Category Archives: books

Sartre. Cuba.

Links: The blog of the British ambassador to Vietnam. Time for action and a new paradigm to deal with Indonesia’s poverty. Funny toilets in Thailand. How skin colors are viewed in Cambodian society.

I have a confession. I didn’t read Jean-Paul Sartre in college. I only learned about his philosophical and literary works through other authors. I even thought he was the author of The Plague. Nakakahiya, di ba?

Last November I was able to read two books by Sartre: The Wall (collection of short stories) and Sartre on Cuba.

Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of the success of the Cuban revolution, I will highlight Sartre’s book on Cuba.

The book is not simply about Sartre’s views on the Cuban revolution. The book sheds more light on its author than its subject. At the height of the Cold War, the famous existentialist philosopher visited Cuba to witness the new government, its leaders, and its peoples. His presence inside communist Cuba was a political statement. That he published a book about the young revolution was further proof of his admiration for the revolutionaries who led the uprising in Cuba.

The book includes Sartre’s analysis of Cuban society – its backwardness before the revolution, its political and economic conditions which made revolution necessary, and its reactions to the radical programs of the new government.

Sartre said that “To discover the truth of this capital (Havana), I would have to see things upside down.” And what did he learn?

That Cuba is an “archipelago of fire against the black glass of the sea.” That the “insane protuberances” (skycrapers) of Havana are false symbols of wealth. That Cuba became a “diabetic island” when the American masters imposed the planting of a single crop (cane) on the island.

By studying Cuba, Sartre was able to give a very apt description of neocolonialism…

“I had misunderstood everything. What I took to be signs of wealth were, in fact, signs of dependence and poverty. At each ringing of the telephone, at each twinkling of a neon, a small piece of a dollar left the island and formed, on the American continent, a whole dollar with the other pieces which were waiting for it.”

and the meaning of revolution:

“Revolution is a strong medicine. A society breaks its bones with hammer blows, demolishes its structures, overthrows its institutions, transforms the regime of property and redistributes its wealth, orients its production along other principles, attempts to increase its rate of growth as rapidly as possible, and, in the very moment of most radical destruction, seeks to reconstruct, to give itself by bone grafts a new skeleton. The remedy is extreme; and is often necessary to impose it by violence.”

Sartre was impressed by the youthfulness/idealism of Cuba’s leaders. The work ethics of the new leaders surprised him (they were sleeping in their offices, their meetings could last till midnight). How did Sartre describe the young Fidel Castro?

“He is at once the island, the men, the livestock, the plants, and the land, and a particular islander. In this individual the national situations will always be passionately lived, in fury or in pleasure.”

The U.S. was and still is the Cuban revolution’s principal enemy:

“If the U.S. didn’t exist, the Cuban revolution would perhaps invent it. It is the U.S. which preserves Cuba’s freshness and originality.”

Sartre explained the futility of trying to defeat the revolution:

“By trying to crush the revolution, the enemy allowed it convert itself into what it was…a movement – which began in the form of a putsch – saw its objectives disappear one after another, each time discovering new objectives, more popular and more profound; in a word more revolutionary.”

Summing up what he learned from the Cuban revolution, Sartre affirmed the capacity of man to change the conditions of his life:

“Man is capable of changing the conditions of his life…he can do it only if he stops thinking of himself and stops loving himself as a separate individual who is proud of his differences and perfectly important, so that he may transform himself into the people, and through the people into a free person in the midst of all the rest.”

Sartre asked Castro what is the meaning of a professional revolutionary. Castro’s reply: “It means I can’t stand injustice.”

We can’t stand injustice. Let’s become professional revolutionaries.

Click here to view more pictures.

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Joma Sison


Zinn, Fromm, McNeill, Majul

Links: Online map of Vientiane. Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary in Phnom Penh. From street kids to Lao cooks. Vietnam has topped the internet chart in searches for the word ’sex’.

Two books borrowed from a nearby library: Voices of a People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and Muslims in the Philippines by Cesar Adib Majul. Two books borrowed from the main library: Beyond the Chains of Illusion by Erich Fromm and Mythistory and other Essays by William McNeill. Mega booksale: I bought 29 books; each book costs $1 only.

Voices of a People’s History of the United States. A must-read for those who enjoyed reading A People’s History of the United States. This new book is a collection of short essays, poems, personal stories and eyewitness accounts written by Native Americans, African Americans, workers, women, immigrants – the same people who were oppressed and excluded from mainstream society. I was able to read the first few chapters of the book, from the arrival of Columbus until the rise of early feminist movement in the U.S. Then I skipped the next chapters in order to read the recent history of the U.S. – from the Carter-Reagan consensus until the present Bush era.

Beyond the Chains of Illusion. Fromm’s narration of his encounter with the radical theories of Marx and Freud. Enlightening! On my part, a fresh understanding of some of the concepts advanced by Freud like superego. Fromm provided a background to some of his interesting works as well.

For example, the function of social character is “to shape the energies of the members of society in such a way that their behavior is not a matter of conscious decision as to whether or not to follow the social pattern, but one of wanting to act as they have to act and at the same time finding gratification in acting according to the requirements of the culture.” Is it similar to Bourdieu’s habitus?

Social unconscious: “Areas of repression which are common to most members of a society; these commonly repressed elements are those contents which a given society cannot permit its members to be aware of if the society with its specific contradictions is to operate successfully.”

According to Fromm, both Marx and Freud recognized that “man explains his actions to himself as being rational or moral and these rationalizations satisfy him subjectively…But being driven by forces unknown to him, man is not free.”

Socially-conditioned filter: “Experience can enter into awareness only under the condition that it can be perceived, related, and ordered in terms of a conceptual system, and its categories…Experience cannot enter awareness unless it can penetrate this filter.”

Fromm argued that man will lie, repress his emotion because he is afraid of ostracism:

“Man as man is afraid of insanity, just as man as animal is afraid of death. Man has to be related, he has to find union with others, in order to be sane. This need to be one with others is his strongest passion, stronger than sex and often even stronger than his wish to live.

“For this reason the individual must blind himself from seeing that which his group claims does not exist, or accept as truth that which the majority says is true, even if his own eyes could convince him that it is false.

“What man considers true, real, sane are the clichés accepted by his society, and much that does not fit in with these clichés is excluded from awareness, is unconscious.”

Mythistory and other Essays. McNeill’s thesis on the evolution of human societies: “Troubling encounters with strangers constitute the principal motor of change within human societies.”

McNeill notes the relationship between truth and myth (“My truth dissolves into your myth even before I can put words on paper”). And he points out the value of shared truths to humans who are social creatures:

“We need to share truths with one another, and not just truths about atoms, stars, and molecules, but about human relations and the people around us…shared truths that provide a sanction for common effort have obvious survival value.”

McNeill is a popular world historian. Probably, you have read his world history textbooks. McNeill is a proponent of an ecumenical version of history. While others doubt the value and objectivity of a general or macro (or universal) history, McNeill defends this kind of history writing which focuses on general processes, relationships and trends. He explains:

“Precision and truthfulness do not necessarily increase as the scale becomes smaller. Large scale truths and patternings can be just as precise as small-scale observations and truths.”

He even warns that “multiplication of facts reduces historical study to triviality.”

Muslims in the Philippines. Confession: I get bored when I read Majul. Perhaps I prefer the lively prose (a critic calls it lyricism) of Agoncillo. I had a hard time focusing when I read Majul’s book on Mabini a few years ago. But I could not turn down a Majul book, especially his groundbreaking book on the history of Muslims in the Philippines. I haven’t finished reading the book, but so far here are some of the things I learned:

1. Islam in the Philippines is part of the Islamization process in the Malay and Indonesian Peninsula.
2. Traders, not missionaries, introduced Islam. Some of the traders remained in Mindanao. Some of them married the children of powerful/influential families.
3. Islam was accepted by many natives in the region because it meant the abolition of the oppressive caste system. Islam provided a consciousness among the people that they belong to a larger, universal religious community of believers.
4. When missionaries arrived, their work was made easy because Muslim settlements were already existing throughout the archipelago.
5. Many communities have adopted Muslim customs (avoiding pork, for example) but they were not necessarily Islam believers. When the Spanish arrived, they thought many communities in Luzon were Muslims because the natives were not eating pork.
6. The arrival of Western/Christian powers had a profound impact in the region. It hastened the Islamization in the region. Missionaries and Muslim leaders became more aggressive in defending and promoting Islam.
7. The Muslim leaders in Manila during the arrival of the Spaniards were connected by blood to the ruling families of Brunei. Palawan communities were paying tributes to the Sultan of Brunei.
8. Shariff Kabungsuan did not introduce Islam in the Philippines, but he was influential in consolidating the religion in Mindanao.
9. Muslims incorporated native practices which were alien to Islam, like blood compact.
10. In the Spanish records, Muslims were accused of piracy and slave-trading. Indeed, there were Muslim pirates in the region. There were also Chinese pirates, and Dutch and Spanish invaders. We have to differentiate acts of aggression which were sanctioned by Muslim Sultans and those initiated by pirates.
11. The Spanish attempt to Christianize and subjugate the Muslims in Mindanao was the primary reason for the start of the so-called Moro Wars. The Muslims were provoked to rise up and defend their territories.
12. Because of superior firepower, Spanish forces were always successful in destroying Muslim settlements. But they were always brief victories. Muslim forces would always regroup, gather more strength and subdue the attacking Spaniards in the end.
13. The Spaniards used the divide and rule tactic to fight the Muslims. They would befriend local datus in order to prevent the formation of a unified Muslim community.
14. Spanish soldiers were assisted by Tagalogs, Pampangos and natives from some Visayas islands.
15. In order to instill fear, Spanish soldiers destroyed Muslim houses, plantations, boats and they beheaded captured local leaders. Women and children were taken as slaves.
16. The Jesuits were the most consistent in convincing Spanish officials to Christianize Mindanao and build Christian settlements.
17. Spanish forces failed miserably to “pacify” Mindanao. They entered into numerous peace treaties with Muslim local leaders in order to facilitate trade and protect Christian subjects in the island.
18. Zamboanga has always been strategic in dominating Mindanao, especially Sulu, Magundanao and Tawi-Tawi. Everytime Spanish forces would build a fort in Zamboanga, it would weaken the trading and political power of Muslim communities.
19. Sultan Qudarat was a strong leader and wise warrior. He defeated the almost successful campaign of the Spaniards to rule over the whole of Mindanao.
20. Because of Spain’s failure to defeat the forces of Qudarat, a peace agreement was signed with the Sultan. Spain acknowledged the supreme authority of Qudarat in many areas in Mindanao and even recognized Qudarat’s claim to collect tributes from areas outside his sphere of influence.
21. Muslims from Borneo and Malay Peninsula have always aided the Muslims in the Philippines in fighting the Spanish invaders.
22. Muslim leaders would always seek the military and political assistance of the Dutch, another foreign power and rival of the Spaniards.
23. Spanish officials were always willing to ratify peace agreements with Muslim communities every time foreign powers or pirates were threatening to invade Manila and the Philippine archipelago.
24. Peace treaties were not permanent, at least from the point of view of the Spanish government. Spanish officials would always claim they were temporary truces, not permanent treaties every time they resume their offensives on Muslim communities.
25. Sabah was a gift (reward) given by the Sultan of Brunei to the Sultan of Sulu.

Change the names and dates in the book and replace them with MILF, MNLF, AFP, MOA-AD, US government, Malaysia, terrorists – and it would seem the situation has not changed in Muslim Mindanao.

Book sale. 29 books, costing $1 each. Books by Zinn, Sartre, Naomi Klein, John Pilger, Edgar Snow, Edward Said, Hugo Blanco, Andre Malraux. Books about the Chinese revolution, Great Depression, Cuba, Intifada, Saddam Hussein, Marxist art. I could have bought more books but it was already lunchtime.

Related entries:

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Sentimental nationalists
Aguinaldo and Imelda


New pictures in my photoblog.

There are three British novelists I really admire: Iris Murdoch, Jeffrey Archer and Anthony Trollope. I started reading Archer during my high school years (1992-1996). Kane and Abel and Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less are my favourite books of his. I became an avid reader of Murdoch in 2002. I personally liked The Black Prince and Nuns and Soldiers. Last year, while searching free e-books authored by D.H. Lawrence (Sons and Lovers), I ‘discovered’ Anthony Trollope.

There was no boring moment throughout the campaign period because I always have a Trollope novel in my bag. I found time to read while waiting for delayed flights at airport terminals, lunch breaks during motorcades and every evening before I sleep. My wife once complained that I spent more time reading a Trollope novel during the Holy Week break than doing my household chores.

I could not find a Trollope novel in bookstores but many websites offer free downloads. Fortunately, my five-year old Sony Clie is still reliable.

Last week, I finished the 6th and last novel of the Chronicles of Barsetshire, Trollope’s most famous work. I enjoyed every book of the series: The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, Small House of Allington (my personal favourite) and the Last Chronicles of Barset.

Trollope’s depiction of rural clerical life is very amusing. In every novel, Trollope succeeded in sustaining the readers’ interest through colourful and incisive narration of country politics, clerical affairs, British elections, elite social life and media bias. The main characters of the novels imbibe the folly and strength of human nature. Readers will stumble upon characters who are pious, vengeful, meek, vicious and holy. I was transported to the imaginary world of Barchester where chivalrous love was still a dominant ethic.

Trollope’s novels reflect 19th century British life. How do young people make love during that time? How much is the salary of civil servants? How do country squires behave? What are the common duties of vicars, bishops, archdeacons and other clergymen? What is the extent of wealth and influence of the Church? How do newspapers affect or distort ecclesiastical and political affairs?

For me, the most memorable part of the series is the saga of John Eames and Lily Dale. In particular, the unrequited love of John for Lily. Despite being honourable, heroic and pleasant, John could not persuade his childhood friend, Lily, to marry him. Every year, John renews his offer of marriage to Lily to prove his earnestness but our heroine could not learn to love John as her husband. Lily defied the pleading of family and friends to marry John since she continues to think of a man who once jilted her. After some years, John finally decided that he shall no more ask Lily to be his wife. Lily, in honor of John, has vowed to be an old maid. John’s constancy and Lily’s obstinacy produced a sad romance and a sweet story of genuine friendship. That Lily never became Mrs. Lily Eames contributed to the allure of Trollope’s novel. Maybe John is still contemplating of getting Lily’s approval in the future. Perhaps Lily will finally agree to marry John. We will never know. We can only use our imagination to surmise their fates.

Yesterday, I started reading the first book (Can you forgive her?) of Trollope’s Palliser novels. Is it a better series than the Chronicles of Barsetshire? I will tell you soon.

(A reader inquired the non-fiction books I’m reading today. I just finished a book written by Marxist geographer and social scientist David Harvey on the uneven geographical development of capitalism. I’m now reading A Brief History of Neoliberalism, also by the same author).

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Inventing a hero

Rebyu – Mula tore patungong palengke: Neoliberal education in the Philippines (IBON Books, Contend)

New pictures in my photoblog.

Kamakailan lamang ay naging banner headline ng Inquirer ang krisis sa edukasyon. Sa katunayan ang headline mismo ay ‘Education crisis deepens.’ Mukhang nagkakaisa naman ang lahat, opisyal man ng pamahalaan, guro o mag-aaral, na may problema sa ating edukasyon. Kulang ng klasrum. Bulok na pasilidad. Kapos ang badyet. Pero hindi natutukoy ang ugat ng krisis. Walang kritikal na pagsusuri sa mga patakaran ng pamahalaan. Ginagamit ang diskurso ng ‘krisis sa edukasyon’ upang magpatupad ng mga nakakabahalang reporma sa mga eskuwelahan.

Minsang tinukoy ni Bro. Andrew Gonzales, dating Kalihim ng DepEd, na lubhang napakaraming pananaliksik hinggil sa sektor ng edukasyon. Maaaring wasto. Pero sino ang nagpondo ng mga pag-aaral na ito? Anong teoretikal na pamantayan ang ginamit nila? Bawat administrasyon ay may sarbey na ginagawa sa edukasyon (PCSPE ni Marcos, Edcom ni Aquino, Philippines 2000 ni Ramos, PCER ni Estrada, at gustong gawing Enchanted Kingdom ni GMA ang Pilipinas), at lagi itong may kasunod na pagbabalasa sa sistemang edukasyon ng bansa.

Isang kalakasan ng librong pinag-uusapan natin ngayon ay ang pagbibigay ng halaga sa kasaysayan ng neokolonyal na edukasyon sa bansa. Higit nating mauunawaan ang krisis sa edukasyon kung masusi nating pag-aaralan ang pag-inog ng mga pulisiya ng pamahalaan na pawang dikta o tumutugon sa partikular na pangangailangan ng mga dayuhan.

Napapanahon ang librong ito. Ang mga sanaysay dito ay mag-aarmas sa mga mag-aaral ng teoretikal na sandata upang hamunin ang mga patakaran ng pamahalaan. (Halimbawa: ingles bilang wikang panturo at pagkaltas ng badyet sa mga pampublikong pamantasan). Ipinapakita sa libro na ang idinudulot ng mga neoliberal na reporma sa edukasyon ay mas mababang kalidad ng karunungan, higit na komersyalisasyon at komodipikasyon at kawalan ng kabuluhan ng edukasyon upang maging mabisang angkla sa pag-unlad ng bansa.

Nitong nakaraang eleksiyon, panukala ni Senador Ed Angara ang pagrerebyu ng mga rekomendasyon ng Edcom noong 1991. Wasto itong panukala. Dapat ang librong ito ang maging gabay ng mga susunod na pag-aaral o ebalwasyon hinggil sa sistema ng edukasyon.

Dapat maging bahagi ng kurikulum sa kolehiyo, lalo na sa Kolehiyo ng Edukasyon, ang pag-aaral sa neoliberal na reporma sa edukasyon. Bigyan natin ng kopya ang mga think-tank ng Kongreso upang makita nila ang kasamaang dinudulot ng kanilang mga payo sa ating mga mambabatas.

Magagamit ang librong ito upang higit na makilatis ang mga binabandilang programa ng pamahalaan at mga inisyatiba ng pribadong sektor sa edukasyon. (Halimbawa: programa ng TESDA para sa vocational education, paglobo ng nursing education, epekto ng GATS, cyber education ng DepEd, at alternative system of education kung saan pinagbibidahan ni Manny Pacquiao.) Sa mga susunod na case study, mainam na matukoy naman natin ang epekto ng neoliberal na patakaran sa iba pang pampublikong pamantasan, lalo na ang mga community college. Higit silang pinagkakaitan ng pondo at higit na mabilis ang pagpapatupad ng mga neoliberal na reporma. Matagal nang nagtaas ng matrikula sa ibang pampublikong pamantasan; matagal nang may kolaborasyon ang malalaking korporasyon sa ibang eskuwelahan.

Halos linggo-linggo ay may mga balita tungkol sa reklamo ng mga negosyante sa mababang kalidad ng edukasyon. Kahit sila nababahala sa krisis. Tuntungan nila ito upang maghain ng mga neoliberal na reporma. Kailangan daw pag-isahin ang eskuwelahan at negosyo. Kailangan daw ng mas malaking papel ang pribadong sektor sa edukasyon.

Kailangang sagutin ang neoliberal na opensiba sa edukasyon. Kailangan nating magbalangkas ng mga repormang tutugon sa pangangailangan ng mas nakakarami. Binigyan tayo ng ideya sa librong ito kung anong tipo ng transformative education ang kailangang ipatupad. Pero hindi pa ito lubos. Sa sususod na aklat, bigyan naman natin ng puwang ang mga radikal na solusyon upang maging realidad ang sinasabi nating makamasa, siyentipiko at makabayang edukasyon.

Simple lamang ang mensahe ng libro: Ang problema ay hindi ang bobong guro, tamad na estudyante, at mga kabataang hindi marunong mag-ingles. Ang problema ay, bukod kay Gloria Arroyo, ang neoliberal na patakaran sa edukasyon.

Sana kung paano nagamit ng mga mag-aaral ang maikling sanaysay ni Renato Constantino (The Miseducation of the Filipino people) upang himay-himayin ang neokolonyal na edukasyon noon ay magamit din ang librong ito upang lubos nating makita ang kabulukan ng neoliberal na edukasyon sa bansa sa kasalukuyan.

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Private or public education
Tragedy of the year

Can you invent a hero?

UP celebrated the centennial anniversary of Philippine independence by publishing more than 100 books. This made the UP Press a reputable publishing house again. I remember skipping lunch in order to save money and buy the books of Teodoro Agoncillo, Cesar Adib Majul, Pacifico Agabin, Epifanio Matute, Remigio Agpalo, Jose Abueva, Kelvin Rodolfo and Ismael Amado.

Professors from the arts and sciences suddenly became productive by publishing more than the usual number of researches. The Department of History was able to produce a book regarding the conference of historians on Philippine historiography. Even the Miranda and Sons bookshop published Zeus Salazar’s book narrating the Katipunan’s offensives in Manila.

New magazines proliferated which published interesting stories of the 1896 revolution. I was able to buy Filipino Magazine’s (Filmag) issue on the Bonifacio Centennial and Sulyap Kultura’s second quarter issue of 1996 about the Katipunan.

I skipped classes in order to attend various symposia on Philippine history and literature. There was a debate between two professors on who should be the national hero: Rizal or Bonifacio? It was also fascinating to hear Agoncillo’s disciples explaining the controversy behind the real cry of Balintawak.

While preparing for the centennial celebration, a book published in 1997 by New Day provoked a ruckus in the academe. Glenn May’s ‘Inventing a Hero: The posthumous re-creation of Andres Bonifacio’ became a very very controversial work. Professor May asserted that our knowledge on Bonifacio’s life may be inaccurate since historians conspired in manufacturing historical documents to project a different image of the plebian hero. The American scholar insisted that ‘nationalist’ historians exaggerated Bonifacio’s heroism to become a rallying symbol of a struggling people.

UP historians quickly issued a rejoinder by publishing a small booklet: ‘Determining the Truth.’ Dr. Mila Guerrero described the book as the latest in the multiple murder of Bonifacio. E. San Juan wrote that like Prof. May, western scholars are also skeptical on the authenticity of Rigoberta Manchu’s stories.

‘Inventing a Hero’ failed to change my views on Bonifacio. But I credited the book for leading me to read the works of Epifanio de los Santos and Reynaldo Ileto. Since I was an ardent student of Agoncillo’s works during my freshman year, I have been ignoring Ileto’s ‘Pasyon and Revolution.’ Thanks to Prof. May, I found a reason to read this must-read scholarly work. By the way, Ileto’s ‘History and criticism: The invention of heroes’ is the best review of Prof. May’s book.

Prof. May attempted to discredit nationalist historians and remove the radical image of Bonifacio. He failed. Agoncillo’s Bonifacio, the working-class hero, prevails in the consciousness of the people.

Related entries:

The cry of Bonifacio. Bastusan na.
Aguinaldo and Imelda. Revolt of the Masses.

Undergrad adventures

A college professor once threatened to flunk students who will cite the works of Inquirer columnist Ambeth Ocampo in their research papers. According to the lady professor, (aww, is this a giveaway clue?) Mr. Ocampo is a pseudo-historian and mere gossiper.

But the writings of Ocampo were important to me. I became more interested in history and Philippine culture by reading Ocampo’s essays when I was in high school. I even gave my teacher a copy of Ocampo’s book, “Looking Back”, so that it may be endorsed to other students.

Ocampo can delight readers without trivializing history. He does not just provide boring facts; he narrates amusing stories. Ocampo supplements what our textbooks failed to tell us like Bonifacio’s bank accounts, Aguinaldo’s breakfast, Quezon’s fart, prewar lovers’ guide and controversies in Philippine historiography.

I remember reading an article of Ocampo about the essence of independence and he pondered whether we are really free despite the strong influence of foreign institutions in our land. That was the first time I understood neocolonialism.

In another article, he wrote:

“A Filipino invented the yoyo centuries ago, but it took an American company to develop it and make money out of it…Today, they still do the same thing. They take our natural resources, even our people, to make their country rich. When will we ever wake up?”

Ocampo’s interview with Austin Coates influenced me to buy the latter’s book on Jose Rizal which turned out to be the best biography of our national hero. Still, Ocampo’s own book on Rizal is a must-read for all students of history.

During my freshman year in college, I was curious to read the works of Teodoro Agoncillo since Ocampo wrote so many fascinating articles about this great historian. Reading Agoncillo led me to appreciate the works of other nationalist scholars like Cesar Adib Majul and Renato Constantino. Agoncillo, who was also known in the field of literature, inspired me as well to study the writings of his contemporaries or colleagues like Alejandro Abadilla, Lope K. Santos, Macario Pineda and Lazaro Francisco.

Jose Maria Sison was just a strange political figure to me until I read an article by Ocampo about this legendary communist leader.

Another example on how much I believed in Ocampo: I once insisted to my professor that I would not use the word ‘bibliography’ in my term paper since I agreed with Ocampo who wrote about the dishonesty of not a few scholars who cite so many books and articles which they haven’t read in the bibliography of their papers.

Related entries:

Undergrad notes. Maganda pa ang daigdig.
Book hunt. Best bookshops.
Silang mga nasa komunidad. Community schools.
Aguinaldo and Imelda. Ano ang ugnayan?


Thanks to MLQ3 and Newsstand for the link on the Washington Post article about the July 7 youth rally in Mendiola.

Aguinaldo and Imelda

I’ve started writing for Global Voices Online. "Manila flip-flops on sex education" is my first post….

It is not enough that books and films contain a relevant material in order to sell well in public. Sometimes, or maybe most of the time, the subject must deal about popular personalities or mysterious episodes in our history.

But there is a more effective marketing strategy: Create controversy. If the book or film is a biography of a famous person, the author can be sued by his/her subject to generate interest among the public.

This was done in Teodoro Agoncillo’s "Revolt of the Masses," his seminal biography of Andres Bonifacio; and Ramona Diaz’s "Imelda," her video documentary on the life of Imelda Marcos.

When Agoncillo was about to publish his prize-winning book in the late 40s, a very old Emilio Aguinaldo opposed the printing of the book who argued that it besmirched his reputation as a revolutionary leader.

Days before the screening of "Imelda," the real Imelda Marcos succeeded in getting a temporary restraining order from a Makati court to stop the public showing of the documentary. Madame Marcos said she was unfairly portrayed as flirt, dumb and prostitute.

Despite Aguinaldo’s fierce opposition, ‘Revolt of the Masses’ was published by the University of the Philippines and it went on to become a bestseller and a required textbook in schools even to this day.

Madame Imelda was later on persuaded to allow the showing of the documentary which became an instant hit (for Philippine standards) and clinched numerous awards in international festivals.

"Revolt of the Masses" featured the story of Bonifacio and Katipunan. It is a key text in the nationalist school of thought in the country. However, critics of Agoncillo accused him of being partial in favor of Aguinaldo. They asked if Agoncillo’s kind depiction of Aguinaldo has something to do with their being distant relatives.

Diaz emphasized that "Imelda" can never be a negative portrait of Madame Imelda since 80% of the documentary’s content came from personal interviews with the flamboyant former First Lady. Despite the director’s insistence that her documentary represented the best and worst of Imelda, some viewers, especially veteran anti-Marcos activists, pointed out the glaring omission of the crimes perpetrated by the Marcos family against the Filipino people in the film.

Did Aguinaldo and Imelda publicly denounce the book and film which rendered them in a relatively positive light in order to tease more people to read and watch these works of art? If this is their intention, then they succeeded.

Or were they just stupid to realize that instead of complaining they should have just endorsed the book and film?

Aguinaldo and Imelda are both shrewd individuals. They are skillful politicians. They know how to manipulate public perception. I think they know what they were doing when they were lambasting the already controversial book and documentary.

What a funny lesson for all budding writers.

Related Entries:

Book hunt. Bookshops in town
Return the books. Stolen texts from activists.

Return the books

I remember an interesting conversation I had with Behn Cervantes almost two years ago.

He said that right after the 1986 EDSA uprising, the military returned all personal belongings of Sen. Ninoy Aquino to his family.

Direk Cervantes confided he has yet to receive any personal things confiscated from him by the military when he was arrested during Martial Law. Other former political prisoners, I think, have not entertained the idea of retrieving their stolen belongings.

Direk Cervantes recalled that all materials possessed by suspected dissidents were seized by the police. Books, pamphlets, documents, posters were all taken away from arrested activists even if some of them were not subversive.

Direk Cervantes could only laugh while remembering his book about the innovations in American theater which was confiscated because its title contains the word ‘revolution.’

Where are these books, pamphlets and other documents once possessed by anti-Marcos individuals? The military must now return them to their rightful owners. If this is impossible, the academe can intervene. Scholars can actually undertake studies about this matter.

I am personally eager to know and read the books, magazines and papers deemed seditious by the State. I want to learn the books which had the most impact on activists before. Perhaps these books are no longer in circulation. They might still be relevant today.

I can imagine the military hiding a big vault protecting the voluminous files, belongings, and dossiers about former activists. They should be made public. It’s not safe to store them in the barracks. Have you heard the news about the fire inside Fort Bonifacio about two days ago which destroyed many documents and even ammunition?

Of course, what is most urgent today is justice for all former political detainees. The Marcoses and their henchmen in the military must suffer in jail. The ill-gotten wealth must be used to compensate the human rights victims.

But demanding that all stolen books and personal belongings be returned to their owners or to the public (in a museum, perhaps) is still a worthwhile and fascinating project.

Related entry: Book Hunt, finding the best books in town


Endangered lives, my Yehey!News editor’s corner.

Graduation pictures of Meann, my beloved wife.

All about coup

I recommend Gerald A. Heeger’s Politics of Underdevelopment as a good read during the Holy Week break.

It can help explain the nature of underdeveloped political states like ours. It identifies the simplistic analysis of Western scholars regarding the problems besetting traditional societies. It also highlights the role of the military in unstable governments.

Heeger wrote that “politics in underdeveloped societies has become pre-eminently a politics in search of order.” Since “development has proved to be an elusive goal, order, in contrast, is both more tangible and, so it seems, more necessary.”

He also recognized that politics is “focused around the political functioning of the elites, elite interactions with one another, and the effects of such interactions on nonelites.”

He mentioned that since resources are few and the economic pie is small (which limits patronage), the result is “chronically weak institutions which hinge on fragile bargaining relationships between elites in the center and the periphery.”

He continued: “Politics is not a matter of organized groups and institutions vis-à-vis one another. Rather, it is the politics of factions, coalition, maneuver and personalism.”

Since the ruling elites are aware of their “limited resources and their fragmented institutions,” their attention has shifted from modernization and development “to survival itself.”

Then, Heeger argued that military intervention in the politics of underdeveloped states (usually through coup d’etat) cannot be satisfactorily explained by the following traditional hypotheses: economic stagnation, failure of political institutions, lack of professionalism and militant nationalism.

The author believes that since the political center in underdeveloped states “exhibit little stability and little legitimacy, there has been little legitimacy or authority to be undermined” by military actions. As mentioned earlier, the “politics of instability is inherent in the segmentary political process itself.”

Therefore, “military involvement has flowed from the very nature of the underdeveloped political process itself, (and) not from extraordinary circumstances (like economic stagnation or political decay).

“Personal factionalism that characterizes the political system embroils the military, either in the process of faction-building or as a result of the intensifying conflict generated by that faction-building.”

Heeger concluded that whoever controls the “strategic coercive capability” of a State determines who rules.


See our family pictures when we had a picnic at the UP lagoon.

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Definitely not Machiavellian

Some commentators could not stop describing Gloria Arroyo’s machinations to remain in power as Machiavellian. They even acknowledge Arroyo’s political virtu – or the “exceptional political ability and intellectual power of a leader.”

This is true if we subscribe to the common understanding of what constitutes a Machiavellian practice: Rulers that trample on religion, the rules of justice, the sanctity of treaties, and everything sacred when self-interest demands it. (Encyclopedie)

But Louis Althusser’s Machiavelli and Us provides an alternative reading of Machiavelli which may require our re-evaluation of The Prince and Discourses. Hopefully, it would convince us that Arroyo is anything but a student of Machiavelli.

Althusser has a very incisive question: If The Prince is a text that instructs the Prince on what he must do, how he must conduct himself to expand his rule, using all means, even if it violates the teachings of religion, whom, then, does this work serve?

– Rousseau has an answer: Machiavelli professed to teach Kings; but it was the people he really taught…in the midst of his country’s oppression, he veiled his love of liberty; that he had a hidden aim (in publishing the treatise).

– The Encyclopedie entry on ‘Machiavellianism’: When Machiavelli wrote The Prince, it is as if he said to his fellow citizens: Read this work carefully. Should you ever accept a master, he will be such as I depict him for you. Here is the savage brute to whom you will be abandoning yourselves.

– And finally Althusser himself answers his question: Machiavelli pretends to instruct rulers. But if he claims merely to state the facts, to provide an account of their actual practice, then what can he teach them that they do not already know? Rulers have always managed on their own, and they do not need a Machiavelli. Indeed, they can only be terribly inconvenienced by this intruder who confesses their shameful conduct and makes their secret practices public.

Althusser is astonished that for a book which is about the Prince (or a ruler), Machiavelli’s dedicatory letter to Lorenzo de’ Medici contains the following lines:

“I hope it will not be considered presumptuous for a man of very low and humble condition to dare to discuss princely government, and to lay down rules about it. For those who draw maps place themselves on low ground, in order to understand the character of the mountains and other high points…Likewise, one needs to be a man of the people to understand properly the character of rulers.”

Machiavelli admitted his bias for the people, that understanding and addressing rulers require the “viewpoint of the people.”

Althusser further explained: Machiavelli does not want just any ruler; this theorist of the sovereign power of one man is the most radical enemy of every tyranny.

Machiavelli believes that there exist two antagonistic classes (nobles and people) in every city and the role of the King (or the Prince) is to take the side of the people by decreeing laws because “the nobles cannot be satisfied if a ruler acts honourably, without injuring others. But the people can be thus satisfied, because their aims are more honourable than those of the nobles: for the latter wants only to oppress, and the former only to avoid being oppressed.”

Althusser mentioned that a fundamental component of Machiavelli’s thesis is the elaboration of the two moments in the constitution of the State.

The first moment is the founding or reforming of a new republic and the Prince must accomplish this task alone. The ‘solitude’ of the Prince is crucial since he must have absolute power to effect changes in history and to detach himself from the old world and its ideology.

The second moment is “the emergence of the Prince from solitude,” the end of absolute rule. The first moment could lead to tyranny so there is a need to decree laws and for the Prince to “take roots” in his people.

A Prince can found a State alone but it will endure and expand only if it has popular support among the people.

This led Rousseau and the Encyclopaedists to conclude that Machiavelli is a republican and The Prince is a book of republicans.

Machiavelli is also credited for propounding that the “end justifies the means.” But Machiavelli qualifies this assertion with the following passage: One should reproach a man who is violent in order to ruin things, not one who is so in order to set them aright (Discourses Book 1 Chapter 9).

Therefore not every end justifies ‘illegal’ means. It is the result of a political practice which excuses the act of the ruler.

After reading and appreciating Machiavelli again (mediated by Althusser and Antonio Gramsci), it is clear that Gloria Arroyo can never be a follower of the founder of the modern political theory of the State.

Yes, Arroyo is every bit the tyrant Machiavelli depicted in his works. But she was not the “Prince” whom Machiavelli exhorted to unite the divided Italian land. Arroyo does not take the side of the ‘people’; she ignores this class in favor of the ‘nobles’ since she benefits in oppressing the people. Arroyo remains a tyrant who clings to power for selfish reasons and not to expand or strengthen the State. The ‘Prince’ fulfills the historical mission of uniting the people under his leadership while Arroyo divides the country, plunges the people deeper into poverty and worries only about her political survival.

Arroyo’s maneuverings to stay in power can never be described as Machiavellian. Dictators, tyrants and cheats who weaken the State must be called for what they really are. Machiavelli never endorsed their political practice.