In his The Repeating Island, Antonio Benitez Rojo wrote of how common social and cultural practices make visible the Caribbean islands’ shared histories of plantation slavery. Benitez Rojo writes that these similarities stem from their common experience of the plantation machine—a colonial apparatus set up to extract resources from the colonies to profit the metropole. But in addition to producing profits for the colonizers, the plantation machine also produces a way of life. And long after overt colonialism has given way to postcolonialism, the plantation machine continues to produce and reproduce “the type of society that results from their use and abuse” (8-9).
Last week’s Philippine elections are making me reflect on Benitez Rojo’s metaphor of the plantation machine. The new president, Noynoy Aquino, is part of a powerful political landlord family whose collective hands are still bloody from the Hacienda Luisita massacre. The Marcos family–yes, including Imelda–have been re-elected back into office. And so has former president and incoming congressional representative Gloria Arroyo, who has just appointed her lapdog as the new Supreme Court Chief Justice to preside over her impending graft cases.
The most surprising thing about the elections, in fact, is reflected in Inquirer headline the day after: “Fast count stuns nation”.
So what are the plantation machines working here?
Well, there are the plantations themselves of course, colonial machines that to this day bind local elites to the interests of their colonizers. The insidious ways in which these systems reproduce themselves in the lives of peasants and workers. The ways in which imperialism and neoliberal policies remain firmly in place, regardless of who is (not) elected into power. The various displacements engendered by these said neoliberal policies, and the terrible choices that Filipinas are forced into by these processes.
Benitez Rojo was hopeful that both Western and Caribbean paradigms can co-exist in his repeating islands, in the form of polyrhythms. The Caribbean is not simply a postcolony forever defined by its relationship to an imperial center. For him, “the Caribbean text…is a text that speaks of a critical coexistence of rhythms.” In this way, the Caribbean is a repeating island. There is a polyrhythm that proliferates, so “one can sense the features of an island that ‘repeats’ itself, unfolding and bifurcating until it reaches all the seas and lands of the earth.”
What then would a Philippine text look like? What are the critical appropriations and contrapuntal rhythms shaped by the continuing presence of and resistance to the plantation machines in the Philippines? And how do these rhythms exist in counterpoint, a constant weaving in and out of various strands of what combine to be Filipino?
How can the Philippines be read as a repeating archipelago?