A BOOK REVIEW AND INTERVIEW (OF DEFIANT DAUGHTERS DANCING: THREE INDEPENDENT WOMEN DANCE)
by Agnes Prieto
Last week, we interviewed Rina Angela
P. Corpus, author of Defiant Daughters Dancing: Three
Independent Women Dance. Agnes Prieto wrote a comprehensive review of two local
books tackling dance, and we’re reprinting parts of that review:
Conscious Trance, Defiant
Daughters Dancing and Other Rebellions (two book reviews)
Two books on dance –Defiant Daughters Dancing by Rina Angela Corpus and Conscious
Trance, the Journey to the Dancer Within by Pi Villaraza are important
voices from the realm of quarter life — that time which brings on the quest for
meaning beyond the conventional routine of the accepted ; a midlife concern in
Both authors are quarter lifers, but one is a trained ballerina steeped in the
classical and active in the academe, and the other, a yuppie turned solitary,
isolated from the world, in a Palawan island, suddenly finding his body dancing
These books are statements that go beyond the conventional definitions of dance
not just as external movement conforming to expectations, impositions and
structure, but Dance as a listening to what is within and giving this outer
form. It becomes inner dialogue presented for perusal by an observer.
book, “Defiant Daughters Dancing” by Rina Corpus questions conventions of
modern dance and ballet, focusing her sights on women dancers who have toed the
line beyond tutelage and performance to dare beyond the pretty and graceful, to
confrontation and challenge. In doing so, Corpus takes a leap to give us a peep
into the history of contemporary dance in the Philippines.
Daughter is bravely feminist, highlighting the dance practice of three
contemporary “dance makers” – Myra Beltran, Kristin Jackson and Agnes Locsin—and
Corpus who sees herself as a co-performer as she documents how they traipse
beyond the bar of conventional and traditional dance to new personal spaces and
Corpus documents the dualities of mind vs. body, reason vs. emotion, thinking
vs. feeling, culture vs. nature, masculine vs. feminine. Dance makers challenge
the traditional patriarchal logic to come to a sense of self-empowered
Myra Beltran the first dancer in focus was presenting a self-choreographed
piece entitled “Becoming”; an austere minimalist number which documented
movement from struggle and angst to freedom in discordant and conflicted
movement. This captivated Corpus and lead her onto her journey of documentation
of the emerging energies.
Beltran started out as a conventional dance student and her struggle to
overcome the challenges of a brown skinned neophyte danseuse lead her to much
questioning and angst which eventually shaped her own independent dance path
when she returned home.
She took to heart the necessity for cultural grounding, exploring in depth
issues of women in the Philippines, among other topics. Dancing would become
Beltran’s mode of self-empowerment, transforming her personal angst into an
expressive piece of art, a fresh language with which to communicate social
concerns and community issues with her highly individualized movement
expression, or dance.
She would evolve in empathy with other artists as she began to improvise free
body movement for installation works of art icons such as Bencab, Robert
Villanueva and Kidlat Tahimik, creating ritual around their expression. Her
presence added dimension and movement to their collaboration.
Technically, Beltran uses the rudiments of ballet work –but with improvisations
on basic ballet steps, to get in touch with the body and not so much to show
off form. It is introspective bringing dance deeper in an understanding of her
own bodily gestures and expression.
Kristin Jackson, another dance-maker in focus exemplifies the Filipina in
diaspora having settled and created a dance career in the US. She makes her
mark with a clear definition of style characterized by stillness and repetitive
movement amidst the culturally diverse environment of New York City where she
Her influence is clearly Asian, minimalist with compositions of bare and basic
movements says Corpus, distilling her movements to “the core or the essence”,
“paring down a story to a few key phrases or words”. The cleanliness of dance
movement complements the simple, non linear approach used in her group
choreography known as the “chance method” in contrast to the linear logic of
most Western work.
“The challenge and struggle is to stay honest and express myself simply clearly
. The risk of failure is always present, yet, like life, it is through
adversity that knowledge is gained”, Jackson says.
Agnes Locsin is best described in the Ballet Philippines logo showing an Igorot
priestess performing “balletic legwork of a la seconde attitude, her arms
outstretched and hands flexed in a Cordilleran bird-mimicking attitude”. Locsin
is best known for her neo-ethnic productions such as Igorota which impacted on
the “independent dancing” scene as part of the “Philippine Movement
Transformation “ in tandem with the Filipino search for a national identity.
Her vast body of work is characterized by ethnic inspired dances many of them
reflecting her roots in Mindanao.
Locsin’s dancing career had an early boost as she helped in her mother,
Carmen’s dance studio right in the family living room.
Eventually she would teach and take on choreography, capping this with an MA in
dance abroad . As artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines
for 15 years she would gift her audience with wondrous repertoire of such works
as “Babaylan”, “La Revolucion Filipina”, “Igorot”, “Taong Talangka”, “Moriones”
A Filipino dancer –that is her identity as she easily integrates the classical
with the indigenous seamlessly. Her early grounding in dance and intensive
research work on Philippine culture has ensured her place in the Philippine
History unfolds events , helping us understand the present, and who we have
become because of what was. These two books evoke a delicate branch of our
story, movements gone undocumented had not these voices been raised; ephemeral
as they may seem, they are important nevertheless .
Villaraza is the rare Filipino who has articulated his spiritual journey, and
its grounding in everyday life. Corpuz brings delicate shifts in dance to our
attention; mirroring us, and gifting us with understanding and acceptance.
These are must-reads, if we wish to understand and embrace ourselves as a
people; and to relate to the quarter lifers in our midst.
FORCING THE PACE BY KEN FULLER
by Kenny Coyle
Morning Star, Tuesday 19 June 2012
With his second volume on Philippine communism now in print and the third on
the way, this first part of Ken Fuller's trilogy is now available in electronic
Published by the University of the Philippines Press, Forcing The Pace covers
the period of the foundation of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) in
1930, through the tumultuous decades from the 1930s to the 1950s.
In scarcely a dozen years the PKP had to navigate the rapids of repression by
the colonial US authorities followed by a brief breathing space of legality
before Japan invaded and occupied the islands.
The party's armed resistance movement the Hukbalahap became one of Asia's most
important wartime liberation forces.
But its struggle for freedom was derailed.
The return of US imperialism after 1945 led to the country being dragged into a
new round of bloodletting.
In consequence, the Philippines moved from open factional dominationto
neocolonial dependence. Anti-communist repression drove the PKP into
illegality and the Hukbalahap was forced into resuming their armed
But it took place in increasingly unfavourable conditions and its difficulties
were compounded by serious errors made by the PKP itself.
Fuller's is a masterly account and essential reading for anyone with an
interest in the period.
The Kindle format book is available for download at tinyurl.com/forcingthepaceebook.
[Note from Ken Fuller: when I clicked on this link it merely
took me to the Morning Star homepage. Possibly it works only in the UK. In
fact, the book is available in ePUB format anywhere in the world from
flipreads.com, or in the Kindle format from amazon.co.uk (UK only) or
amazon.com. The appropriate free reading devices for desktops can be downloaded
at these sites.]
PHILIPPINE CINEMA IN THE '90s, ACCORDING TO THE MANUNURI
by Patrick F. Campos
Urian anthology revealingly documents the decade of the ‘dying cinema’-what Nic Tiongson calls ‘the worst of times’
HAS definitely changed between the 1990s, when “indie” was meaningless
to the popular imagination but meant hope for a dying cinema to a
subculture, and 2010, when “indie” means “art films” that today
outnumber mainstream movies in output and prestige.
easy to forget the ’90s, when Philippine cinema underwent “the worst of
times.” It is a decade rendered nebulous for being sandwiched between
the “Golden Age” of the ’70s and 1980s and the current indie cinema.
is ironic is not only that the film industry had been declared
terminally ill during the decade of the Centennials of the Birth of
Cinema and of Philippine Nationalism, but also, precisely, that it is
so easy to forget the films of this decade.
Anthology 1990-1999” (University of the Philippines Press, 562 pages),
a collection of articles, reviews and interviews by the Manunuri ng
Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP), remedies that. Introduced and edited by
Nicanor Tiongson, the book is the third in a series of richly
illustrated coffeetable books. Taken together, these volumes are an
indispensable compendium on cinema since the ’70s, accessible to
scholars and general readers alike.
decade of the 1990s will be remembered perhaps with bittersweet
memories because it was a decade of ironies and major contradictions,”
begins the book’s introduction, which is Tiongson’s percipient study of
the cinema of the decade.
He details these contradictions
and, with well-documented data, the problems that beset the industry,
rendering it practically dead by the end of the 20th century. He also
underscores some of the circumstances and people who have kept the
industry from expiring, or have paved the way for a new cinema.
Tiongson’s historical analysis serves as a warning and a reminder for
Beyond what its title suggests, the
purview of the anthology includes the whole history of Philippine
cinema. There is a new historical survey by Agustin Sotto. There are
historical sketches in the profiles of film artists, like Charito Solis
and Mike de Leon. And there are nuggets of history contained in the
citations of the Natatanging Gawad Urian Lifetime Achievement awardees,
such as Nida Blanca and Leopoldo Salcedo.
These are valuable materials, since a full history of Philippine cinema is yet to be written.
on one’s “use” for the book, the anthology has various highlights. The
volume includes analyses of the Gawad Urian Best Film nominees and
winners, which name the decade’s best works, ranging from the likes of
“Sana Maulit Muli” to “Bayaning 3rd World.”
It has a section
of interviews that focuses on the aesthetics and milieu of the
important directors of the ’90s, like Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Chito Roño
and Raymond Red.
The anthology features studies using various
critical approaches to aspects of Filipino cinema, including its
influences, formal developments, and recurrent themes.
section compiles reviews of representative genre films (action, drama,
horror), “which constituted more than 90 percent of the total industry
output.” This figure is no longer true in today’s cinema; more “indie”
films are now being produced than formulaic mainstream films. But the
evaluation of movies, crass and cultured, may serve as pointers for
today’s film producers.
An intelligent audience
is important is not necessarily the individual viewpoints of the
critics. One may, by all means, disagree with them. What is important,
as Tiongson reminds us of the raison d’être of the MPP, is to “upgrade
the quality of Filipino movies by writing reviews and articles which
could give producers systematic feedback on their products and at the
same time make audiences more critical of the films which, whether they
realize it or not, have an impact on their lives.”
see not only the production of more intelligent films, but also the
rise of more intelligent viewers who can praise or criticize films and
give immediate feedback via the Internet.
The variety and
sometimes contradicting viewpoints represented in the anthology serve
as encouragement for the patrons of Philippine cinema. Viewers are to
be critical when watching bakya movies, just as they are to be
discerning and not passively congratulatory when watching
‘Filipinos’ and their ‘cinema’
last section is an annotated list of all the films made in the ’90s. It
provides valuable material for posterity, like a time capsule of
narratives and images, in place of a national film archive that is yet
to be established. It may also serve as a springboard for examining
“Filipino Cinema,” not just for the sake of cinema, but of Filipinos.
were the early films of today’s biggest stars, and what do they reveal
about the culture that supported and eventually gave up on the movies?
Why is the most productive genre of the ’90s, the bakbakan, now dead?
What were our horror films about, before the rise of “Asian Horror”?
What were the earlier works of today’s indie stalwarts like? Why was
there a decline in quantity and quality in Philippine film after
martial law, when democracy was supposedly restored by the Aquino
government? These are just some questions for which the filmography and
the anthology may provide leads.
“The Urian Anthology” is a
contribution to the exiguous collection of books on Philippine cinema.
But, more importantly, it gives us a clue to its national context.
Philippine history is symptomatically and literally inscribed in old
films—what the Philippines used to look like and what values the
Filipinos prized. The Philippine nation finds microcosmic articulations
Tiongson ends his study thus: “It does not take a
genius to see how or why the decade of the 1990s could very well be
called “the worst of times” in the history of the Filipino cinema
because it was the decade when greed, attended by opportunism and
compromise, reared its head and ruled in practically all levels and
institutions of the movie industry.”
Could we not learn from this insight to move not only our cinema, but also our nation forward?
REDEMPTION OF A DECADE IN PHILIPPINE CINEMA
By Francis Joseph A. Cruz (The Philippine Star)
Philippines - We are a sentimental people. We thrive in captured
memories: photographs of ourselves backdropped by famous locations in
lands we’ve visited, memorabilia from baptisms, weddings, and
anniversaries, essential souvenirs from personally important events in
our lives. We are constantly nagged by a fear that lest we have
tangible representation of points of reminiscence, we tend to forget.
And we do forget.
Our country’s history is haunted constantly
by recurring themes of failures, followed by great victories, followed
by forgetting, followed by failures, and so on. We establish monuments,
statues, and shrines. We name schools, streets and bridges by events or
people that would supposedly inspire us to remember.
We are a nation of forgetful people who constantly scrounge for objects to remember. That is our fault. That is also our virtue.
the biggest representation of this irony is our cinema. We are proud of
it, sure. We rejoice when a Filipino film wins awards overseas.
Unfortunately, jubilation is fleeting, if not totally hypocritical. We
only recognize our cinema when it receives foreign accolades. Without
them and quite horrifically, with them sometimes, our cinema is treated
like junk – both symbolically and literally – thrown in
un-airconditioned basements and warehouses to burn or rot.
remember the greats – the films of Brocka, Bernal, the two De Leons,
and Conde – yet we are completely unaware that almost all of their
films are inexistent in their original formats, most of their films are
available in substandard digital copies, and some of their films are
What we have left are descriptions,
perhaps two or three paragraphs at most, to have us remember these
films which we absolutely have no memories of.
preserving films are important, the act of chronicling films, whether
analytically or journalistically, is essential in recreating memories
out of nothing, caused by the failure of a people that views cinema as
a disposable thing of the present instead of a cultural stronghold.
is for this reason that Dr. Nicanor Tiongson should be commended for
coming up with The Urian Anthology 1990-1999 (UP Press 2010), a
handsome yet heavyset tome containing memories – mostly good with
sprinklings of some bad – of a contestable decade in Philippine cinema.
It is an elegant book. Its cover, a sepia-hued collage of
several scenes from films, mostly historical and involving national
heroes portrayed by different actors and actresses, seduces the
onlooker to reminisce the decade when glamorous historical epics
apologized for the numerous titillating showcases and brash comedies
that populated movie houses.
The decade, described by
Tiongson as the “best of times, the worst of times,” saw Philippine
commercial cinema at its lowest, where studios literally and
figuratively prostituted itself and its talents to battle imports. Yet
the decade also showed glimmers of excellence, where filmmakers and
even studios experimented and, in turn, paved the way for the seeds of
what was to come the next decade.
A quick skim through the
pages reflects the differing facets that defined the decade. Stills
from the numerous films adorn the margins of the book, detailing the
highs and lows of cinema, where the same actors played national heroes
and rapists, the same actresses portrayed dignified women and
The reviews, selected by Tiongson from the
Manunuri’s own roster of critics ranging from the enlightening like
Hammy Sotto to the populists like Butch Francisco, are important
because most of them reflect the critical reaction during the time of
the film’s release, approximating, at least to the current reader, how
a film was over-appraised or under-appraised.
articles, academically rationalizing the pleasant and unpleasant
movements and genres that emerged out of the dire economic circumstance
of the industry, are springboards for discourse.
interviews of the decade’s defining filmmakers are also interesting,
especially those of filmmakers who continue to work today who might
have sacrificed some of the artistry they preach about to survive the
dehumanizing rigors of present-day commercial filmmaking.
whatever its worth, for however critics and filmmakers acknowledge it
now, the decade that Tiongson’s indispensible labor of love gives focus
to, as exemplified by the collection of articles that seeks not to
blindly honor but only to document the decade that passed, is an
amalgam of colors, themes, moralities, and levels of artistry that
Philippine cinema is evolving into.
Little by little, as a
subtle thread of a narrative develops as Tiongson’s carefully conceived
book closes to a finish with filmographies of the decade, we
acknowledge that Philippine cinema lives – through the good times and
Personalities pass. Directors retire. Studios fold.
Cinema continues, constantly reinventing itself, constantly changing.
The Urian Anthology 1990-1991 is the suitable memoir for this nation of
forgetful filmgoers to remember that cinema is of value and should be
I just hope that we do not become content with
articles and pictures, and start watching these films, and if they are
unavailable because of reasons beyond our control, start clamoring the
government for a film archive to save us from the dangers of forgetting.
From Globalization to
National Liberation: Essays of Three Decades
by Jeffrey Arellano
The selected essays,
interviews, and lectures of the past three decades by E.
San Juan, Jr., a major Filipino American public intellectual and
2009 fellow of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute, bear witness to a global shift
from a politics of despair to a politics of hope. This collection provides a
richly textured interdisciplinary approach to reading the shifts, transitions,
and contradictions of global capitalism, specifically about how "the
ideology of neoliberal transnationalist exchange has evolved, after 9/11, into
the unilateral 'American Exceptionalist' discourse of the 'war on terrorism'
and the more contentious 'clash of civilizations'" (xvi). In exploring the
ideological transition from globalization to a US-led Global War on Terrorism
(GWOT), San Juan recognizes new forms of national movements for
self-determination developing as a powerful collective global force: "[T]he
battlefronts of Palestine, Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, the Philippines, aside from
those in the Middle East, are mounting a formidable united front from the
grassroots to oppose the destructive maelstrom of globalizing corporate
power" (xviii). This theme of transitioning from the dominance of finance
capitalism (globalization) to the global reach of subaltern resistance rooted
in national liberation, first explored in San Juan's earlier works such as The
Philippine Temptation: Dialectics of Philippines-U.S. Literary Relations
(1996) and After Postcolonialism (2000), is especially useful for
reimagining Cultural Studies and American Studies as part of an international
challenge to US racial imperialism.
The collection's point of
departure is a much-needed interrogation of the "post" that frames
our current intellectual moment, whether it is the "end of theory," a
"postnationalist" globalized world, or the "post-racial" US society of
the Obama era. Part One engages theory, specifically the debates concerning
frames of intelligibility offered by postcolonial theory. San Juan resuscitates the silenced subaltern
by writing against the politics of despair present in postcoloniality. A
careful reconsideration of primary sources within the field of Gramscian
studies opens a space for San Juan
to resituate the relationship between the subaltern and the critical
intellectual within a larger context of international solidarity. Rethinking
dominant theoretical frameworks enables intellectuals to hear current subaltern
alternatives, from the Maoist overthrow of the centuries-old monarchy in Nepal to the reinvigorated national liberation
struggles sweeping Latin American countries such as Venezuela,
Bolivia, and Ecuador.
Part Two reclaims key
concepts such as nationhood and class, which postcolonial theory and the
neoliberal ideology of globalization have replaced with notions of
cosmopolitanism and hybridity. Advancing Michael Löwy's Marxist approaches to
the historical phenomenon of nationalism in Fatherland or Mother Earth? Essays
on the National Question (1998), San Juan
examines the global dispersal of Filipinos from a Southeast Asian archipelago
still in the process of becoming self-determined after a century of US colonial and
neocolonial control. A detailed cognitive mapping is provided to highlight the
interconnectedness of Filipino experiences throughout the diaspora: the racial
oppression in the United States of Filipinos (now considered "the largest
Asian American ethnic group in the U.S." [ix]), the exploitation
of overseas Filipino workers (approximately nine million, "mostly female
domestic help" ), and the gross human rights violations of the eighty
million people of the Philippines
under the Arroyo administration (300). While earlier publications such as Amy
Kaplan and Donald E. Pease's Cultures of United States Imperialism
(1993) and Abe Ignacio et al.'s The Forbidden Book: The Philippine-American
War in Political Cartoons (2004) have interrogated the violent erasure of
the colonial conquest of the Philippines from our collective memory of US
Empire, San Juan explores the unique unfolding of Philippine subaltern struggle
within the realm of a "Filipino praxis of alter/native writing"
(125-30). This decolonizing aesthetic can be discerned in the cultural
production of Filipino artists Carlos Bulosan, Pete Lacaba, and Levy Balgos de
la Cruz, among others.
Part Three demonstrates the
possibility of critical literacy in the age of empire informed by what Noam
Chomsky sees as the responsibility of the intellectual to "insist upon
truth . . . to see events in their historical perspective" (qtd. in San
Juan 29). Pushing against the Cartesian dualism implicit in deconstructive
approaches to reading, San Juan
turns to Charles Sanders Peirce's semiotics to articulate an alternative
framework for literary analysis. An exploration of Peirce's "thought in
motion" (triad of sign, object, and interpretant) leads to innovative
readings of the sign "terror" as deployed in the GWOT and
representations of state terrorism in Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost
(2000), a haunting novel of the Sri Lankan civil war. San
Juan's meditation on Sri Lanka
enables him to provide insight into the raging civil war in the Philippines.
His close reading of the Philippine national sovereignty movement unravels the
Colin Powell doctrine, which not only positioned the Philippines as the second front in
the GWOT but also categorized Philippine subaltern resistance as
"terrorist." Drawing on a global Marxist archive that spans the work
of Lenin, Trotsky, Frantz Fanon, and Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, San Juan reveals how the GWOT uses the
concept of terror to criminalize forms of dissent.
If Cultural Studies and
American Studies are to be relevant in these times marked by war and the
collapse of global capital, these fields must develop approaches that address
the centrality of race in the formation of the US nation-state (remembering its
racialized genocidal foundation) and in its policies abroad. They must also
engage the contributions of current national liberation struggles in the global
south to our worldwide struggle for dignity and respect for all humanity and
the entire planet. San Juan's collection illustrates how an enduring history of
Philippine sub-altern movements for self-determination ("silenced" by
both the GWOT and postcolonial theory) functions as the "Achilles
heel" of US imperial hegemony in Southeast Asia as well as a source of
critical renewal for Cultural Studies and American Studies. From
Globalization to National Liberation reminds us that the responsibility of
the intellectual is to cultivate solidarity—to hear new sounds, rhythms, and
voices of transformation around the globe.
- from MELUS
(35.1), pp. 193-195
BOOK REVIEW PHILIPPINE GAY CULTURE: BINABAE TO BAKLA, SILAHIS TO MSM
by Nigel Collett
Collett reviews J. Neil C. Garcia’s 536-page Philippine Gay Culture, in
which he examines a range of labels/identities that emerged since the
1960s to describe indigenous sexual and gender identities which have
little modern (western) equivalents.
am approaching this review with more than the usual trepidation, for
several reasons, which I should enunciate. Firstly, Philippine Gay
Culture has but been reprinted here as the book’s third edition, with a
few amendments, a new ‘Author’s Note’ and, as its last section, ‘An
Update and a Post Colonial Autocritique’. The first edition was widely
acclaimed as ground breaking and authoritative when it came out in 1996
(it had a second edition published by the University of the Philippines
Press in 2008 which included most of the current additions). It was a
literary hit, winning author J. Neil C. Garcia the National Book Award
from the Manila Critics Circle. The world of Queer Studies has
acclaimed it; Peter Jackson, of the Australian National University, for
example, typically calling it ‘a founding text of comparative gay and
lesbian studies that has supported the emergence of Asian queer studies
in this decade.’ No wonder, then, that Hong Kong University Press is
proud to be able to include it as the third work in its exciting and
rapidly burgeoning Queer Asia series.
The second reason for my
conviction that I must approach this book with care is its complexity.
It is a vast work of scholarship and argument, which, with its generous
and detailed academic apparatus, reaches 536 pages in all, not
something easily picked apart by a reviewer’s slight of hand in a
thousand or so words. Then, for third, there is Garcia himself, a
revered figure not only in the Philippine gay world but also in the
literary, a poet, critic and writer who has a prominent place teaching
creative writing and comparative literature at the University of the
Philippines, Diliman. On top of this, he is one of the most pugnacious
of writers, as a dip into any part of this book will prove, a writer of
conviction and the power to express it, not a man, in short, with whom
to trifle! And finally, and this is a confession on my part, the fourth
reason for more than the usual circumspection here is that I am no
student of, let alone expert in, the Philippine gay scene; I am in no
position to compare and contrast, and, as most of the book’s new
readers will, must be content to place myself in Garcia’s hands for the
history and theory that he unfolds.
Trusting the author is,
as is now clear to me having read this book, something more than
usually necessary here, as the gay culture of the Philippines which he
describes is unlike that of anywhere else, far removed, indeed, from
those known to us in the West or in the more widely known Asian
cultures, such as those of Singapore, Thailand or China. Garcia makes
this plain in his choice of subtitle: ‘binabae’ is a word for those of
the ancient indigenous population with a gender-crossing identity;
‘bakla’ is their modern equivalent, ‘homosexual’ men, some of them
gender-crossers, others maybe merely effeminate transdressers;
‘silahis’ is the apparent heterosexual who has sex with other men,
either as a genuine bisexual or as a closeted ‘homosexual’; and ‘MSM’,
of course, is the modern, intendedly-neutral, HIV NGO-derived catch all
acronym for any man having sex with another man. These are the terms
that drive sexual dynamics in the Philippines and form its gay culture.
Garcia shows that the western terms ‘homosexual’ then later ‘gay’ were
attached here to the bakla, and that it is still their culture (which
is not unlike, though only in some respects, the katoey culture of
Thailand) which is meant when the word ‘gay’ is used. Note the absence
of any application of the ‘gay’ word to the sort of non-effeminate
homosexual men who, in the experience of societies which have been more
widely commented on, form the large part of the gay community
elsewhere. In the Philippines, the power of the macho closet is so
strong that such men are very rare (so scarce that Garcia hardly
bothers to consider them) and it is partly to this fact that he
attributes the lack of much of a gay rights movement in his country. I
should point out here that Garcia himself is an out and proud bakla;
his disdain for silahis and the closeted in general is unavoidable in
So, foreign perspectives don’t work when applied here,
and Garcia’s exhaustive investigation into his country’s gay culture
takes him down some unexpected paths. He traces the modern bakla back
to the tribes inhabiting the archipelago before the arrival of the
Spanish in the 16th Century. These conquerors suppressed, perverted and
misrepresented the culture of the people they colonised and converted
to Christianity. Back then, binabae, priests (local shamans) played key
roles in their people’s spiritual lives, and these binabae could be
female or male-to-female transgendered. Philippine culture conceived of
the person as having an interior (loob) separate from, and with greater
value than, their exterior (labas). So transgendered persons were
accepted as those fulfilling their loob in their labas. Christian
suppression of both native religious beliefs and sexual practices
submerged this system, but enough of it remained to evolve into the
local culture of the bakla, effeminate men (many of them transgendered)
who dress as women, behave and often work as women, and who are 'used'
by men as women. Whilst their modern typical occupations of
hairdresser, window dresser, beautician, and the like, echo the katoey
and similar manifestations, they differ in that the bakla are not
prostitutes, and, in fact, if they find relationships with men,
inevitably end up paying for the upkeep of their ‘spouses’. The men, of
course, remain dominant and heterosexual (in their own eyes) in these
relationships. When the western sexologists’ discourse of inversion (of
homosexuals being women in men’s bodies) arrived in the Philippines, it
elided into the local culture of loob, and similarly, later, the words
‘homosexual’ and ‘gay’ attached to the bakla.
In Part One,
Garcia investigates these systems and looks at the indigenous
pre-colonial culture still (partially) visible from colonial records,
then, in the order of his chronological survey (which is not that of
his book), jumps to the four decades from the Sixties to the Nineties,
examining each in turn and using them to develop and illustrate his
theme. Part Two of the book is very different, a study of three
Philippine writers, Severino Montano, Orlando Nadres and Tony Perez,
whose works Garcia examines in the light of his research and theories
and whose sexual politics he criticises. He has chosen these three
writers (for reasons not entirely clear in the text) to make what he
describes as ‘the first […] project in local literary criticism with
homosexual writings as the specific object of scrutiny.’
Lion and the Faun, Montano’s huge unpublished novel (Garcia had seen
only its first half of five hundred pages when he wrote this book) was
written many years before and covers the 1950s and 1960s, something,
perhaps, of a Philippine equivalent to EM Forster’s Maurice. Garcia
dislikes this story of closeted gay (non bakla) love, with its
misogynist and macho themes, and attacks it accordingly, taking the
unusual stance, as he does in all his criticism in this book, that only
a gay man can write a convincingly authentic gay novel, which has,
therefore, to be a sort of roman a clef. With playwright Orlando
Nadres, author of a frequently performed and very popular Tagalog play
(in its English translation named That’s All for Now and Many Thanks),
Garcia is back on the more favoured ground of the bakla, one of whom is
much featured in the play. The third work examined here, Tony Perez’s
novella Cubao 1980, a tale of two male prostitutes, is not, to Garcia’s
way of looking at gay culture, about the gay world or its liberation at
all (for many reasons, one being that it misses the ‘pain’ of the
bakla’s condition entirely). It gets as short a shrift here as does The
Lion and the Faun.
Part Two of Garcia’s book is eccentric, not,
as the first section was a review of gay culture through history, a
parallel review of Philippine gay literature over time, but rather a
dissection of three works using the theoretical tools he develops in
Part One of the book. This makes Philippine Gay Culture a train of two
carriages hitched together by an interconnecting internal argument. Yet
none of this detracts from the writing of the second part, where Garcia
romps around on his home ground of literary criticism. His writing in
Part Two is clearly the better of the two. Garcia does not fail to
amuse here; he is lively, cheeky, cutting, bruising and never dull. His
insights into the works he examines are the results, in part, of the
test tube experiments he conducts into the literature using the tools
of the theories he has developed in Part One.
Don’t read this
book expecting an easy ride. Garcia is very persuasive (watch his
arguments carefully before you get carried away by his conviction!) and
has huge knowledge which he wields with much common sense. After a good
deal of the required reflection, there is not much for a general reader
to find to quarrel with in the conclusions which he reaches. The
information and arguments deployed, however, to reach those
conclusions, can be, at times, maddeningly convoluted, dense and
repetitive, and the book would benefit from both reorganising and
pruning. He has the grace to admit this himself in the ‘Author’s Note’:
‘I am no longer the clumsily prolix, overeager, wide-eyed and
theory-crazed person who cobbled together these words’. That said, he
left the book as it was in the second and third editions with ‘only a
modicum of blue-pencilling and emendation.’
That he is
unapologetically an advocate for bakla culture (kabaklaan) may or may
not be a defect in the thrust of the book; I possess no alternative
sources to reveal any special pleading. It would have been interesting,
though, had the later editions followed through his arguments to
examine more closely the evolution of gay culture in the Philippines
from the '90s till today. There remains, I think, a need to prove or
disprove the continuing centrality of kabaklaan to gay culture there.
Has MSM started the process of the development of more westernised
styles of a more equal male-male love? We are left unsure. Garcia cites
the recent coming out in public of at least one prominent man of upper
class, but this is not enough to evince a trend and it would be
interesting to see if yet another post-colonial foreign imposition is
now changing the way the Philippine gay world sees itself in the new
Should you buy this book? Most certainly. This is a
thorough and deeply considered study of a unique culture which
elucidates some very surprising (to foreigners) phenomena and comes to
unusual conclusions which have both utility for an understanding of the
Philippines and stand as convincing testimony that queer theory as an
academic discourse must account for a myriad of queer theories if it is
to describe the world we live in. More than this, Philippine Gay
Culture is a brave polemic, a call to freedom, by a fine writer and a
decent man. Buy it, stick with it, bite off small bits of it at a time
if you have to, but read this book!
J. NEIL GARCIA'S PHILIPPINE GAY CULTURE: BINABAE TO BAKLA, SILAHIS TO MSM
by Dominique James
in the Philippines are everywhere. They are easy to find. And while
most Filipino gays are tolerated, they are often misunderstood. J. Neil
Garcia's Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM,
spanning a thirty-year study and analysis of gay culture as well as the
author's experiences, is an intellectual exercise in grasping the
cultural essence of Filipino gays.
This makes available, for the
very first time, "a serious academic inquiry into the field of
knowledge and mode of being which is Philipppine gay culture itself."
It uncovers rich and diverse thematic Philippine gay narratives on the
stereotypology of the funny gay, gay theatrical discourse, the church
and homosexuality, swardspeak (gay lingo), and the sexual subculture,
among many others.
"All three decades of gay culture, as far as
the many themes and motifs which constitute them are concerned, may
actually be taken as one"
This book originally outed, quite
ceremoniously, in 1996. Its second coming, an updated edition which
came out more than a decade after, upholds much of the original text,
blue-penciling only the author's stylistic writing in few places. The
only other significant change is a hefty new final chapter reinforcing
the contentions of the original, making it more fresh and just as
relevant as when it first came out.
J. Neil Garcia's Philippine
Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM is a personal but
scholarly work that is a must-read for anyone who aims to grasp the
blooming gay culture in the Philippines from the '60s to the present.
San Francisco Book Review - October 2009
Loob, Labas, at Lalim
Louise Vincent Amante
natin si Cory Aquino bilang “the Filipino Joan of Arc,” ang Eraserheads bilang “Beatles
of the Philippines,”
at ang Payao ng Banaue bilang “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Ngunit lagi’t
laging naka-angkla ang ating kahusayan sa Kanluraning pananaw—para masabi lang
na “mayroon ding ganyan sa Pilipinas.” Tila carbon copy tayo ng Kanluran.
natin na hindi tayo dapat magpahuli sa pag-abante ng Kanluran. Nang salakayin
ng mga mananakop ang ating kukote, sinabi nilang wala tayong demokrasya’t
relihiyon. Ipinakilala nila ang kanilang mga konsepto’t kaalaman hanggang
mapuno ang ating mga utak. Kung ano ang mayroon sila, dapat ganoon din tayo.
tumbalikin ang ganitong mentalidad para makaalpas sa pagkakolonyal ng ating
kamalayan. Sa panahon ng aktibismo ng dekada ’70, umusbong sa UP ang
sari-saring teoryang Pilipino na magagamit para suriin ang ating kultura,
kamalayan, at kalinangan. Isa sa mga ito ang Pantayong Pananaw (PT) ni Dr. Zeus Salazar
ng Departamento ng Kasaysayan. Simple, kung tutuusin, ang PT: aralin at suriin
ang kasaysayan ng bansa gamit ang pananaw ng mga Pilipino. Gamitin din ang
wikang Filipino para maipaunawa ang kasaysayan sa kapwa Pilipino.
umpisa ang PT. Bago ito ipinakilala ni Salazar, sa wikang Ingles itinuturo ang
ating kasaysayan. Nang gamitin ng PT ang wikang Filipino, naging dulog ito sa
pag-aaral ng kasaysayan sa mga akademya. Dahil dito, ayon sa PT, nabubuo’t
napauunlad ang talastasang bayan para
sa adhikaing pagka-Bansa. Ngunit mahigpit ang PT sa mga kaisipang galing sa
labas, lalo na kung Kanluranin. Anito, makasisira sa talastasang bayan ang mga
ideolohiyang ito, partikular ang Marxismo.
hinimay, tinistis, at sinuri ni
Dr. Ramon “Bomen” Guillermo ng Araling Pilipino ng
Kolehiyo ng Arte at Literatura ang PT sa kanyang aklat na Pook at Paninindigan. Aniya, kailangang punahin ang PT “hindi
lamang mula sa labas, kundi sa
pamamagitan ng paglabas” dito.
kanyang tesis masteral noong 1999, inapdeyt ni Guillermo ang pagsusuri sa PT
para mabuo ang kanyang aklat. Layon nitong tuligsain ang ideya ng PT na ang
Marxismo o kaisipang sosyalista ay “banyagang ideolohiya” kaya hindi angkop na
gamitin sa pagsuri ng lipunang Pilipino. Bukas ang PT sa alinmang usaping panloob
o konseptong bayan: na tayong mga Pilipino lang ang makauunawa ng ating sarili
at hindi maididikta ng anumang Kanluraning teorya ang ating pambansang
identidad. Mula rito’y makikilala natin kung ano ang ating kultura’t
Batay sa pag-aaral
ni Guillermo, dapat siyasating mabuti ang ganitong buod ng PT sapagkat tila
ihinihiwalay nito ang Pilipinas sa daigdig. Nararapat ding maging bukas ang PT
sa pagangkin ng mga kaisipang galing sa labas upang maging mabunga ang loob, o
talastasang bayan. Hindi matatawaran ang alinmang banyagang impluwensya sa
bansa lalo pa’t dating kolonya ito ng Espanya at ng Estados Unidos (US). Maging
noong panahong kolonya pa ang Pilipinas, naggigirian na ang mga nakatataas at
aping uri sa lipunan. Dahil simplistiko ang paghuhusga ng PT laban sa Marxismo,
itinatakwil nito ang realidad na matindi ang agwat ng mga uri sa lipunang
Ayon sa PT,
nahahati ang lipunang Pilipino sa elite at masa. Binansagan ito ng PT bilang “dambuhalang
pagkakahating pang-kalinangan.” Nahubog ang mga elite sa banyagang wika at
kultura at ang mga masa sa kinagisnan nitong taal na wika at kultura. Ngunit
hindi sumasang-ayon si Guillermo dito. Aniya, “hindi umiinog sa diksurso ng uring panlipunan ang kritikal na
perspektiba ng PT” at sa halip, ginagamit nito ang elite/masa bilang mga
Ayon din kay
Guillermo, hindi hinihiwalay ng Marxismo ang kultura sa pang-politika’t pang-ekonomikong
kalagayan ng isang bansa. Hinamon ni Guillermo ang simplistikong pag-unawa ng
PT sa uri, kultura, at lipunan sa paghahain ng ilang mga tanong: dahil
itinaguyod noon ni Marcos ang wika’t kulturang Pilipino, masa ba siya kung
maituturing? Kung susuriin ang mga teksbuk pangkasaysayan ng mga Zaide, bakit
panig ang kanilang akda sa US
gayong nakasulat ito sa wikang Filipino? Sapagkat walang maisagot dito ang
teoryang isinulong ni Salazar, tila hindi pa ganap ang pagkakasinsin nito bilang
kritikal na teoryang Pilipino.
maitatangging banyaga ang Marxismo bilang ideolohiya. Pero ayon kay Guillermo,
maingat ang pag-angkin o “pag-andukha” sa Marxismo upang magamit sa talastasang
pampolitika sa Pilipinas. Patuloy na napauunlad ang Marxismo dahil dumaan ito
sa maraming talastasan, kung kaya’t lalong tumingkad ang pagkaakma nito sa
pagsusuring pampolitika’t panlipunan ng bansa. Ayon kay Guillermo, nagkaugat na
ang kaisipang sosyalista sa lipunang Pilipino at patunay dito ang mga nobela
nina Lope K. Santos,
Lazaro Francisco, Amado V. Hernandez at iba pa. Mababasa sa mga nobelang ito
ang pagkakahati ng lipunan sa mga anakpawis at mga namumuhunan. Mapapanday
pagkatapos ang talastasang sosyalista sa mga unyon ng mga anakpawis na may
sosyalistang perspektiba para sa kapakanan ng mga manggagawdt magbubukid ng
ito ng pag-aaral ni Guillermo, ipinakita niyang may taglay na ideolohiya ang
alinmang akdang pampantikan. Igiit man ng ilang manunulat na hiwalay ang sining
sa politika, ang hindi paglalatag ng politika sa mga akda’y politika ring
maituturing. Sa panig ng PT, itinatakwil nito ang Marxismo pero wala itong
binabanggit o kahit puna man lang sa mga isyu ng kahirapan, katiwalian, o human
rights violation sa bansa. Ayon kay Guillermo, “ang ‘pagpapahalaga sa sarili
(Bansa)’ ang lumilitaw na pangunahing usapin (ng PT) na hindi na
nangangailangan ng ‘pakikibaka laban kaninuman.’”
kritikang ito ni Guillermo sa muling pagsipat at pagtistis sa PT. Sa ilang
banddy tila hindi na makababangon ang PT sa mga puna ni Guillermo. Ngunit hindi
niya inusisa ang PT dahil sa poot o suklam. Ang ilang posibleng tanong rito’y
baka naman isa lamang akademikong dulog ang PT at hindi mailalabas sa
pamantasan. Iminumungkahi ng aklat na makilahok ang PT sa bayan upang maganap
nang lubos ang layunin nitong makabuo ng talastasang bayan, at makiisa sa
pakikibaka ng masa para sa panlipunang katarungan.
Source: Philippine Collegian, September 11, 2009
No Enlightenment Here; Just Keenness
by Mads Bajarias
I’m just getting old, but I find myself getting drawn more to poetry as
a remedy to the crass displays of emotion that pop culture inflicts on
Sure, pop culture is a lot of fun (isn’t “Glee” wonderful?).
pop culture is so pervasive; it is this machinery of focus groups,
consumer trends, celebrity intrigues, product endorsements, beauty
enhancements, sob stories, and other “infotainment news.”
Toledo hopes to offer his readers a “keener attention” to the craft of
poetry in this latest volume, he said in an interview with Mads
The purveyors of noontime shows, television dramas,
and showbiz programs have carpet-bombed us with slick, fast-paced,
hilarious, well-lit attractive celebrities that act as our models of
good consumer behavior.
However, there is something of pop
culture’s wall-to-wall merriment and freewheeling consumerism that
leaves one drained as well.
Sometimes, one yearns to escape
from all the “high-definition” reality “shows,” all the manufactured
“togetherness” and forced “awesomeness.”
All that public
airing of grief, gaiety, and doubt can become cloying, and the “medium
is the message” knowingness can be very exhausting.
I don’t have a garden, so my tonic for the oppressive omnipresence of pop culture is poetry.
I’ve recently come across the latest book of poet Joel M. Toledo.
Published by UP Press, “The Long Lost Startle” is a collection of 60 poems from the literature professor from Miriam College.
Written between 2006 and 2008, “The Long Lost Startle” is his second book of poetry.
I’m not going to lie; I don’t understand some of the poems here.
even tried my best to comprehend Dr. Gemino Abad’s introduction, but I
guess I don’t have enough brain cells (this must be what watching “TMZ”
has done to me!).
But I appreciate Dr. Abad’s situation; writing intros to poetry books must be like trying to dress a shadow.
Poetry is complicated enough, why make their introductions even more so? Maybe it’s a tradition?
Perhaps it’s the mystery of poetry that draws me towards it (“There is no enlightenment here; just keenness”).
Toledo’s work, one finds this humility in awe of those everyday
mysteries that most of us – our senses dulled by “Wowowee” and its ilk
–have somehow forgotten.
These things moving in wind,
we have names for them: feather, dust,
bird. That which, now and then, urges leaves
to nudge the movable branches. Sometimes,
we may even see their quiet collisions,
flecks of sudden and minute life
as this afternoon, sitting on the porch
and watching my wife dusting off blankets,
the sunlight gathering around her lithe body,
our children running under the swayed trees
and the startled birds, the dust swirling joyously
everywhere, celebrating their release. And I am held
in awe of the things that move in the world,
or are moved, and of the privacy of the living,
all the many rising objects revealed only by refraction,
and why I just sit here, straining.
I should read Dr. Abad’s intro again (after I finish watching tonight’s “Man Vs Wild,” of course).
I love how things attach themselves
to other things – the rocks sitting stubbornly
beneath a river, the beards of moss.
I choose a color and it connotes sadness.
But how long must the symbols remain true? Blue
is blue, not lonely. After a time, one gives up
reading the sky for shadows, even rain.
There is no promise, only a possibility.
A moment moves to another, and still it feels
the same. Like old letters in boxes.
Or how the rain, at times, falls invisibly.
Finally, the things we love demand more love,
as if we have always been capable of it. Yet
I can only offer belief, mirages that mean water,
long travels leading somewhere. I am reading
old letters, trying to make something
of what’s been said. It might be raining;
some pages are unreadable.
Again, I don’t understand all of it.
But I like uncovering tenuous connections that might lead to a sort of enlightenment.
I want everything crystal-clear, I’d watch Fareed Zakaria or read
Malcolm Gladwell. But if I want mystique, I head out to nature or read
the fireflies are satisfied with their nature,
their flickering envy of stars.
The same is true of the bullfrog,
announcing its presence by the pond,
and of the waiting owl, wide-eyed
and dark-winged and silent in the tree.
I don’t pretend to get all poetry, nor can I explain why some poems grab one’s attention and others don’t.
Summers we would climb trees, collecting the carcasses of cicadas.
Those were bright days, small suns flickering madly inside
the abandoned shells. And how could we have resisted them?
We were far from the city and its hard surfaces; we had so much time.
One of these days, I’ll have to start tending to a garden. Or suit up on one of those marathons.
In the meantime, there’s poetry to explore on days when the machinery of pop culture gets a bit too much to bear.
I can do with less electricity,
preferring, say, more of the quiet
and strange commotions that take place
outside, somewhere in the bushes,
within those terrifying enclosures
that make us rise in the middle
of an evening and step out,
carrying nothing but our tired bodies.
There will be the gentle creaking,
slow feet on wood, and the great wanting
to climb some tree, confront its dark
branches, negotiate with the leaves.
Like wide awake and blind,
I would see the veins that complicate
all the living: my body, this tree,
the now visible embers glowing with power,
the natural heart that never sleeps.
I was able to reach the author and managed to fire off a few (okay, two) questions.
Me: What do you wish the reader will take away with him after reading “The Long Lost Startle”?
I hope readers will notice that this book is much different than my
first one (“Chiaroscuro”) because of its keener attention to craft.
There are a lot of experimentations going on with language here, and
how language intertwines with musicality in a poem – from assonances to
enjambments to half-rhymes. I’m more inclined now toward taking risks
with syntax and diction to achieve a more lyrical set of poems, and by
“lyrical” I mean more musicality. I hope the readers will be able to
distinguish the interplay of risk, language, and music in this new
Me: Where can people get a copy?
Toledo: UP Press, National Bookstore, Powerbooks, mag:net cafe Katipunan.
Me: Can you explain to me Dr. Abad’s introduction? I’m just kidding.
And some words of praise by Eric Gamalinda for “The Long Lost Startle”:
is generosity and wisdom in these poems, a sense of wonder that
elevates the most ordinary of things and bestows upon them a special
place in the world.
Informed by both intelligence and
compassion, Joel M. Toledo’s “The Long Lost Startle,” I believe, will
be considered a major work in Philippine poetry; while the angel of
history sees the future by turning his back on the wreckage of the
world, Toledo fixes his gaze with attention and astonishment, and in
the process heralds a future with some of the most memorable poems our
country has ever produced.
I find that’s so much nicer to read than tweets about Kanye West.
one of the 12 authors whose books will be launched by UP Press at
Diliman’s Balay Kalinaw this evening ever, as far as I know, served a
prison term. This was, of course, the late William Pomeroy, whose
Bilanggo: Life as a Political Prisoner in the Philippines, 1952-1962
tells the story of his incarceration.
Pomeroy, along with his wife Celia Mariano, joined the Huk Rebellion in
1950. Bilanggo was written immediately after, and in the same style as,
The Forest (an account of his two years with the Huks) and was, indeed,
viewed as its sequel. But Pomeroy did not agree to its publication for
over 40 years, as it contained details of political differences between
himself and Jose Lava which, he felt, were too important to omit, too
controversial to publish.
To avoid a death sentence, Bill and
Celia had pleaded guilty to charges of rebellion. This was at a time
when the Huk movement, constituted on the basis of the wartime
Hukbalahap, first as a defense against the attacks of the Roxas
government forces, then as a mistaken bid for state power from 1948
onwards, was "in decline and suffering defeat." They fully expected to
be in prison for at least 10 years, a prediction that proved remarkably
accurate. Former Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas general secretary Jose
Lava and others, arrested in the "Politburo raid" of October 1950, had
a different view.
Pomeroy recalls that "our comrades in the
Politburo group had been arrested when our movement was at its high
point and looked to victory in the relatively near future, and their
stand of ‘not guilty’… was linked with a belief that an ascendant
revolutionary movement would soon release them. Incommunicado as they
have been, cut off from events in the field, they still hold fast to
When, therefore, upon his arrival, Pomeroy was
instructed by Lava to provide a report on conditions outside, he was
told "not to convey these matters in any way to anyone else in the
group unless with permission." Relations between the two men — and
Celia, who was held separately — remained fraught with difficulty
throughout the prison years and far into the future.
first prison home was Muntinlupa, where despite a regime of ostensible
solitary confinement, the political prisoners used ingenious methods to
communicate. Assigned to compile a study document on the nature of
imperialism, Pomeroy wrote it on the back of cigarette packets. In this
fashion, there was devised a course on Marxist principles, an adult
education course for those who had missed out on school, and a course
encouraging cultural activity.
The political prisoners did in
prison what they had previously done outside. They organized — a
Leading Organ (LO), a security and intelligence committee, an
organizational section, a finance committee and an educational section.
of this was achieved despite extreme restrictions which remained longer
than they might have, because the Lava-led LO took the view that "to
request or demand privileges or concessions may be interpreted as
weakness, as inability to take it, as softening up under pressure."
Pomeroy and others suggested organizing friends and families to
publicize their case and petition for their release. "But the LO says,
There were about 20 in the "Politburo group," while an
initial 120 (largely rank and file communists and Huk soldiers,
although this group contained a few leaders) were kept separately in a
"Rebellion group." This latter group grew to 250 or more, the newcomers
bringing news of further setbacks and defeats. The LO insisted that
such news be kept from the rank and file. While Bill and Celia argued
that the truth should be confronted, "a report is circulated that all
news of setbacks, of surrenderees, of the movement being decimated are
enemy propaganda, and false. Our movement is growing stronger. We will
be free within two years."
Quite apart from the politics,
there is much of interest in Bilanggo — the resoundingly unsuccessful
efforts to "turn" Pomeroy and his comrades, an account of grisly gang
warfare that leaves the political prisoners untouched ("They are the
comrades of all of us!" one gang leader instructs his followers), and
the occasional glimpse of the historical figure — Magsaysay, Edward
Lansdale, Carlos P. Garcia.
And, as readers of The Forest would
expect, there are moments of reflection. As he is conveyed to the NBI
office, Pomeroy watches the people on the street. "Often we in our
movement had addressed people such as these, saying, ‘You are not free.
Your country’s independence is false, it is in the control of foreign
masters. You are unfree in the hands of corrupt tyrannical politicians,
restricted by mercenary police, in bondage to bosses, debt slaves of
landlords and moneylenders.’"
But now he thinks that "it is
difficult to convince people to rebel against such abstract denials of
freedom when they can move unhindered in a street, get on and off a bus
at will, walk into homes, shops and marketplaces without prevention.
Tyrannies, I conclude, endure not only through what they deny but
through what they allow."
When a woman called Luming weakens and
goes over to the military, Pomeroy asks himself: "Could the Luming
defection have been averted? Should a tough line of discipline be taken
toward everyone who exhibits weaknesses or resentments in prison? Can
there not be a degree of tolerance toward people under pressures in
confinement?" Of course, such tolerance might also be of value outside
prison, whether in a fractious movement, or a society so prone to
The prison experience can destroy character, but
it can also consolidate it, which is presumably why Bill once told me
that he did not consider these years wasted.
Available at good bookstores, Bilanggo may also be ordered direct from the UP Press Web site: http://uppress.com.ph.
Is there ‘Filipino architecture?’
Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Augusto Villalon
First Posted 06:44:00 08/10/2009
Filed Under: Architecture, Books, history
MOST welcome addition to the scant material on Philippine architecture
is “Arkitekturang Filipino: A History of Architecture and Urbanism in
the Philippines,” by Gerard Lico, professor of Architecture and campus
architect of the University of the Philippines.
The book is
from the collection published by the University of the Philippines
Press in celebration of the university’s centennial.
of this book, eminent architecture historian Rodrigo D. Perez III
writes in the foreword, “may resurrect an old question: Is there such a
thing as Filipino architecture?”
For generations the issue keeps arising during academic and architectural discussions, stubbornly refusing to be put to rest.
Perez resolves the issue, completing his introductory statement:
“Anyone who has diligently examined the various types of buildings in
this country and has bothered to look into their history will realize
that there is such a thing as Filipino architecture.”
560-page textbook takes an in-depth examination of Philippine
architecture as it has been shaped over the centuries by environmental,
historic, cultural and political influences.
architecture is often used as an instrument of domination in some
periods of injustice, Lico correctly points out that, despite being
subjected to colonial, political or financial demands, the genius of
Filipino architects, whether schooled or not, has always shone through.
Lico takes architecture in its holistic context. Buildings are
not studied as solitary monuments. Instead, the author steps back and
refers to the built environment as part of an urban or landscape
ensemble, integrating architecture with human life, which is the way it
should be, since architecture, no matter how grand or humble, is simply
the nurturer of lifestyle.
Lico does not isolate architecture.
He looks at it through a trained historian’s eye while acknowledging
the strong contribution of allied disciplines such as sociology,
culture, history, politics, economics and others in shaping our towns
and the structures that give those towns their character.
Geography as influence
is another strong influence in our lifestyle, and Filipino architecture
reflects the influences from across the seas, starting with the
Austronesian building tradition that came to the Batanes islands from
southern Taiwan over 6,000 years ago, before dispersing to the west
through the Philippines to Borneo, Sulawesi, Indonesia and ultimately
Oceania. Eastward, the Austronesian influence spread to Vietnam, the
Malay Peninsula, reaching as far as Madagascar.
shared Austronesian characteristics very evident today are language
similarities and houses raised on stilts with steep, thatched roofs.
is no denying colonial influence. Philippine architecture reflected
what Lico terms the “spectacle of power” so evident in the Spanish
colonial churches, government buildings, and especially in the rigid
town planning following the precepts of the 1573 Leyes de Indias, which
stipulated exactly how new towns were to be laid out.
to the royal ordinance signed by King Phillip II of Spain, towns were
laid out in a rectilinear pattern, with straight streets crossing each
other at right angles, around a central plaza where the two main
structures were the principal government building and the church facing
each other. The highest government and church officials lived in the
town plaza along with the elite.
Upon the introduction of
“imperial imaginings” by the newly installed American colonial
government in 1898, Lico dissects its impact on the architecture and
urban design in the new tropical colony of the United States.
This is the age of Daniel Burnham and his City Beautiful urban plan for Manila and Baguio in the image of Washington, DC.
the Intramuros walls, Manila broke out in wide, radial boulevards
shaded with tropical hardwood. Neoclassic government buildings, such as
the Manila Post Office and the Philippine General Hospital, were
situated at strategic locations as focal points declaring the new style
of colonial governance.
Pre-World War II Peace Time was the
apex of American power in the Philippines, the halcyon days of Quezon
when the Philippines reflected its opening to world influences with the
Art Deco architecture and lifestyle of the 1930s.
ashes of World War II, Lico traces the permanent destruction of
Intramuros and the rise of Quezon City, suburbia and bungalow housing.
was the time when architectural leaders emerged: Juan Nakpil, Pablo
Antonio, Carlos Arguelles, Leandro Locsin, whose presence led to the
establishment of a strong architectural profession.
takes a perceptive look into the renaissance of Filipino vernacular
architecture, followed by examination of various architectural trends
until arriving at the current phenomenon of an “architecture of
pluralism” that embraces the architecture of malls, new developments
like Global City in Fort Bonifacio, Rockwell Center and Eastwood City
The question with the present state of architecture
in the Philippines is: Is the current trend signaling the end of
“One way or another, as in the past, the Filipino will prevail,” Perez so positively declares.
this book will inculcate in the student who reads it a strong sense of
pride for the culture that has produced the individualistic Philippine
More importantly, this volume provides an
opportunity for students to discover and appreciate the intellectual
foundation of the architectural profession, preparing them to be
thinking architects rather than simply being back-room architectural
technicians servicing the export market.
Filipino” is available at University of the Philippines Press, E. de
los Santos St., UP Campus, Diliman, QC; tel. 9253243; fax 9282558;