by Bert M. Drona
A few decades ago, our great nationalist Prof. Renato Constantino (1919-1999) wrote: “The true Filipino is a decolonized Filipino.”
During the late 1960s, Filipino nationalism was approaching its zenith when President Marcos, constrained by the Constitution with its presidential term limits but wanting to stay in power, declared Martial Law. Marcos glibly equated Filipino nationalism with communism to rekindle the “fear of communism” and thus gain support from the middle class, the Catholic Church and most of the elite. With his US-supported dictatorship, Marcos issued proclamations that allowed his military to suppress, imprison and/or assassinate or “salvage” peasants, laborers and student activists in hopes of stopping the spread of nationalist ferment and democratic dissent (despite his claim, just a year or so before Proclamation 1081, that he has defeated the communist insurgency).
Fast forward today, all subsequent rulers to the current Arroyo regime practically continued the Marcos approach (without the formal declaration of martial law) with their military programs to “defeat communism” cum “war against secessionists” cum “war against terrorism,” etc. All these willful machinations by our corrupt and traitorous native rulers were/are not discerned by most of us Filipinos as a continuum of foreign dominance/influence (still mostly American) in: our domestic/international politics, study of political economy and chosen path to economic development, i.e. maintaining our decades-old adherence to “free trade.” now known under the umbrella of “globalization.”
In spite of being an underdeveloped and thus weak country, our native and traitorous rulers in 1995 effectively and efficiently destroyed/dismantled our agriculture and industries by signing on to the trade rules of globalization, privatization, etc.; implementing such a developmental economic approach dictated by the “UnHoly Trinity”- comprised of the IMF/WB and the WTO. Thus, throwing the native majority into a bottomless pit.
All these decisions and acts were accomplished only by stopping the mass movement to “decolonize the Filipino.” Conversely, by persistently continuing the struggle to “decolonize” our Filipino selves and expanding Filipino national consciousness/nationalism we Filipino natives can then attain national unity and the national will to reverse this course (though it can take a generation).
Attached is a brief and informative sketch of the nationalist struggle to “decolonize” the Filipino, as written by Erwin Soriano Fernandez (2006).
Please share with your friends and relatives. Thanks!
“Nations, whose NATIONALISM is destroyed, are subject to ruin.” – Colonel Muhammar Qaddafi, 1942 -, Libyan Political and Military Leader
Decolonizing the Filipino: Cultural Intellectual Revolution in Contemporary Phillippines
by Erwin Soriano Fernandez
University of Philippines, Philippines
Beginning 1946, the Philippines experienced independence as the United States withdrew from its political life. Nonetheless and inevitably, American values and influence were still pervasive in the political, economic and cultural spheres. Filipino intellectuals led by Claro M. Recto discerned the need to reorient Philippine policies to cater to Philippine realities and interests. This paper shall trace and sketch the development of this “decolonization movement” which Recto had unwittingly kicked off. In this paper, I noted how Recto’s nationalist discourse would influence his disciples particularly Renato Constantino, into engaging in a critique of the dominance of English as neocolonial tool in Filipino consciousness, which led to the uncritical acceptance of foreign especially Anglo-American perspectives. The latter’s influence can be seen in the indigenization movement in the academe when Filipino academicians started to doubt the relevance of Western models of thinking. From the academe, decolonization spread to and affected the arts – sculpture, painting and music – literature and popular culture. Decolonizing the Filipino is a continuing project such that what Recto and others had commenced fifty years ago has continuing validity and relevance to the present.
Keywords: decolonization, nationalism, indigenization
Centuries of colonialism made the Philippines the most westernized country in Asia. Spain ruled for more than three hundred years but in 1896, the Philippine revolution, the first anti-colonial revolution in Asia, broke out and succeeded in establishing the short-lived Malolos Republic for an imperial power, the United States of America, intervened. A Judaeo-Christian civilization was implanted with hispanization only superficial because Spanish did not replace the many and diverse languages in the country. The US, however, was an exception. For less than fifty years, McKinley’s “benevolent assimilation” constructed the Filipino from an American prototype – English-speaking people but with brown skins, hence the popular expression: “Brown Americans.” Thus when second independence came and was granted in 1946, politically the Philippines became free to a certain extent but economically and culturally, Filipinos had to live with the latent effects of American policies and values.
Hostage to American interests because of the ravages of the war, the Philippine government signed iniquitous economic and military treaties, foremost of which were the Bell Trade Act and the Military Bases Agreement respectively. The former extended the free trade status between the two countries for eight years until 1954 when a gradual taxation in twenty years would end the arrangement and at the same time giving the Americans the same right as Filipinos, known as parity, to exploit the country while the latter gave the United States the right to maintain military bases in the Philippines for a period of ninety-nine years. In the years that followed 1946, the Philippines only had a semblance of independence for the United States, instead of preparing its colony to a sovereign and self-respecting nation, was laying the groundwork for the creation of a neocolony – a country seemingly free but not in reality.
Filipino intellectuals particularly nationalists were not ignorant to bewail and condemn the blatant disregard for the national interests by pro-American Filipino policymakers. They were the first to discern the scorn and distrust in the eyes of Asian neighbors wary to be associated with a loyal American ‘satellite’ in Asia. In their effort to decolonize the Filipino, they had to expose the defects in the national character; reveal the covert motives of foreign agents; attack the vested interests of individuals and institutions; and so in effect, had started the movement that from the recent past till the present slowly overturns and undermines sacred traditions in the status quo, a revolution in the make. Before a cultural-intellectual revolution begins, they had to first challenge the dominant and hegemonic apparatus in the realm of politics, diplomacy and economy. Through educational institutions and the mass media, it slowly created an undetermined impact on the collective psyche of the people and the Filipino society as a whole.
This paper shall trace the growth and development of a movement in the Philippines as it shall recognize individuals, groups, institutions and policies responsible to and accountable for the decolonization of the Filipino. I divided it into four sections starting with Claro M. Recto, the foremost Filipino nationalist of his era, and his nationalist discourse, which his disciples notably Leon Maria Guerrero and Renato Constantino carried on in their respective careers. On the other hand, the academe especially in the University of the Philippines (UP) was, in my opinion, responding to the challenges laid open by these intellectuals and thereby forced to recognize the problem of Western canons of scholarship and research. I shall deal with this in the third and last sections. In the conclusion, I will assess the enduring relevance of the struggle for an emancipated Filipino on the bases of current political, economic and cultural conditions.
Recto: Decolonizing Filipino politics
Recto, the foremost apostle of Filipino nationalism during the era of communist witch-hunting, gave directions to the aborted decolonization during the Philippine revolution postponed due to United States imperial interventionism. Born in the waning years of Spanish regime, educated in the early years of American occupation, Recto’s life would show the evolution of a colonial from a conservative politician to a nationalist crusader (Constantino 1969, 218).
The conventional streak of a politician in Recto silenced whatever opposition he had over the issue of parity rights and the concomitant amendment to the constitution, which he himself coauthored with other delegates in 1935 (Constantino 1969, 128-29). This was contrary to what was said that he together with Laurel opposed it as soon as it was announced to the public (Agoncillo & Guerrero 1970, 500). He still cherished his close friendship with President Roxas but when death claimed Roxas, he slowly began to reconsider his position of loyalty to the Liberal Party. At this time, he was also becoming critical of graft-ridden Quirino administration as well as taking a second look at America’s continued dominance in Philippine affairs with the impositions inimical to the interest of his country. The latter was evident in his advocacy of repealing the Bell Trade Act and abrogating parity when he issued statement on his intention to run for the presidency (Constantino 1969, 138).
Beginning 1949, a radical departure from his position as opposition stalwart was apparent in his first foreign policy address entitled “Our Asian Policy” after being conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws by Arellano University. It was a thorough attack on Quirino’s subservient foreign policy and it was the beginning of his serious examination of Philippine-American relations. Recto deplored the dependence on the United States, which Philippine foreign policy has exhibited by putting much faith “in the might and generosity of America” and in the process had “miscalculated America’s affection and sympathy for Asia.” America’s Europe-First policy during the war was a clear indication, says Recto that the Philippines cannot rely on her and that
the military bases, instead of insuring protection, might attract outside aggression. He urged on the need to redirect Philippine foreign policy towards Asia for “we have drawn so close to America that we have placed Asia beyond our reach” (as quoted in Constantino 1969, 139). Filipino diplomats were posted in London and Rome but no embassies were opened in New Delhi, Karachi, Hanoi, Bangkok, Singapore, and Jakarta except Taiwan. Again, on a more severe critique of the administration’s foreign policy, Recto categorically stated that “the government has no foreign policy of its own at all” for “we… have…submitted to becoming mere appendage to the United States” (142). However, Constantino correctly discerned Recto’s caution of antagonizing the U.S. for political expediency; hence, “Recto’s nationalism was still traditional” (145). Two years later, Recto delivered his “Our Mendicant Foreign Policy” in a commencement address in U.P., in which he asserted the need to chart an independent foreign policy for it is a myth that America will subordinate her interests over Philippine interests. America and the Philippines, declares Recto had separate and distinct interests. The speech echoes his first address on foreign policy on the danger of placing too much confidence on America’s protection when in fact; he says with bitterness, America during the war deserted the Philippines in favor of Europe.
Recto having carefully studied the intricacy of Philippine problems began pointing out the imperative of a nationalist industrialization to break away from the foreign stranglehold of the economy without missing to call attention to the fundamental problems of corruption, internal disorder, poverty and dependence on the United States. He would zero in on the economic relations between the Philippines and the United States with him arriving at the conclusion that the special relationship would carry on and continue the “impoverished, lopsided, raw-material, export and agricultural economy”; hence, he advocated readjustment on both sides on a reasonable basis (Constantino 1969, 204). He would reach the pinnacle of his critical attitude towards the United States during the pro-American presidency of Ramon Magsaysay as the two clashed in several foreign and national policies.
The nationalist ferment that Recto had helped to generate was beginning to seep into the content of national policies. Magsaysay’s election was a difficult political gambit that Recto, who has a disclosed presidential ambition, took to prevent the election of Quirino as well as to have control over the presidency particularly with the aim of infusing nationalist agenda into government policies but Magsaysay proved to be a man to contend with as overwhelming American support was behind him. Nonetheless, Recto’s influence had reached the Department of Foreign Affairs although shortly through Leon Maria Guerrero, former associate attorney in Recto’s law firm. Undersecretary Guerrero delivered an uncleared speech in which he reechoed Recto’s plea to re-charting Philippine foreign policy toward Asia popularly known as “Asia for the Asians” policy. Magsaysay bowing out to the pressure of the United States did not stand pat with Guerrero but instead send him off to London as Ambassador to the Court of Saint James.
Recto, however, was consistent in his nationalist convictions, which were further strengthened by his disagreements with Magsaysay leading to their “open hostilities.” He would put forward his nationalist perspectives over controversial issues. On the Formosa Question with Magsaysay having committed the Philippines to its defense in support of the United States, he exposed the folly behind the decision to commit the Philippines in an international obligation, which he realistically thought she could not fulfill. In the Senate, he was the lone dissenting voice; thus, the resolution was passed. Over the Laurel-Langley Agreement, which extended the free trade status between the Philippines and the United States for twenty years, he recognized in its provisions the seemingly covert American motive of perpetuating “the status of the Philippines as an economic satellite” (Constantino 1969, 222). On similar vein, he would attack the objectionable nature of the land tenure bill, the United States bases, the Foreign Investments Act, Philippine foreign policy and Vietnam.
His collegues in the Senate namely Lorenzo Tañada and Jose W. Diokno carried on the nationalist torch. Upon the death of Recto in 1960 from Rome on his way to Madrid, they will spearhead the nationalist movement particularly on the U.S. military bases bringing it in the mainstream of popular discourse and consciousness. The struggle over the continued stay of the military bases in the Philippines has to wait for more than a decade when in 1990 the Philippine Senate voted to reject their extension.
In the arena of Philippine foreign policy, Guerrero’s short-lived declaration of claiming an Asian identity in Philippine foreign policy was gradually incorporated in the agenda of subsequent administrations beginning with Presidents Carlos P. Garcia and Diosdado P. Macapagal until the twenty-year dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos when reorientation had finally took its full turn to Asia (Fernandez 2006). In the field of the economy, Garcia, a moderate nationalist, who was Recto’s choice for the presidency in 1957 should he himself lose, took a nationalist posture by implementing the “Filipino First” policy, which gave preferential treatment to Filipinos in owning and managing business enterprises. It drew sharp reaction from American businessmen who were beneficiaries of the parity rights since 1947 and thus, the policy signaled the end of the privileges that they had been enjoying.
In the field of education, shortly after the Guerrero interlude in 1954, the Institute of Asian Studies at the College of Liberal Arts in the University of the Philippines, Magsaysay’s brainchild, was established to have a “common ground in which to bring together scholars and students in Asia…for joint endeavors…to preserve and advance their common cultural heritage” (as quoted in Sobritchea 2002, 100). The Institute, now called the Asian Center since the late 60s, was a pioneering initiative to acquaint Filipino scholars to Asia.
Renato Constantino, one of Recto’s loyal followers, would engage in another wave of decolonizing discourse but this time on the role of the English language and neocolonial education in Filipino consciousness.
Constantino: The politics of language and education
It was to Constantino’s credit that the language problem was to reach its height of advocacy in the public consciousness although the colonial state recognized this problem as early as the 1930s. Thus, in 1937, the Institute of National Language was organized with the prerogative of researching, developing and disseminating Tagalog as the national language. Nonetheless, the English language continued its dominance in literary and academic production. During the Japanese occupation, there were efforts to make Tagalog one of the official languages along with Japanese. Recto as Commissioner of Education took the cudgels of implementing this policy as he saw that “having a common language of our own…it will keep us a united people and invest us with that individuality and that national consciousness which only a common native language can give. For the culture, sentiments, traditions and ideals of a people cannot live or flourish in a borrowed tongue” (as quoted in Constantino 1969, 120-21). From this pronouncement as compared to Constantino’s, one can discern parallel ideas. However, Constantino would unravel the complexity of the language problem within the compass of U.S. cultural hegemony over Philippine intellectual and cultural scene.
As early as 1957, Constantino critically examined the role of English as medium of instruction in Philippine education, which he would carry through in a number of his later writings, when he said: “The imposition of the English language was the opening wedge to our cultural domination. With English as the medium of instruction, our young people fell under the spell of America. With the language barrier disposed of and system of education oriented to American practices, American standards and values became an important part of our intellectual make-up” (1966, 71). In another essay in 1958, he disabused his Filipino readers into thinking that English made easy the world around them: “The truth, of course, is that the use of English has cut us off from our cultural heritage but has not opened to our people the best cultural achievements of the English-speaking world… On the other hand, we understand just enough English to make us avid addicts of Western and gangster movies, vulgar song hits, and comics that have become almost the reading fare of our youth” (1966, 87-8). The results were values that exhibit a national inferiority complex that look up to American standards and practices but look down to their own. By capturing the Filipino minds, thus their consciousness, it was not difficult for the Americans to impose for they will not even be imposing because Filipinos would do bidding, not only cultural but also economic hegemony in the form of American-made goods, books, movies, magazines, soft drinks, cigarettes etc. (Constantino 1966, 17).
In a more expanded essay, “The Mis-education of the Filipino” that has now become a classic text on the subject, Constantino (1966) ably demonstrated the inextricable link between education and the English language in the perpetuation of neocolonial thinking. Although nationalism made a significant mark in the national scene in which he acknowledged the crucial role of Recto, he lamented the fact that in the field of education “we have yet to hear of a well organized campaign on the part of our educational leaders for nationalism in education” (39). In this provocative work, he traced the origins of Filipinos’ neocolonial education in the American-introduced public school system whose implicit aim was to produce literate colonials consistent with the objective of American colonial policy. He argued convincingly that the present educational system was in no way different from the past; that instead of inculcating nationalist values and attitudes, it has consistently followed the colonial framework as willing adjuncts of American imperialist propaganda. Soon, Constantino found an ally in Arturo Tolentino, a nationalist legislator, who four months after the publication of that essay in June, called for the abolition of the English language as medium of instruction as its “continued use”… “has created subconscious feeling that whatever comes from the United States is better than what we create in the Philippines” (Agoncillo & Guerrero 1970, 652).
There were limited gains in the nationalist agenda for education. In the late fifties and early sixties, because of the clamor for the use of local languages, Tagalog and other vernaculars were used in the first two years of elementary education. Just as the demand for the use of Tagalog and other local languages in education was becoming strong, educators and policymakers were once in a while contemplating to go back again to using the English language (Agoncillo & Guerrero 1970, 653). Since the 1935 Philippine Constitution, which in itself a colonial document, a provision was laid down as to “the development and adoption of a common national language based on one of the existing native languages”, which came to be Tagalog and to divest it of its regional character, was named as the Tagalog-based Pilipino. The 1973 Philippine Constitution carried over this prevision but instead of Pilipino, the national language was called Filipino. Thus, during the seventies, Pilipino was instituted as the medium of instruction in both elementary and high school in public and private schools while English remained the medium of instruction in secondary and tertiary levels (Rubrico 1998). Finally, the present constitution ironically written in English unequivocally named Filipino as the national language but still cared to include English as one of the official languages unless repealed by
In the late ‘80s with relevance to the present, American imperialism was all the more aggressive in penetrating Philippine society to protect its strategic interests, which was done through “investigating and studying a country’s indigenous culture, traditions, and folk beliefs so that it can work from these as basis to firm up a more effective propaganda that it can use to legitimize its projects” (Guillermo 1988, 9). Agencies such as the IMF-World Bank, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the USIS or USIA, the Peace Corps, Ford and Rockefeller foundations and Moonie religious group were identified as serving the interests of the United States in the latter’s effort to intervene in Third World societies. U.S. influence in the field of Philippine education was without letup as WB-IMF sponsored-Program for Decentralized Education (PRODED) had a hold on the funding and monitoring of textbooks and even curricular programs in the elementary and secondary levels.
However, decolonization as a discourse that was evident in Recto’s speeches and can also be felt in the critical essays of Constantino and others did not fail to positively influence the academic discourse dominated by foreign ways of seeing Filipino realities.
Indigenization/Localization/Translation in the Academe as Decolonization
Corollary to an educational system patterned after the American tradition was the easy and uncritical use of foreign theories and paradigms in understanding Philippine realities. Guerrero, writing in 1952 about the nature of Filipinos in his classic essay “What are Filipinos Like?” uncannily observes, which at present still holds true: “It is to be hoped that we Filipinos will become a little more discriminating. But it is still justifiable to say that we ‘accept western standards at their face value.’ …The commonplaces of the contemporary world are epigrams among us. We hail as original discoveries, theories in politics, economics, sociology and art that are already discredited abroad…University professors do not tire of repeating the theories in vogue when they were college students in the United States; they have not bothered to keep up, and succeeding generations of teachers fall in their turn into the same rut. Since we have grown accustomed to borrowing ideas, we have lost much of our capacity for independence and originality of thought” (1984, 17-18). Constantino was blunt in stating: “Through the language and the educational system, the Filipinos became almost a part of America…With the language, too, came a veritable flood of written aterials…So effective and all-inclusive is this avalanche of information that, without hardly being aware of it, we have been seeing the world through American eyes” [my emphasis] (1966, 71-2).
Constantino’s penetrating insights on the subtle role of the English language in promoting neocolonial consciousness although he can also be faulted at for all of his works were written in English, have made its way in Philippine academic discourse. One must not miss Recto’s influence in popular and academic spheres. The place of this intellectual ferment had begun at the state university, the University of the Philippines, where nationalist intellectuals were beginning to question the applicability of foreign theories to Philippine problems. However, attempts to indigenize Philippine approaches to social realities were part of a larger movement in Asia (Yogesh 1979 as cited in Enriquez 1982).
It was in the discipline of history that Agoncillo first discerned the need to rewrite Philippine history from the “Filipino point of view” as he noticed among the various textbooks written the predominance of the perspective of outsiders particularly American even of those written by Filipinos (Agoncillo & Guerrero 1970, 679). In the discipline of psychology, Filipino psychologists had started to veer away from the dominance of “Anglo-American perspective” by indigenizing methodologies suited to Filipino psyche known as Sikolohiyang Pilipino which “refers to psychological theory, knowledge and methods formed thru the Filipino culture as a basis” giving emphasis on the use of local languages (Enriquez 1982, 1, 2). Thus, along with the evolution of Filipino as national language was the growing assertions for its intellectualization for advocates of indigenization in the academe did not miss the import that in order to break away from the Western/foreign models, it was imperative to utilize local languages as means of analysis and as a way of communicating with the people. Other disciplines in the social sciences and exact sciences began to reconsider the virtues of indigenization and even started producing textbooks written in Filipino.
It was not surprising then that Filipino intellectuals started considering the possibility of conceiving a national discourse (or what they call civilizational discourse) based in Filipino. Zeus Salazar, UP Professor of History and educated at Sorbonne, noted how English-based discourse and consciousness created what he termed as the “Great Cultural Divide’, which alienated the elite from the people and vice versa. He traced its origins in the Propaganda Movement when Spanish was dominant discourse among Filipino expatriates while Filipino revolutionaries like Bonifacio and Jacinto who belonged to the masses, were using Tagalog in their discursive practices (Navarro et al 1997). Pantayong Pananaw (PP), roughly translated as
“from-us-for-us perspective”, “pertain[s] to any social collectivity which possesses a relatively unified and internally articulated linguistic-cultural structure of communication and interaction and/or a sense of oneness of purpose and existence” (Guillermo 2003). In this definition, the Philippines as a social collectivity up to the present does not possess a unifying pantayong pananaw because of the continued dominance and alienating effects of English-based and Western-oriented discourse in government, academic and everyday life. PP as a school of thought in history and later in the Philippine social sciences was composed of a small number of UP professors advocating the use of local language and frameworks in research. PP as a civilizational discourse does not only encompass Philippine social sciences as what Guillermo (2003) had assumed but also includes the other disciplines in the exact sciences and the public discourse in general. At present, PP had marginal influence in UP academe although in other schools its basic philosophy was becoming popular.
The challenge of decolonization in academic discourse lies in the ability to use Filipino in scientific and social science praxis. Corollary to localization and indigenization is the translation of foreign literary and scientific texts into Filipino and write researches in Filipino in order to create a database in the national language.
Emancipating Filipino Arts, Literature and Popular Culture
Filipino arts, which include painting, sculpture and music, had long been a pale imitation of Western trends. Constantino (1966) was fully aware of this and in satirical vein depicted how a Filipino had americanized himself. Said he: “The Filipino is a creature of immense talent for cultural acquisition. He has shown his discriminating taste by being receptive only to American culture, selecting for avid consumption such outstanding American contributions as cowboy movies, horror pictures, comics, rock and roll, soapbox derbies, beauty contests, teenage idiosyncrasies, advertising jingles, cocktail parties and soft drinks” (4). Popular culture and public education were the dual factors that promote the Americanization of Filipino values and consequently, whatever cultural artifacts produced were modeled from the West. Constantino observes the painful reality of Filipino cultural production, which also served both as a critique and a challenge when he said echoing Guerrero: “Our [Filipinos’] slavish imitation of Hollywood styles in dress, entertainment, songs and dances, and even haircuts, would all be extremely laughable if we did not realize that our cultural captivity has robbed us of originality and a distinct national personality” (131).
In the case of painting, Filipinos from Damian Domingo to Fernando Amorsolo were trained in European fashion especially Spanish. In the mid-thirties, Filipinos who studied in American art schools brought home the modernist style led by Victorio Edades, Diosdado M. Lorenzo, Hernando R. Ocampo, Galo B. Ocampo and Vicente Manansala. It created a furor among conservative painters, laymen and critics particularly the School of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines headed by Guillermo E. Tolentino, a noted Filipino sculptor. The debate, which quieted down during the Japanese occupation, can also be seen as a clash between two colonial models: European versus American. The so-called Modernists, soon after the war, in the persons of Vicente Manansala, Cesar F. Legaspi, Hernando R. Ocampo, Romeo V. Tabuena, Victor Oteysa, Ramon Estrella to name a few, founded the Neo-Realist school of painting, which promoted the idea that painting is not a “medium for a story or literature or any extraneous matter alien to plastic art” or the art-for-art’s-sake school. In the late 60s, Filipino painters of modern bent were combining elements of Occidental and Oriental in which the latter can be noticed in “rich brilliant colors, in the subject of the individual painter, in the decorative tendency, and in the calligraphic technique” (Agoncillo & Guerrero 1970, 663-64).
The debate between modernists and conservatives did not insulate the field of sculpture from the raging issue. Napoleon V. Abueva revolting from the classicism of Guillermo E. Tolentino, established the modernist school in sculpture. Nonetheless, as observed by Agoncillo (1970), unfortunately sculptures of modernist type earn scorn from viewers due perhaps from lack of appreciation or simply ignorance of their beauty and meaning.
Filipino music was the most affected by the onslaught of American song hits heard in air lanes although there were the pioneering moves by Nicanor Abelardo and Francisco Santiago on the development of original and authentic Filipino music. Their steps were followed by Antonio J. Molina, Felipe P. Padilla de Leon, Eliseo Pajaro, Antonio Buenaventura, Lucio San Pedro, Jose Maceda and Hilarion Rubio, musicians and musicologists who were in the forefront of the advocacy for the use of folk literature and folk songs as inspiration (Agoncillo & Guerrero 1970, 665).
Although there is truth in the pervasive influence of Western models in Philippine art production and in Filipino way of life as a whole, it is not always the case that one can find only imitation and mimicry without any streak of originality. Constantino might have been speaking for the middle class and the elite but still he denies them of their capacity for subverting or assimilating foreign influences into their own class culture particularly in arts. Filipinos belonging to the lower classes, Fajardo argues, were shielded from “cultural pollution” “since exposure to foreign culture is limited by a deprived opportunity for education, travel, or the luxury of going to the movies, viewing video tapes and so forth.” Fajardo continues: “Somehow, values remain authentic and most of the art they create transmit value-images that their culture has of itself. Even as they are prone to imitate models of alien cultures, whatever unfolds from them are still more natural and naïve, more authentic as the expression of a people” (1985, 4). Thus, calling it “people’s art,” she defines it as art made by common people, i.e. amulet-maker (Quiapo), native mat weaver (Sulu and Samar-Leyte), lantern maker (Pampanga), basket weaver (Ifugao), jeepney painter (Sarao, Cavite), wood carvers (Sulu, Paete, Betis), who comprised the lower strata in Philippine society. Nonetheless, she recognized the growing menace of Westernization as “people’s art” remained undocumented, understudied and ignored. Decolonization can be achieved through documentation, preservation and dissemination of the various forms of “people’s art”; by imbuing craftsmen a sense of pride of their work as artists of the people and
not only by incorporating “people’s art” as part of the curriculum but filipinizing the art programs in the primary, secondary and tertiary levels (12, 20).
The development and vicissitudes of Philippine literature reflected the history of the Philippines as a nation. Spanish colonialism and the Filipino reaction paved the way for the emergence of nationalist and radical literature in Spanish by Filipino expatriates known as the Ilustrados (the enlightened), which included Rizal, Del Pilar and other equally important propagandists. As English was institutionalized as a result of American colonial policy, Filipinos dabbled into writing poems, essays, short stories and novels that were basically an imitation of American styles in the likes of Hewingway, Saroyan, Poe, Anderson, Faulkner and others (Agoncillo & Guerrero 1970). After independence, Filipino literati continued writing in English with distinct flavor and thus started to carve their places in Filipino literature in English. At UP, the form and content of literature became a subject of literary debate and discussion with Jose Garcia Villa emphasizing on form while Salvador P. Lopez, author of a prizewinning collection of essays entitled “Proletarian Literature” gave importance to content. The growth of Filipino literature in English in the past decades raised the possibility for some writers that it should be the national literature. Writers in Tagalog, later in Filipino, were therefore forced to compete with writers in English but the dominance of English literary canons made them somewhat marginalized. What more of vernacular literatures but thanks to a local publishing company, which since the 1930s encouraged the publication of short stories, poems and essays in local languages. However, literary historians notably Bienvenido Lumbera with the help of his wife Cynthia in his seminal work “Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology” (1983) remapped the avenues of Filipino literary canons “freeing it from the control of dominant literary conventions and practices” by including oral traditions, vernacular literatures and women and other forms of emergent literature besides Filipino literature in Filipino, Spanish and English
In the realm of popular culture, the Filipino language made some strides as mass media either printed or broadcast were using it as medium of communication. Newspapers and magazines in Filipino or in vernacular languages found their way in Filipino homes. Likewise, Filipino comics eventually departed from the themes and values of imported U.S. comics culminating in the 1950s as the “Golden Age of Philippine Comics.” Mars Ravelo created characters like Darna and Lastikman that became known and embedded in the popular imagination (Cueto 2005). Filipino films during the 1950s although bearing Hollywood imprints propagated the use of the Filipino language and even got accolades from international film critics. In the so-called “Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema” from the 70s to early 80s, Filipino avant-garde filmmakers produced a number of landmark films that tackled Philippine themes and values clearly departing from Hollywood styles. Nonetheless, with the influx of Hollywood films, this contributed to the slow death of Philippine cinema industry.
The impact of the nationalist stirrings that Recto inspired reached not only Philippine politics but also in the academic and cultural spheres. It arrived at its culmination during the Garcia administration when a nationalist economic program, the “Filipino First” policy was implemented. In the area of diplomacy, Leon Maria Guerrero, a loyal partisan of Recto with a patriotic character of his own, endorsed the “Asia for the Asians” policy in 1954 as Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs obviously an influence of Recto’s nationalist stand on foreign policy. Although, he was meted out with punishment as he was pressured to take his post as Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, more than ten years later, his ‘return-to-Asia’ advocacy in foreign policy was reflected in the agenda and direction of Philippine foreign policy. Constantino, another of Recto’s trusted adherent, provided the stimulus for an exciting debate on the function of English either as neocolonial tool or as tool for national liberation in which I find him siding on the former as it was apparent from his writings. From the political to the economic arena, from economic to cultural space, decolonization had inevitably reached the halls of the academe. The discipline of history initiated the rethinking of complacently accepting foreign perspectives followed by psychology with the development of Sikolohiyang Pilipino or indigenous Filipino psychology. PP, meanwhile, conceptualized a broader nationalist perspective, giving emphasis on the use of Filipino, as a means of decolonizing Philippine society as a whole embracing all aspects of it from political to cultural.
Nonetheless, decolonization is an ongoing process in the Philippines. It still has a long way to go as long as reactionary and anti-nationalist forces are present to undermine its gains. The context of Iraq war and the Lebanon crisis resurrected the myth that there is an identity of interests between the Philippines and the United States. Philippine President Gloria M. Arroyo in the wake of the 9/11 bombing was quick to lend support to U.S. President George W. Bush’s declaration of war against terrorism and thus included in the “Coalition of the Willing.” The present crisis in the Middle East, which dearly affected the national interest as thousands of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) were threatened by the loss of safety, security and employment, did not even elicit a condemnation from the Philippine government perhaps for fear of gaining the enmity of the United States. The present administration, too, under the banner of “Strong Republic” neglected to include national industrialization as one of the pillars for national progress and development but was merely contented with the promotion of agricultural modernization and made economic free enterprise as its cornerstone. What Recto had chided before as mendicancy was back with vengeance as liberalization, privatization and deregulation were invoked as magic words for economic progress. In her recent SONA (State of the Nation Address), Arroyo offered five strategies for global competitiveness and flaunted the five “super-regions” without citing them under the rubric of national industrialization. Words like “agribusiness” “agricultural” “fisheries” were casually mentioned but in the case of “industry”, “industrialization”, they seemed to be consciously evaded.
The language problem is still unresolved. Although the present constitution states that Filipino is the national language, English dominates the discursive practices in education, law and jurisprudence, commerce and popular culture. To a certain extent, there were some gains in mass media as Filipino was becoming more and more acceptable among the common people and the middle class. There were, however, some drawbacks. In Congress, there is a proposal to make English the medium of instruction from elementary to college. The reason behind it is an indication of a misplaced priority of the government by placing premium on becoming proficient in English as it supposedly gives Filipinos global competitiveness so that later on they will work as either nannies abroad or what Arroyo envisions as “super-maids” or call center agents at home.
As globalization penetrates every village and town in the Philippines through mass media and global corporations, westernization becomes a formidable factor to take into account (Constantino 1977). Hollywood films continue to dominate local cinema houses and in turn, Filipino filmmakers ape American films (Torre 2003). Among Filipino youth, American pop songs and pop culture are so popular that they become the standards for imitation.
The struggle for decolonization in the Philippines today, which is attendant to the modern project of nationhood, continues and the big role of Filipino intellectuals in the creation of truly national culture in the midst of the onslaught of globalization cannot be discounted. Filipino intellectuals, as members of their society must always be the conscience of the people, freed from the constraints of neocolonial mindsets and be able to transcend personal and private interests for the welfare of the people. But intellectuals cannot do it alone for decolonization must also be a part of the Filipino people’s everyday struggle for national emancipation. Let me quote at length Renato Constantino:
“The Filipino intellectual’s acquaintance with and understanding of the people is part of his effort to liberate that part of his being which is a captive of the colonial condition. His liberation is part of the people’s struggle for freedom. He cannot be truly free and creative if the people are not free and creative. National culture is a manifestation of the nationalist struggle and is at the same time a condition for the struggle itself, for nationalism needs a cultural form which is shaped and within the struggle. Therefore national culture starts as a culture of struggle and the resulting victory then becomes the sanction for the further cultural development of a free people” (1970, 46).
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