Translating the Idiom of Oppression: A Genealogical Deconstruction of FIlipinization and the 19th Century Construction of the Modern Philippine Nation

Dissertation, Ateneo de Manila University (2019)
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This doctoral thesis examines the phenomenon of Filipinization, specifically understood as the ideological construction of a “Filipino identity” or ‘Filipino subject-consciousness” within the highly determinate context provided by the Filipino ilustrado nationalists such as José Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar and their fellow propagandists inasmuch as it leads to the nineteenth (19th) century construction of the modern Philippine nation. Utilizing Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive thinking, this study undertakes a genealogical critique engaged on the concrete historical examination of what is meant by the term “Filipino” across a select historical timeline (1864-1898) and the various notions of Filipino identity implied by the different contexts within which the term “Filipino” has been employed. More specifically, it undertakes a selective philosophical excavation of three seminal texts in the history of Filipinization, viz.: 1) the Manifiesto of Padre Jose Burgos; 2) the writings of the Filipino ilustrados in La Solidaridad; and 3) Jose Rizal’s Annotations on Dr. Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas. The philosophical claim of this work is the idea that Filipinization, taken as the differential construction of Filipino identity, is the effective translation of the colonial epistemic violence of Eurocentric racism and its consequent “horror of absolutism” into the homo-hegemony of Filipino nationalisms. By fetishizing the notion of a carefully constructed and essential “Filipino-identity,” Filipinization and the current nationalist discourses that utilize them, unwittingly, stands complicit with the same colonial violence and hegemony that they wish to combat. This happens precisely when the very structures of colonial oppression, on the ideological and practical levels, are transmogrified into nationalist ideals that assume legal and political power unto themselves in a self-referential and self-legitimating fashion. Three processes will demonstrate the above thesis: first, by examining historical texts and setting itself against established nationalist historiographies, a genealogical analysis of the term “Filipino” reveals it as a pliable signifier whose semantics have evolved through time. From its originary referent in the Spanish criollo (creole), it has come to refer to people who would have been otherwise entirely alien to this class, viz., the mestizos (both Spanish and Chinese), the principalia (native elite), and eventually, the lowland Catholicized natives themselves. The historical hermeneutic of this identity-discourse in Padre José Burgos’ Manifiesto yields the fact that what gives the term “Filipino” its semantic consistency as a class concept is its essential constitution as a Hispanic and Catholic identity. Second, from this semantic identification of the term “Filipino” as a Hispano-Catholic identity, we proceed to clarify the meaning of Filipinization in terms of the nationalist propaganda carried out by the Filipino ilustrados in the fortnightly periodical La Solidaridad. Here, the specific ilustrado construction of Filipino identity as a Spanish citizen (ciudadano Español) is revealed precisely as a political and legal construct that served as the basis for their own politics of social inclusion/exclusion. Filipinization can only be applied to those who have been hispanized and Christianized and never to those tribes who have resisted and remained outside Spanish colonial authority. Filipinization is thus revealed as a process of Hispanization and Christianization whereby the recipients of Spanish colonial hegemony are transformed into the religiously docile bodies of the Spanish Empire. From this highly determinate context, the study proceeds to examine Rizal’s ontological grounding of collective Filipino-ness in the mythological construction of the pre-hispanic past as the source of a unique Filipino ancestrality. In his work on de Morga’s Sucesos, what is revealed is a mythologization that grounds a native, essential Filipino identity within a past unscathed by the Spanish colonial experience. Such mythologization, however, can only be possible through an anachronistic nationalist interpretation of historical data. Here, Filipinization is revealed as an exclusive prerogative, a nationalist program by which Rizal and the ilustrado class can combat the evils and excesses of the Spanish colonial enterprise. Ironically, though, this same struggle for emancipation also became an instrument by which the ilustrado class can retain their unjustified position of power over those who belonged to the colonial underside, thus, securing the possibility of perpetuating their own ilustrado bourgeois class interests. Such discursive complicity is the essence of the myth of Filipinization: it presents nationalist identity discourse as an anti-colonial enterprise while being underlined by an economy of motives designed to cater primarily to the exclusive interests of the elite and ilustrado class. Thus, instead of securing the genuine, inclusive emancipation of all colonial subjects and a more humane existence for the poor and suffering majority, ilustrado nationalism has, ironically, merely reinforced those operative structures of colonial discrimination and oppression when the ilustrados: 1) grounded their racial theory upon the very same discourse of Eurocentric superiority that they are precisely supposed to question and 2) claimed a patrimony over Filipinas as their exclusive sovereign inheritance. These two factors illustrate how the manifest transfer of power from the Spanish Empire to the Philippine sovereign nation (and later as a nation-state) illustrate how Filipinization merely has transmogrified the face of Spanish colonialism into its new, subtle, and worse form in Filipino nationalism. In this vein, the existence of the 19th century modern Philippine nation merely masked and deferred the crisis that was supposed to transfer power from the Spanish Empire to the multitude of the poor and suffering native indio majority. This crisis became all the more difficult to address be-cause of the duplicitous character of the discourse of Filipinization itself. It has not only effectively transferred power into the hands of the nationalist elite but also captured authentic emancipatory discourse within the identity-trap against which it can only hope to get out. This study concludes with the claim about the impossibility of ever escaping and overcoming the epistemic and practical violence necessarily contained within the historical discourse of colonialism. Or simply, we have no language or discourse that would enable us to overcome the complicity of Filipinization with the very (epistemic) violence against which it has set itself.

Author's Profile

Michael Roland Hernandez
Ateneo de Naga University


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