Recommended Readings in Philippine Studies

By Caroline Hau


Josnolie Rizal, Noli me tangere (1887) and El Filibusterismo (1891)

These two novels, written in Spanish and published in Berlin and Ghent respectively by national hero Jose Rizal, are arguably the most important literary works produced by a Filipino, “foundational fictions” that have cast a long shadow on Philippine nationalism and shaped Filipino political and social thinking and the development of Philippine literature in Filipino, English, and other Philippine languages.

RafaelVicente L. Rafael. Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society Under Early Spanish Rule. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988. Philippine edition published by Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Rafael draws on insights from post-structuralist theory to illuminate the politics of translation and Christian conversion in early colonial Philippines, showing how the close encounter between Filipinos and Spaniards created both possibilities and limits to exchanges between the two peoples and elicited a wide range of political and cultural responses on the part of the colonized, from submission to resistance to evasion, to the colonizer. Should be read alongside Rafael’s follow-up volume, The Promise of the Foreign: Nationalism and the Technics of Translation in the Spanish Philippines, which explores the politics of “translation” and the ways in which Filipinos in the late nineteenth century wrought their visions of the Filipino national community by “appropriating and replacing what is foreign while keeping its foreignness in view.” Another excellent work—this time drawing on the cutting-edge method of computer-aided discursive analysis—is Ramon Guillermo’s Translation and Revolution (2009), a study of Rizal’s 1886 Tagalog translation of Friedrich Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell (1804). Guillermo explores the political implications of grappling with the challenge of translating concepts that have their roots in linguistic, cultural, political and economic contexts other than one’s own, and how the decisions Rizal made as to what words in Tagalog could be used to signify ideas like “inalienable rights” (which was ultimately translated as “di matingkalang katuiran”) tell us about productive disjunctures and differences that arise not only when ideas travel across linguistic borders, but also when ideas carry old meanings and generate new ones when they enter a different language, and in so doing simultaneously preserve and transform the receiving language itself.  

ChineseEdgar Wickberg, The Chinese in Philippine Life, 1850-1898. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965. Philippine edition published by Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Wickberg’s book on the Chinese and Chinese mestizo has withstood the test of time and fickle academic fashion owing to his meticulous archival research. Tracing the growth of the Chinese community in the Philippines alongside the emergence of the Chinese mestizo as a “special kind of Filipino,” Wickberg argued that the distinctiveness of Spanish colonial policy lay in its creation of the mestizo as a distinct legal category. The expulsion of the Chinese following the British Occupation of 1763-1764, coupled with the Bourbon reforms that transformed the Philippine economy from a galleon-trade entrepot to a commercial-crop-exporting hub, laid the groundwork not only for the ascendancy of the Chinese mestizo as an economic and social force, but also for their “disappearance” into Filipino national(ist) community then in the making. The influx of new Chinese migrants after 1850 posed stiff competition to mestizos in retail trade and encouraged the Chinese mestizos to shift to landholding, a move that helped them define themselves as distinct from their Chinese forebears while cementing their status as members of an emergent Filipino elite.

BrainsResil B. Mojares, Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T.H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes and the Production of Modern Knowledge. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2006.

A groundbreaking study of the lives, careers, and thinking of three key members of the Philippine Propaganda Movement that was active in Spain in the late nineteenth century, and the role they played in laying the disciplinary foundations of Philippine studies. This book bears the hallmark of this doyen of Philippine studies’ meticulous research and beautiful prose. To be read alongside John Schumacher’s classic works Revolutionary Clergy (1981) and The Propaganda Movement, 1880-1895 (1973). A good companion volume is Megan Thomas’ Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados: Filipino Scholarship and the End of Spanish Colonialism (2012), which shows how ilustrados participated in the production of knowledge on the Philippines, laying the “scholarly foundation for the nationalist challenge to Spanish authority”. These Filipino pioneers drew on the tools of, and were themselves active contributors to, European Orientalism and the newer sciences, deploying their concepts of history, society, and culture to flesh out ideas (plural, not singular) of “Filipino” collectivities and communities, and in so doing, making “it possible to think with certainty and a sense of inevitability of ‘Filipinos’ as a distinct ethnic people, with ancient roots, an emerging modernity, and a political future”. Thomas makes the crucial point that Filipino intellectuals were often among the first to publish scholarly works on the Philippines in the Spanish language, and acted as the “Spanish-language representatives” in the various academic meetings in Europe in which they actively took part.

NEW-155_Anvil_A-Question-of-Heroes-Cover-CurveNick Joaquin, A Question of Heroes. Makati City: Ayala Museum, 1977. Reprinted by Anvil.

Joaquin’s highly idiosyncratic, unflinching look at the country’s “national heroes” is better than most history books and offers a much-needed corrective to the tendency of official nationalism to whitewash these complex, often conflicted figures.  How “Filipino” was Padre Burgos of the famed martyrs Gomburza? He was Filipino in the original sense of the word, meaning he was a Creole, a Spanish mestizo. Who were the forefathers of the Propaganda Movement? Liberal creoles like Luis Rodriguez Varela, “el Conde Filipino,” and Joaquin Pardo de Tavera.  Many them paid for their beliefs with exile. Who is the quintessential anti-hero? Why, the greatest national hero himself–Jose Rizal. Why did Andres Bonifacio’s Revolution collapse? Because Boni, while excellent as an organizer, wasn’t much of a military leader. The second greatest anti-hero? The president of our First Republic, Emilio Aguinaldo. The Sublime Paralytic? Apolinario Mabini had a “pure mind” that was “at once scrupulous and intricate, sharp and elusive”. (There’s some discussion of whether his paralysis was caused by syphilis, as his enemies insinuated, but Joaquin lays this calumny to rest, arguing that it was most likely polio.)   And Antonio Luna? A true bearer of the “idea of the nation” but possessed of a violent temper (no doubt fueled by his frustration at the incompetence and self-serving nature of his subordinates and peers: at a Cabinet meeting, he slapped Felipe Buencamino for supporting the American proposal of autonomy for the Philippines under the leadership of the American governor-general, and called Buencamino a “traitor,” which he was). Mabini viewed Luna with distrust, saying Luna had “dangerous tendencies,” but later on, from the clear-eyed perspective of exile, came to see Luna as a “lively fiery genius who saw his plans frustrated by a lack of the necessary support.” Gregorio del Pilar? “[F]amous, powerful, elegant and good-looking,” but a “young fop” and Aguinaldo hatchetman who badly underestimated the Americans, failed to take the proper precautions and strategize for the battle with the Americans that others already warned him of, and needlessly sacrificed himself and his men in Tirad Pass. Artemio Ricarte? He held out against the Americans long after his fellow generals had surrendered or been killed, but made the decision to ally himself with the Japanese imperial army and came with them to the Japanese-occupied Philippines, only to realize that “[h]e who had been of the Resistance now found the Resistance against him.”  The final paragraph of the book–a single, elephantine sentence taking up nearly two pages–is well worth the price of the book, an elegiac summary of the hundred-year-long Philippine Revolution that nonetheless contains a spark of hope that the revolution lives on. (Bear in mind that Joaquin published this book during the dark years of Martial Law.)

MabiniCesar Adib Majul. Mabini and the Philippine Revolution. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1960.

From the author of Muslims in the Philippines (1973) comes this magisterial study of the “brains of the Revolution.” An ilustrado, though neither rich nor educated abroad, Mabini was paralyzed by polio, but went on, despite initial reservations about the Philippine revolution, to serve as Prime Minister of the revolutionary government. Exiled to Guam by the Americans, Mabini wrote one of the earliest post-mortems of the First Republic, La revolución filipina, which was critical of president Emilio Aguinaldo’s “boundless appetite for power” and the failure of the revolutionary officials to curb the abuses of their soldiers against the populace.

PasyonReynaldo C. Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1979.

Ileto analyzes the role of Christianity and its religious idiom—particularly the Pasyon, the Filipino epic narrative of Jesus Christ’s life and death– in providing the language for ordinary people to articulate their nationalist ideas, aspirations, and struggle for freedom from Spanish and American colonialism.

RichardsonJim Richardson. The Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies on the Katipunan, 1892-1897. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2013.

This major scholarly endeavor makes publicly available, for the first time, the most important archival documents (many hitherto unpublished) relating to the Katipunan, the revolutionary society founded by Andres Bonifacio that was instrumental in launching the Philippine Revolution of 1896, the first in Asia. Richardson has provided transcriptions as well as English translations of the original Spanish and Tagalog documents. The translations are not without problems in a few parts (“manga insic na jindi macapag tuturo o mapupulutan ng ano mang icamumulat sa gauang magaling” in the Katipunan’s foundational document’s History section, item 6, is inexplicably mistranslated as “the Chinese, who have not been educated or nurtured in decent behavior,” when a more accurate translation might be “the Chinese, who are incapable of imparting or from whom no enlightening good deeds can be gleaned”), but a series of insightful essays in the Appendices do make a strong case in favor of the Katipunan being, “at its core a modern, forward-looking organization, rationalist and secular.” Should be read alongside Teodoro Agoncillo’s classic books Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan (1956) and Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic (1960).

On radical movements: Richardson’s Komunista (2011) is an excellent study of the genesis of the Philippine Communist Party from 1902 to 1935, and can be read alongside Benedict Kerkvliet’s classic account of the Huk Rebellion (1977) and Amado Guerrero’s Philippine Society and Revolution (1970).

MccoyAlfred W. McCoy. Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009.

McCoy shows how the techniques and technologies of pacification and surveillance developed by the Americans in the Philippines in the early twentieth century “migrated” back to the U.S. and were crucial in shaping the rising hegemon’s security and (counter)intelligence apparatus and policies, which would be deployed with devastating effects on countries like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the most illuminating chapters are McCoy’s discussion of the “underside” of American-era state-building and its legacy for Commonwealth, post-independence, and Martial-Law Philippines, including the blurring of boundaries between what is legal and what is criminal, and the violence inflicted by the Filipino elite on popular movements to secure their continuing domination of Philippine society.

CannellFenella Cannell, Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Philippine edition published by Ateneo de Manila University Press.

This beautifully written book looks at how indigent Bicolanos negotiate the inequalities in wealth and power in their everyday, intimate lives. Examining several settings—marriage, healing, caring for the saints and the dead, and bakla beauty contests—allows Cannell to explore the ways in which the poor who say they have nothing are still able to assert their humanity and dignity and compel recognition from superiors. Contains one of the most moving final sentences in Philippine scholarship.

RosaldoMichelle Rosaldo, Knowledge and Passion: Ilongot Notions of Self and Social Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Michelle Rosaldo’s untimely death cut short the life of a gifted anthropologist. Her best-known work is this study of the Ilongots, in which she pays close attention to how the Ilongots themselves understood headhunting in both affective and cognitive terms of “knowledge” and “passion.” A keyword in Ilongot culture is liget, which can have positive as well as negative meanings ranging from “energy” and “vitality to “anger” and “violent action,” and is something that helps Ilongots make sense of their experience (knowledge) while also indexing feelings that may exceed one’s capacity to control (passion). Can be read alongside Thomas Gibson’s ethnography (Sacrifice and Sharing in the Highland Philippines, 1985) of the Buids of Mindoro, who successfully constructed an egalitarian society based on sharing, sacrifice, consensus-making and companionship, not because their society had been like this since time immemorial but because they made a concerted decision to define themselves and reorganize their lives in this way as a creative response to the colonial and postcolonial economic and coercive pressures they were subjected to by the powers-that-be in the surrounding lowland areas.

ClaudioLisandro Claudio, Taming People’s Power: The EDSA Revolutions and Their Contradictions. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2013.

Claudio looks at two contending narratives of the EDSA Revolution—the official, “yellow” version propounded by the Aquino and subsequent administrations, and the critique presented by the Communist Left. Fieldwork conducted among the workers in the Cojuangco family’s Hacienda Luisita reveals a very different take on these contending forces, and helps to demystify the myth of People Power and expose the contending interests that have shaped how we remember the Revolution, spawned the contentious politics of EDSA Dos and Tres, and spurred the continuing debate over the meaning and implications of EDSA.

LaraFrancisco Lara, Insurgents, Clans and States: Political Legitimacy and Resurgent Conflict in Muslim Mindanao, Philippines. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014.

Lara turns received wisdom on its head in his account of how Mindanao’s economic marginalization by the Manila-based government (despite Mindanao’s substantive contribution to the Philippine economy) has become a breeding ground of conflict and violence. Muslim leaders who were at the forefront of the long-standing rebellions waged by the Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front found their political legitimacy being eroded (at precisely the time when they gained access to power with the granting of autonomy to parts of Muslim Mindanao) by the resilience of clan institutions whose strongmen leaders are better able to provide some measure of security and livelihood for their local communities, and who use their networking with subnational and national officials to expand their “illegal” business activities (in effect creating a “shadow” state and economy), and–in situations where well-meaning political and institutional reforms actually exclude some groups from the peace process or inadvertently end up destroying the multiple institutions (clan, religious, among them) that had once worked to mitigate if not prevent violence–inflict outright violence on the population. How Muslim elites are able to bargain with their counterparts in the government and how they are able to draw on the resources provided by the underground economy not only to legitimize their authority but also to meet the basic needs of their clans and local communities are key issues to consider when addressing the persistence of poverty and conflict in Muslim Mindanao. Can be read alongside Patricio Abinales’ Making Mindanao: Cotabato and Davao in the Formation of the Philippine Nation-State (2000), which provides the historical background on local strongmen and state formation and how the evolving relationship between the two in the colonial and postcolonial eras shaped the unfolding politics in the region.

IlustradoMiguel Syjuco, Ilustrado. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. Philippine edition published by Anvil.

This Man Asian Literary Prize-winning novel about the fortunes and tribulations of exiled Filipino writer Crispin Salvador draws on postmodern devices of pastiche, textual fragments, quotations, and unreliable narration to paint an indelible portrait of the country’s elites and their numerous crimes against the Filipino nation and people, while also highlighting the “potentiality” of the much-maligned term ilustrado to capture the critical stance represented by enlightened intellectuals of the nineteenth century and the lived realities experienced by Overseas Filipino Workers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Can be read alongside Ramon Guillermo’s novel Ang Makina ni Mang Turing (2013), which traces the European sojourn of a young ilustrado who traces his ancestry to people who joined the Dagohoy Rebellion that, for more than eighty years, defied and challenged the Spanish colonial state and established its own independent community. Guillermo’s novel is a meditation on the role of chance and uncertainty (symbolized by the game of sungka, as opposed to chess) in making history and politics possible. Four other novels I would recommend are by my favorite writers, all formidably intelligent and talented: Nick Joaquin’s The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961), one of the few novels to deal with the idealism of ilustrado nationalism and its subsequent degradation in the American, Commonwealth, and early postwar eras;  Kerima Polotan’s The Hand of the Enemy (1962), a tale of disillusionment and heartbreak, of small-town corruption and big-city dashed hopes, filtered through the experiences of a schoolteacher, her colleague (whose family had joined and died in the Tayug uprising), her husband (who is seduced by the razzledazzle of cutthroat big business), and her colleague’s wife (whose promiscuity masks a lifetime of neglect and lack of self-worth); Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War (1988), one of the two best books on Martial Law Philippines (the other one being Jun Cruz Reyes’ Tutubi, Tutubi, ‘Wag Kang Magpahuli sa Mamang Salbahe [1987]) that takes the reader back through centuries of Philippine activism and history, told through the entangled family and life histories of three young ilustrados; and Luna Sicat-Cleto’s Künstlerroman, Makinilyang Altar (2002), about the coming-of-age of the artist Laya, who follows in the footsteps of her famous, temperamental writer-father (Deo Dipasupil draws some details of his life, though heavily fictionalized, from Sicat-Cleto’s father, Rogelio Sicat). Rosca re-imagines Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos as incestuous twins on the eve of their ascension to the commanding heights of Philippine politics and economy in her second novel, Twice Blessed (1992), while Luna Sicat-Cleto’s Mga Prodigal (2010) casts the ilustrado as OFW in the Middle East. Other recommended books: Juan C. Laya’s His Native Soil (1941), N.V.M. Gonzalez’s The Winds of April (1941, 1998) and A Season of Grace (1956), Bienvenido Santos’ Villa Magdalena (1965) and The Praying Man (1982), F. Sionil Jose’s Rosales Saga (The Pretenders [1962], My Brother, My Executioner [1973], Tree [1978], Po-on [1984], Mass [1984]) and Ermita (1988), Linda Ty-Casper’s The Peninsulars (1964) and Dread Empire (1980), Edgardo Reyes’ Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1966-1967; 1986), Amado V. Hernandez’s Mga Ibong Mandaragit (1969), Wilfrido Nolledo’s But for the Lovers (1970), Edel Garcellano’s Ficcion (1978), Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ’70 (1988), Charlson Ong’s An Embarrassment of Riches (1998), Ricky Lee’s Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata (2011), and Allan Derain’s Ang Banal na Aklat ng mg Kumag (2013).  And we’re only talking about novels here. (For those interested in the history of the Filipino novel, the definitive account is Resil B. Mojares’ Origins and Rise of the Filipino Novel [1983].)

9789971697815Filomeno V. Aguilar, Migration Revolution: Philippine Nationhood and Class Relations in a Globalized Age. Kyoto and Singapore: Kyoto University Press and National University of Singapore Press, 2014. Philippine edition published by Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Aguilar looks at how international migration has changed Filipino economy, society, culture, and nation, creating new challenges for the Philippine state, giving rise to new forms of national identity and belonging, and restructuring class and social relations, all of which are played out not only within the Philippines but across transnational borders. Can be read alongside the informative Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration and Domestic Work (2001) and Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo (2011) by Rhacel Parreñas and Maid to Order in Hong Kong (1997) by Nicole Constable.

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