featuring a strong president. In fact, it has a stronger president than even George W. Bush. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo controls everything in the Philippines. According to the latest surveys, at least half of all Filipinos still residing in the Philippines say that she personally controls even the corruption (the Philippines is the 98th least corrupt nation on earth), but that impression is most likely only successful propaganda mounted against her by her political enemies. Coincidentally, in the last American elections, according to surveys conducted by CNN, corruption was the Number One issue against Bush.

The United States as a whole has not legislated English as its official language. English is one of only two official languages of the Philippines. In fact, Filipinos claim that the Philippines is the third largest English-speaking country in the world, next only to India and the United States.

On the surface, it looks like the neo-colonization or Macdonaldization of the Philippines is complete, at least in terms of food, fashion, media, government, and language.

But this is only all on the surface. Beneath the surface, in what cultural critics could call a deconstructive anti-hegemonic movement or, in older language, anticolonial subversion, there is no place as unlike the United States as the Philippines.

For example, in general, Americans obey the law, from the simplest traffic laws to their Constitution. In contrast, in general, Filipinos ignore all traffic laws and whoever is the Philippine President routinely issues executive orders that blatantly violate the Philippine Constitution.

In general, Americans go to school. In general, Filipinos do not go to school. Let me qualify that. More than 85% of Americans finish high school. Practically every Filipino enters the first grade of school, but only 62% finish elementary school, only 23% finish high school, and only 14% finish a four-year college course.

In general, both Americans and Filipinos speak English. It is true that 65% of Filipinos claim to speak English as a second language (the primary languages being Tagalog for 22M and Cebuano for 18.5M, among 171 living Philippine languages spoken by the 85-plus million Filipinos), but the English that they speak, which historically they learned from American teachers at the turn of the 20th century, is Philippine English, a variety of English that belongs, according to the usual linguistic classification, to the Outer Circle of English-speaking countries. Documented only partially by dictionaries such as the Anvil-Macquarie Dictionary of Philippine English for High School (2000), Philippine English is almost another language, almost unintelligible to speakers of American English. The second largest English-speaking country in the world, Australia, in fact, has deemed it fit to classify the Philippines as a “non-English-speaking country.” Note this classification from the government website of New South Wales: “The top five countries of birth in NSW (non-English speaking country) are: China, Vietnam, Italy, Lebanon and the Philippines (2001 ABS Census data).”

These anecdotal but purposive facts are meant only to introduce my thesis, which is that Americanization in the Philippines is split-level. I take the phrase “split-level” from a 1967 paper by Jaime Bulatao on “Split-Level Christianity,” in which he shows that the Christian religion is only skin-deep in the Philippines. The Philippines, by the way, is also unique among Pacific nations when it comes to religion, since it is one of only two countries – the other one being East Timor – whose population is overwhelmingly Christian, at least in name.

As far as definition of terms is concerned, my use of the term “split-level” is different from its use by Laurence A. Rickels to describe the kind of group psychology applicable to California (http://www.hydra.umn.edu/twd/cat1.html), which is the state with the biggest portion of the 2M Filipino population of the United States. As far as I know, no one has used the term “split-level” in discourses on cultural imperialism, American or otherwise.

American cultural imperialism may be very much alive and well in other countries, but in the Philippines, it is not what it is reputed to be. I do not mean to generalize from the case study that is the Philippines, not only because the Philippines is indeed unique in many ways nor only because I am definitely not an expert on any other country except my own. What I merely want to do is to use the Philippines today as the exceptional case study that might prove the rule.

In order to have a focus, I will speak primarily of media – print, film, and television. Since the pervasiveness of media in today’s global culture is a given, media might be a good way to enter the split-level world of American cultural imperialism in the Philippines. In addition, media is a hot topic in Philippine academic circles. Just last week, for example, on 18 November, the American Studies Association of the Philippines devoted its annual general assembly to the topic of “Philippine and American Media: Critical Interaction and Transformation,” with a concept paper that started this way:

In the present era of globalization, it is undeniable that Philippine media has been and continues to be influenced by foreign media. We get our foreign news from satellite feeds from CNN and BBC. Many of the shows aired on local free TV are canned shows from American networks or Pinoy [Filipino] adaptations of some foreign shows. These shows, such as Amazing Race, Fear Factor, American Idol, MTV, or even dubbed Korean telenovelas have become the nightly fare of many Filipino families. American influences on our media and consequently its influence on our culture are here to stay.

This conference aims to present a critical view of the dynamics of Philippine and American media and culture. How has our media and culture been affected by the dominance of American culture throughout the world? How do we adapt to this? As American influences transform our culture, how do we view the interrelation between Philippine and American media and culture critically?

Will we simply follow the way set out by American television, music, food, clothes and films? Is there a way to resist? Must we resist? How?

If you check into an upscale hotel anywhere in the Philippines, when you wake up, you will be given a daily newspaper. That daily newspaper will be in English. This will give you the impression that Philippine print media is in English. That is a wrong impression. In reality, the circulation of the biggest English-language daily newspaper is less than 250,000 a day. (I know that the figure looks silly compared to that of Yomiuri Shimbun with its 14.5M copies a day, but indulge Filipino publishers a bit.) The circulation of the most popular daily newspaper in Filipino is over 450,000 a day. The total circulation of all English-language newspapers is only 1.5M copies a day. The total circulation of all Filipino-language newspapers is over 3.5M a day (Abante, Abante Tonite, Bulgar, People’s Journal, People’s Journal Tonight, and People’s Taliba).

If you go to a shopping mall in Metro Manila, or in fact, anywhere in the Philippines, you will most likely see a number of movie screens (“screens” is usually used rather than “theater”) showing American films. If you were to go only by the number of billboards or posters advertising American movies, you would think that Filipinos watch a lot of American movies. What you should do, however, is to enter the moviehouse to see how many people are actually inside. You might be amazed to find out that a lot more moviegoers see a movie in Filipino per day, than watch an American movie. Because movie attendance records are kept secret by distributors and exhibitors for fear of the right taxes being imposed on them, I do not have hard data about this impression. It can, however, be easily verified by merely entering a moviehouse showing an American movie in Metro Manila.

If you have cable television in the Philippines, you can catch not only CCN but also Fox, CBS, and just about every network Americans watch in their own bedrooms. But the television ratings do not lie. Programs in Filipino have an almost total market share of the viewing public. In fact, foreign television series and movies are dubbed into Filipino in order to be shown on free or non-cable stations.

It is not just the language that is not American in Philippine media, but the content. The New York Times will fire a reporter who manufactures data or copies from other sources. Philippine daily newspapers sometimes, though not often, print unverified news or rumors, with the intention of printing an erratum or even an apology the next day in case the report turns out not to be true. “Print first, deny later” is a popular practice of some, perhaps many, Philippine newspapers.

Philippine movies may look like derivatives of American movies, with a proliferation of fantastic characters and plagiarized storylines, but if we look closely at the structure of the movies, they do not follow the Hollywood three-act structure as promulgated and popularized by Syd Field. The mindset of the Philippine audience is not a carbon copy of that of the American audience, but is qualitatively different. For example, the Philippine plagiarized version of Wonder Woman, named Darna, adds a distinctly Filipino characterization of Narda, the woman who turns into a superwoman. Narda typifies the ordinary Filipino, in contrast to the atypical character of the woman behind Wonder Woman. I am not the first scholar to say this, but it is worth saying again: Filipino superheroes are qualitatively different from American superheroes because the former relies on forces outside her or him (such as a magic stone or clever relatives), unlike the latter, who generally have the powers bestowed upon them either by virtue of birth (such as Superman) or by wealth (such as Batman).

Television news in the Philippines is nothing at all like American television news. There is no such thing as television news in the Philippines in the American sense. All Philippine television news is either advertising for products or entertaining for ratings or both. For example, 24 Oras, Saksi, and TV Patrol, the three highest-rated television news shows, focus not on news that the public has to know, but on insignificant news that looks good on the screen because it is either sexy or violent or both.

Speaking of ratings, among cable viewers, that is, those with access to American shows, the highest rating shows are Filipino free channel game shows using only a little English and having little American content. The audience that comes out of the economic A and B classes comprise less than three percent of the television market, and media being an industry more than a public service, media networks have deemed it wise simply to ignore the rich and to target the poor.

The ratings, in fact, paint a portrait of the Filipino television viewer as interested only in shows either originally or dubbed in vernacular languages. Examples of highly-rated shows (figures as of 23 October 2006) are Eat Bulaga (24.8%) and Wowowee (19.4%) on the same time slot, together eating up 44.7% of the viewing public. 24 Oras (29.6%) and TV Patrol (26.2%) on the same time slot take up an even larger 55.8%. Primetime shows show the same pattern: Captain Barbell (34.5%) with Deal or No Deal (31.6%), Atlantika (30%) with Super Inggo (29%), and Bakekang (31%) with Maging Sino Ka Man (25.2%). Clearly, American shows are non-existent and uninteresting as far as the majority of Filipino viewers are concerned.

If in reality the language used in media is not English and Filipinos overwhelmingly prefer their news and entertainment in their own languages and if in reality the content of the media is significantly different, why is there an appearance of Americanization in Philippine media?

The phenomenon of split-level cultural imperialism cannot be fully understood if we stick only to the Raymond Williams model of residual-dominant-emergent culture. To think of something Filipino as residual, of American or Western culture as dominant, and perhaps deliberately subversive sub- or anti-culture as emergent glosses over the lack of clear distinctions between types of culture in the country. Someone driving a Japanese car with the CD player or iPod blasting out a pirated American song may strike European critics as postmodern, but if we look at old Philippine houses, we will realize that eclecticism is the rule rather than the exception in Philippine culture. Even the typical modern building in the business center of Makati City is based on the Asian model of a house on stilts, with the ground floor being used merely as a holding area for visitors. The cell phone is a way not to accelerate communication, but to spread tsismis (a blend of gossip and censored news), the main preoccupation of Filipinos of whatever social standing.

Nor can Americanization be understood fully within postcolonial theory, since the Philippines is twice-removed from the Empire, the United States being itself a postcolonial country. I like to call the Philippines the Other Other, since it hardly ever appears in discussions of postcoloniality. If I may be forgiven for quoting myself, in a paragraph that I have used repeatedly in various international conferences, I like to think that, although contemporary Filipino theorists presumably work in decolonized space, Philippine culture is still heavily undertheorized. At first glance, this undertheorization appears due either to the decentering of critical theory within the Philippine academic community or to the marginalization of cultural orientalism within Anglo-American academic discourse. Upon closer examination, however, this undertheorization may be shown to stem from the internalization of a hegemonic universalization of culturally imperialistic, pre- or anti- theoretical, quasi-formalistic, mechanically reflectionist, white patriarchy. The abstract nature of that paragraph can be grasped more easily if we turn to its objective correlative – boxer Manny Pacquiao beating up a Mexican, since the Philippines was ruled by Spain through Mexico for three hundred years. It is no coincidence that Pacquiao is known as “The National Fist,” since the closed fist is the accepted symbol of the New People’s Army, the communist armed force that has been waging war against the Philippine government for decades, as well as the symbol of the successful civilian-backed coup d’etat against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Nor can the phenomenon of split-level Americanization be understood fully even with the familiar indigenization-subversion duality. Falling into an essentialist trap is too difficult to avoid for those insisting on a nativist past reacting to or against a foreign invader. In certain areas of culture, notably food, there is clear evidence that no foreign food gets cooked exactly the same way that it is cooked in its country of origin (in the Philippines, spaghetti is sweet, paella is full of ingredients other than rice, Chinese noodles have no relationship to their Chinese ancestors; even McDonald’s serves rice and very salty hamburgers). Gemino Abad and other critics have even claimed that Filipinos have colonized the English language. Clodualdo del Mundo Jr. says the same of film, calling the phenomenon “native resistance.” But in general, it is impossible to say what has been indigenized, whether deliberately or by inertia, and what is being subverted, whether because of ideology in the vulgar Marxist sense or ideology in the way Marx understood the term.

To understand split-level Americanization, let us use the concept of counterhegemonic struggle. I borrow the term from Antonio Gramsci, but the concept from Jose Rizal, the nineteenth-century writer who first realized that intellectuals from the ruling class were actually brainwashing the oppressed masses with scholarship that appeared to be reality-based but was actually only ideological propaganda. Ideology (in the Marxist sense) or hegemony or, as I call it in my own language, gahum is the reason we find split-leveling in the Americanization of the Philippines.

In particular, let me cite the issue of language. On paper, the official policy of the Philippine Constitution is that Filipino is the primary language of instruction in all classrooms at all levels. The traditional policy of the Department of Education, enacted before the present Constitution, is that both English and Filipino are the languages of instruction in public school classrooms. Arroyo has issued an executive order forcing public school teachers to use English as the primary language of instruction (thus violating the Constitution); until the Supreme Court slaps Arroyo on the wrist, as it has done a number of times to date, the Department of Education has no choice but to implement such an order.

In reality, however, despite the Constitution, the presidential order, and the Department orders, there is only one language of instruction in practically all classrooms in the country. It is Taglish, a non-language that is variously labeled as code-switching, pidgin, or a lingua franca, featuring a still-unsystematized mixture of Tagalog, English, and vernacular languages of various regions. The government’s own language body, the Commission on Philippine Languages, defines the official language Filipino as whatever language is spoken in the urban centers, especially Metro Manila (in the North), Metro Cebu (in the middle of the archipelago), and Metro Davao (in the South). Since there is no scientific documentation of Taglish, we can rely only on broad impression – the language or non-language spoken in the three urban centers is Taglish, and since this language is defined as Filipino, Filipino is really Taglish. The few academic sources on Filipino, such as the Filipino dictionary (UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino, 2001) prepared by the University of the Philippines (the first of only four Philippine universities listed in the latest world university rankings), strengthen the impression that Filipino is really Taglish.

Why is language so crucial in any study of media and culture? The answer should be obvious. Print media uses language extensively, and the periodicals in Filipino are outstripping the periodicals in English in circulation more than 2 to 1, yet the false impression remains that English is the language of print media. Television uses language also extensively, though less obviously than print; television programs in English are invisible in terms of ratings, yet the false impression remains that English is the language of television. Film as a whole has declined in theater attendance, due not only to the rising poverty in the country but also to the declining attractiveness of movie theaters worldwide, but Filipino has been and remains the language of all Philippine films. The gap between fact and impression contributes to the split-leveling of Americanization.

In 1946, the Filipino-American writer and dissident Carlos Bulosan published a novel entitled America is in the Heart. America today is not in the heart, if it ever was. It is in the cataract, in the blurred vision that keeps the rich and the influential from seeing what and who they really are.

The wartime Japanese Co-prosperity Sphere seems outrageously a bad idea on hindsight, particularly in an American base such as Okinawa, but most Filipino intellectuals thought it a very good idea in the late thirties and early forties of the last century. Most Filipino intellectuals and practically everybody that had any money or property collaborated with the Japanese invaders during the Pacific War. Then, as now, it was the masses of the Filipino people that saw through the propaganda of the rich and the powerful and actively resisted the onslaught of foreign culture. It was the poor and the powerless that took up the call of patriotism and ran the nationwide guerrilla movement that forced the Japanese military to overlook obvious signs of the American recovery from early defeat.

The Philippines today may look foreign even to some Filipinos, but beneath the surface and behind the Western walls, the country remains as inscrutable to foreigners, as exotic if you like, as pure, and as Filipino as it was when the first Filipinos, back in the first century before the Christian era, carved out from the northern mountainside a series of engineering marvels known as the rice terraces, the only ancient wonder of the world that up to today serves its original purpose, which was to give food and pride to a population that was much more advanced in technology and certainly very much more civilized than its future colonizers.

At the end of the day, in what might very well be true also of other postcolonial nations in the Asia-Pacific region, what we are witnessing in the Philippine case is a people – or if you wish an imagined community – constantly and unceasingly reimagining itself through the medium of media, reasserting its identity in the face of both the homogenizing power of external or global forces and the collaborating hegemony of internal or selfish elites, and redefining the nation on its own terms and in its own time.

(Paper read at the International Conference on the United States and the Pacific Islands: Culture, Science, Politics, held in Okinawa, Japan, on 25-26 November 2006)

30 October 2006

Who I Am

In answer to a post asking me who I am, here is my "official" cv. Unofficially, I am just a man that loves to watch movies, to talk to people, to write, and to eat out, not necessarily in that order. Also in answer to the post, I rarely review movies nowadays (because someone else reviews movies for the newspaper I write for), but I use movies a lot in my lectures and classes.

Former Philippine Undersecretary of Education ISAGANI R. CRUZ is the Director of the Teachers Academy of Far Eastern University in Manila, a Visiting Lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University, and a Professor Emeritus, a University Fellow, and the Executive Publisher of Academic Publications of De La Salle University Manila. He writes plays, essays, and short stories in Filipino and English, for which he has won numerous awards, including a SEAWRITE award, a Centennial Literary Contest award, and a Gawad Balagtas award. He has been named to the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature. He has written or edited more than 30 books. He holds a B.S. in Physics from the University of the Philippines, an M.A. in English from Ateneo de Manila University, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Maryland. He has been a professor or a visiting fellow at Ateneo de Davao University, University of the Philippines Diliman, University of Maryland, Ohio University, Jundi Shapur University (Iran), Soochow University (Taiwan), Waseda University (Japan), and the University of Oxford (UK). He heads the Philippine Fulbright Scholars Association, the Graduate Commission of the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (PAASCU), Books for Philippine Schools Foundation, and the Active E-Learning Technologies Foundation. He was the founding Chair of the Manila Critics Circle and a Senior Bibliographer of the Modern Language Association of America. He has been decorated by the Government of France as a Chevalier dans l’Ordre National du Mérite [Knight of the National Order of Merit] and by the Ramain family as Honorary Sultan of Iligan City. He writes weekly columns on books, culture, and education for The Philippine Star and BizNews Asia.

Here is a section of my 26 October 2006 column in The Philippine Star:

Some readers have asked me what I teach nowadays. I have just finished teaching two courses at the Ateneo de Manila University. One was a joint graduate and undergraduate seminar on selected Filipino literary critics, namely, Gemino Abad, Virgilio Almario, Bienvenido Lumbera, Soledad Reyes, and Roland Tolentino. The other was an undergraduate lecture course on selected Filipino films adapted from literary texts, namely, Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa, Bulaklak ng Maynila, Dekada 70, Jose Rizal, Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Laro sa Baga, Sa North Diversion Road, and Tatarin. Next semester, I will teach another two courses: a lecture course on Philippine literature in English and a workshop on writing for stage, television, and film.

At De La Salle University, where I manage academic publications, I teach a graduate seminar on media criticism, where students get a chance to write papers on series such as Atlantika, Bakekang, Bituing Walang Ningning, Calla Lily, Jass Got Lucky, Majika, Mars Ravelo’s Captain Barbell, Pangako sa Iyo, Sa Piling Mo, and Super Inggo.

I do not teach regular courses at Far Eastern University, where I coordinate training seminars for teachers. On occasions when I do not have a resource person, I handle the seminars myself. I have done sessions on 21st Century Business Communication, Powerful English for Academic Managers, Helping Students to Read, Using Film to Teach Business, Using Excel to Compute Grades, Score Points with Microsoft Powerpoint, First Aid for Teaching Nursing (for Nursing teachers), Body in English (for Physical Education teachers), Reliving the Past (for History teachers), Quantifying Qualitative Assessment (for Fine Arts and Architecture teachers), and Writing Modules.

Shuttling among the three big universities during the week and doing a Foundation for Upgrading the Standard of Education (FUSE) video project for high school teachers of literature on weekends, not to mention speaking to various groups about education, keep me busy after “retirement.” Clearly, the thought of so many of my friends already in heaven makes me realize that I have to do as much as I can on earth before I join them.

22 October 2006

Questions Teachers Ask

Questions Teachers Ask

Every time I give a lecture to a large group, I give my cellphone number and ask the audience to text me their questions as I talk. That way, I incorporate the open forum into the lecture itself, as I periodically read out the questions from my cellphone and answer them.

Here are some interesting questions asked by the teachers, with my comments. Of course, I have translated the text language into non-cellphone English.

Q: Sir, comment on this: The best English teachers should be placed in the primary years rather than in the intermediate years, so as to establish a strong sense of language.

A: Absolutely, and not only because of language but because of teaching skills. The better the teacher, the younger the students should be. Similarly, in universities, the top professors should teach first-year students or repeaters. The moment I became the highest-ranked professor at De La Salle University, I volunteered to teach the basketball players.

Q: What is more important, fluency or comprehension?

A: I would rather have someone who understands what is going on, rather than one who talks without understanding.

Q: How about if you are handling six sections with 100 students? You don’t sleep anymore or you don’t check their writing ability.

A: Clearly, there is something wrong with having 100 students in one class, but since the government is in denial mode about this common occurrence, we can only hope that the problem will be recognized in order that it can be solved. As far as checking the written work of students is concerned, however, read educational theory about the teaching of writing: all students should write every day, but teachers need not read everything students write.

Q: Can we give our students in high school the very controversial DA VINCI CODE for their book report? What is the DepEd stand about this?

A: I don’t know what DepEd thinks about the book, but I certainly would not require it for high school students. It is, first of all, badly written (and therefore should not be taught as literature), and secondly, misleading to those who cannot distinguish between fact and fiction (and high school students, being very young, are not expected to be mature).

Q: In reading a literary piece, which usually takes place first – understanding before appreciation or appreciation before understanding?

A: Unlike other arts, literature needs to be understood before it can be appreciated. For other arts, such as music or painting, you may be able to appreciate or enjoy a piece without necessarily understanding it.

Q: Can we use the Bible?

A: Since the Constitution separates the Church (any church) from the State, we cannot teach the Bible in order to convert students to the Jewish or Christian faiths, but we can certainly teach it as a literary masterpiece, which is what it is. Similarly, we should teach the Q’uran or Koran as a literary masterpiece, which it also is. But since there may be strong religious sentiments on your part or on the part of the students, you must be extra careful in teaching such religious texts. (I was speaking to public, not private school teachers.)

Q: How about mobilizing parents to train them to teach basic reading?

A: Correct me it I am wrong, but I am sorry to say that most parents are less literate than their children. It would be a case of the blind leading the blind (apologies to the visually challenged).

Q: What shall we do with a principal who, after observing a teacher, insists on what she wants a teacher to do, unmindful of the good things the teacher has done, as if she knows everything and the teacher knows nothing?

A: Fire the principal.

Q: What really is indicated in the law? 6 hours teaching load exclusive of lesson planning and checking of papers, or 6 hours inclusive of both?

A: I am not a lawyer and do not know what RA 4670 (The Magna Carta for Public School Teachers) says. You have to ask my namesake (the one who wrote the famous “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel” column), who knows the law inside out. All I can say is that no one is expected to work more than 40 hours a week. If you are working more than that, your human rights are being violated, unless you are paid for overtime.

Q: Do you agree with the grading system as ordered by DepEd?

A: Whether I agree or not is irrelevant. Every grading system is arbitrary and conventional.

Q: A lesson plan is a guide and gives direction to teachers. Many teachers will be at a loss if there were no lesson plans at all. We can have unified or prototype lesson plans or a weekly syllabus for a guide.

A: The acknowledged best teachers of all time – Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad – had no lesson plans. If we are benchmarking, surely we should benchmark with the best. The first thing I would do if I were, by some miracle, appointed DepEd Secretary would be to abolish lesson plans for those teaching five years or more. (This always gets loud cheers from my audience.)

Q: Sir, may we know your second plan if you become DepEd secretary?

A: I would tender my resignation, before I get fired for liberating teachers from senseless work.

Q: Is it okay for a teacher to talk in Taglish [code-switching between Tagalog and English] in order to be understood by students?

A: No. Students can always understand straight Filipino (or Cebuano or Ilocano or Tagalog or whatever) or straight English even if they can speak only in Taglish. There is no excuse whatsoever for teachers speaking Taglish in the classroom, because teachers are role models of language use. The key to being understood as an English speaker is to use the proper register (or type) of English. If you use only the most common 1,000 words of English, you can be understood even by grade school students. (Self-advertisement: my Word of the Day section below uses mostly the 1,000 basic English words, as defined by international linguists.)

Q: What can you say about teachers assigned to handle a certain position or department who are not specialized in the said area? They are there only because the principal likes them. What can they give to or share with their subordinates if they themselves do not know anything about the area they are handling? This has something to do with management, right?

A: Fire the principal, along with the principal’s favorites.

Q: Every time our division achievement test is low, we are blamed by our supervisor and superintendent. Do we deserve to be blamed and not the students? I think there is also a student factor, most especially in public schools.

A: Fire the supervisor and the superintendent for not asking the obvious question, namely, is the test valid? But while you are at it, fire yourself, too. Any teacher who blames students for anything should not be in the classroom. Anything that happens in a classroom is the teacher’s fault.

Q: Why is it that almost all elementary school graduates have not mastered the four fundamental operations of mathematics, but they were able to graduate?

A: I would not say “almost all,” but we definitely have a problem. The idea of flunking students that cannot read, write, or add appears to be repulsive to many elementary school teachers. Maybe they just want to pass on the problem to high school teachers. Here is a radical idea: fire all teachers who do not flunk 10% of their students.

Q: Is the news I’ve heard true that the salaries of teachers would be raised this coming year by 50 percent?

A: Dream on.

Q: Is it right for an observer to butt in while the teaching process is ongoing?

A: Absolutely not! An observer observes. The teacher teaches.

Q: Why is it always the teacher factor that is blamed and not DepEd in terms of the number of students and lack of books?

A: Because Jesus taught thousands at a time and he did not use any textbook except the Old Testament, which he had memorized. It is about time that we get rid of the idea that teachers need textbooks to teach.

Q: What if we do our very best and still my students absorb nothing?

A: You, not the students, have a problem. You think that teaching means giving something to students that they can absorb. You should start thinking of teaching as learning from students. Then you and your students can start communicating. You might want to read up on the wrong method of teaching known as “the banking theory of education.” Bad teachers think that they should deposit something in students’ heads that can later be withdrawn during exams. Good teachers merely point the way to the bank.

Q: What can you say about teachers who pretend to be very good speakers of English? This, I guess, is one major reason why students become poor English speakers.

A: I agree completely. There are not too many Filipinos that can be considered “very good speakers of English,” and most of them are not teachers. Those that advocate changing the medium of instruction to English have obviously not recently been to any of our classrooms. If businesspersons think students can learn proper English in the classroom, they have another think coming.

Q: What if a student can read but he cannot comprehend? Can I consider him as a non-reader?

A: I can read a hundred languages, as long as they are in the Roman alphabet, but I cannot understand them. I mean that I can pronounce the words, because I can read the letters, but I obviously cannot understand whatever it is that I am pronouncing. Here is an example, which anyone can read – chabdemfloking – but no one can comprehend (because I just made up the word out of the letters of the alphabet from A to O, except for J). Reading without comprehension is like wearing a suit or a gown and going to bed: what’s the point of dressing up?

Q: I heard one teacher calling the English used in public schools as Carabao English. And one principal said we can use Carabao English if that’s the only way the pupils can understand the lesson. What is meant by Carabao English?

A: Carabao English is the English used by American President George Bush, who makes all kinds of pronunciation, grammar, and logic errors when he speaks. His English may be ridiculed by his fellow Americans, but when he speaks, everybody listens. As one of the country’s top educators says, there are Filipinos that speak in correct English but have nothing to say, and a lot more Filipinos that speak in broken English but have profound and exciting ideas.

Q: Do you think the quality of education will be uplifted if ChaCha [Charter Change] will push through?

A: The Department of Education has kept improving no matter what the government has been like. Look at what we were able to accomplish during martial law, after the two EDSAs, and even now that the economy is doing so badly. ChaCha will neither help nor hinder the work of educators. We teachers are more important than politicians.

Q: How can we detach politics from education if Secretary Jesli Lapus himself is a politician?

A: Secretaries Raul Roco and Butch Abad were also politicians. Both enjoyed the full trust of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who appointed them, and both eventually went against her. Watch what Lapus does as he starts to fully understand the problems of DepEd and realizes who is really to blame for the problems of education in our country.

Q: Do you think “The Cask of Amontillado” (by Edgar Allan Poe) will feed our students the sinister thought of getting away with murder?

A: That is why this story should not be taught before second or third year high school. It cannot be taught in college, because it is too simple, but it has to be taught. After all, it is one of the best short stories ever written by an American. As for getting away with murder, you can always point out that, fifty years after the crime, the murderer in the story is still troubled by his conscience. That kind of living hell nobody will want.

Q: What is your stand on sex education?

A: The term “sex education” is unfortunate, because DepEd does not educate students about how to have sex, but about health, hygiene, medicine, anatomy, society, morality, marriage, responsibility, and all kinds of other things important to the survival of the human race.

Q: Poor comprehension in English is one of the factors why students fail to solve math problems.

A: That happens only when the math problems are in English, but give students the problems in their own language and see their math scores improve dramatically.

Q: Is it okay to blame primary teachers if incoming secondary students can’t read and comprehend?

A: Unfortunately for primary teachers, there is no one else to blame. That is why non-readers should not be allowed to graduate from grade school. Keep them in Grade 2 until they learn how to read.

Q: What shall we do if we have non-readers as students in first year high school?

A: Since you cannot send them back to Grade 2, give them special remedial classes after class hours and during summer. And don’t send them on to second year high school. Let them stay in first year until they learn how to read.

[Published in The Philippine Star.]

07 September 2006

National Book Award winners

The Manila Critics Circle announced the winners of the National Book Awards for books published in 2005 in appropriate ceremonies at the Manila International Book Fair in the World Trade Center in Pasay City, Metro Manila, on August 31, 2006. The awards were sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the National Book Development Board, and Primetrade Asia.

Named Publisher of the Year was Anvil Publishing. Esther Pacheco was given a Lifetime Achievement Award.

The other winners:

Juan C. Laya Award for Best Book of Fiction in a Philippine Language: Calvary Road: Mga Kuwento sa Balighong Panahon, by Abdon M. Balde Jr., University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.

Juan C. Laya Award for Best Book of Fiction in a Foreign Language: White Elephants, by Angelo Lacuesta, Anvil Publishing.

Alfonso T. Ongpin Award for Best Book on Art: Tanaw: Perspectives on the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Painting Collection, edited by Ramon E. S. Lerma, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Biography / Autobiography: The Last Full Moon: Lessons on My Life, by Gilda Cordero Fernando, GCF Books.

Business and Economics: The Bangko Sentral & the Philippine Economy, edited by Vicente B. Valdepeñas Jr., Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas; and Setting Frameworks: Family Business and Strategic Management, by Elfren Cruz, Anvil Publishing.

Children’s Literature: The Yellow Paper Clip with Bright Purple Spots, by Nikki Dy-Liacco, Adarna House.

Comic Books: Siglo: Passion, edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Vincent Simbulan, Kestrel IMC, Mango Books, and Quest Ventures.

Cookbooks and Food: Gabay sa Pagkain ng Gulay-Dagat, by Paciente A. Cordero Jr., Far Eastern University Publications; and Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions, edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio and Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, Anvil Publishing.

Education: Edukasyong Pampubliko: Ang Karanasan ng Kabite, 1898-1913, by Emmanuel Franco Calairo, Cavite Historical Society; and University Traditions: The Humanities Interviews, edited by Ramon C. Sunico, Ateneo de Manila University.

Essay: The Cardinal’s Sins, The General’s Cross, The Martyr’s Testimony and Other Affirmations, by Gregorio C. Brillantes, Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Film: Making Documentaries in the Philippines, by Isabel Enriquez Kenny, Anvil Publishing.

Folklore: Myth, Mimesis and Magic in the Music of the T’boli, Philippines, by Manolete Mora, Ateneo de Manila University Press.

History: Davao: Reconstructing History from Text and Memory, by Macario D. Tiu, Ateneo de Davao University; and To Love and to Suffer: The Development of the Religious Congregations for Women in the Spanish Philippines, 1565-1898, by Luciano Santiago, Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Linguistics: Sawikaan 2004: Mga Salita ng Taon, edited by Galileo S. Zafra and Romulo P. Baquiran Jr., University of the Philippines Press.

Medicine and Health: The Truth about Coconut Oil: The Drugstore in a Bottle, by Conrado S. Dayrit, Anvil Publishing.

Music: Tunugan: Four Essays on Filipino Music, by Ramon Pagayon Santos, University of the Philippines Press.

Personal Anthology: Sakit ng Kalingkingan: 100 Dagli sa Edad ng Krisis, by Rolando B. Tolentino, University of the Philippines Press.

Poetry: Dark Hours, by Conchitina Cruz, University of the Philippines Press; Misterios and Other Poems, by J. Neil C. Garcia, University of the Philippines Press; and Saulado: Mga Tula, by Rebecca T. Añonuevo, University of the Philippines Press.

Reference: 100 Questions Filipino Kids Ask, by Liwliwa Malabed and Emylou Infante, Adarna House and Liwayway Marketing.

Social Sciences: Authentic Though Not Exotic: Essays on Filipino Identity, by Fernando Nakpil Zialcita, Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Special Interest: Huling Ptyk: Da Art of Nonoy Marcelo, by Pandy Aviado, Sylvia Mayuga, and Dario Marcelo, Anvil Publishing.

Theology and Religion: Pagsubok sa Ilang: Ikaapat na Mukha ni Satanas, by Tony Perez, Anvil Publishing; and A Pilgrim’s Notes: Ethics, Social Ethics, Bioethics, by Fausto B. Gomez, O.P., University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.

Translation: Fr. Francisco Coronel’s Arte y Reglas, Kapampangan Grammar and Rules, circa 1621, translated by Edilberto V. Santos, Holy Angel University Press.

Travel: Ciudad Murada: A Walk Through Historic Intramuros, by Jose Victor Z. Torres, Intramuros Administration & Vibal Publishing House.

Best Design: A Pilgrim’s Diary: Passages and Inner Landscapes, by Angela Blardony Ureta, designed by Ige Ramos, Treehouse Creative Village.

Citations: Angono, Rizal series, by Ligaya G. Tiamson-Rubin, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House; Kultura Mangyan series, edited by Antoon Postma, Mangyan Heritage Center; Makata sa Cellphone series, by Frank G. Rivera, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House; and Ubod New Authors Series, National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

21 August 2006

National Book Awards for 2005 Books

The 25th National Book Awards, for books published in 2005, will be announced by the Manila Critics Circle at the Manila International Book Fair on Aug. 31, Thursday, at 4 p.m., at the World Trade Center. All finalists, as well as former winners of the awards, are invited to attend the awarding ceremonies. This year’s awards are sponsored by the National Book Development Board and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Esther Pacheco will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, only the second one given by the Circle. The first was given to Gloria Rodriguez in 1992.

Citations will be given to four sets of books: Angono, Rizal, by Ligaya G. Tiamson-Rubin (UST Publishing House); Kultura Mangyan, edited by Antoon Postma (Mangyan Heritage Center); Makata sa Cellphone, by Frank G. Rivera (UST Publishing House); Ubod series (National Commission for Culture & the Arts).

Here is the list of finalists:

ANTHOLOGY: Philippine Speculative Fiction, edited by Dean Francis Alfar.

ALFONSO T. ONGPIN AWARD FOR BEST BOOK ON ART: Anita Magsaysay-Ho, by Alfredo Roces; Tanaw, edited by Ramon E. S. Lerma.

AUTO/BIOGRAPHY: Bababa Ba? … Bababa, by Jose Abeto Zaide; Don’t Ever Tell Me You Can’t, by Celia Ruiz Tomlinson; John F. Hurley S.J., edited by Jose S. Arcilla, S.J.; The Last Full Moon, by Gilda Cordero Fernando; Light a Fire, by Eduardo B. Olaguer.

BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS: The Bangko Sentral & the Philippine Economy, edited by Vicente B. Valdepeñas Jr.; Making Your Money Work: Pera Mo, Palaguin Mo! 2, by Francisco J. Colayco; Pwede Na!, by Efren Ll. Cruz; Setting Frameworks, by Elfren Cruz; The Way We Work, edited by Ma. Regina M. Hechanova and Edna P. Franco.

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE: Baha!, by Eugene Y. Evasco; Elias and His Trees / Mga Puno ni Elias, by Augie Rivera and Mike Rivera; The Yellow Paper Clip with Bright Purple Spots, by Nikki Dy-Liacco.

COMIC BOOKS: Mars Ravelo’s Lastikman, by Gerry Alanguilan, Arnold Arre and Edgar Tadeo; Siglo: Passion, edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Vincent Simbulan.

COOKBOOKS AND FOOD: Gabay sa Pagkain ng Gulay-Dagat, by Paciente A. Cordero Jr.; Slow Food, edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio and Felice Prudente Sta. Maria.

DRAMA: 10x10x10, edited by Rody Vera and Alfonso I. Dacanay; Mga Piling Dulang Pambata, edited by Arthur P. Casanova.

EDITING: Tandoz and Other Stories, by Delfin Fresnosa, edited by Teresita E. Erestain.

EDUCATION: Edukasyong Pampubliko, by Emmanuel Franco Calairo; University Traditions, edited by Ramon C. Sunico.

ESSAY: The Cardinal’s Sins, The General’s Cross, The Martyr’s Testimony and Other Affirmations, by Gregorio C. Brillantes; The True and the Plain, by Kerima Polotan.

SHORT FICTION: Calvary Road, by Abdon M. Balde Jr.; Jungle Planet and Other Stories, by Lakambini A. Sitoy; Selected Stories, by Jose Y. Dalisay Jr.; White Elephants, by Angelo Lacuesta.

JUAN C. LAYA AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL IN A PHILIPPINE LANGUAGE: May Tibok ang Puso ng Lupa, by Bienvenido A. Ramos.

JUAN C. LAYA AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE: Banana Heart Summer, by Merlinda Bobis; Out of Doors, by Ernesto Superal Yee.

FILM: Making Documentaries in the Philippines, by Isabel Enriquez Kenny.

FOLKLORE: Literature of Voice, edited by Nicole Revel; Myth, Mimesis and Magic in the Music of the T’boli, Philippines, by Manolete Mora; Tales from the Land of Salt, by Emmanuel S. Sison.

HISTORY: Davao, by Macario D. Tiu; Malacañan Palace, by Manuel L. Quezon III, Paulo Alcazaren, and Jeremy Burns; Patterns of Continuity and Change, by Helen Yu-Rivera; To Love and to Suffer, by Luciano Santiago; Tsinoy, edited by Teresita Ang See, Go Bon Juan, Doreen Go Yu, and Yvonne Chua; Under Three Flags, by Benedict Anderson.

LINGUISTICS: Sawikaan 2004, edited by Galileo S. Zafra and Romulo P. Baquiran Jr.

MEDICINE AND HEALTH: The Truth about Coconut Oil, by Conrado S. Dayrit.

MUSIC: Tunugan, by Ramon Pagayon Santos.

PERSONAL ANTHOLOGY: Jose Rizal, by Frank G. Rivera, edited by Arthur P. Casanova; Sakit ng Kalingkingan, by Rolando B. Tolentino.

POETRY: Dark Hours, by Conchitina Cruz; Days of Grace, by R. Torres Pandan; Misterios and Other Poems, by J. Neil C. Garcia; Pana-panahon, by Aida F. Santos; Saulado, by Rebecca T. Añonuevo.

REFERENCE: 100 Questions Filipino Kids Ask, by Liwliwa Malabed and Emylou Infante.

SOCIAL SCIENCES: Authentic though not Exotic, by Fernando Nakpil Zialcita; Kapwa, by Katrin de Guia; The Making of the Igorot, by Gerald A. Finin; The Star-Entangled Banner, by Sharon Delmendo; State and Society in the Philippines, by Patricio N. Abinales and Donna J. Amoroso.

SPECIAL INTEREST: Huling Ptyk, by Pandy Aviado, Sylvia Mayuga, and Dario Marcelo; Ngalang Pinoy, edited by Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz; Mga Panibagong Kulam sa Pag-ibig, by Tony Perez, edited by Susie Baclagon-Borrero.

THEOLOGY & RELIGION: Pagsubok sa Ilang, by Tony Perez; A Pilgrim’s Notes, by Fausto B. Gomez, O.P.; The Prayer Our Lord Taught Us, by Jose M. de Mesa.

TRANSLATION: Fr. Francisco Coronel’s Arte y Reglas, Kapampangan Grammar and Rules, circa 1621, translated by Edilberto V. Santos.

TRAVEL: Ciudad Murada, by Jose Victor Z. Torres; A Pilgrim’s Diary, by Angela Blardony Ureta.

BEST DESIGN: Huling Ptyk, by Pandy Aviado, Sylvia Mayuga, and Dario Marcelo, designed by Pandy Aviado and Carminnie Doromal; The Last Full Moon, by Gilda Cordero Fernando, designed by M. G. Chaves; A Pilgrim’s Diary, by Angela Blardony Ureta, designed by Ige Ramos.

30 June 2006

A Thousand Years of Filitude

In 1000 there was no Filipinas, but there were Filipinos.

There was no Filipinas, if by the term we mean the geographical colony imagined by Spanish imperialists – thinking locally but acting globally, dreaming of lives of ease among Asian beasts – more than half a millennium into the future or the independent nation imagined by Indio expatriates – still students but already writers, living in the belly of the Spanish beast – almost a millennium later.

But there were Filipinos, if by the term we mean flesh-and-blood beings as human as we now are, endowed with exactly the same minds, hearts, souls, rights, freedoms, dreams, and challenges that we ourselves now enjoy. These Filipinos, unbeknownst to themselves, were building the nation chanced upon by the Spanish imperialists and put into words by the Indio expatriates, the same nation called or to be called – at various times and by various peoples – Ophir, Maniolas, Mo-yi, Ma-yi, Sansu, San-Tao, Lu-sung, Islas del Poniente, Islas del Oriente, Islas de Luzones, Archipelago de Magallanes, Archipelago de Celebes, and of course, Filipinas.

These Filipinos lived in a global community. With their hands, they built boats, and in their dreams, they built empires. They traveled routinely to alien places such as Malacca and set up houses and shops there, even – rumors had it – slave centers. They traded commodities with the mighty Chinese and the mysterious Indians. They traded myths, fears, and rumors about the exotic Europeans, the white peoples that, in the folklore of the Tinguians and other islanders, were their very own ancestors that had gone out to see the world and soon enough – to be more precise, half a millennium later – would inevitably return to the parentland.

What kind of art did these Filipinos have? What artistic efforts have they exerted since then? In this essay, let us sketch a history of Filipino achievement in the arts from 1000 to 2000.

First, let us look at the world around Filipinas then. In 1000, Murasaki Shikibu was writing the world’s very first novel Tale of Genji, Islam was popularizing arabesque, Guido d’Arezzo was inventing the musical staff, and the Djennes were perfecting figurative terra-cottas. Just around the time corner were the great wall of Zimbabwe, the Byzantine revisionist portrait of Christ as a stern judge, the Kandariya Mahadeva temple in India, the tolling of the bells for Gregorian chant, the Sung dynasty’s greatest landscape painter Fan K’uan, the French minstrel guilds, and German manuscript illumination at Reichenau Monastery.

What did the Filipinos have that could match these paradigm shifters?

At first glance, not as much. We must remember, however, that we had already built the rice terraces in what eventually would be known as a mountain/ous province; admittedly, though, those had been around for at least – some say more than – two thousand years, mute but eloquent witnesses to the advanced engineering skills of ancient Filipinos. We might already have had primitive, though not necessarily unsophisticated early versions of songs (should we call them Ur-songs?) still sung today by playful children at home or homesick adults overseas – traditional songs such as Atin Cu Pung Singsing, Bahay Kubo, Dandansoy, Ili-ili Tulog Anay, Leron Leron Sinta, Lulay, Magtanim ay di Biro, Manang Biday, Matud Nila, Pamulinawen, Paruparong Bukid, Si Pilemon si Pilemon, Sitsiritsit, and Ti Ayat ti Maysa nga Ubing, songs later to be adapted to the rhythms and tastes of European invaders or perhaps transmogrified from memories of days of rice wine and white roses before colonization. We definitely already had what today we call the Manunggul Jar, almost two thousand years old even then, though whether the Manunggul Cave in Lipuun Point in Palawan was open to living visitors viewing the remains of their dead remained, even by then, a dead issue.

We certainly did not have illuminated manuscripts or even painting on paper. Our Chinese trading partners that had invented printing by 1000 brought only noodles but not woodblocks to our islands, and we had to wait for European plagiarists to introduce the notion of The Book as Object for our artists to come up with, say, the Augustinian Cantoral of 1659 as illuminated by Marcelo de San Agustin, or a bit later, the anonymous Anales Eclesiasticos de Filipinas in 1770, precursors of the letras y figures of the 1840s. Even the earlier Boxer Codex, not completely our own creation, was done only six hundred years after the turn of the millennium, around 1590.

But the first five or so hundred years of the last thousand were not exactly the Dark Ages for Filipinos, though they looked pretty dark to the seafaring and blind coiners of the Spanish word Filipinas. Filipinos did have a huge amount of both written and oral literature by the end of the first millennium. To cite only one example of written imaginative lore, we had the pre-Islamic Darangen of the Maranaos, so lengthy and so complex that it almost took forever in the twentieth century for Mindanao State University, the Toyota Foundation, and Ma. Delia Coronel to print heavily abridged and edited versions of it, versions that have not exactly been welcomed ecstatically by a largely Christocentric, tempocentric, and static public.

The literature printed or signified only in the mind – texts that modern postmodernists would not welcome for reversing the hard-earned poststructuralist hegemony of writing over speech – loomed large during those first five or six hundred years. Today, at least thirty or so oral epic families have survived, each family having any number of songs ranging from short episodes to what in other countries would already be hailed as full epics. Epic families considered canonical are – aside from the Maranao Darangen – the Arakan-Arumanen Agyu, the Suban-on Guman and Keg Sumba neg Sandayo and Ag Tobig nog Keboklagan, the Sulod Hinilawod, the Ifugao Hudhud, the Kinaray-a Humadapnon, the Palawan Kudaman, the Tausug Parang Sabil, the Manobo Tuwaang, the Livunganen-Arumanen Ulahingan, and the Kalinga Ullalim. We could add to the list those created much later, such as the Ilokano Biag ni Lam-ang or even the English Trilogy of Saint Lazarus by Cirilo F. Bautista, the two latter, of course, having been written and published, belonging to Ferdinand de Saussure’s right-hand or Jacques Derrida’s left-hand term.

The oral epics had one thing in common, what protostructuralist Vladimir Propp would have hailed as a triumph of his unwittingly universal grammar or morphology of all extended narratives. Everything else being equal, the Filipino epic hero – male or female – tended to leave home, to acquire the use of a magical agent, to be transferred to the whereabouts of an object of search, to start a battle, to fight for a long time, to be stopped from fighting by a female or male god, to realize that the enemy is an unsuspected blood relation, to die, to resurrect, to return home, and to get married. Filipinos then, as now, knew that no Filipino stands alone; all Filipinos – heroes or villains – receive their sustenance, strength, and salvation from other Filipinos. People Power was not a creation of the late twentieth century, as short-sighted, tempocentric, and megalomaniac come-lately would-be heroes love to announce; it was a characteristic of all Filipino communities even during the first few hundred years of the second millennium and perhaps long before then.

Those first few hundred years, needless to say, were not famous for electronic technology, or in fact, for any kind of technology – appropriate or inappropriate – that would permit ideas to cross oceans fast and pure. Scholastic philosophy, schisms, and the crusades were changing European ideology in the 11th century; the Khmers were building Angkor Wat in the 12th; Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, the Inquisition, Marco Polo, and Kamikaze were changing history in the 13th; Timbuktu was starting to become a cultural center and the Italian Renaissance was beginning in the 14th; the Germans were commercializing printing and other Europeans were starting to sail away from what they thought was the Old World in the 15th – but in what would soon enough be called Filipinas, there was only peace and prosperity, there was only an Eden that the great nineteenth-century novelist Jose Rizal would so aptly call lost, there was only the highest form of civilization available only to the purest of heart.

Twenty-one of our contemporaries have identified certain key events from the coming of homo sapiens in 50,000 BC to AD 1000 as shaping pre-first millennium Filipinas (Asico). Among these, so they claim, were the development of pottery (3,000 BC), writing (200 BC), weaving (AD 200), woodcarving (200), and indigenous music (500). Clearly crucial to the development of Filipinos as artists were the various foreign influences brought physically by the boat trade – the Indonesians and Indochinese (1,000 BC), the Chinese (AD 222), and the Arabs (9th century). In the period we are studying, the key events are the coming of Islam missionaries in the 1240s, of Magellan in 1521 and of Legazpi in 1565, of the Dutch in the 17th century, of the British in 1762, and of everyone else in the 1780s, including the Danish, the Swedes, and United States people (we dare not use the politically incorrect term Americans to denote US residents while marginalizing Canadians, Latin Americans, and non-Latin South Americans). Clearly, it was impossible for Filipinos to remain parochial in their everyday life and in their everyday art; from the very beginning, almost as an inherent quality, Filipino art has always been global.

Speaking strictly of art as a formal discipline, we might probably identify as the most important event in the whole millennium the opening of the first art school in the islands in 1823, the Academia de Dibujo, built around Damian Domingo, who had established its progenitor in his own house in Tondo in 1821. Domingo died in 1832, and the school closed in 1834. More lasting in influence was its offspring, the second art school, which opened in 1845; that second school had among its alumni Simon Flores, Lorenzo Guerrero, Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo, and Juan Luna Novicio.

But that’s coming very close to the end of the millennium. Let us retrace the thousand years by spotting its highlights. This is the traditional way of doing art history (the other way being what is sometimes inaccurately called “history from below”); let us let masterpieces, not the democratic majority, define our history as artists.

In 1584 was built Intramuros (from a precolonial structure already existing in 1519), our answer to the turn of the millennium Borobodour of the Sailendras and Angkor Wat of the Khmers. For architecture, Intramuros was indeed the be-all and the end-all of everything. It was, of course, global, because Spanish-inspired and built; it was also, of course, local, because it physically manifested the only and still remaining racist strain in Filipino life – the prejudice against people of color, the yellow-skinned Chinese and the brown-skinned Malays, both kept outside the walls. On the other hand, if we take a deconstructive view, Intramuros kept imprisoned within its walls white Spaniards and whitened Malays. Either way, Intramuros was our version of the Great Wall of China, keeping the barbarians at the gates while granting a reassuring though false self-image to the savage nobles within.

Architecture, however, did not hibernate the rest of the millennium. Far from it. Public structures, particularly churches, took up the time and energy of our architects. In 1599 – to give only a handful of examples – was built the Ayuntamiento or City Hall of Manila, in 1600 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman in Cagayan, in 1629 the Puente de España (the first bridge to span the Pasig River), in 1630 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of the Inmaculada Concepcion in Antipolo (by Juan de Salazar and Luciano Oliver), in 1635 the Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa in Zamboanga City (by Melchor de Vera and Juan de Ciscara), in 1760 the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City (first built in 1566 by Diego de Herrera), in 1788 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Consolacion in Argao (by Mateo Perez), in 1796 Malacañang Palace, in 1823 Paco Cemetery, and in 1891 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of San Sebastian in Manila (by Genaro Palacios). To choose only one 20th century classic – here we use the term “classic” loosely, since classics are traditionally supposed to have existed for at least a hundred years before even being considered for classic status – we had, in 1912, the Manila Hotel by William Parsons. (All artifacts mentioned above and later are those canonized by the CCP Encylopedia as “major works.”)

We could write a volume just on architecture – and the Cultural Center of the Philippines has indeed devoted an entire volume to it in their monumental Encyclopedia – but the simplest way to be convinced that we are a race of architects is to travel around the country and to see, even in the poorest communities, magnificent cathedrals to the great glory of the Spanish Bathala or, in the final years of the millennium, to the greater glory of the homegrown Angel of the East. There is only one God, says Islam, and his name is Allah; we could say that Allah is no one else but Bathala, because the Spanish missionaries preaching the story of Jesus rising from the dead did not introduce anything new to the belief system of Filipinos, even then marveling every night to stories of epic heroes dying and resurrecting routinely. The derivative Iglesia’s original Manalo never claimed to be Allah, nor indeed neither did Muhammad, but the fascination Filipinos had for one prophet or the other cannot be wholly attributed to the fervor of foreign or native missionaries; Filipino epics all define our imagined communities as communities of imagined heroes and gods, leaders all of all our people. No major leap of imagination is required to go from an epic vision to a theological vision; for Filipinos, folklore and theology are one.

The other visual arts – if we use our own way of classifying art, admittedly not the best of all possible ways, since it does not take into account earlier ways of expressing self or society – were not lying inert while architecture was bursting at the seams. In 1734, for instance, we had Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas, better known as the Pedro Murillo Velarde Map of the Philippines, engraved on copper by Nicolas de la Cruz Baggay and Francisco Suarez. In 1800 the Pakil Crucifix, one of thousands of deconstructions of the story of Jesus’s passion and resurrection, emphasized the human passion and downplayed the superhuman resurrection, thus totally misrepresenting the Christian faith and playing to the pagan beliefs of the split-leveled population. In 1830 we had Coleccion de Trajes de Manila y de las Provincias by Damian Domingo, in 1885 El Pacto de Sangre by Juan Luna y Novicio, and in 1890 La Madre España guiando a su hija Filipinas en el camino del progreso also by Luna.

If the visual arts come, can modern literary arts be far behind? No way, Jose Rizal.

In 1593 was published the first book as object, Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Española y Tagala. It was not, strictly speaking, our very first book; that honor belongs to Darangen, which was copied by hand, though not by movable type, from one Maranao family to another. But Doctrina opened the floodgates to what the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC), in the twentieth century, would denounce as the tyranny of print; PLAC would, ironically, as the millennium drew to a close, see itself transforming from revolutionary to reactionary in the onslaught of the visually-oriented World-Wide Web.

After Doctrina, indeed, was the deluge. In 1703 (or 1704) we had Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon natin na Tola by Gaspar Aquino de Belen. In 1814 we had Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa (Pasyong Genesis or Pasyong Pilapil), in 1831 Comedia Heroica de la Conquistada de Granada o Sea Vida de Don Gonzalo de Cordoba llamado el Gran Capitan by Anselmo Jorge de Fajardo, in 1852 La Teresa: Dialogo cun Pagpolong-polong sa usa ca Familia cun Banay sa Maong Ginicanan, nga Nagatudlo sa Daghanan nga Catungdanan nga Uala Maila sa Daghanan nga mga Bisayang Cristianos by Antonio Ubeda de la Santisima Trinidad, and in 1861 the greatest masterpiece of all Filipino poetry – the metrical romance Pinagdaanang Buhay ni Florante at ni Laura sa Cahariang Albania – Quinuha sa Madlang Cuadro Historico o Pinturang Nagsasabi nang manga Nangyari nang unang Panahon sa Imperio nang Grecia – at Tinula nang isang Matouian sa Versong Tagalog by Francisco Baltazar. Since we are perched on mountain tops, we might as well mention Pagsusulatan ng Dalauang Binibini na si Urbana at ni Feliza na Nagtuturo nang Mabuting Kaugalian (1864) by Modesto de Castro; Ang Suga nga Magandan-ag sa Nagapuyo sa Cangitngitan sa Sala o Ejercicio sulod sa Siam ca Adlao ( 1879) by Blas Cavada de Castro; Ninay: Costumbres Filipinas (1885) by Pedro A. Paterno, published in Madrid; and Si Tandang Basio Macunat (1885) by Miguel Lucio Bustamante. In prose, we had in 1887 Noli me Tangere by Jose Rizal, published in Berlin, undoubtedly The Great Filipino Novel, until its stature was conveniently and comically forgotten by mid-20th century writers still hoping to write what had already been written. Too late these anti- or non-heroes!

The literary world did not stop though it had reached its climax in the Noli. In 1888 we had Dasalan at Tocsohan by Marcelo H. del Pilar in 1891 Rizal’s less inspired sequel El Filibusterismo, published in Ghent, and Fray Botod by Graciano Lopez Jaena, published in Barcelona. 1896 was a banner year; in that one year alone, we had Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa and Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog by Andres Bonifacio, Liwanag at Dilim by Emilio Jacinto, and Mi Ultimo Adios by Rizal. Later, already stepping into our own century, we had Banaag at Sikat (1905) by Lope K. Santos, Lidia (1907) by Juan Crisostomo Soto, and innumerable others, most of them less remarkable but not all of them not worth remarking. If we had to choose only one set of literary texts to represent the 20th century, it might arguably – vociferously arguably – be the only prose epic of our time, notwithstanding its alleged lack of (or perhaps because of its outstanding?) literary and political merits, F. Sionil Jose’s Rosales Novels – Poon (1985), Tree (1978), My Brother, My Executioner (1973), The Pretenders (1962), Mass (1984), and perhaps Viajero (1993) – the only sustained modern narrative in novel form, following and keeping alive the ancient epic tradition of heroes unable to achieve heroism without the active help of the community, an achievement that in no small measure owes its success to its continuing the Rizal tradition of romantic realism or realistic romanticism.

Books and literary texts are only a small step away from the performing arts. If poetry aspires to the condition of music, then drama aspires to the condition of theater. Not surprisingly, by 1860 we had La India Elegante y el Negrito Amante by Francisco Baltazar, staged in Udyong (now Orion), Bataan, as well as Orosman at Zafira also by Baltazar, staged in Batangas. In music, we had, in 1879, La Flor de Manila by Dolores Paterno, lyrics by Pedro Paterno. That same year saw the theatrical piece El Consejo de los Dioses by Jose Rizal. A year later we had Junto al Pasig also by Rizal, a zarzuela staged at Ateneo Municipal de Manila. In 1898 was staged the drama simboliko Malaya by Tomas Remigio at Dulaang Luzon in Manila. In 1891 Recuerdos de Capiz by Julio Nakpil was awarded a diploma of honor during the first Exposicion Regional Filipina. In 1896 we had Jocelynang Baliwag; in 1898 Himno Nacional Filipino by Julian Felipe; in 1900 Ing Managpe by Mariano Proceso Pabalan, staged at Teatro Sabina in Bacolor, Pampanga; in 1902 Ang Paghigugma sa Yutang Natawhan by Vicente Sotto, staged at Teatro Junquera (Teatro Oriente) in Cebu City, as well as Walang Sugat by Severino Reyes and Fulgencio Tolentino, staged at Teatro Libertad in Manila; in 1903 Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas by Aurelio Tolentino, staged at Teatro Libertad in Manila; in 1917 Solo entre las Sombras by Claro M. Recto, staged at Manila Grand Opera House. The first film of note came in 1919, Dalagang Bukid by Jose Nepomuceno.

If we had to choose only one musical piece to represent the last century of the millennium, I suppose we would have difficulty choosing between Donde estas, mi Vida (Nasaan ka, Irog?) (1923), by Nicanor Abelardo, lyrics by Narciso Asistio (Spanish) and Jose Corazon de Jesus (Tagalog), and Bayan Ko (1928) by Constancio de Guzman, lyrics by Jose Corazon de Jesus. If we had to choose only one dance event to freeze in a time capsule, we would have to single out Mariang Makiling (1939), a ballet in two acts by Anita Kane, the first dance to use a local legend and original music. If we had to choose just one theater piece, it would have to be, hands down, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (1955) by Nick Joaquin, first staged in Intramuros, filmed in 1966 by Lamberto Avellana, and subsequently restaged, translated, retranslated, adapted to music, deconstructed, reconstructed, misconstructed, and so on, not yet ad nauseam and hopefully ad infinitum.

To go through a thousand years of art history is to realize that a thousand years is nothing. Filipinos have always lived sub specie aeternitatis. Filipinos have always lived beyond themselves. The diaspora of the late 20th century may have a Jewish label with a tinge of siege mentality, but the Weltanschauung of the Filipino has always been much more global and open.

What else can we conclude from our creation myths? Here is a typical creation story, as told by the Agusan Manobo and retold in English by Rosario Cruz Lucero:

In the beginning was Dagau, who set the world atop five iron pillars, one of them at the center. The sky was round and was bounded by the sea. Near the sea’s edge was its navel, a gigantic hole through which the waters rose and fell, causing high and low tides. The world was shaped like a mushroom, underneath which lived Dagau with her pet giant python. (Dalisay 1: 22)

This biologically or superbiologically female god created not just Filipinos, but everyone else, or perhaps more accurately, created only Filipinos, that then dispersed diasporically throughout the earth and became all other peoples.

From this female god (and other female gods, and some male gods as well) to the Filipinos living around 1000 is a small step for Filipinos, but a giant step for humanity. By 1000 we were, as Cecilio G. Salcedo likes to put it, citing F. Landa Jocano, a highly literate race, communicating with each other through a complex system of writing (Dalisay 2: 222). The Laguna copper plate (dated 10th century, more or less), if nothing else, signals the extraordinary ordinariness of literacy among Filipinos. It is impossible to imagine a race so skilled in engineering that it could construct rice terraces in 1500 or 1000 BC and so literate it had island-hopping communication through writing that was not talented enough to deconstruct or defamiliarize reality or, in other words, to create art.

Clearly, from a purely logical point of view, as well as from the empirical evidence of all the art pieces we have mentioned, we are a proud and artistic race, able to look everyone in the eye and to say, like feminists and postcolonialists used to say, that we had masterpieces as splendid and marvelous as any found elsewhere on earth, but alas, marginalized, trivialized, debased, and otherwise colonized in our own minds and by our own long-lost tribal mates from abroad, we now find ourselves searching for our roots, unaware that from our roots have grown the masterpieces of the entire artistic world. At the end of the day or of the millennium, it has been an exciting thousand years of Filitude.


Asico, Mary-Ann, ed. 1999. 100 Events that Shaped the Philippines. Quezon City: Adarna Book Services and National Centennial Commission.

Dalisay, Jose Y. Jr., ed. 1998. Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People. 10 vols. Manila: Asia Publishing.

Tiongson, Nicanor G., ed. 1994. CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. 10 vols. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines.

(Published in Philippine Cultural and Artistic Landmarks of the Past Millennium. Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2001, pp. 60-70.)

08 May 2006

Filipino Identity

Last April 4, at the architectural marvel that is the new Instituto Cervantes beside Casino Español in Ermita, Manila, a round table discussion was held on the issue of “Filipino Identity.” Fernando “Butch” Zialcita, who had just published the book Authentic Though Not Exotic: Essays on Filipino Identity, and bestselling author Jessica Zafra were with me on the panel, ably moderated by Chaco Molina.

I must say at the outset that I thoroughly enjoyed Zialcita’s book. It has to be one of the most significant books published in recent years. Based on solid anthropological research, the book tackles several answers to the question “What is Filipino?” and shows which of them are based on reality and which are not.

My comments on the book had to do not with its merit as a book, but with its unintended lack of appreciation for the long tradition of similar books written in Filipino. I should say this because I do not want to be misunderstood as rejecting the book. In fact, I recommend the book very highly to anyone that wants to know who and what we are.

Here are excerpts from the paper I prepared for the panel:

Since Butch Zialcita’s book does not refer to any of my books in Filipino nor to those of Virgilio Almario or Soledad Reyes, and refers only to the book in English that Bienvenido Lumbera wrote when he was still a student and had not yet fully developed his ideas in his books in Filipino, and since Butch is not only a colleague but a friend – in fact, we have known each other since college days – and therefore has nothing personal against the four of us, I can only assume that he is not that familiar with the parallel efforts being made in the field of literary theory and particularly with that area of it that is written in Filipino. Though as a literary critic I must admit I feel a bit slighted by it, I do not blame him for this oversight, since he himself says that his preference for Filipino as the intellectual language to discuss issues of identity has been stifled by the need to communicate with his colleagues and since no book can be expected anyway to be exhaustive; besides, his book is really an anthology of papers written primarily for social scientists attending conferences or reading journals.

This might be an occasion, therefore, to sketch, even at the risk of oversimplification because we have only a few minutes, how literary theory written in Filipino has approached the question of Filipino identity.

Butch says, “Whenever possible, I prefer to use the vernacular because this forces me to rethink abstract concepts in a clear, concrete way. Also, there is genuine communication.” Almario, Reyes, Lumbera, and I – and others, of course – have been using Filipino in our academic work as literary critics. Although we do not form a school of thought in the sense that we share the same views or even general philosophy, we do build on each other’s research and insights.

Almario has identified what he calls a Filipino Formalism in the practice of writing and reading poetry. He has done this primarily by going back to Tagalog critical texts written during the Spanish period. He became famous because of his early book on what he named Balagtasismo, or the tradition of poetry identified with Francisco Balagtas, the Tagalog poet who wrote Florante at Laura, which is required reading for all Filipino students in secondary school. He has moved considerably away from that book, with his later books going beyond Balagtas into the earlier traditions in Tagalog poetry.

Reyes has widened the scope of literary criticism to include not just poetry, which is the core of literature, but also previously marginalized forms, such as comic books, radio plays, and serialized novels in popular magazines. She became famous for her definition of the Filipino romantic mode, a concept that she has continued to develop in several books. Recently, she has focused on women writers that have been doubly marginalized, once because they are women and second because they wrote in unheralded literary forms.

Lumbera needed to write his doctoral dissertation, which is the book on Tagalog poetry that Butch includes in his references, in order to turn his back on his miseducation. Since then, as a professional scholar rather than as a mere student, Lumbera has moved deeply into literary theory, discovering that there is a concept of nationhood imbedded in various texts, and not only literary but cinematic and other texts.

I have myself, if I may be immodest, advocated what I call the concept of the Other Other, or Bukod na Bukod, as my latest theory book is entitled. Before my retirement from De La Salle University, I spoke at various international conferences, pricking the consciences of so-called postcolonial literary critics by assuming what I suppose is a stand strange to them, namely, that the Philippines is an ancient, first-world, and Western nation.

Obviously, we cannot debate all the issues that literary critics have been debating over the last forty years, with the four of us, if I can again be immodest, at the center of the debates. There are younger literary critics, such as David Jonathan Bayot, Caroline Hau, and Roland Tolentino, that are taking the debates into areas much deeper and more exciting than the four of us elders have explored, and the good news is that they build on what we have spent our lives doing. (The Philippine Star, 20 April 2006)

It is impossible to reconcile many of our views on national identity, but oversimplistically, I could say that we all agree that, first, it is not right to be primitivist (that is, to say that we used to be Filipino but became less so when foreigners invaded our shores); second, that there is something that foreigners did not give us (there is something traceable to our ancient ethnoepics that up to now still animates our literary and popular texts); and third, that we have always been global (even before foreign forms entered the physical boundaries of the country).

Butch can easily see how literary theory in Filipino can bolster many of his arguments.

Although we can understand the dissatisfaction Butch feels when he reads social science texts that marginalize the Philippines, we literary critics feel much more confident than he does, or perhaps than all Philippine social scientists do, because international encyclopedias on literature routinely include Philippine writers. Just look at the Routledge Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English, the British (now American) traveler’s series on literature, the Fitzroy Dearborn Encyclopedia of the Novel, the Dictionary of Literary Biography, and other major references of that kind. Or look at the annual bibliography of the Modern Language Association of America, which is the biggest association of literary scholars not just in the United States, but in the world.

Or look at the important role the Philippine Center of International PEN plays in International PEN, which is the world’s biggest and in fact the only international professional association of writers. Until it ran out of funds, the Philippine Center was deep into organizing the annual Congress in Manila. In May, the Philippine Center is, in fact, organizing the 31st UNESCO-ITI World Congress and Theatre Olympics of the Nations, a clear recognition by the international art community of the sophistication and maturity of Philippine artists.

Of course, we literary critics deal primarily with written texts, though most of us also talk about non-written texts, especially Tolentino, who has a series of books out on skin whiteners, malls, and the like. Most relevant to the book of Butch is Tolentino’s Paghahanap ng Virtual na Identidad (Looking for Virtual Identity). Social scientists like Butch have to deal with reality, as opposed to the virtual world of literary and quasi-literary texts.

Let me cite another literary critic – Gemino Abad. I did not mention him earlier because he writes in English and is more accessible to Butch, although Abad also does not merit mention in the book. Abad says that the world is made up of words. Of course, Abad borrows this insight from the structuralists, who have a lot in common with social scientists, because the linguist Roman Jakobson, heavily influenced by the linguist Ferdinand du Saussure, himself heavily influenced the anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss, used by Butch in his book. If the world were indeed made up of words, then it is the literary critic that we should turn to if we want to understand the world. Now, that is surely immodest.

I have to say that I enjoyed the book. It is very well researched. It is not afraid to point out the errors of others, even big names such as O. D. Corpuz, who misreads Sinibaldo de Mas. It uses personal knowledge, though anecdotal, as a counterpoint to the impersonality of much research. It is also well written, which literary critics appreciate.

One passage particularly strikes me. Butch writes, “The eighteenth-century German aristocracy derided German and German literature. They spoke with each other in French. As a result, French words abound in German, often in their original spelling. Though Frederick the Great of Prussia warred against the French king in 1757, he was a Francophile in his readings and in his speech. He confessed that ‘since the days of my youth I have not read a German book and I speak German no better than a coachman.’”

Let’s change the word German to Filipino and French to English and change the setting to the Philippines today. The passage would read: “Today’s Filipino leaders deride the Filipino language and literature in Filipino. They speak with each other in English. As a result, English words abound in Filipino or Taglish, often in their original spelling. Though Filipino political and industry leaders claim to have been independent since 1946, they are Americans in their readings and in their speech. Some, maybe most of them can truly confess that, since the days of their youth they have not read a book in Filipino and they speak Filipino no better than their drivers.”

Since literary theorists like to debunk earlier theories, I love the way Butch debunks these ideas: that Americans introduced public education, that Filipinos have a bayanihan spirit, that corruption is the main problem with our government, that Marx advocated communal property, that the elite betrayed the Philippine Revolution, that we practice a split-level Christianity, that we suffer from cultural schizophrenia, and that there is such thing as Asia.

To all my readers: get a copy of the book and find out why we are what we are. (The Philippine Star, 27 April 2006)