This paper looks at how National Artist Nick Joaquin has dealt with two important historical junctures—the transition from Spanish to American colonial eras, and the transition from American to post-colonial eras—in Philippine modernity in his classic novel The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961). Joaquin has courted controversy for arguing in favor of Spain’s role in nurturing a class of ilustrado (enlightened) patriots who would go on to play a vanguard role alongside municipal elites and the urban middle sector in the Philippine independence movement and revolution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Going against the populist turn in Philippine scholarship, Joaquin highlights the fact that ilustrados saw themselves as bearers of enlightenment and members of a transcontinental anti-colonial intellectual and activist network, though he overlooks the important role played by late Spanish colonial Philippines’ insertion into the Asian regional economic system underpinned by what we now call “Anglo-Pacific” trade in the emergence of the new social and critical forces exemplified by the ilustrado, the municipal elites, and urban middle sector. Joaquin offers a stringent critique of American colonialism, arguing that it substantially shaped the (mis)fortunes of the post-colonial Philippine nation-state, not least in terms of the narrowing of the country’s intellectual, cultural, political, and economic horizons into a classic (neo)colony, and in terms of the consolidation through “democratic” elections of a Filipino oligarchy that remained economically tied to the United States while also seeking ways to expand the space for its own freedom of action. Neither the “special relationship” with America during the Cold War era (a relationship that helped jumpstart some of the developmental state projects in the region, notably Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) nor the nationalist Filipino elite’s capture of the commanding heights of the economy and polity has served the Philippines well. Instead, the ilustrados would bear the brunt of the blame for the political impasse of the democratic system that tipped into economic crisis in the 1970s, and the failed attempt at creating a developmental state during the Marcos era that ended in economic crisis and the so-called “People Power Revolution” in the 1980s. The Philippines would serve not only as a typecase of the anti-developmental state, the messy-democratic Other that Lee Kuan Yew and Thai politicians invoke to justify their own authoritarian rule, but also provide the keywords “People Power” and “crony capitalism” that served as the intellectual ballast for American attempts to reshape the East Asian region by criticizing, if not dismantling, the East Asian developmental state in the 1980s and 1990s.
Joaquin’s novel is a meditation on political possibilities that were opened up and foreclosed by multiple colonialism, among them the Asianist-turned-Communist network in which Hong Kong (and Yokohama) served as a crucial site of border-crossing activism for the Philippine revolutionary government at the turn of the 20th century, and the emergence of the “overseas Filipino” and “Filipino foreigner” (foreign-born Filipinos) as emblematic figures of the Philippines’ opting out of the developmental path taken by the East Asian and Southeast Asian states in the 21st century. This paper demonstrates the ways in which insights generated from a multidisciplinary approach to the study of culture may help us better understand not only the debates in Philippine studies but also the “developmental paths” the Philippines has taken over the last two hundred tumultuous years.
About the IPC International Summer School
The IPC International Summer School for Doctoral Researchers on the Philippines is an annual IPC program (from 2013 to 2015) where promising PhD students in the social sciences or interdisciplinary programs from around the world are invited for an intensive series of workshops, seminars, and lectures. Organized by Lisandro E. Claudio, PhD and Marita Concepcion Castro Guevara, PhD, this year’s Summer School will be held from July 26 to 29, 2015 at the Ateneo de Manila University. With the theme “Historical and Ethnographic Approaches to Philippine Culture,” the Summer School addresses questions about how historical and ethnographic approaches contribute to a closer understanding of Philippine social realities, what principles inform their conceptual and methodological orientations, and whether these approaches can be extended to other aspects of Philippine studies. As in previous years, the 2015 IPC Summer School fellows were selected based on their submission of a never-published paper appropriate to the theme of the Summer School.
The four-day Summer School will include presentations by the eleven doctoral researchers on their paper and subsequent discussion by the group of participants. Two leading scholars in Philippine Studies, Caroline S. Hau, PhD, and Mary Racelis, PhD (honoris causa), will moderate the discussion, provide feedback on the work of the Summer School fellows, and deliver public lectures on their own research.