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Posts Tagged ‘Philippines’

N. Tadiar's Things Fall AwayI’m reading Neferti Tadiar’s Things Fall Away, and this passage leaps out:

…one of my man objectives in this book has been to carefully attend to the varied, creative potential of subjective practices that socially oriented and social movement literatures attempt to figuratively capture and yet tend to diminish in the fabulation of proper historical subjects. Often viewed a atavistic and mystified habits and therefore as forms of weaknesses and self-oppression that need to be overcome, these devalued, supplemental experiential practices nevertheless importantly create and transform the very material, social structures in which feminists, urban activists, and revolutionary forces actively seek to intervene…. Such diminished experiences have helped to bring about broad social changed in ways that these groups could not foresee. (p 8., emphasis mine)

Tadiar labels these diminished experiences as things that “fall away” from capitalism, activities that are productive but not in the ways that are prescribed and recognized by neoliberal capitalism. Like performance. Art. Indigenous women’s labor collectives and seedbanks. Movement, and being outside.

But I’m struck too at how she includes activists, feminists, revolutionary forces among those who diminish such “fall away” experiences, especially when they’re not easy to reconcile with what is seen as the “proper” historical subject. Because it is easy for someone like me to speak for masa in solidarity, to find that a peasant community’s struggle for for a health clinic and the struggle for land reform are equally important. They might not be, for the peasants who are still without healthcare.

I’m reminded of an argument with a friend, who patiently listened to me rant about Catholicism and false consciousness, opium, etc. She then reminded me that Liberation Theology could not have been foreseen by non-Catholics, or even by former Catholics like me. It’s a theology of faith, love, freedom, and revolution that could only have been nurtured in this specific community, a community that I had arrogantly dismissed.

I’m still struggling through Things Fall Away, and with questions of how to conduct ethical dialogues and coalitional research. Especially since I will soon be embarking on ethnographic research, and its easy to fall into the trap of thinking of oneself as an ally who could speak for people in a marginalized community. The researcher who does that will never even be aware of the experiences that she will miss, of the great possibilities that could just fall away as a result.

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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?

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[This is an expanded version of a comment prompted by this insightful post from Prof. Sussuro.]

Caster Semenya won the women’s 800-meter race by 2.45 seconds over her nearest rival. I want to start with that fact, because that win is amazing. She is amazing. And this being lost in all these rumors and speculations about Semenya’s sex, gender tests, and possible disqualification.

By now, a number of Pinoys have noted similarities between Semenya and Nancy Navalta, a Pinay teenager whose gender came under scrutiny when she started setting track records in the Philippines in the early 1990s. For both Semenya and Navalta, it was their appearance—their well-muscled physiques and flat, powerful chests—that was used to question their femaleness. Both women departed radically from the standards of beauty and softness often associated with womanhood.

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In 2002, Elena Garcdoce Francisco, a 102-year-old Tumandok woman, journeyed to Iloilo City from her mountain home in Panay. She sang an ambahan, protesting the destruction wrought by militarization in her ancestral lands. These military incursions date back to at least 1962, under then President Diosdado Macapagal.

This practice of telling stories through poetry and chants remains an intrinsic part of the communal life of many indigenous villages. However, notes writer and poet Gelacio Guillermo, the traditional content of these poetic expressions have been giving way to expressing new ideas, feelings, and aspirations—ones related to militarization, logging, mining, land-grabbing, the destruction of forests. Indigenous women continue the practice of ulallems, agayams, and salidum-ay. These poetic expressions are intended as a collective experience, with no barrier between the performer and her audience.

Gardoce Francisco’s chant could have been a galvanizing moment, bringing a common understanding of how communities are being imperiled and immiserated by a confluence of multinational and local elite interests.

But we—urban and lowland dwellers, schooled in Western-style universities—are painfully unequipped to understand her words. We are unable to see ambahan, agayam, salidum-ay, ullalem, as knowledge production.

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not-a-trail

That sign, “This is not a trail,” drives my dog crazy. Because right behind the sign is. . .a trail.

Apparently, it’s a trail full of coyote scents and potato bugs and other curiosities that his mama won’t let him explore. There was a beautiful trail just waiting to be sniffed, he could see that. No matter what the sign said.

My dog’s reaction brings to mind other official versions of “This is not…”

This is not torture. (At least not when we do it.)

And according to the Philippine government, this is not an abduction.

Any additions to the list?

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Complicity

I realized I hadn’t written about the US-backed Israeli attacks on Gaza. I was busy reading and learning, so the silence was unintentional. But Teo rightly points out how only a handful of Filipino bloggers have expressed solidarity with Gaza and Palestine. So this is me adding my voice.

In the mid-1980s, my dad made a living by exporting Pinoy food for Filipino contract workers in Saudi Arabia. His partner, Tito Ahmed, would visit Manila and take our family out for McDonalds during the long stretches that my dad worked in Jeddah. One day, over fries and a milkshake, I mentioned that I could not find his home country Palestine in my atlas.

Tito Ahmed got agitated, a marked contrast to his sweet disposition. When I was a boy, he told me, Israeli soldiers came to his farm. His family had to relocate for a few days. No, they were told, you could not bring your animals. Just leave them enough food and water for two weeks, then you’ll be back. The family spent their last day in the farm shoveling feed into chicken coops.

That was almost forty years ago, he told me. They never did see that farm again. He would need a visa to even set foot in the town where he was born. A visa, he yelled, pounding the McDonald’s table with his fist. It’s like you needing a visa to visit Laguna.

Why would anyone need a visa to visit their home province? It was a question that my twelve-year-old brain filed away. I never really understood until recently that Tito Ahmed and his family were displaced by an occupation. Based on the number of careless rehashes of “Hamas fires rockets from their civilian areas so Israel has to defend itself,” the fact that Palestinians are living under a US-backed Israeli occupation still eludes many Pinoy bloggers.

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There have been news stories of fetuses found around Manila, including three found at the Manila Cathedral, Santa Cruz Church, and Quiapo Church. The Quiapo Church fetus was concealed in a basket of offerings. It was wrapped in a rosary and placed inside a bottle.

This phenomenon has become more frequent—thirteen over just the last two months if reports are to be believed, with more found in sewers. A moral panic is growing over a supposedly anti-family culture in the Philippines, a discourse that includes debates over abortion (criminal), access to contraception (severely limited) and divorce (illegal).

I am struck at how much of the coverage is sensationalized and, of course, by what gets left out.

There has been a steady rise in abortion rates in the Philippines, from an estimated 400,000 in the 1990s to as high as 800,000 as of 2005. The knee-jerk reaction has been to rail against how Filipino culture is “westernizing”and “turning away from god.” The more insightful reports cite the lack of sex education/access to contraception.

But there is something more at work contributing to the spike in abortion rates in this heavily Catholic country.

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