Monday, December 19, 2016

New Introduction to CARLOS BULOSAN, THE PHILIPPINES IS IN THE HEART (forthcoming from Ateneo University Press, 2017)

 (Ateneo U Press, 2017

by E. San Juan, Jr.

The passage of Carlos Bulosan from colonial Philippines to the U.S. metropole marks an axis of multiple historic transitions.  He died at the height of the Cold War, 11 September 1956, the year of the independence of Sudan, Tunisia, and Morocco. It was a year after the Bandung Conference of Asian and African leaders, birthplace of the “third world.” It was also the year when Martin Luther King initiated the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, the beginning of the stormy Civil Rights struggles in the United States that transformed the era before September 11, 2001.  In that decade, only about 70,000 Filipinos resided in the U.S., compared to four million today. 
When Bulosan was born in the Philippines in 1911, two years after the Payne-Aldrich Act of 1909 defined the geopolitical role of the islands as a dependent, peripheral formation, the Philippines was a full-fledged colony of the U.S. empire. First recruited by the Hawaiian plantations and Alaskan canneries, Filipinos (chiefly men) were classified as colonial wards or “nationals,” not immigrants seduced by the American “Dream of Success.” This is a fact ignored by virtually all commentators on Bulosan’s writings, a basic error that leads to peremptorily assuming the neocolonial Philippines today as a fully sovereign nation-state. Without comprehending this asymmetrical relationship, all attempts to interpret and evaluate Filipino cultural expression in the United States, including Bulosan’s, remains flawed and deleterious in influence. It is complicit in the agenda of perpetuating US “Exceptionalism,” then articulated as“Manifest Destiny” under whose  banner over one million natives were killed. Thereafter, the insurrectos were  pacified and disciplined into docile subjects by the rifles and cannons of McKinley’s program of  “Benevolent Assimilation” (Miller 1982). 
Bulosan arrived in Seattle in 1930, just after the worldwide collapse of finance-capitalism. It was also marked by the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines whose leaders were all jailed the year after (Richardson 2011;  Saulo 1990). The onset of the “Great Depression” was heralded by the racist vigilante attacks on Filipino farmworkers in Watsonville, California, and Yakima Valley, Washington, in 1928 and 1930. Violence and xenophobia thus greeted Bulosan’s arrival in the promised land of liberty, democracy, and brotherhood. 

Mapping the Barricades

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, Bulosan summed up his years of experience as a labor organizer and nomadic journalist, in a letter to a friend: “Yes, I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And the crime is that I am a Filipino in America” (Feria 1960, 199). Rather than being perceived as part of the “yellow horde,” Filipino workers acquired the stigma of troublemakers when they led or participated in mass dissidence. Among these were the January 1920 and September 1924 strikes in Hawaii; in the latter, sixteen workers were killed and one of the organizers, Pablo Manlapit, was deported to the Philippines. In a letter to a friend dated December 7, 1935, Bulosan confessed that “I have become a communist” (Babb 1928-2005).  
Objective conditions quickly catalyzed the agencies of change. In 1933 and 1934, thousands of Filipino workers in Salinas, Stockton, and Monterey counties formed the Filipino Labor Union and staged several damaging strikes. From the thirties to the forties, Filipinos belonging to the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), Federated Agricultural Laborers Association, and the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) mounted nationwide actions against agribusiness and industrial corporations, protesting corruption, low wages, and degrading labor conditions. The image of the Filipino in the United States in the thirties up to the 1965 grape strike in Delano, Califonia (which led to the founding of the United Farmworkers Union), established the image of this southeast Asian ethnic group as a “disturber of the peace” (to use James Baldwin’s phrase).
After his ordeal as itinerant field hand in Washington and Oregon, Bulosan joined his brothers Dionisio and Aurelio in Los Angeles. He became friends with Chris Mensalvas, a union organizer of the UCAPAWA. In 1935, Filipinos in the US confronted the threat of deportation by virtue of the Repatriation Act of 1935.  From 1934 to 1937, Bulosan was a publicist for the proletarian resistance. And as editor of The New Tide, a bimonthly worker’s magazine, he entered the circle of such artists as Richard Wright, William Saroyan, John Fante, Paul Robeson, and others.  The radical artist Sanora Babb and her sister Dorothy served as the “life-maintainers” of Bulosan as a patient in the Los Angeles County Hospital from 1936 to 1938, through the years of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of fascism in Europe.  The indefatigable Babb sisters sustained his efforts to educate himself by reading in the Los Angeles Public Library. He absorbed a provocatively intense constellation of ideas through the works of Theodore Dreiser, James Farrell, Pablo Neruda, Nazim Hikmet, John Steinbeck, Maxim Gorky, Agnes Smedley, Lillian Hellman,  Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Snow, and others. His apprenticehip in progressive thinking and dialogue (he reflected later on) “opened all my world of intellectual possibilities—and a grand dream of bettering society for the working man” (San Juan 1994, 256). His return to Seattle as editor of the ILWU 1952 Yearbook, preoccupied in defending the popular nationalist poet Amado V. Hernandez, who was indicted as a communist, and in denouncing the fascist brutalities under the Quirino regime, completed the itinerary of his radicalization (Bulosan 1995).

Encounter and Discovery

The defeat of the US and Filipino forces in Bataan and Corregidor catapulted the Philippines into the world’s public consciousness, especially the U.S. audience. The colony offered a space for the exile’s imagined return to native ground. Earlier, a veteran of the Hawaii strikes, Pedro Calosa, returned to Bulosan’s province, Pangasinan, and led the 1931 Tayug uprising vividly recounted in the first half of Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart (AIH). This is often forgotten since most commentators narrowly focus on the Depression episodes (see, for example, the selection in Paul Lauter’s The Heath Anthology of American Literature). During his convalescence from lung-and-kidney operations in the late thirties, Bulosan wrote stories based on Philippine folklore, later assembled in The Laughter of My Father (1944; hereafter The Laughter), a best-seller disseminated to American soldiers during World War II. The stories about Uncle Sator included here (first issued in 1978; hereafter PIH) served as an integral counterpoint to the comic role of the father, a donor/villain function in the morphology of Bulosan’s contrived simulations or adaptations (Propp 1958). 
The outbreak of World War II provided the moralizing epilogue to the anti-picaresque chronicle of wandering Filipino laborers in Bulosan’s ethnobiography, America Is in the Heart (AIH). It began with a confession of ignorance, unawareness of “the vast social implications of the discrimination against Filipinos.” He surmised that most of his compatriots suffered from “a misconception generated by a confused personal reaction to dynamic social forces.” But for him, “my hunger of the truth had inevitably led me to take an historical attitude” (Bulosan 1946, 144). As part of this endeavor to historicize personal experience, Bulosan edited and collaborated on three more books after The Laughter: Chorus for America (1942), Letter from America (1942), and The Voice of Bataan (1943). Two years later, with Bulosan’s “Freedom from Want” manifesto exhibited in the Federal Building, San Francisco, in 1943, The Laughter was followed by  AIH in 1946. President Quezon offered Bulosan a job in the exiled Commonwealth government (where compatriots like Jose Garcia Villa and Arturo Rotor worked), but he politely declined. Meanwhile, he outlined at the end of AIH his vision encompassing the dying old world and the new world being born “with less sacrifice and agony on the living.”
Antonio Gramsci (1971) once warned that in between the demise of the old and the emergence of the new, we are confronted with dreadful morbid symptoms. Bulosan wrestled with his monsters in his novel The Cry and the Dedication, written in the last five years of his life. He engaged the problem of change and sudden metamorphosis, of dying in order to be reborn, a traumatic ordeal which also pervades the stories here. Composed in the years after his sojourn in the Los Angeles County Hospital and his years with the ILWU at the height of the McCarthyist witchhunts of the Cold War, these stories form part of his project of regeneration. In January 1950, he wrote to Jose de Los Reyes: “What I am trying to do…is to utilize our common folklore, tradition, and history in line with my socialist thinking…We are pooling our knowledge together for a better understanding of man and his world; not to deify man, but to make him human, that we may see our faults and virtues in him. That is the responsibility of literature and the history of culture”(Feria 1960, 261). Within this ambience of ethico-political concerns, Bulosan articulated the aesthetic rationale of the folkloric renditions of The Laughter a year before his death. This was in response to formalist New Critics who dismissed it as a potboiler selling local color and foisting on an unsuspecting public “the oversimplified image of the Filipino as Peter Pan or as the lovable village idiot, everyman’s eccentric uncle” (Casper  1966, 70). Such a tendentious judgment testifies to the caustic, demystifying impact of  Bulosan’s quasi-Juvenalian, more exactly Menippean, satire.
Following the wrongheaded fatuous view of Filipinos as immigrants obsessed with the American “Dream of Success,” a postmodern notion is fashionable nowadays to bracket Bulosan as a transnationalist, at best a cosmopolitan or planetary intellectual.  In effect, this diasporic recasting seeks to transcend boundaries and barriers, abandoning the alleged parochialism of his peasant origin and the provincial ethnic heritage so as to fashion some all-embracing, universally cogent work of art. To refute this illicit transmogrification, one may cite as a point of departure Bulosan’s overriding motivation. In a letter prior to his death, he reiterated the politico-economic motivation behind his poetry and fiction. In particular, he reaffirmed his conviction that The Laughter “is not humor; it is satire; it is indictment against an economic system that stifled the growth of the primitive, making him decadent overnight without passing through the various stages of growth and decay. The hidden bitterness in this book is so pronounced in another series of short stories, that the publishers refrained from publishing it for the time being….” (Feria 1960, 273). That time has elapsed, the censor is gone; in front of you, unveiled, is the astute bitterness of the stories that mainstream editors refused. These narratives somehow elude the shock of recognition that satire, with its techniques of burlesque, parody, lampoon, and travesty usually trigger in the empathizing sensibility.
For the purpose of this brief introduction, I would like to delineate here the elements of a general framework within which the stories can be serviceably understood and appreciated in the context of Bulosan’s predicament and the contingencies of his transcultural milieu. 

Generic Demarcations

          Northrop Frye, Robert Elliot, and other scholars have theorized the genre of satire as rooted in magic, ritual and the pragmatic articulation of diverse archaic modes of production and reproduction. Its instrumental effect is therapeutic, simultaneously conservative and subversive. Elliot believes that the power of satire, even the sophisticated modern type, inheres in the magical connotations of words and their semantic implications (1960, 282).  Frye categorizes irony and satire as “the mythos of winter”: “Satire is militant irony” which assumes “standards against which the grotesque and absurd are measured… Satire demands at least a token fantasy, a content which the reader recognizes as grotesque, and at least an implicit moral standard” (1957, 223-24).   Often, as in “The Lonesome Mermaid” and the two ghost stories, fantasy and morality coalesce felicitously. 
          The satirist usually strives to arouse contempt on deviations from received norms and traditional sacrosanct beliefs. His sarcastic innuendoes and scornful invectives are designed to register his censure and ridicule of common foibles, vices, and excesses due to human frailty or social anomalies. At times, the satirical protest acts to sublimate and refine indignation against the evils usually observed: cupidity, hypocrisy, avarice, fatuous complacency, gluttony, and so on. Such derisive and caustic rhetoric, no matter how bitter or acerbic, does not trigger outright offense because, as Jonathan Swift noted, “satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own” (Cuddon 1979, 602; see Hodgart 1969). This may refer to the genial Horatian style, not to the harsh Juvenalian attack on social syndromes and individual irrationalities. In periods of violent instability and change, the satiric mode becomes difficult to sustain unless exaggerated to the level of hyperbolic lampoon and cynical parody in the style of Petronius’ Satyricon
          Comic absurdities prevail over satiric invectives in Bulosan’s stories. Even in the violence-saturated incidents in “The Way of All Men” and “The Son of Uncle Sator,” the narrator focuses on the comic quality inhering in the mechanical gestures and movements of flat characters (following Henri Bergson’s definition of humor [1960, 49]) associated with the rigid conformism of conduct in hierarchical closed cultures. One encounters a Brechtian alienation-effect in the juxtaposition of illusory belief and discordant reality in scenarios that Bulosan sets up where the Father or Uncle Sator preaches about the virtues of a morality that directly contravene their own burlesqued sordid conduct. This is obvious in “The Wisdom of Uncle Sator,” “The Bandit and the Tax Collctor, “ or “The Homecoming of Uncle Manuel.”  Examples of caricatured speech and grotesque behavior abound in these stories, as well as in The Laughter , especially in the predictable, stereotypical reactions of the main characters. But Bulosan disrupts this pattern, as evinced in the ambivalent and erratic behavior of the central protagonists in “The Angel in Santo Domingo,” “A Servant in the House,” “The Great Lover,” and in the turn of events punctuated by the appearance of  musicians, those Dionysian figures of trumpeters and guitarists interspered among the quarelling fathers, uncles, cousins, etc.  In these occasions, fantasy, the distinctive mode of romance, eclipses the criticism of manners and morals.
          In the comic world of Bulosan’s imagination, the satirizing animus is tempered by the needs of the body and the material welfare of the collective. In “The Son of Uncle Sator,” the first-person narrator claims to “make commentaries on human affairs.” He describes his constituency as “the morally petrified tribe of brigands, thieves, jailbirds, gamblers, inebriates, imbeciles, louts, and liars” (1978, 72). Because of the “ageless naivete” of this tribe, their imbecility is neither tragic nor laughable; rather, it is an unpredictable, mixed world where night and day interpenetrate. This variegated domain is inhabited by hybrids, “ghostly humans” and “humanlike ghosts” (as the stranger observes in “Return of the Amorous Ghost”)—a twilight zone where one is surrounded by enigmatic, supernatural happenings reminiscent of folktales, as in “The Rooster’s Egg, ” “The Angel in Santo Domingo,” and the three ghost stories. It is a world of mercantile/feudal alienation, with farmers-artisans robbed of the value produced by their labor-power, totally fallen into a nihilistic realm of money/commodity-fetishism lorded over by corrupt police and bureaucrat-politicians,  embezzling compradors, gangster hirelings, and assorted criminal opportunists.
          The satirist’s strong libidinal predilection to indulge in romance/fantasy is curbed by Bulosan’s empiricist drive. Passionate carnal experience is paramount.  Gratification of the impetuous appetites supervenes over any particular folly or vice personified by individuals. This is vividly illustrated in the town festivities characterized by the ribald exuberance of drinking/eating, together with sly erotic games that animate every encounter of uncles and aunts, children and parents. The organic body of the folk comprised of carousing, pleasure-loving, sentimental individuals springs to life in the anonymizing revelry. We are initiated into the time/space of carnival that abolishes boundaries between private and public, performers and spectators, destroying the social hierarachies that underlie official culture. Entailed by this construction of a pastoral milieu, sometimes camouflaged by irony or parody, is the translation of the complex totalilty into intelligible elements accessible for problem-solving by the unlettered folk, a paradigm for proletarian art proposed by the codifier of ambiguities, William Empson (1950). A visionary utopian fable lies immanent in the crude naturalist surface of uncouth swindlers and vulgar outlaws. This accords with the essence of all art realized in the simplification of a dense heterogenous reality based on conventions. This induces an epiphany that reveals to us that lived reality is far more complex than any single view of it, just as the manifold of inter-subjective experience is richer than any theorizing of it (Berger 1972). Praxis/communal activity always trumps individualist theorizing founded on Cartesian intuition and egotist speculation.

Incarnation Poetics

          Analyzing Rabelais’ universe of discourse and its intertextuality, the Russian Mikhail Bakhtin was the first scholar to theorize the carnivalesque motivation and thematics in art. This is a nuanced, historically substantiated rearticulation of Empson’s pastoral genre. Originating from the Roman festival of the saturnalia, the carnival world-outlook stages an inverted order that mockingly challenges the legitimacy of established authority. Its modus operandi is essentially debunking, suspicious, deconstructive. By canceling doctrinaire pieties, it demystifies the customary rules and hieratic norms that define outsiders and insiders, who is acceptable and who is not, thus leveling unequal strata and classes. For Julia Kristeva, the carnivalesque logic of the Bulosan narrative posits a homology between the body, dream, linguistic syntax and structures of desire; it plays with distances, relationships, analogies, non-exclusive oppositions and ambivalences, the structural dyads of carnival: “high and low, birth and agony, food and excrement, praise and curses, laughter and tears” (1986, 48-49).
          Carnival originally re-enacted traditional cults of fertility and rebirth. It celebrated bodily pleasures, foregrounding eating and excreting, taking away the repulsive quality from gluttony, lust, and other libidinal pleasures in the hope that this celebration of vital functions will renew the world. Carnival thus represents the popular force of transformation and renovation, forecasting the advent of a quasi-utopian realm of freedom, spontaneity, and abundance suggested here in scenes of mayhem, convulsive gatherings, and rowdy logomachia, as in the confounding mischief in “The Betrayal of Uncle Soyoc” and “The Betrayal of Uncle Roman.” In this dialogic cosmos, the idea of rupture is dramatized as a modality of revolutionary transformation occurring in the midst of crisis—the transition of the archaic tributary, patrimonial mode of production to a comprador/capitalist-bureaucratic one—a deeply chaotic, disaggregated process of socioeconomic evolution witnessed chiefly in the tortuous history of dependent/peripheral formations.
           Instead of simply illuminating Bulosan’s stories as specimens of satire or stylized theatrical humor, it woud be more instructive to articulate them as examples of carnivalesque discourse in Bakhtin’s dialogic paradigm. We are therefore not confined to simply discriminating between Juvenalian harangue and Horatian sermons. The series revolving around Uncle Sator and his brothers illustrates Bulosan’s use of the populist-anarchist predispositions in folk-culture. In “The Widom of Uncle Sator,” the contrast between the official worship of money (Uncle Sator representing the rentier/comprador mode of production) and the sensuous use-value of the fat hens and suckling pigs paid as fees to the father’s school of music, is sharply drawn: “And the accommodating parents obliged Father willingly, until all their animals and fowls were killed in our kitchen…Uncle Sator kept all the money, of course, because Father was interested only in his stomach. He thought a slaughtered pig was more immediate and important than money in his pocket” (1978, 62). In “The Homecoming of Uncle Manuel,” Uncle Sator himself indulges in culinary fantasies: Uncle Sator’s “mouth watered from describing the imaginary suckling pig, or carabao meat, or whatever it was in his mind. Father’s saliva was dripping down his shirt. His yellow tongue was hanging out of his black mouth, his red eyes popping like guavas” (1978, 92). The bacchanalia goes on until Uncle Manuel finds himself the victim of Uncle Sator’s swindling art, an absurd comic peripeteia. Such situations approximate the target of Menippean satire, namely,  those mental atttitudes (more precisely, ideologies) in which people are “handled in terms of their occupational approach to life as distinct from their social behavior” (Frye 1957, 309).

Anticipating  Disneyland
          We are imperceptibly ushered into a capsized unmoored world, obliquely alluding to the era of U.S. violent pacification of the islands in rough synchrony with the emergence of turbulent worldwide Depression. With the family disintegrated, uncles and fathers all cheat one another, as though mirroring the antics of Commonwealth politicians squabbling over the Hare Hawes Cutting Act or the Tydings McDuffie Law.  Meanwhile, kindred actors engage in fraudulent gambling, banditry, extortions, blackmailing partners, and bribing their way through the feudal/mercantile jousting for colonial prerogatives. In “A Servant in the House,” while the merrymaking is going on, the servant cleverly plans his own racket. The official Establishment and its patrimonial guardians are travestied by the routine violation of laws and regulations—until panic and pandemonium break out and carnival jouissance takes over.
          Given the absence of limits or their precarious definition, ghosts and angels infiltrate the public realm of civil society. Magical powers and charismatic agents creep into the allegorical, farcical play. In “The Lonesome Mermaid” an,d “The Rooster’s Egg,” the temporal-spatial coordinates are dissolved, offering a glimpse of a parallel antithetical cosmos. Angela, the “Angel in Santo Domingo,” becomes a commodity clamed simultaneously by the priest, the landlord, Mayor, etc. Before she could be sold to a gambler, she disappears—proof that the spirit indeed trumps the letter. In “The Marriage of Cousin Pedro,” we encounter a town where mothers, not fathers, know who their children are. Patriarchy is dethroned, but not in order to put the matriarch in charge, contrary to the theorists of matriarchal/matrilineal ascendancy.  Juxtapositions of the sordid and sublime, the serious and grotesque, are designed to subvert the conventional standard of values and mores. It intends to shatter the obscurantist ceremonies of the priestly castes and empower the pariahs and outcasts. In “The Great Lover,” the polar opposites are cleverly if ambiguously aligned in “the night that lives within and without us.” Social conflict is conveyed through crude or subtle equivocations and thus reduced to futile, aleatory psychomachia: carnivalesque heteroglossia, in Bakhtin’s terminology.
Uncanny Calculations

           We call attention to Bulosan’s elaboration of the role of the trickster/impersonator and its counterpart, the ghost/mermaid. The magic power of this uncanny protagonist proceeds to defy the antinomy of death and rebirth (for the trickster-artist archetype, see Jung 1969), exemplified by Silent Popo in “The Summer of Beautiful Music,” by Timbucto in “The Son of Uncle Sator,” and the stranger in”The Lonesome Mermaid.” Whenever we confront the incongruous and discrepant, the polarized qualities of the customary and the strange, the harmonious and dissonant, we face the absurd that triggers laughter and/or ironical self-reflection. This conjunction invokes the medieval species of laughter that Rabelais designated as the “social consciousness of all the people,” We experience the flow of time in the festival crowd and marketplace as members of a “continually growing and renewed people. This is why festive folk laughter presents an element of victory not only over supernatural awe over the sacred, over death; it also means the defeat of power, of earthly kings, of the earthly upper classes, of all that oppresses and restricts…Laughter  liberates not only from external censorship but first of all from the great interior censor…It liberates from the fear of the sacred, of prohibitions, of the past, of power. It unveils the material bodily principle in its true meaning. Laughter opened men’s eyes  on that which is new, on the future” (1968, 92, 94).
     The carnivalesque principle accentuating the body, laughter and physical action, is revolutionary par excellence. It is the dialectical method and structure of the folkloric artifices here and in The Laughter. Reconstituted from the mixed genealogy of folk tradition, it exists side by side with the culture it parodies and somehow contains it, hence its ambivalent status. It affords space for eccentricity, arbitrary but normative play, a counter-cultural machinery opposed to the bureaucratic, stratified ideological apparatus comprised of dominant-subordinate poles. But what stands out in the carnivalesque theatrical habitus is the body of the people “aware of its unity in time… It is conscious of its uninterrupted continuity in time, of its relative historic immortality…the uninterrupted continuity of their becoming and the ceaseless metamorphosis of death and renewal” (quoted in Clark and Holquist 1984, 303). The amorphous, perverse image of the carnivalesque body, for Bakhtin, is flesh as the site of becoming or metamorphosis evidenced by changes in its nature through eating, evacuation, sexual intercourse, etc. This ever-renewing corpus is symbolized by Uncle Sator’s “cavernous mouth” as he devours a chicken drumstick while he discusses his last will and testament with his nephew and the mother who prepared the meal (Bulosan 1990, 55). It is embodied in the buoyant and cyclical appearance of Uncle Sator, the father, Orphic musicians, ghosts, and other commedia dell arte personalities on this tropical stage.

Anatomy of the Wandering Indio

           It is no surprise to find Bulosan’s high esteem of indigenous folklore consonant with Bakhtin’s conceptualization of the carnivalesque anatomy and its mutations. Other stories here demonstrate the discombobulating efficacy of popular music, the Orphic motif of the saturnalia, in “The Power of Music,” “The Summer of Beautiful Music,” etc.  Images, smells, noise concordant and dissonant all indiscriminately blend in a Menippean colloquy that relies more on analogy and a logic of relations rather than on substance and inference, as Kristeva (1986) elaborates this tropological complex in connection with the intertextual novelistic discourse of Dostoevky’s art.  
          Bulosan, of course, was not aware of his contemporary Bakhtin, though Bulosan had read Rabelais, Swift, and perhaps Juvenal, Horace, and so on. In 1941, three years before the publication of The Laughter, Bulosan paid homage to Walt Whitman”s “orphic celebration of the masses, his outlandish but healthy love for the body,” his despising “all unhealthy traditions: the repression of mind and body” (Feria 1960, 200). In 1950, as already cited earlier, Bulosan confessed his writerly urge “to utilize our common folklore, tradition and history in line with my socialist thinking” (Feria 1969, 261). In his 1951 essay “The Growth of Philippine Culture,” he identified the constant revitalization of native culture originally based on a communal economy by Filipino artists returning to “their social roots—the peasantry and the proletariat—and [who] began to weave the threads of their folklore with the national tradition” created by revolutionary heroes like Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Isabelo de los Reyes, and others (1995, 122-23). People, art, nation were indivisible in the forging of Bulosan’s counterhegemonic aesthetics in the service of an ongoing national-democratic transformation during his lifetime and beyond.
          We might recall the origin of this insurgent aesthetics in the essay “How My Stories Were Written” (1995, 109-14). The carnivalesque body in Bulosan’s art first materialized in the vignette about Apo Lacay, the old man from the mountains surrounding the village of Mangusmana, a mythical figure like the sage Lao Tzu. The wisdom of this old storyteller derives from the communal practices of farming, hunting, and diverse craftwork in the political economy of a colonized formation. Its organic scaffold is the natural environment to which the exile will never return, except by remembrance, the reservoir of authentic experience (as Walter Benjamin construed it [1989]). After an unexplained hiatus, Bulosan returns to say goodbye before he departs for America. He tells Apo Lacay that he will serve as oral performer/transmitter of the old man’s tales, the source of the “wisdom of the heart” that guarantees the homecoming of the prodigal son and the body’s regeneration:  “ Then it seemed to me, watching him lost in thought, he had become a little boy again living all the tales he had told us about a vanished race, listening to the gorgeous laughter of men in the midst of abject poverty and tyranny. For that was the time of his childhood, in the age of great distress and calamity in the land, when the fury of an invading race [the United States occupation army] impaled their hearts in the tragic cross of slavery and ignorance.… But this man who had survived them all, surviving a full century of change and now living in the first murmurs of a twilight and the dawn of reason and progress, was the sole surviving witness of the cruelty and dehumanization of man by another man, but whose tales were taken for laughter and the foolish words of a lonely old man who had lived far beyond his time” (1983, 25-26; 1995, 113-14). Remembrance then becomes prophetic, heuristic, rejuvenating.
            After the old storyteller’s death, death as the authorizing seal of narrative truth, Bulosan meditates on the fusion of their utterances, origin dissolving in the reception and sharing of the stories with others everywhere: “And now, in America, writing many years later, I do not exactly know which were the words of the old man of the mountains and which are mine. But they are his tales, as well as mine, so I hope we have written stories that really belong to everyone in that valley beautiful beyond any telling of it” (1983, 26).  This resonates with the theme of the artist’s education and the ironic ethics found in “The Betrayal of Uncle Soyoc”: “Now as I listened to my two uncles, who had run the gamut of human confidences and secrets, who had divested themselves of all illusions and regarded honesty as a sure sign of weakness, I became a man among men without a childhood” (1978, 82). The naive adolescent narrator—Bulosan’s surrogate/double—matures, his spirit armed with the weapon of ironic laughter, convivially participating in life as “a great adventure,” apprehending “the progression of truth” in the midst of entanglements among “beautiful women and gentle men.” 

Cognitive Resonance

          Ultimately, the burden of the Uncle Sator cycle of stories is the task of the carnivalesque satirist: the demystification of colonial and class domination. It is the destruction of the pastoral mirage of harmonious, self-reconciled village life albeit savagely pacified by generations of U.S. civilizing missionaries. If there is something comic in the situations drawn here, it involves in general the contradiction between the personal (the subugated colonial subaltern) and the universal (the axioms of individual dignity, rationality, life’s sanctity) that does not involve the reader/spectator in suffering or pity. No such involvement occurs because the narrator exercises some power of detachment from what is going on (Potts 1966, 154).  W. H. Auden believes that satire cannot deal with serious evil and suffering such as, for example, the genocidal killing of 1.4 million Filipinos resisting U.S. occupation between 1899 and 1913. Auden asserts that “in public life, the serious evils are so importunate that satire seems trivial and the only suitable kind of attack prophetic denunciation” (1960, 115). Eloquent criticism of racist violence may be found in Bulosan’s AIH, The Cry and the Dedication; in stories like “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow,” “I Would Remember,” in the poems “Waking in the 20th Century,” “Letter in Exile,” and in many personal letters to American friends and Filipino compatriots (Bulosan 1983).
         In the genre of carnivalesque discourse outlined here, these stories include prophetic excoriation of folly as one aspect of satire. Greed, apathy, lust and other symptoms of human depravity are historically linked to commodity-fetishism, the cash nexus, in effect the whole system of capitalist exploitation based on private ownership of social wealth and the elite monopoly of power. From this angle, this cycle of adventures with Uncle Sator and his ilk may be read as the allegory of the destruction of private property (and inherited privilege) represented by the patriarchal surrogate, Uncle Sator and his accessories; or its expropriation for distribution and enjoyment by everyone. At least, the boy dreams of depriving the Uncle of his ill-gotten wealth. 
          We confront this social wealth as the collective body’s members divided and shared by everyone. The scenes of gambling, town festivals, squabbles, and so on, represent the indispensable ceremony of saturnalia, the hours of liberation from toil and the celebration of the community’s liaison with Nature. Extrapolating from the example of Menippean satire, Rabelais, and European folklore, Bakhtin theorized the popular-democratic principle invested in serio-comic art, the unity-in-diversity of mixed genres and styles, as illustrated in Popular-Front art (see Denning 1997)—and in the coalescence of legend, fact, and invention found in The Laughter and in this collection.  

What Is To Be Done?

           Although Bulosan is now a canonical icon of  multiethnic United States literature, it can be argued that he has not yet been given his due in the public sphere of Filipino intellectual life despite worldwide critical acclaim. This is surely a symptom of neocolonial subordination. In the process of gaining respectable status, however, his radical edge was blunted, his subversive qualities muted in the name of neoliberal multiculturalism. Given the marginalized position of the Filipino diaspora in the U.S., we need to recover the submerged, repressed strand in their history sedimented in Bulosan’s testimonial texts. This book is an attempt to excavate those oppositional, counterhegemonic impulses in his works by re-contextualizing them in our durable anticolonial tradition dating back from the 1896 revolution against Spain and U.S. occupation, the peasant insurrections up to the Huk rebellion, and renewed popular insurgencies during the Cold War up to the present conjuncture. Re-inscribed in its proper historical milieu and geopolitical force-field, Bulosan’s entire body of work acquires a profound contemporary resonance. This is so because Filipinos (in this post-9/11 racialized-fascist polity) have been stigmatized as possible terrorists, suspected of harboring seditious contraband. This evokes again in the collective memory the persecution of union leaders in the Hawaii plantations, California farms, and Seattle wharves during Bulosan’s lifetime, and the resurgent terrorism of the white-supremacist hubris to which they are permanently susceptible. 
          We are engaged today in an anti-postcolonial project of reading Bulosan against the grain, from a rigorous historical-materialist viewpoint affording resources for strategies of resistance and emancipation. A future task for critics and cultural activists anywhere is to figure out how these stories can help us grasp the complex vicissitudes of the Philippines as a contested neocolony of the US empire, even as the worsening crisis of the bankrupt global-capitalist hegemony and its terrorist drones explode into a planetary meltdown, overwhelming both its masters and its predatory caretakers. In the interregnum, let us accept the perennial challenge of this question: Can the awakened “wretched of the earth” in this new millennium still speak truth to power while laughing, and in the carnivalesque insurrection of the  multitudinous body dare overcome the legacy of over a hundred years of imperial barbarism?


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——.  1995.   On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan, ed.E. San Juan, Jr.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
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Hodgart, Matthew.  1969.  Satire.  New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.
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Miller, Stuart Creighton.  1982.  Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903.  New Haven: Yale University Press. 
Potts, L.J.  1966.  Comedy.  New York: Capricorn Books.
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Richardson, Jim.  2011.  Komunista.  Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.
San Juan, E.  1994.  “Carlos Bulosan.”  In The American Radical, ed. Mary Jo Buhle, Paul Buehl and Harvey Kaye, 253-59. New York: Routledge.
——. 1998.  “Filipinos.”  In Encyclopedia of the American Left, ed. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, 224-26.  New York: Oxford University Press.
Saulo, Alfredo.  1990.  Communism in the Philippines: An Introduction.  Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016




Interview with E. San Juan, Jr. by Andy Piascik..

1.) Who is President Rodrigo Duterte and who and what does he represent?

For 22 years, Duterte was mayor of Davao City, the largest urban complex in Mindanao island, Philippines. TIME magazine dubbed him “the Punisher” for allegedly organizing the death-squads that eliminated drug dealers and petty criminals via “extra-judicial killings” (EJK)—no arrests or search warrants were needed, the suspects were liquidated on the spot. That’s the modus operandi today. If Davao City became the safest or most peaceful city in southeast Asia, it was also called “the murder capital” of the Phiippines.

Drug addiction is rampant in the Philippines. Previous administrations either turned a blind eye or coddled druglords, often police and military officials, infecting poor communities and generations of unemployed and unschooled youth. My relatives in Manila and friends in the provinces have complained that their children have been corrupted by the drug culture in neighborhoods and schools, so that when Duterte ran for president last May, he got 16 million votes (39% of total votes cast), 6.6 million votes ahead of the closest rival, Mar Roxas, a grandson of Manuel Roxas, the first president of the Republic in 1946.  This implies that people want a govt leader who can rid the country of the drug menace.

2.  News reports described Duterte’s victory as an upset, like Trump’s win over highly favored Hillary Clinton. It seems that voters simply want a change, regardless of the substance of the candidates’ platforms. Is that correct?

While the U.S. set up the electoral system in the Philippines, the feudal/comprador classes manipulate it so that personalities, not ideology, and bribery determine the outcome. Democracy in the Philippines is actually the rule of the privileged minority of landlords, bureaucrat capitalists, and business partners of foreign mega-corporations (called compradors) over the majority.

All presidential candidates promise change for the better. In the last two decades, the popular demand has been: get rid of corruption, drugs, rapes, wanton murders, etc. Over 75% of 130 million Filipinos are impoverished, sunk in palpable misery. Consequently, over 12 million have travelled to all continents to earn bare subsistence—about 5,000 OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) leave everyday for Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, North America, Europe, etc. 

Scarce decent jobs, starvation wages for contractual labor, unaffordable housing, lack of adequate medical care and schooling—symptoms of terrible underdevelopment—have pushed millions out of the country, or driven them into the hills and forests to take up arms against an unjust, exploitative system whose military and police are trained and supplied by Washington-Pentagon, IMF-World Bank, and global capitalist powers. The country has been a basket-case in Asia since the Marcos dictatorship in the seventies, outstripped by smaller nation-states like Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, etc.

 Relatively unknown to the MetroManila political milieu, Duterte’s reputation as a scourge of druglords was glamorized to the point that he became a harbinger of change. His slogan was: “Change is coming.” The public responded to this propaganda. Although unlike Roxas and his group, among them the Aquino-Cojuangco clan and Makati (Manila’s Wall Street) corporate moguls, Duterte does not belong to the traditional elite dynasties, his campaign was supported by some of the biggest corporate stakeholders, such as the Floirendo agribusiness, and by billiionaire investors (Uy, Te, Alcantara, Villar) engaged in mining, public utilities, construction with huge government contracts, etc. 

We cannot underestimate the Marcos family’s contribution, which added to the P375 million that Duterte allegedly spent.  This fact explains why Duterte allowed the controversial burial of the Marcos cadaver in the National Heroes’ Cemetery. Duterte’s father, & other relatives in Cebu, collaborated with the Marcos martial-law regime.

Duterte thus belongs mainly to a hitherto excluded fraction of the comprador-bureaucrat capitalist class, with links to the patrimonial landlord families. He now serves as a  “populist” front of the parasitic oligarchy that has dominated the class-conflicted order of this dependency since the U.S. direcly ruled the country from 1899 to 1946 as a classic colony, and a pacified neocolony during the Cold War up to now. Duterte’s regime prolongs the moribund structure of colonial institutions and practices that feed off the labor of the peasantry, workers, middle stratum, women, Moros, and the Lumads (indigenous) communities—these last two are now mobilized to oppose this predatory status quo.

2.) What is your assessment of Duterte’s intent of becoming more independent of the United States and the moves he’s made in that direction thus far?

This was a burning topic before the US elections, when the Cold War was being revived. Duterte got the cue. His move to invoke his youthful experience with the nationalist movement during his student days was a smart one. Tactically, he beguiled the leaders of BAYAN (the major anti-imperialist legal opposition) and their parliamentary footsoldiers to join him against the lethargic Roxas-Noynoy Aquino fraction of the oligarchy. Obviously he needed symbols of radical change monopolized by BAYAN, which reinforced the outsider image.

Part of his strategy is to firm up his base in the Mindanao-Visayas elite and consolidate his hold on the ideological State apparatus controlled by holdovers from the previous reactionary administrations. He has been doing this when Obama, the US State Dept., and the UN entered the scene and began scolding him for his murderous method of amplifying EJKs, his jettisoning of the Philippine Constitution’s Bill of Rights and various UN covenants guaranteeing the right to life and due process for all citizens. Karapatan (a human-rights monitoring NGO), church groups, and civil-society associations blasted Duterte for the “brazen impunity” shown by the orgy of police violence and State terrorism.

Cognizant of those criticisms, Duterte offered to renew peace talks with the National Demorcratic Front Philippines (NDFP) and its military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA) which, up to now, is still stigmatized by the US State Dept. as terrorist. This broke the long stalemate in the peace talks during the Arroyo and NoyNoy Aquino regimes. Duterte made a token release of 18 political prisoners involved in the talks and promised to grant amnesty to 434 jailed dissenters. This was hailed by the local media as constructive and a promising sign of change-maker.

At the same time, Duterte also made noises about meddlesome US military presence in Mindanao, the annual U.S.-Philippines “Balikatan” exercises, and the US intervention in the China Sea prior to his visit to China and Japan. This triggered heavy media coverage, projecting Duterte as a Latino anti-imperialist crusader like Fidel Castro or Chavez.

4. For a while, there were rumors of a CIA plot to kill Duterte. When former president Fidel Ramos berated Duterte for his anti-US polemics and withdrew his support, was there a symptom of some crisis in the regime?

No, it was a calculated publicity technique to divert attention away from the bloody police-vigilante blood bath. Duterte’s complaint was mere grumbling, blowhard gestures of the bully in the hood. His “pivot to China” may have calmed down the turbulent waters of the South China Sea, with the US fleet continuing to maneuver from its bases in Hawaii, Guam, and Okinawa. Obama dismissed Duterte as uncouth, ignorant of diplomatic niceties. Vietnam and Japan rolled out their red carpet to the cursing Leviathan of  what academics designated as “Hobbesian” Philippines.  Poor Hobbes, maybe Machiavelli’s Borgia would have been  the more appropriate analogy.

Nothing to worry about for Washington and Pentagon.  The US military presence all over the islands, legitimized by the 1947 Mutual Assistance Agreement and the 1951 Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty, plus the recent Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, (EDCA), insure the continued stranglehold of Washington-Pentagon on Duterte’s military, police, and various security agencies.  With Trump’s condoning of Duterte’s “killing fields,” Duterte has proved himself a wily demagogue whose touted popularity, however, is fast eroding on the face of mammoth protests all over the islands, and in the Filipino diaspora around the world.

5.) Are we likely to see a decrease in the U.S. military presence in the Philippines soon?

Not at all. First of all, as I already mentioned, all the onerous treaties that subordinate the Philippine State security agencies are safe and stable. Even the Supreme Court and the trial courts follow US protocols, as laid down initially by two well-intentioned civilizing missionaries, Justice George Malcolm and anthropologist David Barrows.  Legal scholar Eric A. San Juan  has clearly documented this fact in a recent essay, “Cultural Jurisprudence” (Asian Pacific Law & Policy Journal, 2013). In short, we have been thoroughly Americanized according to the racialized, utilitarian bourgeoise standards of the industrialized metropole.

Of course, the entire ideological state apparatus, including the military- police, court and prison system, was systematically crafted by the U.S. colonial administrators for surveillance and repression of those unruly natives, as proven by Prof. Alfred McCoy’s research, Policing America’s Empire. Incidentally, Prof McCoy has also documented the role of the pro-U.S. military in the People Power revolt against Marcos in 1986 and the subsequent coups against Corazon Aquino marked by the assassination of radical militants Rolando Olalia and Lean Alejandro.

Duterte’s cabinet reflects the conjunctural alignment of class forces in society today. Vice-president Leni Robredo represents the Roxas-Aquino oligarchy which (except for Robredo, whose victory is now challenged by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Duterte’s patron) lost the May elections.  Except for three progressive ministers, all the officials in Duterte’s Cabinet are pro-US, chiefly the Secretary of Defense General Delfin Lorenzana and the Foreign Affairs Secretary Alfredo Yasay. 

More revealing of Duterte’s retrograde bent is the newly appointed Chief of Staff of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Eduardo Ano, the notorious architect of summary killings and abductions of activists in the last decade. He is the prime suspect in the kidnapping of activist Jonas Burgos, among others. The party-list youth group KABATAAN called Duterte’s appointment of this blood-stained general a signal for more massacres of civilians, forced disappearances of critics, and military occupation of the countryside. This is in pursuit of US-inspired counterinsurgency schemes launched from the time of President Corazon Aquino and intensified by the Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino regimes.

Like General Fidel Ramos, who succeded Corazon Aquino, all the military and police officials in the Philippines follow U.S.-ordained training, ideological indoctrination, and political goals. Their logistics, weaponry and operating procedures are transplanted wholesale from the Pentagon and US State Dept., following treaty regulations.  Military aid to the Philippines rose during the Carter and Reagan administrations in support of the beleaguered martial-law Marcos regime. From 2010 to 2015, the US military aid totalled $183.4 million, aside from other numerous training and diplomatic exchanges, for example, the active presence of CIA and FBI agents interrogating prisoners at Camp Crame police headquarters.

Given the masssive archive of treaties, ideological control, customary habits, and various diplomatic constraints, only a radical systemic change can cut off U.S. stranglehold on this neocolony. At least, that’s a first step in changing people’s minds, dreams, and hopes.

6.  Will President-elect Trump water down Obama’s “Asian pivot” in view of his isolationist impulse, instead of allowing Duterte to assert a more “independent” foreign policy?

That remains to be seen. As of now, there is no real sign of a foreign invasion from China or anywhere else—it’s the U.S. that has re-invaded several times. There’s no sign of a brewing confrontation in the South China Sea today. The threat to the global capitalist system comes from the masses of oppressed workers and peasants, women, Lumads, and especially the formidable forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which Duterte has to address by diplomatic means before long. From Marcos up to Noynoy Aquino, for over four decades now, the Moro people have resisted total subjugation and genocide. It would be foolish, if not suicidal, for Duterte to persist implementing a militaristic approach—unless the U.S. (via his generals) needs to dispose of surplus weapons following the imperatives of the profiteering military-industrial complex. 

For all his braggadocio and macho exhibitionism, Duterte is unable to halt the attacks of the dwindling Abu Sayyaf group, the al-Qaeda-inspired gang of kidnap-for-ransom Moros in Basilan and Sulu.  Like drug addiction, the Abu Sayyaf is a symptom of a deep and widespread social and political cancer in society. Studies have shown that its followers have been paid and subsidized by local politicians, military officials, businessmen, and even by U.S. undercover agents. Only a radical transformation of class-race relations, of the hierarchy of power linked to property and economic opportunities, can resolve the centuries-long grievances of the BangsaMoro peoples.

7. ) Will you address Duterte’s crackdown on drug dealing and drug use, the one thing about him people in the U.S. are likely to have heard about?

This is probably the only issue that preoccupies the infotainment industry eager for high ratings/profits.  The international media  (e.g.,Telesur, Al-Jazeera, UK’s Guardian, CNN worldwide) does not allow a day to pass without headlining or commenting on the new “killing fields” in the Philippines. The New York Times, Dec. 7 issue, devoted a long elaborate video/print special to this topic, in English and in Filipino(in YOUTUBE), entitled  “They are Slaughtering Us Like Animals.” This equals in visual power the TIME report “The Killing Season: Inside Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs” (October 10) that provoked Duterte’s wrath. Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and social media have blanketed the atmosphere with Duterte’s EJK performance.

Right now, however, reports of Russian meddling in the US elections have marginalized Duterte’s antics, overshadowing even the horrible war in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. We might have a reprieve on the carnage in that remote outpost of the Empire.

The New York Times reporter Daniel Berehulak counted 54 victims of police raids in the 35 days he accompanied the guardians of law-and-order in the urban complex of MetroManila.

Filipino addicts and small-time pushers inhabit impoverished squatter areas in suburban Caloocan, Pandacan, Tondo, outside the gated communities of the rich in Makati or Forbes Park.  As of now, the total victims of police and vigilante violence of Oplan Tokhang (the rubric for the drug war) has reached 5,800 suspects killed: 2000 by the police, the rest by vigilante or paramilitary groups.  According to the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters, there has been 35,600 arrests that netted 727,600 users and 56,500 pushers.  Duterte himself initially said he will kill another 30,000 enough to fill the waters of Manila Bay and to make funeral parlors thrive. This represents a new level of ruthlessness that has converted the country into “a macabre house of mourning.”

Most of the victims are part of the vulnerable, marginalized sectors of society. Curtailing their basic rights to a life of dignity,  denying them due process and equal treatment under the law, will surely not solve addiction. Everyone recognizes that Duterte’s plan is an insane program of solving a perennial socio-economic malady. Scientific studies have shown that drug addiction springs from family and social conditions, contingent on variable historical factors. Only education in healthcare, a caring and mutually supportive social environment, as well as support from government and health agencies, can reduce the havoc wrought by this epidemic. Not by stifling human lives, no matter how damaged or dysfunctional. But as we’ve remarked, the hegemnic norms of a class-divided society does not allow this consensus to prevail.

8. So there is another motive or underlying purpose behind this terrible war against drugs?

Surely there is a larger political intent: dividing your enemy, splitting communities, demoralizing the angry citizenry.  To some degree the climate of fear and terror has sown animosities among members of the middle class, and incited antagonisms among the lumpen and ordinary citizens toward the relatively well-off and those who welcome authoritarian policies and security in exchange for liberties. Meanwhile, the police rides roughshod over everyone, and so far there is no sustained legislative or court opposition to the relentless executive coercive power behind this unconscionable outrage.

Karapatan chairperson Tinay Palabay has acutely seen through the smokescreen of this drug campaign: the State’s program to pursue counterinsurgency under cover of a hitherto well-meaning campaign. The AFP has labelled national-democratic militants as drug suspects, such as the case of anti-mining activist Joselito Pasaporte of Compostela Valley, Davao.

Under cover of the drug war, Oplan Bayanihan, the counter-insurgency low-intensity war of the AFP, proceeds  in the form of civic action-peace and development programs. During Duterte’s 100-days in office, Palabay’s group has documented 16 victims of political murder, 12 frustrated killings, two cases of torture, and nine victims of illegal arrest and detentions, mostly involving indigenous peoples in Sumilao, Bukidnon, and farmers massacred in Laur, Nueva Ecija.  Today, Dec. 12, the NDFP has documented 18 activists killed, 20 survived from attempted assassination, and 13,000 persons victimized by forced evacuations from their homes. Consider also 14,000 cases of schools, clinics, chapels and civilian infrastructure being used as military barracks in violation of peace agreements on respect for human rights signed by both the government and the revolutionary NDFP.

Irked by Karapatan, Duterte has vowed to kill all human rights activists. His agents are already doing their best to sabotage and abort the peace talks.  If he dares to carry out this pompous threat, he might drastically shorten his own tenure and stimulate the opposite of what he wants: mass fury against tyrannical rule and police-state barbarism.

9.) What is the state of the revolutionary armed struggle that has been going on in its modern form since 1969?

As of last week, the revolutionary elan has peaked with huge nationwide mass demonstrations against Duterte’s decision to allow the burial of Marcos in the National Heroes Cemetery. This has politicized millenials and a whole generation otherwise ignorant of the horrendous suffering of the people during the Marcos dictatorship. It has mobilized anew the middle strata of students, professionals, workers, women, urban poor, as well as Lumads, Moros, and the peasantry who constitute the majority of the citizenry. The anti-Marcos-dictatorship resurgence has diminished Duterte’s popularity, exploding the myth of his supposed incorruptibility and pro-change posture. It’s more of the same, and even worse.

It’s a mixed picture that needs to be viewed from a historical-dialectical perspective. While the size of the NPA has declined from about 25,000-30,000 fully armed guerillas in the 1980s to less than 15,000 today, its influence has increased several times. This is due to deteriorating socioeconomic conditions since the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship. Thanks also to the immiseration of workers’ lives and the pain inflicted by the vicious rampage of the military and police in the countryside. Large areas in Mindanao, Luzon and the Visayas are under the sway of partisan units of the NPA. Meanwhile, the MILF continues to preserve and defend its liberated zones from AFP incursions. 

Meanwhile, the character of people’s war has changed in its quality and direction.  The shift to political and diplomatic tactics within the strategy of protracted war (following Mao’s teaching) has made tremendous gains in organizing women, students, urban poor, and Lumads. 

Various cultural and social formations engage in pedagogical and agitational campaigns to expose the chicanery and deception of the Duterte regime. Not a single perpetrator of human-rights violations has been arrested and punished, such as the soldiers guilty of the Lianga and Paquibato massares, the murders of personalities such as Romeo Capala, Fernando Baldomero, Fr. Fausto Tentorio, William Geertman, Leonardo Co, Juvy Capion, Rebelyn Pitao, Emerito Samarca, and hundreds more.  Meanwhile General Jovito Palparan, who murdered many activists, continue to enjoy army custody instead of regular civilian detention. The scandalous “culture of impunity” is flourishing in the killing fields of the tropical neocolony.

Many disappeared activists (among them, Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeno, Luisa Dominado-Posa, and others) have not been accounted for by the State, while martial law victims and their famiies have not been idemnified. All these existing anomalies may explain the belief that given the corrupt bureaucracy and justice-system, the only feasible alternative is to join the armed struggle against the rotten, inhuman system. This is why the communist-led insurgency cannot be defeated, given its deep roots in the 1896 revolution against Spanish tyranny and the resistance against U.S. imperial aggression from 1899 up to the present.

10.) What is your assessment of Duterte’s overture to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro insurgency?

As I noted earlier, Duterte’s overture was hailed as a positive step to solve a durable, national-democratic insurgency dating back to the sixties, when the Communist Party of the Philippines was re-organized and the NPA founded. The peace talks began with Corazon Aquino’s recognition of the role played by the underground resistance in overthrowing Marcos and installing her.  Similarly, Duterte implicitly recognized the political traction of the left-wing representatives in Congress in the last few years. While Duterte welcomed the unilateral ceasefire declaration of the NDFP, lately he declared that he would not grant amnesty nor release any more prisoners unless the NDFP stop fighting and submit to the government’s dictates. The severely punished prisoners are now pawns in Duterte’s gambit to coopt the subversives.  Duterte’s mandate has been changed to: One step forward, two steps backwad.

Duterte allows his military and police to terrorize the citizenry.  No substantive reform of those decadent institutions has been carried out. Criminalization of political activities still continues with the AFP arresting Lumad teacher Amelia Pond and peace advocate John Maniquez, charging them with murder, illegal possession of firearms, etc.—the usual alibi of detaining activists which proved utterly barbaric in the case of the Morong 45 during Macapagal-Arroyo’s tenure. Rape, torture, robbery, threat of assassination, and warrantless arrest of innocent civilians remain the State’s formula for safeguarding peace and order in society.

No tangible step has been made to seriously confront the Bangsamoro insurgency—unless Duterte’s attempt to cement his friendship with Nur Misuari, leader of the other Moro group, the Moro National Liberation Front, is a tactic to divide the enemy. That may be his Achilles’ heel.

On this arena of diverse antagonisms, with fierce class war raging all over the country, Duterte finds himself in dire straits. Sooner or later, he will be compelled to either defy the pro-U.S. imperialist hierarchy of the AFP and the fascist PNP if he is sincere in challenging the status quo, or suppress a rebellion from within his ranks. He has to reckon also with the opposition of the more entrenched, diehard cabal of the Ayalas, Cojuanco-Aquino, the comprador owners of malls and export industries, as well as the traditional warlords and semifeudal dynasties that depend on U.S. moral and financial support. That will be the day when Duterte’s fate as “Punisher” will be decided.  Meanwhile, the struggle for national liberation and social justice continues, despite the trumped-up charges inficted on anyone denouncing Duterte and his friend, president-elect Donald Trump.—#


E, San Juan is professorial lecturer at Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila, and author of recent books US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines, In the Wake of Terror, Between Empire and Insurgency, and Working Through the Contradictions. He was previously a fellow of the W.B.Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, and the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin; and emeritus professor of Ethnic Studies, Comparative Literature, and English.

Andy Piascik writes for Z, Znet and many other publictions and websites. His novel In Motion was published earlier this year by Sunshine Publishing (