Pinoy poetry this damned war

A poet against the war.

A few months back my friend and colleague Nerissa Balce asked me to introduce a trio of Filipino writers for a literary reading at the San Francisco Public Library.

Joi Barrios — currently a visiting professor at UC Irvine, and Palanca Award-winning playwright and poet — was one of those writers, and she read the poem which I reproduce in full below:


Yankee doodle came to town
Riding on a pony
Killed and maimed and tortured us
And called it a … democracy.

Yankee doodle keep it up,
Yankee doodle dandy,
Burn the village and the town,
And with your gun be handy.

Balangiga, 1901. / Balangiga, 1901.
Ang hudyat ng batingaw / The bells signal
Ay tawag ng pag-aklas. / A call to arms
Hubdin ang balatkayo, / Remove your disguises,
Bayani at bandido ay iisa, / Bandit and hero are one
Lusubin ang kaaway, / Attack the enemy,
At itarak sa kanyang dibdib / And plunge into his heart
ang patalim, ang sibat! / The dagger, the spear,
Ang poot at himagsik! / Anger and revolt
Hayaang umalingangaw ang kampana, / Let the bells ring
Himig na nagbabanta’t nang-uusig / Music that threatens and condemns
Layas, layas, sa aming bayan ay lumayas / Leave, leave our land!

Yankee doodle comes again
Riding on a fighter
Brings his war to my country
And calls it a … democracy.

Taong 2002. / Year 2002.
Dito, sa Estados Unidos ng Amerika, / Here, in the United States of America
Nananahan ang batingaw, / The bells reside.
Sagisag ng kanilang hapis / A symbol of their grief
at ng ating miminsang tagumpay. / and our rare victory.
Dito, sa Estados Unidos ng Amerika, / Here, in the United States of America
Nananahan tayong lahat na nandayuhan, / all of us migrants live.
Tinig ba’y magsabatingaw? / Shall our voices ring as bells?
Dinala nila sa ating bayan ang digmaan! / They have brought the war into our land.
Hintayan pa ba ang hudyat? / Shall we yet wait for the signal
Ilang kababayan ang malalagas sa digmaan? / How many shall perish in the war?
Sa kampana lahat ay kumalampag, / Ring the bells!
Layas, layas, sa aking bayan ay lumayas!” / Leave, leave, leave our land.


Overseas Voters.

I’ve been avidly following the developments leading to the signing of Republic Act 9189, otherwise known as the Overseas Absentee Voting Act. Senator after senator has passed through San Francisco and Los Angeles, promising passage of the bill, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was all a dress rehearsal for future informal campaign stops (and shopping junkets for their respective partners, of course).

Anyhow, the bills have now become a law, signed without much fanfare. But it is testimony, I think, to the government’s reconceptualization of the civic and political role of overseas contract workers. Prior to this, the Administrations’ consistent lip service was the general policy; OCWs were being crowned as “bagong bayani,” or “new heroes,” while they were being farmed out to countries where their rights were barely protected. (The language of nationalism only barely clothes Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s latest term, OFIs, or overseas foreign investors — god, the woman has no shame!)

The reasons for the bill should be clear. More than 7 million Filipinos overseas are denied their fundamental political right to vote, despite a constitutional mandate (back in 1987!) to Congress that a voting in absentia law be enacted. And as the International Coalition for Overseas Filipinos’ Voting Rights wrote:

The right to vote in absentia, practiced by more than 40 countries, is not unique to the Philippines. But ours is a necessity made unique by the economic circumstances that compel a sizeable number of our citizenry to seek better opportunities abroad, yet remain politically marginalized, mute and powerless, even as they are hailed at every politically expedient turn as economic saviors for remitting billions of dollars a year.

And if people were still unconvinced, the war cry of “Taxation without representation” would have done fine as well.

The trouble with all of this, however, is the fact that the new law is spectacularly unworkable. And this is not considering the fact that implementation of this would be a logistical nightmare, both for COMELEC and the DFA.

Let me turn to the section that has the Filipino American press all in a tizzy:

SEC. 5. Disqualifications. – The following shall be disqualified from voting under this Act:

1. Those who have lost their Filipino citizenship in accordance with Philippine laws;
2. Those who have expressly renounced their Philippine citizenship and who have pledged allegiance to a foreign country;

This is clear enough, i.e., no dual citizenship.

3. Those who have committed and are convicted in a final judgment by a court or tribunal of an offense punishable by imprisonment of not less than one (1) year…

And that should be clear too.

And now we come to the real whopper:

4. An immigrant or a permanent resident who is recognized as such in the host country; unless he/she executes, upon registration, an affidavit prepared for the purpose by the Commission declaring that he/she shall resume actual physical permanent residence in the Philippines not later than three (3) years from approval of his/her registration under this Act. Such affidavit shall also state that he/she has not applied for citizenship in another country. Failure to return shall be cause for the removal of the name of the immigrant or permanent resident from the National Registry of Absentee Voters and his/her permanent disqualification to vote in absentia.

Got that? Such an affidavit, of course, would be totally unenforceable, if not entirely unfeasible. If the voter does not return to the Philippines permanently, does the vote get nullified? Can a congressperson be recalled if a sufficient number of overseas voters do not return after three years? And who, exactly, will be monitoring whether these overseas voters actually return? Customs? (It’s the “actual physical permanent residence” that should bother those in the Middle East, or those working as domestic helpers everywhere else; does this mean they can’t reapply for another contract?)

This is why the folks in the Filipino American press are shaking their heads in disbelief; the main difference between Filipinos in Abu Dhabi and Singapore and Hong Kong and Rome and Filipinos in Daly City and Modesto and West Covina and Queens and Hialeah and Colorado are that those in the United States can, and usually, stay there.

And I present, as an afterthought, the last disqualification, or what would disqualify any of the senators or congresspeople who dreamed this up:

5. Any citizen of the Philippines abroad previously declared insane or incompetent by competent authority in the Philippines or abroad, as verified by the Philippine embassies, consulates or foreign service establishments concerned, unless such competent authority subsequently certifies that such person is no longer insane or incompetent.

But this does raise a fundamental question about the nature of political participation, and civic duty, and living in a country like the United States with relatively liberal naturalization policies (in comparison to other European countries, or Japan, or Middle Eastern countries, or…). Suppose such an affidavit was not required: Could a Filipino with a green card live in Vallejo or Glendale in perpetuity and yet continue to vote, every few years, in the Philippines? How would this affect that person’s political participation in the United States? That is, surely the affidavit, however inane it looks on the surface, was meant to ensure… accountability?

In any case, this seems lost on some Filipinos in the United States. Take, for instance, the latest editorial, dated February 19-25, from the Filipino American newspaper Philippine News:

We agree that granting Filipinos living abroad the right to vote is important. Perhaps more than their countrymen back home, they have a bigger stake in the stability of the Philippines. It is they who have chosen to make the ultimate sacrifice of leaving family and friend to work abroad in hopes of bettering the lot of their loved ones.

(But this is perhaps a slightly different matter for the green card-holder in Southern California, saving up for that SUV and waiting for the day when she or he becomes a citizen, and petitions for the relatives, than it is for that domestic helper in Hong Kong, no?)

And there’s more:

Theoretically, Filipino voters based abroad would have voted a lot more wisely than some of their compatriots, who have a tendency of turning every election into a popularity contest…. An intelligent electorate would have pored through candidates’ qualifications before choosing, and under this premise the Philippines would never have elected a thug as president, which is what happened in ’98.

Nothing like being unaccountable and elitist at the same time.

Pinoy Uncategorized

"Poor Filipino Trash!"

I had always wanted to use this in my book, but didn’t; perhaps I will in the future, if I ever get my pensionados at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition article published…

From Mary H. Fee’s A Woman’s Impressions of the Philippines (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1912), pp. 93-94:

I had a friend, a young Filipino girl, who has been one of the most diligent among the pupils of the American schools. …My publisher sent me a copy of a primer intended for use in the Philippines…. The publisher had spared no expense in his illustrations, and we were tremendously proud of the artistic side of the book. This Filipino girl had heard me use the expression “poor white trash”… When I took my book to her in the joy of an author in her first complete production, she looked at it a minute and burst into tears. “Poor Filipino trash!” was all she could say for a long time, and I finally pieced it out that she was enraged because the Filipino boys and girls in my book were sometimes barefooted, sometimes clad in chinelas, and wore native camisas instead of American suits and dresses. I pointed out to her that not one Filipino child in a hundred dresses otherwise, but my argument was of no avail. The children in the American readers wore natty jackets and hats and high-heeled shoes, and winter wraps… and she wanted the Filipino children to look the same.

Pinoy Uncategorized

The Price of Philippine Books

Ari’s entry on Resil Mojares’s wonderful-sounding new book — which he selects as pu-pu platter‘s first Book of the Month (if you were an online store, you’d be giving us all a discount!) — raises the question of why it is that a Philippine university press book costs so much money. It’s a puzzle indeed — obviously the paperbacks wouldn’t cost $25 in Manila, or otherwise UP professors won’t even be able to afford them (certainly not on UP salary). For instance, my good friend Jojo Abinales‘s book Making Mindanao costs 285 pesos at National Book Stores all over the Philippines, but is marked up to a whopping $24 by the University of Hawaii Press, not including shipping and handling! (My book, Displaying Filipinos, costs about P200 pesos in Manila, but routinely sells for about $20 — if you can find it — in the United States.)

I can only assume that the markup comes from shipping and handling, plus various taxes and whatnot? Still, I am all for more money going to Philippine presses, though this looks like a slightly sneaky way of doing it.



Ari’s recent posting on pu-pu platter conjectures on the possibility that the kapre of Tagalog mythology — described, at least when I was growing up, as a cigar-smoking, gaunt figure of frightening appearance, living in balete trees — and the cafre, or African slaves brought over to the Philippines by the Portuguese. Fanciful, he calls it (and I agree), but not necessarily: racial imagination gone wild has, after all, conjured up images of Filipinos as monkeys without tails and Jews having horns under their yarmulkes.

This suddenly reminds me of the ancient (and to my childhood eyes, unbelievably tall) mango tree that used to stand by our old gate in my childhood home in Los Banos. Living memory (at least among interviews my father made with LB oldtimers) pegged its age around the turn of the century and, despite my arboreal ignorance, I have no reason to doubt it. But there were apparently various stories about the tree, with people claiming to see balls of fire swirling around it, or mysterious bonfires at the foot of the tree (this I did see once), or a dwende living near it, or, most popularly, a kapre actually living in the tree. Some neighbors (or at least their grandparents) would apparently ask for permission (“Nakikiraan po“) before passing by the tree. Indeed, sometime in the late ’70s, the newspaper delivery kid would keep delivering our newspaper (by mistake, he said) to a woman in a white flowing gown who would be standing by the tree early in the morning.

At some point in the mid-’80s my father wanted the mango tree cut down — or, at least, some of its thick branches, which were hanging perilously over the greenhouse and the plants he sold. No one in town wanted to touch it at all, and the only person he could find lived several kilometers away in San Pablo. The treecutter kept having problems with his treesaw, which either wouldn’t start or wouldn’t cut the tree at all; next, he started complaining about a sudden pain in his neck; and, scariest of all, he died mysteriously (I am not making this up) a couple of months later. My father simply let the mango tree be, until lightning finally hit it in the late ’80s and it caught fire. All that is left of it now is a burned-out, 5-foot high trunk.