Edgar Allan Paule of the blog Viewer Discretion pretty much articulates my thoughts about the short film Ang sinabi ng mga magsasaka sa Hacienda Luisita [What the formers told me in Hacienda Luisita].
In the short film, Felicity Tan interviews farmers involved in the strike that led to the Hacienda Luisita massacre in November 2004. The farmers argued against agrarian reform and voiced their support for the feudal system that had them as tenants. Under patronage, they said, conditions were better.
There are a number of good takedowns of the short film (such as this one). But the Spivak fangirl in me appreciates Edgar Allan Paule’s analysis of how systematic forces like feudal capitalism co-opt the speech of those who are already exploited and rendered subaltern.
But. I am still struck by the suspicion with which these farmers regarded Satur Ocampo and the representatives of the Philippine left who came to support the strike. The farmers said they were fighting for better work, better pay. But the strike, as represented by their maka-kaliwa supporters, was turned into a call for land.
“Iba na,” said one farmer.
For the record, I strongly believe in agrarian reform, precisely because of the conditions that feudal capitalism gives rise to in places like Hacienda Luisita.
Edgar Allan Paule does a great job of drawing from Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” to discuss how supporters of feudal and crony-capitalism have coopted the farmers’ speech. His analysis nicely parallel’s Spivak’s account of how British colonizers used Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri’s 1926 suicide to justify their civilizing mission, to save brown women from sati.
But for Spivak, Bhaduri is rendered unable to speak not just by British colonizers. There were also the Indian nationalists who wanted her to commit a political assassination. Bhaduri’s suicide was a refusal of both scripts, from the colonizer and the Indian nationalist groups of which she was a member.
But her suicide as refusal, her interception between these two silencing scripts, went unrecognized.
There is so much to criticize about Tan’s film, but I actually appreciate two things about Ang sinabi ng mga magsasaka sa Hacienda Luisita. First, of the seven farmers featured, three were women. That is an important point.
And second, a close reading of what the farmers were asking for does offer great insight for their progressive allies. When asked to explain their opposition to agrarian reform reform and support for feudalism, the farmers said:
- Before the strike, we had a hospital, anak. We could get treatment even if we had no money.
- After the strike, my anak, second-year education student, had to stop going to college.
- Do [the outsiders] know the conditions we live under in the hacienda? What help could they give us?
One of the peasants teared up when she explained that if the land was redistributed, she had no capital. She would have to mortgage the land. What else could she do?
When Spivak concluded that the subaltern could not speak, she was gesturing towards a “violent shuttling” between two forces (in her essay’s case, patriarchy and imperialism) that precluded any space for the subaltern’s speech. .
I think I’m more hopeful than Spivak about the possibility of creating spaces for the subaltern to speak and act. But how do we act in coalition with those who are rendered subaltern? In true solidarity and support? Without assimilating their immediate struggles toward our own teleological ends?
It’s a question that merits continued reflection, especially for those of us in the fraught roles of speaking to and for the disenfranchised.