On Manila

29 Sep

They would always warn you about the streets of Manila. They would tell you about the piles of garbage huddled in every other street corner and the flies large as well-nourished beetles that live in them. They would describe to you how the sidewalks are covered in spit and used oil and ambulant vendors and wooden carts and urine and graffiti and vagrants and excrement and the occasional well-dressed evangelist handing out pamphlets about knowing Jesus.

They would give you eyewitness accounts of the most sensational deaths that happened there – hacked with a butcher’s knife by the husband who caught his wife and her lover in flagrante delicto, ran over by a drunk SUV driver, leapt from the 9th story of a condo after failing the bar exams, gunned down by supposed vigilantes for alleged drug use.

This laundry list of the horrors of Manila’s streets is supposed to strike the fear of God in you. But you have also read much of the city’s history and a lot of Nick Joaquin to give the country’s capital the benefit of the doubt. And after much walking and jeepney-hailing, and tricycle-riding, and LRT-boarding, you come to know the city on your own terms. And you find out that this is what they don’t tell you:

That it will always allow you to stumble upon pleasant surprises – a hole-in-the-wall owned and run by a Taiwanese woman who makes the best dumplings in the same room where you eat them; a tiny pub where you can get a beer for 30 bucks and when you try to order some food at 5 pm, you’ll be told that they have no food available yet because their cook is still buying ingredients at the market; a National Artist’s quaint bookstore that holds more relevant titles than the large bookstore chains.

That when you get caught in a sudden rainstorm, there will always be a shop or a café or a store or a hotel or a church that you could seek shelter in.

That even when the streets swell with murky floodwater, people will always find ways to help you stay dry – makeshift rickety bridges, kariton and padyak rides, well-spaced crates that serve as islands – all for a few pesos, of course.

That if you find yourself lost in the labyrinth of streets, you can always choose to keep going either left or right because one way will inevitably lead you to the train while the other will lead you to the sea.

That the sea holds ships from far-off places on its surface and stories of war in its belly, and every afternoon, it swallows the sun while it bleeds in hues of yellow and orange and red and pink and purple.

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On Adele’s “Hello”

29 Oct

Adele’s “Hello” offers us a different narrative in the sense that the persona in the song is now the “jilter” instead of being the usual “jiltee.”

The first two stanzas lay out the current situation–from a distance and after several years, the persona longs to see the jiltee and hopes that they could synthesize everything that transpired between them in their now-dead relationship, all the while succumbing to nostalgia of their younger days together.

The rest of the song leaves us clues to the possible reasons for the demise of the relationship–the persona left (the place they spent their youth in, and consequently, the jiltee) because “nothing ever happened” in that town. It’s the usual peripheral small town problem (cue Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” perhaps in a way, even “Don’t Stop Believing”).

Now, the clincher obviously lies in the chorus (which comprises more than 60% of the song). The persona is trying to reach out to the jiltee so she could apologize for hurting him, but he never picks up and the message she gets from his silence is that he no longer seems affected by what happened.

I just listened to the song today because I got curious about why people are getting so affected by this song (well, Adele has been known be the soundtrack to broken hearts and emotional meltdowns, so there’s that). But I must say that after hearing it, I failed to find the emotional grip it has on many.

This story is all too familiar. The jilter leaves for some personal reason. The years that go by lend her the much-needed perspective and now that she has gained a foothold on life, she realizes just how terrible it was that she left him. She then longs for forgiveness and absolution that only he could give.

This exhibits just how selfish such apologies actually are. It isn’t really meant to comfort the jiltee or remedy the damage that has been done (if it is, it’s a case of “too little, too late”). It is simply meant to alleviate the guilt (or whatever kind of pain) the persona is plagued with.

The point of this post is not to crucify the jilter (we have all been there, done that), or to discredit the legitimacy of such feelings. I simply want to point out that making a choice is one thing–living with those choices is another. It often seems like making the choice is the painfully difficult part, but as the song shows, it’s living with it that can prove to be one’s eternal grief.

On the api (victim of injustice) narrative

30 Jun

Much is to be admired in a country that has triumphed over sequential, albeit repetitive, oppressions. This is a country that has banished different conquerors (and is still embroiled in a struggle with one at present), survived the most devastating natural disasters, and lived through the various daily third world realities. Such feats can only be achieved by people who have solid mettle and plain good sense—at least, in theory.

Our long history of oppression is perhaps what draws many of us towards what I call the “api narrative.” The term “underdog” would be the closest one that may be related to it. However, the term underdog would be insufficient. Api is a Filipino term that is, according to the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino, synonymous with alipusta, which in turn means “1: ginamitan ng hindi makatarungan at malupit na kapangyarihan, 2: tumanggap o nabiktima ng naturang kawalan ng katarungan” [1: subjected to unjust and cruel use of power, 2: victim of injustice].

Filipinos have a penchant for the api. Just consider the narratives of the films that catapulted Fernando Poe, Jr. and Sharon Cuneta to stardom. This is also evident in the revivals of soap operas or teleserye of the past decades, as well as the necessity of exposing the sob stories of reality talent show contestants. The common narrative shared by all of these would be this: a morally upright individual (in rare cases, one who is reformed a.k.a. bad-turned-good/lost-lamb-who-was-led-to-the-right-path) who has never broken any laws (of the land, of the Lord, of one’s parents) is pushed into a difficult situation mainly due to poverty. This person is then subjected to a universe of pain and oppression by evil people (there is often no back story to evilness—like in fairy tales, the characters are only either all good or all bad, to make the narrative less confusing for its consumers). The character then reaches her saturation point (usually due to some cataclysmic event, like the death of a loved one) and vows to avenge herself and her loved ones. Cue: Sharon Cuneta in “Bukas, Luluhod ang mga Tala” [skip to 4:28] and “Babangon Ako’t Dudurugin Kita” as well as FPJ in well, all of his films. The younger ones can relate with Jodi Sta. Maria’s character (played in the original series by Eula Valdez) in “Pangako Sa’yo” in this iconic scene [skip to 2:11] where she literally mentions the word api (interestingly, the original line uses “alipin” instead).

Nothing sells better than this. As people who have experienced and continue to experience various kinds of oppression, in varying degrees (at home, at work, in relationships), it becomes so easy to emphatize with the api character. And there is a minor kind of high that people get in watching the character avenge all the wrongs done to her. The kontrabida’s manner of death is often indicative of how evil she was throughout the show, which means that the kontrabida almost always dies a horrible death—trapped in a vehicle that explodes, run over by a truck, walloped with blunt objects until she falls off a building. This is why in the case of Celina/Selina/Selena [my sources couldn’t agree on one spelling] played by Princess Punzalan in “Mula sa Puso,” it was all of the above.

Now, what is the point of going into a primer on soap opera culture? It is to point out the fact that in our mindless consumption of these narratives, some of us have failed to see what it’s really about. Sure, there is always the glorification of the api—that good things come to those who wait, that things will turn out for the better, etc. But as with everything else, it always boils down to power.

The api become api because they are genuinely oppressed for their lack of agency and power. As the definition of the word says, they are victims of injustice. But they claw their way out of their predicament (mostly through rightful and legal means) to fight for their rights and regain what was taken from them (this includes justice and dignity). They do not whine about it, not even when they did not possess the power to help themselves.

Having said all of this, as veteran consumers of this kind of narrative, shouldn’t we all take offense whenever someone who, on so many counts, does not meet the requirements of the noble bida, attempts to make use of this narrative and turns it into his favor? Here we find someone who isn’t on any level, morally upright, someone who actually wields power but makes use of it in criminal ways, someone who has the agency to make a difference yet only puts forward his own personal agenda, yet he keeps on whining about his imagined slights and oppressions even while he is in a position of power. Where one gets the gall to do this is beyond me. But then, quoting Hans Landa (played by the brilliant Christoph Waltz) in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” “I’m aware what tremendous feats human beings are capable of once they abandon dignity.”

There is something very wrong when someone in power exploits the narrative of the powerless. What is even more wrong is when one finds people who willingly lap it all up. It’s nothing less of a slap in the face and a spit on our struggles to buy into such a fantastic [fantastic meaning rooted in fantasy, not fantastic meaning great] story. Haven’t we learned anything from our very long history? Shouldn’t it enrage us just to think about how our ancestors were slaughtered to free us just so we could find ourselves here, with these types of people? I refuse to believe that our people have fought long and hard for our liberties only for a few to take us for fools.

On memory, pain, and fear

25 Feb

*SPOILER ALERT: Parts and aspects of “The Last Five Years” and “Still Alice” are talked about in this blog entry.

There are sad movies that make you cry and give you catharsis afterwards, and there are sad movies that simply depress the hell out of you. I don’t get many of the former. I hardly ever get them, which has actually made me evaluate my emotional state a few times. Case in point: I thought “The Last Five Years” would do that for me, because the demise of a relationship is a theme I (along with every other person) am quite familiar with. But that film did little for me apart from serving as another cautionary tale (i.e. Don’t marry someone who is too full of himself; If you choose to be the wind beneath someone’s wings, you better make sure that that someone is definitely worth it) and leaving me with an LSS of “Still Hurting.” And then I see “Still Alice,” which did make me tear up a bit, but in the end, it not only deprived me of that elusive catharsis, it made me want to drown myself in wine and pass out.

Sidebar: In this age of information bombardment, one of the small pleasures I treat myself to is not reading up on a film prior to seeing it. This way, I don’t carry preconceived biases with me, and I get the full effect of the movie. Many times, this has caused me disappointment, but there are rare occasions when it works, sometimes too well.

There really is little basis for comparison between “The Last Five Years” and “Still Alice” (they are worlds apart on the basis of genre alone) but in terms of effect, I find the latter to be exponentially more haunting. The movie reminded me that what is truly to be feared in this life is not losing your family or your friends or your lover, as many of us feel. A far greater thing to be feared is losing yourself.

Relationships crumble and die, sometimes by natural causes, other times by our own doing. We can dwell on it, try to make peace with it by writing songs or poetry or movies about it, run the sequence of events over and over in our minds like an incisive detective repeatedly going through the video of a crime in order to make sense of it, but the bottom line is: it ends. And you are responsible for and entirely capable of picking yourself up and moving forward.

But to lose yourself by slowly losing control of everything that makes you you—your memory/ies, your intellect, your capabilities, your ability to function as a normal human being—there is no coming back from that. “Still Alice” presents a very vivid picture of this. The fact that she was a professor who had a penchant for words definitely made her character bear a heavier brunt. From being a respected scholar of linguistics, she ended up as a woman without memory who can barely manage to produce sounds that only vaguely resemble words. It is nothing short of dehumanizing.

Friends and acquaintances used to be impressed by my memory. I hardly forgot anything. I would remember small details nobody else would. I would remember the exact words from conversations, what people wore, what they ate. After a while, I found it to be burdensome. It would take so much effort for me to dislodge unpleasant things from my memory, which took its toll on quite a few relationships, both romantic and otherwise. So I trained myself not to remember, and it took some time, but I succeeded. I psyched myself so well in not remembering, there was a time when I stared in panic at a form I had to fill out because I couldn’t remember my own mobile number (which I’ve had for two years at the time).

I have yet to truly make sense of why the movie has such an impact on me. I’ve only finished seeing it over an hour ago. I suppose the simplest way to put it is this: I have come to consider an excellent working memory as a burden, but I have just seen how infinitely more terrible it is not to have one. It reminds me of this poem by Pablo Neruda called “Memory,” which I shall leave here. It will probably add to the depression, but we can hope for an overdue catharsis later.

MEMORY

Pablo Neruda

I have to remember everything,

keep track of blades of grass, the threads

of all untidy happenings,

the resting places, inch by inch,

the infinite railroad tracks,

the surfaces of pain.

If I were to misplace one rosebud

and confuse night with a hare,

or even if one whole wall

of my memory were to disintegrate

I am obliged to make over the air,

stem, earth, leaves,

hair, even the bricks,

the thorns which pierced me,

the speed of flight.

Be gentle with the poet.

I was always quick to forget,

and those hands of mine

could only grasp intangibles,

untouchable things

which could only be compared

when they no longer existed.

The smoke was an aroma,

the aroma something like some,

the skin of a sleeping body

which came to life with my kisses;

but don’t ask me the date

or the name of what I dreamed—

nor can I measure the road

which may have no country

or that truth that changed

or perhaps turned off by day

to become a wandering light,

a firefly in the dark.

On kilig

14 Feb

Like many other words in our beautiful national language, kilig poses a challenge in the search for an adequate English equivalent (another troublesome one would be lambing). I’ve heard it said that it’s because our language is more based on the affective rather than the cognitive—feelings are almost always involved, which explains why everyone’s favorite sentence (particularly today), “I love you,” bears more weight and definitely sounds more poetic when put this way: Iniibig kita.

It’s also worth considering that “I love you” is suitable for all kinds of relationships—family members say it to each other, as friends and lovers do. We also say it to our pets and favorite things. But “Iniibig kita” is only and strictly used in the romantic context. Can you imagine saying that to your siblings? Can you also spell incest? Contrary to popular belief, pag-ibig and pagmamahal cannot be used interchangeably. But I digress.

Not to sound like a priggish schoolmarm (I know the fact that I’m single, that I teach for a living and that I knit as a hobby do not help my case, but focus), but the ease of direct communication between individuals, the availability of information, and the rather uniform portrayal of young love on television and in the movies today which show couples in their early teens hug, touch, and kiss each other for the slightest reasons have contributed to a distorted sense of kilig in this day and age.

 Let me make something clear: I am not against physical contact between genders. I am, however, concerned about the reason why there seems to be this widespread need for it among couples who can barely manage to keep their hormones in check. And my theory is that it’s to get that special high from the mysterious kilig.             

 What is kilig?

I am definitely not an expert on this subject, but I do have close encounters with the term. I have quite a few friends who wear their hearts on their sleeves and it’s very easy to see when they like someone because they show the usual tell-tale signs of kilig after even the briefest interaction with the object of their affection:

  • they blush
  • their eyes sparkle
  • they wear that beaming smile that usually lasts for hours
  • they suddenly hug (or shake, depending on the degree of kilig) the nearest first friend they bump into
  • they give off this high-pitched shriek-scream combination that is unique to those in the throes of kilig
  • they tell the story of the interaction over and over
  • they lose all sense of thirst and hunger for a brief span of time
  • they smile to themselves whenever they privately recall the interaction

In the olden days which we will identify as pre-social network, pre-DSL, pre-digital mobile phone age, one could get kilig from the simplest things: finding a note tucked into the pages of your book (which the object of your affection courageously borrowed from you), hearing the landline ring and hearing your mother say it’s for you, having the object of your affection walk you home (while carrying your books) and of course you will both choose the longest route. I know these practices are not completely dead yet. In fact, they could still be widely practiced by the young, but what made these things special in those days is the limited nature of such interactions. Those are the only ways the two of you could communicate and spend time together. You had to wait for her/his reply to your note for hours or even days. You had to say whatever you had to say before the line gets cut off by the party line (kids, you have to look up what this means) or someone else’s need to use the phone. You had to patiently get to know a person in the few hours that you get to spend together every so often.

The rarity of such occasions and the limitations imposed by the “backwardness” of the time afforded us that special kilig feeling in steady, adequate doses. In this day and age when everything is unlimited—you have perpetual promos that offer unlimited calls, texts, chat, social network access—could you possibly say the same?

Trappings of “modernity”

The conveniences offered by technological advancements and other trappings of “modernity” actually make certain things in life much harder to attain. We have gotten to be very impatient people. Two minutes of delayed SMS response sends us into a nail-biting episode. An unanswered call plunges us into sordid paranoia. We have also adopted the “more is better” philosophy in life. More options are better. More Facebook friends are better. More Twitter followers are better. Sitting close to the object of your affection is not enough, you have to be right beside her. Sitting beside her is not enough, you have to hold her hand. Holding her hand isn’t enough, you have to put your arms around her, etc., etc.

 And there lies the kilig conundrum—now that you have such an easy access to it (text each other sweet nothings all day long, send virtual flowers and notes, yak on your mobiles from dinner to breakfast), it becomes more and more difficult to get that genuine kilig buzz.

 One of the texts I always made a point of discussing in my genre literature classes is Paz Marquez Benitez’s “Dead Stars,” mainly because it’s the first modern English language short story the country has ever produced, and also because it is superbly written, with such heightened sensitivity. There is that one scene where Alfredo catches up with Julia on the beach:

The golden streamer was withdrawing, shortening, until it looked no more than a pool far away at the rim of the world. Stillness, a vibrant quiet that affects the senses as does solemn harmony; a peace that is not contentment but a cessation of tumult when all violence of feeling tones down to the wistful serenity of regret. She turned and looked into his face, in her dark eyes a ghost of sunset sadness.

 

“Home seems so far from here. This is almost like another life.”

 

“I know. This is Elsewhere, and yet strange enough, I cannot get rid of the old things.”

 

“Old things?”

 

“Oh, old things, mistakes, encumbrances, old baggage.” He said it lightly, unwilling to mar the hour. He walked close, his hand sometimes touching hers for one whirling second.

Those very brief moments when his hand brushed against hers were enough to cause a tumult in his heart. And whenever I ask my students if they could relate to such experience, I usually get bewildered or amused stares and responses—“And OA naman, ma’am. Nagdikit lang ‘yung kamay, naguluhan na s’ya!” (“He’s overreacting, ma’am. Their hands just brushed against each other and already he’s confused!”). Such reaction drives home the point—most of them could no longer conceive of being so affected by something so little. I tell them half-jokingly that if this scene were adapted into one of those teleseryes, there would be no hand-brushing—there would be lip-locking and rolling over the sand.

Consider: if you still got kilig over such little things, just imagine how much more heightened, significant, memorable, and almost mind-blowing your first kiss with the object of your affection is going to be. Kilig gets more and more elusive as you grow older, so do yourself a favor and find your own version of Alfredo-and-Julia on the beach. Have a good Friday.        

On Jose Rizal as the National Hero

30 Dec

Renato Constantino created an uproar in 1969 when he delivered the speech “Veneration Without Understanding” on the very death anniversary of Rizal. He presented several assertions that support his claim that Rizal is being “venerated without understanding” and that there is a need to recognize new heroes in this day and age since the image of Rizal – as a highly-intellectual ilustrado with a bourgeois consciousness who, at least for Constantino, looks down on the masses – no longer suits the needs of the society today.

His assertions are basically composed of orthodoxies regarding Rizal. The first of these is that Constantino views Rizal as a reformist who abhorred the revolution. His primary basis, of course, like many other anti-Rizal historians, is the December 15 Manifesto where Rizal addressed the “Filipino people” and informed them of his stance of being against the revolution – he considers it is a “barbaric act” because he believes that changes “must come from above and not from below.”

However, as said by Epifanio San Juan in his essay, “Ideology, Class Consciousness, History: a Reading of Rizal’s Novels”:

Not that the December 15 Manifesto does not reflect Rizal’s ambivalent attitude to a revolution which proves putschist or adventurist, lacking cohesive and broad support; it does. But to single out this document, as well as endorse passages from Padre Florentino’s sermon, is to fall into the imperialist trap set by Taft and Roosevelt and their oligarchic flunkies whose thinking and practice exemplify… the glorification of slavish egotism, contempt for the laboring masses, and subservience to the elite and its imperialist masters.” (San Juan 102)

Floro Quibuyen has also provided plenty of evidence that counter this orthodoxy – the most popular and undoubtedly most glaring of which are the memoirs of Pio Valenzuela and Rizal’s poem, the Ultimo Adios. Quibuyen has presented the two contradicting memoirs of Valenzuela where one depicts Rizal as an immovable anti-revolutionary while the other depicts him as a brilliant pro-revolutionary who even gave useful advice to the Katipunan. It has been discussed why the latter testimony of Valenzuela contains a higher level of validity compared to the former – the latter testimony was given by Valenzuela without the pressure of Spanish interrogators; the constraints of prison; and the risk of endangering the life of Rizal.

The Ultimo Adios, being Rizal’s last poem, needs to be taken with serious re-consideration by Constantino and others who insist on proliferating the orthodoxy that Rizal was not a revolutionary but a true-blue reformist. Since the poem was the last thing he ever wrote for the Filipino people, therefore, his “last words” for his beloved countrymen, it wouldn’t make sense to think that he wrote something he didn’t believe in.

In addition to this, the poem has proven to be a powerful tool in fanning the flames of nationalism and at the same time, the revolution. This has been proven by the fact that it was Andres Bonifacio himself who translated the poem into Tagalog so that it may be disseminated to the masses. In this case, it would be utterly absurd to even consider that Rizal could simply have written the poem for the desire of eternal glory.

Constantino’s second assertion is that Rizal’s reputation overshadows the revolution – “Hindi natin binigyan ng tumpak na pagpapahalaga ang Rebolusyon dahil hindi niya ito sinangkutan at itinakwil pa nga niya ito” (2). He therefore implies that venerating Rizal as the primary hero of this country is equivalent to taking the Revolution for granted since he did not take part in it. In addition to this, he considers Rizal’s actions as a form of betrayal:

Sa katunayan, kataksilan ang mga pananalitang yaon sapagkat nakikibaka sa Espanya ang mga Pilipino. Itinakwil ni Rizal ang tanging pagkilos na bumuo sa makabansang hangarin” (3).

This seemingly bitter argument may be countered using the aforementioned evidence cited by Quibuyen. There are other proofs of Rizal’s revolutionary stance that may be seen in Qibuyen’s book. Among these is Rizal’s separation from La Solidaridad and from del Pilar; his going back to the Philippines from Europe; and the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. What happened between Rizal and del Pilar and Rizal’s break from the Solidaridad may be called an ideological struggle. Rizal and del Pilar have had opposing ideologies regarding what the country really needs. Rizal has realized that “the root of the problem was Spanish colonialism itself” and not, for instance, what del Pilar and other members of the Solidaridad perceive – the abuses of the friars and religious corporations. He has therefore realized that the reformist agenda of the Solidaridad wouldn’t be successful since separation from Spain was what the country needed.

Rizal’s choice of going back to the Philippines from Europe is another evidence of his revolutionary stance. He didn’t choose to stay in Europe, although he could easily have stayed there to practice his profession as a doctor. He chose to come back to the Philippines and even encouraged his co-expatriates to go back to the country since there “lies the real battle.” In addition to this, the revolutionary effect of the Noli was felt in the country not long after its publication. This may be seen in the Manifestation of 1888 where a group of gobernadorcillos wrote to the Spanish authorities, demanding for equality of benefits among Filipino and Spanish public officials.

It is very odd that even nationalist Filipinos such as Constantino himself reiterates these orthodoxies regarding Rizal, with the sole basis of the December 15 Manifesto, while there are several evidence that counter these orthodoxies.

Another assertion of Constantino is again, part of the orthodox regarding Rizal – that he became a hero “largely through American sponsorship.” Constantino quoted the book Between Two Empires by Theodore Friend in saying that:

Sa kanyang aklat, Between Two Empires, sinabi ni Theodore Friend na pinili nina Taft kasama ng ibang mga kolonyal na opisyal na Amerikano at ilang konserbatibong Pilipino si Rizal bilang huwarang bayaning nakahihigit sa ibang kalahok – kay Aguinaldo na masyadong militante; kay Bonifacio na masydong radikal; at kay Mabini na walang buhay. (5)

It is evident that Constantino based his concept of Rizal on foreign writers such as Theodore Friend, and not on Filipino writers such as E. San Juan and Jose Maria Sison. Therefore, his view of Rizal is affected by foreign influence. In this case, Constantino takes for granted the “other side” of the argument – the side of the Filipinos in choosing Rizal as a hero. Furthermore, this somehow implies that Constantino views the Filipino people as highly passive individuals who simply take in what the colonial masters impose on them.

In addition to this, Constantino asserted that the Americans chose Rizal to be the national hero since they want a hero who will not go against their colonial policies (6). Furthermore, he argued the possibility of simply having a need for a “super-bayani,” if only to feed our national pride:

Maaaring ikatuwirang nangangailangan tayo, bilang isang sambayanang nakaharap sa kahihiyan ng pangalawang kolonisasyon, ng isang super-bayaning magpapalki sa ating pambansang karangalan kung kaya’t pumayag tayo sa pagpili sa bayaning katanggap-tanggap sa mga bagong kolonisador (7).

Apparently, Constantino has not done what Michel Foucault calls “relentless erudition” (quoted from Quibuyen) on this matter since it is mentioned in Quibuyen’s book that documents from two American writers – Mrs. Campbell Dauncey and Katherine Mayo – show that it is the Filipinos and not the Americans who instituted Rizal as the national hero. In addition, quoting Quibuyen:

It was a paradox that Rizal was being used by the American colonial regime to further the ends of the empire and was being used by the Filipinos to express their patriotism and to demonstrate against the colonial regime” (282).

As mentioned in the aforementioned quotation by Theodore Friend, Rizal was chosen as a hero by Taft and other Americans over others such as Bonifacio and Mabini since Rizal could easily be the “huwarang bayani” or the epitome of a hero – he is educated, very intelligent, part of the middle class, and most importantly, perceived to be anti-revolutionary. In imposing this image of Rizal to the Filipino people, the American colonizers are “furthering the ends of the empire” since they imposed this image of a hero who did not resist colonialism and did not take part of the revolution, thereby implying that this is how the Filipino people should act since this is the epitome and the perfect example of how a citizen should be.

Constantino pointed out certain reasons as to why Rizal qualifies as a hero – he saw the problem brought about by historical forces; he saw the need for reform in the society and he actively participated in responding to these needs; he also helped in the development of national consciousness (9). However, he also gave reasons as to why Rizal shouldn’t be venerated as the primary hero in the country, or even be regarded as a hero at all:

Hindi siya bayani sa dahilang pinili niyang pigilin o baguhin ang daloy ng mga pangyayari. Ipinakita ito ng katotohanang nagsimula ang rebolusyon sa kabila ng kanyang pagkondena (9).

In addition to this, Constantino seems to be obsessed with Rizal’s class origin, and he uses it in a number of arguments asserting that Rizal cannot be truly for the revolution; he cannot genuinely be a part of the struggle since he is an ilustrado – “Ni hindi rin niya maaaring lagpasan ang kanyang makauring limitasyon dahil pinagsarhan ng kanyang natutunang pagmamahal sa Espanya at sibilisasyong Kastila ang pagsilang ng konseptong makaalpas sa tanikala ng kolonyalismo” (12); “Bahagi ng masa ang tunay na bayani. Hindi siya umiiral sa ibabaw nila” (24).

From these assertions, it is easy to accuse Constantino of being a vulgar Marxist since he is practically obsessed in the dichotomy of the elite/ilustrado and the masses – he continually emphasizes that Rizal is an ilustrado, and therefore, he cannot truly take part in the cause of the revolution, and that his sympathy does not lie with the masses, but only with his fellow ilustrados and even with the Español. This argument is definitely faulty since the relationship between class origin and sympathy and consciousness is non-sequitur.

This seeming obsession with the issue of class origin is, in a way, pointless. For one thing, it isn’t Rizal’s fault that he happened to belong to the middle class and that his parents can afford to send him to Europe to pursue his studies. His being an ilustrado, therefore, should not be taken against him since no one can escape one’s class origin. However, one must also not be limited by one’s class origin, and this was exactly what Rizal did – he overcame his ilustrado/middle class origin, and contrary to Constantino and other historians who hold a similar view, he did not seek changes in society only to feed the interests of his class. Rather, he used his resources and knowledge in working for the betterment of the motherland and its people.

Considering these, Constantino seems to exhibit the “underdog mentality.” His persistence in his argument that Rizal could not take part of the revolution since he does not experience the same plight as the masses not only discriminates Rizal on the basis of his class origin; it also elevates the masses to a higher stature since he projects the image that the masses are the ones who solely bear the burden of suffering, thereby creating a sentiment which is theirs alone.

Constantino’s conclusion to these arguments is that the image of Rizal is not timeless:

Ngunit isa lamang siyang sandali, at samantalang isang kabayanihang may bisa sa lahat ng panahon ang ginawa ni Rizal sa kanyang panahon, hindi natin masasabing si Rizal mismo ay may bisa sa lahat ng panahon (21).

And in the highly modern world of today, we cannot simply rely on Rizal in facing the problems of the nation. Constantino emphasizes the need for modern-day heroes and to create the counter-discourse against the common perception of the “bayani”:

Kailangan natin ngayon ang mga bagong bayaning makatutulong sa paglutas ng mga problemang kailangan harapin agad. Hindi tayo makaaasa kay Rizal lamang. Dapat nating iwaksi ang paniniwalang wala tayong kakayahang lumikha ng mga bayani sa ating panahon, na mga nakatatanging nilikha at aksidente ng lipunang nangingibabaw at hiwalay sa masa ang mga bayani (24).

Considering all of these arguments of Constantino, does the Filipinos’ veneration of Rizal really lack understanding? Counter-discourses to these arguments have already been laid out by Floro Quibuyen in his book, A Nation Aborted, the more pertinent parts of which have been mentioned in this paper. If only Constantino paid closer attention and studied the numerous works and concept of Rizal, then he wouldn’t have come up with these conclusions since the concepts of Rizal may be considered timeless. The concepts of moral community; the nation as a body which is not limited to territorial boundaries and blood ties; the middle class as an important catalyst for reform and even revolution; anti-imperialism, anti-statism, and anti-racism; and even the Latin dictum vox populi, vox dei are relevant and may definitely be applied to various current situations.

For instance, Rizal’s notion of a cultural and ethical community which is not determined by territorial boundaries may be applied to the phenomenon of the Filipino Diaspora. The importance of the role of the middle class in anti-imperialism and anti-statism in the country today is embodied by the economically-powerful people such as the members of the Makati Business Club. If they wage war against the government, or at least, seek reforms, the administration will undoubtedly listen since these people also hold power in the society and in the economy.

The Latin dictum vox populi, vox dei has been applied at least twice in the contemporary times – the 1st and 2nd EDSA “events”.· However, applying this concept also poses the danger of becoming a habit – that every time the people make a wrong decision, the only step they can think of to correct it is by exercising “the voice of the people”.

Quibuyen has contributed several things that serve as counter-discourses to the “meta-narrative” as embodied by the concepts of Constantino and even by Agoncillo. He has in fact, countered the more pervasive orthodoxies that Rizal was anti-revolutionary and that the reformists deterred the revolution. Quibuyen presented certain specific evidence that show that Rizal was indeed, for the revolution. Two have already been mentioned in the aforementioned discussion regarding the assertions of Constantino. There are other evidence cited by Quibuyen that support Rizal’s revolutionary stance – one of these is the clarification letter Rizal wrote on December 12 in relation to the letter he wrote on December 10 (better known as the infamous December 15 Manifesto), which the judge advocate “refused to approve and issue” since the underlying message in the letter shows that:

[Rizal] limits himself to condemning the present rebellious movement as premature and because he considers its success impossible at this time, but suggesting between the lines that the independence dreamed of can be achieved by means less honorable than those used at present by the rebels when the [level of] culture of the people could serve a most valuable factor in the struggle and as the guarantee of its success (Quibuyen, chapter 2).

The mere fact that this clarification letter exists and that Constantino and other historians who advocate the orthodoxies regarding Rizal refused to consider its content or even refused to mention it shows that their view of Rizal is definitely biased. They merely gave evidence that support their claim, and refused to consider other things that may go against the position they wish to prove.

Another evidence that Quibuyen presented in showing that Rizal was a revolutionary was Josephine Bracken. He told the story of Rizal’s last meeting with her, along with Rizal’s sister, in Dapitan when he gave them his Mi Ultimo Adios. Quibuyen also recounted Josephine’s entry to the Katipunan, the clinic she helped establish, and other things that she did after the death of Rizal. He quoted from other writers such as John Foreman who gave a “vivid account” of Josephine’s entry into the Katipunan:

They lauded her as though an angelic being had fallen from the skies; they sang her praises as if she was a modern Joan of Arc sent by heaven to lead the way to victory over the banner of Castille (65).

It was perhaps, understandable for the revolutionaries to react that way towards Bracken because of two reasons – first is that they may have seen her as their only connection to Rizal after his death since it may have been Rizal who convinced her to go to the rebel territory and join in their cause; second is that she is a woman, and a foreign woman at that. This image of a woman in the revolution seems to hold a certain degree of awe and admiration from Quibuyen himself. This reflects one of the flaws in this work of Quibuyen – it reinforces patriarchy.

At initial reading of this evidence, it may seem to be empowering women in the sense that it makes them “seen” – it places women in the same realm as that of the men, or at least, it appears to. However, that kind of “veneration” and awe in Bracken’s character suggests otherwise. Undoubtedly, there have been other women who fought for the revolution, Gregoria de Jesus, being among them. But then these women do not receive the same glorified regard as accorded to Bracken. In this case, Quibuyen does not only raise the issue of gender but also of race. Gender shouldn’t even matter since anyone who fights for the same cause as them must simply and plainly be regarded as their equal. After all, isn’t it all about fighting for the same cause and longing for the same goal?

Quibuyen has contributed significantly in countering the orthodoxies regarding Rizal. He has done exhaustive research on historical and biographical facts about Rizal – he has made the significant connection between the ideas of Johann Gottfried Herder and Rizal (i.e. anti-statism, anti-imperialism, anti-racism; nation as a moral community); mapped the significant events in Rizal’s life which are vital to the formation of his ideas. In general, he provided and discussed several reasons why Rizal deserves to be the most venerated among heroes in the country.

However, his work also has inevitable flaws. First of which is that he has the tendency to obstinately defend the ilustrado class, perhaps in the same way that Constantino persistently defends the masses. This may be seen in the part of the book where he provides a background on Bonifacio and the other initial members of the Katipunan. He asserted that the main core of the Katipunan during its founding is composed of the middle-class ilustrados who were formerly part of the Liga Filipina. Even Bonifacio himself, as asserted by Quibuyen, is part of the middle class. In addition, there really isn’t much said about the masses in the book, which is in total contrast of not only Constantino’s essay, but also of Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution, which mainly focuses on the folk consciousness and the plight of the masses in relation to the revolution. It seems that Quibuyen wanted to counter the orthodoxies regarding Rizal so badly that he loses objectivity at certain points.

Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution, is perhaps, in total contrast with Quibuyen’s A Nation Aborted. While Quibuyen’s focus is on Rizal and the middle-class ilustrados, Ileto’s focus is on the ones who embodied the Pasyon tradition and who took part in the revolution; and, like Constantino, the plight of the masses. If Quibuyen had the tendency to obstinately defend the middle-class ilustrados, Ileto had the tendency, not only to dwell on the plight of the masses, but also to be discriminating against the middle-class ilustrados:

In spite of the ultimately narrow class interests behind their agitation, the ilustrados managed to stir up a nationalist sentiment among the masses by focusing upon friar abuses that were universally felt in varying degrees. And so, even as the reformist or assimilationist movement faltered and died in the early 1890s, the upsurge of nationalism was such that a separatist movement – the Katipunan – was able to take root among the masses (4).

This quotation does not only reveal the characteristically vulgar Marxist trait of discriminating the middle-class, it goes further than that by asserting that the Katipunan “took root” among the masses. It poses another popular orthodoxy and dichotomy between classes – that the masses are the protagonists of the revolution while the middle-class is an antagonistic force in the revolution. This may be seen in Ileto’s application of the Pasyon tradition in history and the perspective of the masses regarding the events in history:

From the Spanish perspective, what could be a more effective tool than the pasyon to discourage Indios from enriching and educating themselves to the point where they might constitute a threat to colonial rule. But from the perspective of the mass audience, the identification of the wealthy, educated Pharisees, maginoo and pinunong bayan with Christ’s tormentors could not fail to have radical implications in actual life (20).

In this quotation, it is stated that the masses perceive the middle-class as the “tormentors of Christ,” and therefore, highly antagonistic. Furthermore, Ileto mentions a “significant idea found in the pasyon” – “that social status based on wealth and education has no real value” (20). The so-called “provocative aspect” of the pasyon – the “subversive figure of Christ” who attracts the “lowly, common people”; how these people leave their families to be followers of Christ and create a brotherhood for the salvation of the entire humanity.

Ileto has applied the pasyon concept to Rizal, which is also the way which the masses perceive him. Rizal’s actions, the events in his life, and ultimately, his death, define his plight parallel to the plight of Christ. For instance, Rizal’s sojourn to Europe recounts the time in Christ’s life when he goes from town to town, in search of apostles; Rizal’s closeness to his mother epitomizes Christ’s relation to his mother Mary; Rizal’s ability to attract the masses – the “lowly , common people” – without the use of material wealth, only the promise of freedom and redemption, is parallel to Christ’s attraction of the common folk as his disciples with the promise of Paradise; and Rizal’s death as the ultimate determining factor which forever inscribed him in the Pasyon consciousness of the masses, since it is parallel to the death of Christ – they were both innocent of the crime they were accused, but they both willingly gave up their lives for the redemption of the people. In relation to this, Quibuyen has mentioned that Rizal uttered Christ’s last words when he was about to be shot – Consumatum est!

Constantino, Quibuyen, and Ileto all have their own respective valuable contributions to the study of Rizal, history and the revolution. However, Constantino and Quibuyen seem to be taking the extreme opposite sides of the issues. Constantino is definitely anti-Rizal, while Quibuyen is obviously pro-Rizal. Between these two authors, I am personally more inclined to take the side of Quibuyen since although he takes the extreme “pro-Rizal side,” he cites sufficient evidence that support his claims, as opposed to Constantino, who seems to be quite agitated and sorely biased regarding the issues that concern Rizal. Compared to the seemingly angst-ridden Constantino, Quibuyen has more objective proof that support his claims (i.e. that Rizal was not against the revolution; that he was not a pure reformist), and he has obviously done his homework regarding the issues that he raised. Ileto, on the other hand, may be considered as the most “non-extreme” among the three since he presents evidence of being against the middle-class and championing the masses, but at the same time, he discusses how Rizal, a middle-class ilustrado, is able to take root in the consciousness of the masses as the Tagalog Christ.

Having the image of Rizal as the Tagalog Christ provides us with hope, even today. It somehow implies that he has laid out the foundation that society needs; he has sacrificed his life; and we are on our way to redeeming Paradise. However, Constantino is right in saying that we cannot rely on Rizal alone. We have to create our own heroes, if only to be reminded of Rizal in a more urgent manner. And perhaps, initiate the much-needed and long-overdue change in society.

 

REFERENCES

Ileto, Reynaldo. Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1979.

Renato Constantino’s essay in 1968, “Bulag na Pagdakila” (“Veneration Without Understanding”, translated by Erlinda Abad)

Floro Quibuyen’s essays in A Nation Aborted (Rizal and the Revolution; Remaking Philippine History)

Epifanio San Juan’s essay, “Ideology, Class Consciousness, History: A Reading of Rizal’s Novels”

On brooding over the long weekend

10 Aug

Watching too many episodes of medical drama series opens you up to the possibility that a prolonged/recurring pain could always be a festering tumor. And this is what an unfortunate combination of a two-day migraine and a four-day weekend does to you–you spend your time creating a mental picture of the tumor. You give it size and shape (A grain of rice? A kidney bean? A translucent marble?), you conjecture on its possible locations (The brain is always the top choice, because it’s the most dramatic–on the left side if you’re creative, on the right side if you’re exacting), you trace its journey as it populates your body (Lymph nodes? Liver? Colon?).

Then you take enough doses of Ibuprofen, the pain goes away, and so does your brooding on mortality.

Not that you brood unduly. It just happens to be one of the trappings of the long weekend–the illusion of having a wealth of time. Long weekends lead you to think that you have enough time for all the work that you have conscientiously brought home, and a surplus of time that you can use for other things. So you squander away your hours with a movie marathon and with sorting out the clothes in your closet, waxing your floor, polishing your furniture, applying aloe vera on your hair and face while watching a YouTube video on how it’s done.  This is why the last night of what seemed to be a very long weekend always finds you caught in the strong grip of paralyzing panic. You always end up with the question: Where the hell did the weekend go?

*          *          *

Yesterday, a friend posted this quotation on Facebook:

That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.

It’s from an essay by Joan Didion. These lines are yet another uncanny instance of how a writer is able to put the unsettling feeling and fragmented thoughts that have been hovering inside of me into a precise, tidy sentence.

It appears that I have been living my life as if I were on a very long weekend, going where I’m needed, occasionally carpe-ing the fucking diem, drifting from field to field, remaining rootless throughout. Now this, my twenty-eighth, feels like the year-long last night of that weekend. The whole brunt of it–all I have done, and all I haven’t done–has unceremoniously presented itself. And I am caught off-guard.

Not that I regret all that I have done (and all that I haven’t) in the past. This is more about trying to make peace with the fact that I am, once again, being initiated into a more formal sort of adulthood where everything counts. Or at least, where everything counts more. Coming-of-age is apparently a consistent theme in this life. One would think these episodes of initiation end once one gets her license to vote, but they don’t. And thank goodness for that. How else could one gauge her growth as an individual? Even as I struggle with the paralysis of panic, I know that like getting my first period or my first wisdom tooth, this is but a rite of passage. And what is a rite of passage without a certain amount of pain?