No Tears.

Corazon Aquino is dead, and — especially since I’m writing this in the Philippines — I’m in the midst of a fit of national mourning. It’s all over the place: the funeral procession on TV, people wearing yellow T-shirts, banners on buildings, tweets and Facebook status updates, constant newspaper coverage, the lines of mourners, tributes from world leaders. Even Pope Benedict XVI has lauded Aquino’s “courageous commitment to the freedom of the Filipino people, her firm rejection of violence and intolerance”.

Yet I can’t seem to feel any sorrow over her death. Quite frankly, I’m a little disgusted by all these encomiums and how easily people forget.

This is not to say that I’m some sort of heartless grump — quite the contrary — but I’m hoping that this blog entry may serve as more of an explanation. It really has to do, I think, with where I was twenty-three years ago, about my emotional maturity and my political education. It has to do with what I remember.


Burning Effigies.

Borgy Manotoc is one of Swatch’s signature models, and the other day in the Philippine Daily Inquirer there was a full-page photo spread / entertainment column on him. There he was, modeling Olympic-related Swatch designs, posing with boxing gloves or a bow and arrow.

Tim Yap wrote:

Borgy Manotoc is on a roll these days. Back from New York for just the weekend to pass the Swatch torch… Borgy made sure that his three days in Manila would be worth the trip.

As soon as he arrived, he made a pit stop at Nuvo for a quiet drink with friends. The next day, he was at the Swatch counters… Who can say this hot-blooded heir does not know the meaning of hard work?

I am trying very hard to read some sense of irony in the article. Here, “hard work” seems like George Bush’s “hard work” serving his country during the Vietnam War. (Granted, a 19-20 hour plane flight and having to work while jet-lagged out of your mind is tough, but I’m sure Borgy wasn’t flying economy.) But his good looks (and brains, according to reports), and industriousness and perseverance and all the accompanying virtues surely aren’t the main reasons he’s gone so far; he is, after all, Ferdinand Marcos’s grandson and the life of privilege he has led all his 21 years devalues the semantic currency of “hard work.”

I really have nothing personal against Borgy Manotoc; he may, in fact, be the nicest, most self-effacing guy on earth. He may even be embarrassed about his grandfather. Indeed, one can easily use the “sins of the fathers” argument against me: Borgy, after all, was not responsible for Ferdinand’s crimes.

But I am more interested about the fact of his celebrity, or rather, what his celebrityhood may represent. His is a different form of celebrity -– not the regular kind that comes with entertainers, or the kind that attends notoriety -– but it is a form that celebrates his good looks even as his origins are alluded to, then discursively erased. In the warped world of Philippine politics and its happy entanglement with entertainment, the lack of retributive justice – encapsulated here in Borgy’s stardom -– is the appalling failure on the part of the government (in collusion with the media, and the amnesiac fans) to learn from the errors of history. To see the smiling face of Borgy is to see the face of his grandfather laughing.

Sometime a year ago I wrote a rather angry post on the Marcoses, and was met with unsurprisingly negative comments. Most of the responses, however, were oddly ad hominem -– that I was envious of Borgy, that I was a fag, and that I would never, in my lowly state as a blogger, ever be like the Marcoses (shudder!) -– and very few of them bothered to defend the family I was attacking. I think this is because it puts Marcos supporters (on the net, at least) in something of an ethical dilemma; attempting to defend the Marcoses’ record of murder and torture and theft puts you in the same irrational camp as the delusional former First Lady.

This moral clarity -– at least in my mind -– is precisely why the absence of justice is so unfathomable. One of the more-circulated images of the EDSA uprising were crowds of people rushing into Malacanang, kicking and breaking apart a painting of Ferdinand Marcos. This, sadly, is as far as the Filipino people ever got towards any form of catharsis. In 1983 one could only burn effigies, and we are doomed, in 2004, to similarly futile gestures. The fact that Borgy -– or to be more precise, the generations before him -– are still free to blithely live their lives of privilege in the Philippines is an insult. The very fact of Borgy’s stardom is an obscenity.

Some people will argue that the Marcoses are relatively small fry, that there are graver problems that need to be addressed before the country can improve. This is completely true. But I think their going scot-free is also symptomatic of a more overarching, systemic problem -– a deep-seated corruption, perhaps, or maybe the pathology of amnesia -– that may, in the end, hobble the Philippines in other profound ways.

Some people (my mother included) have asked me about forgiveness -– that this would be the Christian thing to do, that this would lead to healing and so on. Quite frankly, I cannot think of anyone so undeserving of forgiveness as Imelda Marcos; as far as I can tell, she has never expressed any regret or, indeed, asked forgiveness -– why give her something she has never requested?

One day, maybe soon, Imelda will finally die. But she will not die penniless; she will not die behind the bars of a jail cell. She will die surrounded by her adoring fans. Her death will be eased by the best painkillers that money can buy. Her money will remain in Swiss bank accounts. She will die smiling, knowing she is to be reunited with her Ferdinand. She will die unpunished. Her children and grandchildren will mourn her, and then move on. And the Marcos dynasty will live forever.


movies Pinoy

On Imelda.

On Imelda.

Saw Ramona Diaz’s Imelda with Barb last night, and my head is still reeling. It is a fine, fine documentary, and I am glad that there will be a theatrical release in the U.S. at some point this year; more people should see it (though a DVD is apparently coming out in 2005).

The film’s chief virtue — and there are many, from Grace Nono’s soundtrack to the careful editing (more about this in a second) — is the fact that Diaz lets Imelda talk on and on. We are treated to what seems like a severely delusional Imelda, completely in denial of reality — or so we are led to think.

Imelda starts off portraying Imelda as a charming, witty woman who, even in her current, less glamorous state, exudes a faded, almost regal presence. The charm is absolutely critical to understanding Imelda and, most important, her large retinue of hangers-on and thousands of Leyte residents who voted her back into office. But very slowly, the film darkens — martial law couldn’t be portrayed as anything but, though certainly the Marcos government tried hard to — and Imelda’s fantasies about representing the people become, at turns, laughable and horrible.

There is some amazing film footage as well, from ’70s propaganda reels to shots of Imelda dancing with Kissinger, or George Hamilton singing. (The end credits alone — where you see Bongbong and Imee dancing to Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” — are priceless.) One scene — a little tendentious, but very effective — juxtaposes Imelda’s maids airing out an entire rack of her ternos, with squatters living by a railway.

Perhaps my only real quibble with the film is this. Okay, there were some omissions — no Dovie Beams, no mention of Mindanao, despite some tantalizing footage of a dance troupe dancing the singkil and the infamous Tripoli meeting with Qaddafi — but perhaps understandable given the limitations of the length. (Diaz explained later that she didn’t include events that couldn’t be verified independently, but it doesn’t excuse the oddly Manilacentric view of things.)

Okay, back to my personal quibble, which isn’t really one as you’ll see in a second: The viewer is initially seduced, but not necessarily repulsed. That is, one comes out of the theater with a vision of a wacky but charming woman, but not of one that was deeply corrupt and responsible (if indirectly) for human rights violations. Perhaps the fact that the film would never have been made without Imelda’s consent explains this. (Diaz did say during the Q&A session that Imelda had to leave the room a couple of times so as not to answer questions — whether they were confrontational or embarrassing or “too emotional” was not clear.) You come out shaking your head, but not necessarily your fist.

The film takes a fairly even keel throughout, but it is only sympathetic to her in the sense that we hear Imelda explain her side of the story. Imelda doesn’t shy from showing her and her tacky extravagance in a bad light; the camera lingers on her face in moments of self-doubt, and slows down the film to somewhat crudely emphasize this point. Events are indeed placed in the proper historical context — we see Pete Lacaba and Jo-Ann Maglipon talk about being tortured — but the audience is oddly distanced from this (as was, in her own way, Imelda). But there is no mourning, few tears, no talking head explicitly reminding the audience that we are watching a criminal. (To her credit, maybe Diaz felt little need to beat the audience over the head with it.) But there is little sense of outrage; one comes away with the feeling that the enormity of her crimes are still not so keenly presented.

And perhaps this is also the other great virtue of this excellent, must-see documentary: that the enormity of her crimes are not so keenly felt in any case. The screaming, adulatory crowds of people that greet her at every campaign stop, the landslide election victories of her son and daughter — Diaz never poses the question “Why are they even back?” Instead, she, in her filmic wisdom, lets the film speak for itself, and one is faced with the horrible answer: Perhaps one feels no real outrage in the film because, as should be clear by now, an unfortunately large number of Filipinos didn’t either.


Measured Critique and Outright Condescension.

I’ve ruffled a few feathers with recent posts. One invites a “measured critique;” the other one deserves nothing less than “outright condescension:” (I’ll respond to Joel Tesoro’s “Usable Pasts” post later.)

The anonymous writer wrote:

You and Joel Tesoro should have pointed out when and where the Filipino American War and its aftermath emerged as a legitimate object of academic study before throwing around loaded terms like “obsession” which only serves to smear the historical consciousness of Filipino Americans. You as well as I know — or am I mistaken here? — that the finest work on the Filipino American War was and is being produced not (only) by Filipino-Americans but by (white) American scholars as well as by “Filipinos” who are scattered all over the globe but who had been born and raised in the Philippines. The Filipino American War and its aftermath is therefore a trans-Pacific obsession — if an obsession it truly is — and Filipinos in San Diego, Canberra, Cebu, Manila, Kyoto, and yes, even San Francisco (and New York!) are equally among the obsessed.

I have no arguments with what you write; no smear was intended either. While it may sound like a bit of a cop-out, “obsession” was my friend’s word, not mine; I think it should also be clear from what I wrote that I purposely used “loaded terms” like “obsession” and “obsessive” to refer to my own thoughts as well. I’ve been studying the American colonial period in the Philippines for over a decade now, and by that token I’m equally “obsessed.” (Probing the psychological effects of the colonial period — about which I’m not especially enthusiastic, as a student of anthropology — is not a solely Filipino American endeavor either.)

S/he continues:

Indeed in the eyes of some non-Filipino critics what matters more for the Philippines is the obsession with American colonialism of Filipino nationalists in the Philippines rather than any of the feverish imaginings of Filipinos abroad. Remember the claims made by Ian Buruma and James Fallows that such an obsession is the root cause of Philippine underdevelopment? I don’t believe that it is of use to anyone to reproduce their foolish arguments in a multicultural American setting.

Once again, you and I agree!

And ends with:

Both you and Joel Tesoro seem to be engaged in a more reprehensible game of one-upmanship than that played by other minorities in the US. I find it disturbing that two Filipinos now living in relative comfort in the United States would cast themselves as somehow more politically conscious and more authentic than those poor Filipino American scholars who can’t seem to get past their obsessions, however understandable those obsessions may be. Many of us are in a desperate search for a usable past and many of us stumble intellectually in the process. But, to put it defensively, there are also many of us who can and do think critically about the uses and abuses of history in American and Philippine life without your measured critiques or your outright condescension.

First of all, Joel Tesoro is, I believe, in the Philippines, but you should address him yourself.

Secondly, I don’t think I’ve expressed myself very well; nowhere did I mention “authenticity” or “political consciousness,” much less attribute them to myself! (The Authenticity Game is even worse than the Who Suffered More Sweepstakes.) In fact I put forth, in two posts, the tentative argument that Filipino American scholars are, in that respect, more “politically conscious” than their fellow scholars in the Philippines because they are, at the very least, doing all that remembering! (And I explain as well why all this remembering — okay, to use a loaded term: “obsessing” — is important, if not crucial, to understanding and engaging (and hopefully, contesting) American empire.)

I really am puzzled by your response; I condescend every now and then, but certainly not in the post to which you commented.

Now for the second message — [sigh], this is what I get for allowing anonymous comments on my weblog. I won’t bother with a response because the letter writer is plainly a fool. But I’m posting it here anyway so that you all know what the rantings of a Marcos Moron™ look like:

At least yung mga anak ni Marcos… matatalino. They were all highly educated. Talagang maipagmamalaki. Matalino rin kasi ang mga magulang! Eh yung mga anak ni Cory? Saan sila nag-aral? Palibhasa ‘housewife’ lang na naging presidente. Baka nga pagluto lang ng ulam, palpak pa — tulad ng NANAY nila.

Kaya ikaw Wily…magpakamatay ka na lang. Seriously. Ang mga BAKLANG katulad mo…na ‘nahuli sa akto’ tapos nagtatakip pa… tumahimik ka na lang. DAHIL ALAM KO KUNG SINO KA!! OKAY???


"Not in My Hometown."

I really loved this essay by Cynthia Patag (as posted on the Flips list, though the essay’s source would have been nice), in the light of one of my recent posts about the Marcoses:

The first jolt came when I went to the West Visayas State University… The dean of education… mentioned casually that their guest speaker for this year’s graduation rites was Congresswoman Imee Marcos.

And so she talks further with the dean:

“As Christians, we must learn to forgive,” the dean reminded me.

I had to take a deep breath. “The Marcos family is not asking for forgiveness!” I told her.

During a visit to General Santos City, Imee Marcos, who many believe is seeking a senatorial post in 2004, said, “We are willing to apologize provided we know what it is we are supposed to say sorry for.”

Reminds me an awful lot of the same excuses that, say, my mom would make — Christian forgiveness, sins of the fathers, and so on.

As for me, I simply refuse to believe that Filipinos are stupid. (Or are they too forgiving?) Filipinos are not stupid. But I can say that over and over until it loses meaning and the words are pulled from each other and all semantics disintegrate.