Hugo Chavez and the Skeleton of Bolivar

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela ordered the exhumation of the remains of Simon Bolivar, Latin America’s liberator, in order to put an end to the speculation surrounding the hero’s death. While historians are generally in agreement that Bolivar died of tuberculosis in 1830, others maintained that the hero died of unintentional arsenic poisoning (since this was the standard medical treatment during his time).

Dr. Paul Auwaerter in a University of Maryland Conference argued that  death due to tuberculosis cannot explain Bolivar’s final six months. Auwaerter said that the hero did not exhibit symptoms of TB and may have had arsenic-induced bacterial infection. Dr. Auwaerter concluded that Bolivar “died of chronic arsenic poisoning that led to a serious respiratory illness…and most of the signs and symptoms point to slow, chronic poisoning, the kind that might result from drinking contaminated water.”

Chavez however is convinced that Bolivar might have been murdered, a suspicion bolstered by the many attempts on the life of the most illustrious Latin American military figure. One of the failed assassination plots was in September 1828, a month after Bolivar installed himself dictator of Gran Colombia (the short-lived republic that encompassed a great part of South and Central America). Bolivar narrowly escaped the attempt through the help of his lover, Manuela Saenz.

“They killed him. Here in my heart for years I’ve had the conviction that Bolivar didn’t die of tuberculosis,” Chavez said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to prove it, but I think they assassinated Bolivar.”

Death by Arsenic

The examination of chronic arsenic poisoning is a well-established method in paleopathology. The Paleopathology Laboratory of the Virginia Commonwealth University, for example, has studied the long-term exposure to arsenic of a Chilean pre-Columban population. The mummies showed arsenic lesions on their internal organs. The nails, ribs, hairs, and skin also exhibited high concentrations of the compound.

In a similar vein, Boston and Ariaza (2009) examined the human remains of the Chinchorro Culture (5000 BP) in the Atacama desert coast of Chile, they suggested that the endemic presence of arsenic may have had a role in the mummification practice of the Chinchorros. To ascertain this, they examined teratogenic arsenic lesions (i.e., cleft palate, polydactyly, syndactyly, spina bifida, club foot, eye malformations, and hip joint dislocation), which are indicative of arsenic poisoning when found together. Although they only found spina bifida, they reported that the “presence of spina bifida in the three valleys suggests a genetic-environmental interplay within the populations.”

I imagine Auwaeter et al conducted a similar assessment to forward the arsenic poisoning hypothesis. Next step is the Hugo Chavez-commissioned DNA testing on Bolivar’s exhumed remains. This is the same procedure that put an end to the controversy surrounding Napoleon Bonaparte’s death. Bonaparte, once thought to have been poisoned by his prison guards, was found to have died of other causes (still up in debate) and not from arsenic poisoning.

Bolivar’s Skeleton

That the exhumation is ideologically-driven is not a secret. Chavez refers to his ideology as Bolivarianismo which advocates for participatory democracy, socialism, and Latin American unity. This is also a homage to the military figure who attempted to unite the entire Latin America against Spanish colonization. It comes as no surprise therefore to see Chavez beaming with pride when Simon Bolivar’s remains were exposed. He exclaimed, “Viva Bolivar! It’s not a skeleton. It’s the Great Bolivar, who has returned…Our father who is in the earth, the water and the air … You awake every hundred years when the people awaken. I confess that we have cried, we have sworn allegiance.”

This was not the first time however that leaders used the past to serve the political purposes of the present. Anthropology, archaeology in particular, is rife with examples that exploit the past for a nationalist project. The eminent archaeologist, Bruce Trigger, noted that “Political unrest, national crises, and rapid economic and social change frequently stimulate interests in a nation’s past, which often is romantically represented as having been more stable than the present and therefore as having more valuable lessons to teach the modern times.”

This is especially true in many places with strong nationalist movements. Archaeologists in Nazi Germany, for example, conducted excavations to prove that Germany was the origin of all civilizations. In the years of Mao Zedong’s rule in China, archaeology was encouraged as long as it supports the government’s theory of a linear evolutionary progression from “primitive promiscuous bands via matrilinearity to patrilinearity; from Savagery, Barbarism, Feudal Society to Civilization and so on–stages first proposed by Lewis Henry Morgan, borrowed by Engels, and systematized in the Soviet Union” (Glover, 2006).

The case of Bolivar’s exhumation is thus not an exemption. The team of Spanish and Venezuelan scientists’ study results might be scientifically neutral and valid in the end. They might even contradict Chavez. But that is not the point. Bolivar’s bones are not just a bunch of arsenic-drenched tissues. This is not just about Bolivar anymore.


Cebuano Left Language: precision and the reinvention of texts

***I found this while rummaging through my email. I wrote this as an undergraduate paper (around 2000) for a class in anthropological linguistics.

ResearchBlogging.orgTranslation is the process of making a text intelligible to a defined reading audience. Mario Pei (1965) argues that technical problems are involved in translation, including among others, how to capture certain nuances in the original language absent in the language used in translation (e.g., slangs and colloquialisms, deceptive cognates, idiomatic expressions, and untranslatable words). This led Pei to suggest that problems in connection with translation are infinite. With the onset of more recent theorizing, the problems related to translation indeed have become more complex. Translation is not simply the rendering of a text from one language to another but is also a process whereby contestation takes place. The act of translating necessitates a recognition that what is being translated is “foreign” and this process undergoes articulation, manipulation, and reinvention of the text in the local culture.

Resil Mojares (1990:75) posits that power relations are also involved in the translation process. Since language is a contested space, the translated texts reflect how these are manipulated and reinvented to suit specific domains. This was shown in many studies on colonial as well as contemporary literature where the text of the dominated are “redone” to fit the tastes of the dominant and/or the dominant’s texts are interpreted into the vernacular to strengthen its ideological hegemony—thereby, tightening the grip on the masses’ consciousness. The recognition that language is an arena of struggle presupposes that it is both dynamic and fluid. bell hooks (1995:299) illustrated how the American Blacks reinterpreted and transformed the “oppressor’s language.” The black vernacular speech “enables resistance to white supremacy” and “forges a space for alternative cultural production and alternative epistemologies—different ways of thinking and knowing that were crucial to creating a counterhegemonic worldview.” Furthermore, Sengupta (1995:159) notes that the role of culture and history need to be emphasized in the study of translated texts since this highlights “the intersecting networks and the manipulations behind a given positioning: of the translator, her or his culture, and the text/culture being translated.”

For Mojares (1990:80), there are distinct meanings of translation in the Cebuano context. He pointed out the following types: a) translation as the act of proposing or imposing, b) translation as the act of quarrying: of appropriating texts, taking them apart, mining them for what is “usable,” c) translation as the act of transferring: of simply recycling, ‘remaindering’ texts from one language to another, and d) translation as the act of hubad. Mojares (1990) notes that the act of hubad “involved not only the act of baring…but, more important, the notion of its consequence, of the beholder or listener becoming knowledge-filled, his learning increased.”

In this context, this paper explores the translation experience of a particular group in Cebuano society. I proceed by examining the translation experience of the mainstream Cebuano Left. For this paper’s purposes, I will attempt to look into their translation experience–more specifically on the localization of some aspects of the national Left ideology.  I believe the translation here presents a tension between national identity construction and local cultural identity.

The Context

The Nationalist Democratic (ND) movement is a Maoist inspired revolutionary movement. Back in the 1960s, the fledgling Cebuano ND movement started out as a conglomeration of youth organizations campaigning for democratic reforms under the Marcos regime. In 1968, four years after its founding congress in Manila, Kabataang Makabayan-Cebu (KM-Cebu) was born. KM-Cebu spread across the major schools in the city, notably University of San Carlos, University of San Jose Recoletos, Cebu Institute of Technology, and the University of the Visayas—and accordingly, membership rose to the thousands.

These youth activists “exerted efforts to plunge themselves into masswork among the workers, like those in foundry shops, and among the peasants,” aside from the usual organizing work among the students and teachers in various educational institutions. According to Kagawasan (1995:4), the underground publication of KM-Cebu: “…during and after the First Quarter Storm of 1970 streamed forth cadres for the different fields of revolutionary work but mainly for building the guerilla fronts in Visayas and Mindanao. From the ranks of the youth emerged warriors, leaders, and servants of the revolutionary movement of the peasants and workers and the armed struggle.”

In the early 1990s, the “movement” suffered serious challenges from within. This was after the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a thorough-going “rectification of its past errors” and a “reaffirmation of its basic founding principles.” Armando Liwanag, CPP Chairperson, reasoned out that a rectification campaign is necessary since this would root out the ideological problem of “revisionism,” viewed as the source of the movement’s political and organizational setbacks (e.g., Kampanyang Ahos, a Party-initiated bloody anti-DPA campaign which murdered persons who are suspected as government agents). Revisionism, Liwanag points out, is an ideological disease brought into the Party by petty-bourgeois influences. Nilo de la Cruz (2000:1) however retorted: “Instead of resolving new problems brought about by the all-rounded development of the struggle in the 80’s, it was adjudged erroneous. As if wanting to turn back the hands of time, the CPP leadership prescribed a return to the strategy blueprint laid down in 1968. It was as if the movement, the party and society had gone into suspended animation and never made any progress.”

Thus, the Philippine Left was polarized between two camps—those who saw the necessity of the ND movement’s campaign to weed out “ideological misfits” (the “RAs” or the “Reaffirmists”) and those who rejected this as merely “sweeping statements” (the “RJs” or the “Rejectionists”). These differences culminated in the splitting of its own ranks—leading to the formation of eight other leftist formations. In the Visayas, Luis Jalandoni (1993) reported that “Victor del Mar, former head of the Visayas Commission, was able to get the former Negros regional committee to declare “autonomy” in October 1993.” Victor del Mar later on founded the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA), which has now an existing peace agreement with the national government.

Although the split is largely a national phenomenon, this has had an impact on how the Cebuano Left imagines its position now vis-à-vis the “RJs” and the pre-1992 (especially the 1980s) days. This newly reconstructed identity is manifested both in the everyday language of the RAs and in official Party declarations. Integral to this new identity is the experience of cathartic moments—in this case, the Rectification Movement of 1992, which reorients and redirects the Left’s praxis through a new lens. Furthermore, a comparison of the pre-1992 and post-1992 slogans would reveal significant differences in terms of how the Cebuano Left defines itself across time.

Constructing Pagsimang and Pagtul-id

How is the pre-1992 days represented? Post-rectification activists tend to see the pre-1992 days, especially the late 1980s, as a period where ideological disorientation abounds. In common activist lingo, the period is called as pagsimang. The root word of pagsimang is simang, freely translated as a deviation from a defined path. Simang, on the other hand, is the antonym of tul-id. Pagtul-id (to straighten, but freely translated also as to rectify) thus is the antithesis of pagsimang. Thus, rectification movement is translated into Cebuano as kalihukang (“movement for”) pagtul-id (“rectification”).

It is worthwhile to note that the 1992 rectification campaign, officially termed in Party documents as the Second Great Rectification Movement, is rendered into Cebuano in two ways: Ikaduhang Malangkubong Kalihukang Pagtul-id and later on as Ikaduhang Bantugang Kalihukang Pagtul-id. In Cebuano, the highlighted words (malangkubon and bantugan) are entirely different words, but in this case both words indicate the word “great.” Malangkubon (literally translated, as “all-encompassing” or “all-rounded”) fits the ND movement’s vision of thoroughly rooting out the “disorientation” in all spheres of revolutionary activity while bantugan approximates the notion of “greatness”. Strictly speaking however, bantugan in popular Cebuano suggests notions of popularity and notoriety.

Pagtul-id is central to the identity construction of the Cebuano leftist. It is characterized as a positive and therefore desirable (i.e., bantugan) goal as well as a systematic and painstaking (i.e., malangkubon) effort of eliminating “destructive” ideological influences brought about by the following factors: a) “residual” concepts and practice adopted from the period of disorientation, b) ideological influence of bourgeois society in general, and c) the individual’s “class origin” (rendered into Cebuano as hut-ong gigikanan).

Since the setbacks of the pre-1992 period are essentially rooted in ideology, pagtul-id is situated within the individual. The adage, Ang pinakatraydor nga kaaway dili ang kaaway sa hut-ong kundili ang kaaway sulod sa imong kaugalingon” (i.e., The most treacherous adversary is not our class enemy but the “enemy” residing within the individual), illustrates the point. Thus, the individual is also a site of contestation (i.e., panagbangi sa duha ka linya—“two-line struggle”). As such, she/he has to undertake a “remolding process” in order to cast away “bourgeois influences” and assume a “proletarian standpoint, viewpoint, and methods of work.” Those who rejected the rectification movement (the “RJs”) are labeled as unrepentant petty-bourgeoisie, as “mga kauban sa una nga wala magremolde/magtul-id” (i.e., former comrades who refused to undergo the remolding/rectification process), or as mga nadunot nga mga kauban (“ideologically-decadent” comrades).

The concept of “two-line struggle” (panagbangi sa duha ka linya) is important in clarifying the concept of pagsimang and pagtul-id. This is basically an extension of the Maoist idea of the “law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites…” (Mao Tse Tung, 1965: 311). The Cebuano Left sees contradiction as universal and ultimately expressed in the individual’s moda sa panghuna-huna (individual’s world outlook). Consequently, the individual in the context of pagtul-id needs to maintain constant vigilance and strive that the tukma nga linya/tul-id (correct line/”straight”) will prevail over the sayop nga linya/simang (wrong line/deviation). It is not entirely surprising that the Cebuano Left uses tul-id and simang as organizing metaphors in their discourse. These are moral signifiers quite similar to what religious movements use and are embodied in the day to day practice of their followers.

Revolutionary Precision?

The mainstream Cebu ND puts a premium on precision in translating the content of the revolutionary message. Like what the Iloko revolutionaries did , the Cebuano NDs also incorporated (in Leftist parlance, “revolutionized”) and introduced terms formerly confined within English and Tagalog texts. For example, “criticism-and-self-criticism” (CSC) is rendered into Cebuano as pagsaway-ug-pagsaway sa kaugalingon (PPK) or “dialectical materialism” into dayalektikong materyalismo.

Moreover, the concern for “revolutionary precision” leads to the subsumption of certain words within the framework of pagsimang and pagtul-id. Leftist words have distinct meanings and are used in order to realize the Left’s objective of “precision in content.” This is consistent with the Left’s goal of maintaining ideological correctness to veer its direction away from any ideological deviation epitomized in the series of setbacks in the pagsimang period.

However, “revolutionary precision” runs counter to its avowed goals of initiating social awakening (i.e., “arousing the masses”) because it leads to the formation of jargons, not quite understood by outsiders. William D. Lutz (1987:54) remarked: “Jargon can serve an important and useful function. Within a group, jargon allows members of the group to communicate with each other clearly, efficiently, and quickly. Indeed, it is a mark of membership in the group to be able to use and understand the group’s jargon…” In effect, while it effectively transmits “precise” message among Left activists—the problem then is when such message is communicated to the public. For example, personalities from the Left use jargons often. The use of the word imperyalismo (i.e., imperialism) is a jargon that is commonly thrown around and yet incomprehensively discussed. Worse, some speakers shorten imperyalismo into impe, adding on to the problem of communication.

Rally Slogans: National Identity and Local Comprehensibility

One of the characteristics of the rallies is the shouting of slogans while marching through the streets of Cebu. Most of the time, an ajit tim (agitation teams) hails from the ranks of the student youths and the “urban poor.” They are tasked to lead the shouting of the agitation slogans so as to conjure an atmosphere of protest and to break the monotony of marching.

Slogans are usually “borrowed” from the rallyists’ Manila counterparts. While participating in these protest rallies, I always wondered whether ordinary pedestrians understood the message, especially that Tagalog, in Cebuano popular culture, generally symbolizes Manila arrogance . For example, majority of the slogans are in Tagalog while those that are in Cebuano are but translations of Tagalog slogans. Thus, in a rally, it is fairly safe to say that 80%-90% of the slogans are “borrowed” from Manila counterparts. Perhaps this mirrors the general disparity between Manila and the rest of the regions (and thus reflected also in Left language). Alternatively, this may also suggest the desire for continuity among all Leftists in the Philippines.

The Philippine Left needs to generate a national identity necessary for waging a revolution in a culturally diverse and archipelagic country. Without such identity, the revolution would be limited to sporadic regional uprisings aimed at particular ruling families—and not at the “class enemy” of the Maoist imagination. This fits into what Berger and Luckman (1966:40) notes: “…language is capable of transcending the reality of everyday life altogether. It can refer to experiences pertaining to finite provinces of meaning, and it can span discrete spheres of reality…They are “located” in one reality, but “refer” to another.” The Cebuano Left activists therefore, though situated within Cebuano society, aspire for a national identity that may be alien to the “Cebuano” but crucial to achieving revolutionary success on a national scale.

The mainstream Left’s efforts on the need for a national identity can be gleaned in their policy on language. In the booklet Program for the People’s Democratic Revolution (PPDR), section three (3) of the specific program for the cultural field instructs ND activists to “propagate the national language as the principal medium of instruction and communication.” Furthermore, it added that the “national language…shall be given revolutionary content and relate the revolutionary struggles of workers, peasants, soldiers, and other participants of the revolution.” Here, the national language that is to be developed is the same language that the Philippine government is instituting: a Tagalog-based national language—Filipino.

While it is true that the Cebuano Left actively participates in the national identity construction (through various nonverbal means, such as the spread of Left symbols and signs—e.g., rallies, flags, placards, organizational names, etc.), the content and, to some degree, the form is imagined at the national level. In the case of major rallies for example, most of these are nationally coordinated, with the national offices articulating the analysis. The local Left, on the other hand, situates national plans and particularizes these to suit the local context.

Reinventing Rally Chants

Since pagsimang is considered as primarily a negative experience, the post-rectification activists strive to dissociate themselves from it. This is expressed in how slogans are reinvented to show and reinforce pagtul-id and the elimination of slogans associated with simang.

To illustrate, the Bayan Ko chant below (pre-1992 version) is recreated to “fit” within the confines of pagtul-id. The post-1992 version retains almost the entire slogan except for the last line. Post-1992 activists reconfigured the last line into Sa protesta ng bayan, i.e., through the people’s protest, instead of “through the people’s war” to convey a message that the mass movement in the cities is legal and democratic in character. Mouthing “insurrectionary” slogans is inappropriate in the time of “reaffirming” the tenets of “protracted people’s war.” It is common to hear activists saying that these should not be expressed unless it can be discussed extensively. Caution is exercised vis-à-vis topics of revolutionary warfare lest the public might misconstrue rallies as illegal or activities of the “NPAs.” In the context of rallies where awareness raising is sinilhig—hasty and sweeping, words pertaining to armed struggle should thus be avoided. Furthermore, any verbal association with urban-based partisan warfare is deleted and the legality of the protest movement in the cities is asserted.

Whenever certain individuals do mouth slogans considered as incendiary, these behaviors are seen as mga lama sa pagsimang—stains of the period of disorientation—or as a sign of petty bourgeois infantilism.

Slogan 1. Pre-1992 Bayan Ko slogan

Bayan, bayan, bayan ko To my people,
Di pa tapos ang laban mo The fight isn’t over yet
Rebolusyon ni Bonifacio Bonifacio’s revolution
Isulong mo, isulong mo Need to surge forward

Aklas ng Bayan The people’s protest
Isa lang ang kasagutan Calls for an ultimate solution:
Kapag pumula ang silangan When the East is red
Malapit na ang kalayaan Freedom is near,
Kalayaang makakamtan Freedom that will be realized
Sa digmaan ng bayan Through the people’s war

Another case of deletion is the total elimination of the Tubag sa Kalisdanan slogan in all rallies. The “ratatatatratatatatboomboom” at the end of the slogan mimics the staccato of gunfire, indicating armed warfare. This slogan is seen as a product of a petty-bourgeois mindset: impetuous and adventurous yet cowardly in the face of actual face-to-face combat.

The onset of pagtul-id necessitates precision in the mouthing of slogans: simang is associated with armed urban insurrection while tul-id denotes ideas of the protractedness of launching a people’s war.

Slogan 2. Pre-1992 slogan, Tubag sa Kalisdanan

Tubag, tubag, tubag Solution (3x)
Sa kalisdanan To the people’s hardship
Ratatatatratatatboomboomboom Ratatatatratatatatboomboomboom

Slogan 3 however is a different case. While the previous slogans illustrate how ideological and military matters are transmitted into the vocabulary of the slogans, slogan 3 signifies pagtul-id’s “correct” attitude. The cussword in the last line of the slogan is deleted and changed into mga walanghiya! (i.e., persons without shame) instead of putangina (i.e., a whore mother). Though walanghiya basically still is a cussword, it does, to the activist’s mind, capture the “shamelessness” of the neocolonial state’s “puppetry.” In contrast, “putangina” is viewed as dekadente (i.e., decadent)—a characteristic purportedly of the lumpen proletariat—and is not “politically correct” since it tends to denigrate women.

Slogan 3. Pre-1992 Marcos-Aquino slogan

Marcos, Aquino walang pinag-iba Marcos and Aquino are not that different at all
Parehong tuta ng mga Kano Both are puppets of the Americans
Utang ng Utang They keep on procuring loans (from the IMF-WB)
Mga putang-ina! Their mothers are whores!

Rally slogans are central features of any mass mobilization. The slogans change according to how the identity at the present moment is envisaged. For the Cebuano Left, pagsimang and pagtul-id are situated in time. These are conceptual paradigms that differentiate temporal sequences. When one relates a negative experience before 1992, the narrator would say panahon sa pagsimang. Accordingly, the temporality of these concepts is also reflected in how the slogans are reinvented—with pagsimang and pagtul-id as the points of reference.


This paper is in itself an act of translation. This attempts to make a complex and multi-faceted group understandable through an analysis of the Left’s everyday language and rally slogans. It shows how language reflects the varying contexts of the time. The symbols in the language have meaning in themselves and the meaning sets norms of appropriate behavior that reconfigures the mind as well as the body.

Another issue is the tension between national identity and the quest for local intelligibility. The desire for a national identity led to the diminution of local intelligibility—not only because the language used is “foreign” but also because the “indigenized foreign” also has defined “provinces of meaning” (Berger and Luckman, 1966:40). These “provinces of meaning,” in the case of the Left, seem to be exclusively meaningful to people who share the same identity. The locals, whom the Cebuano Left is hoping to organize, are likely to have restricted access to the meaning of the Left’s vast vocabulary. The concern for precision of the translation of the revolutionary message (exemplified in the need for pagtul-id) failed to take into account that one cannot entirely capture the nuances of a foreign text; in a revolution where success lies on popular support, the locals should be considered as active discursive participants and not as passive receptacles of the Left’s symbols.

Yet the relative growth of the Left since the rectification of 1992 poses a theoretical challenge to the hypothesis. If people have restricted access to the Left’s “provinces of meaning,” then what’s the cause of this growing acceptance? Could we further hypothesize then that there are other reasons for political action besides accessibility/inaccessibility to the meaning of Left language? Are there nonverbal cues, or perhaps noncognitive cues, that may transmit meaning as well? What constitutes discourse in the dialogue between the Left and the masa? Or consequently, what is it with the structures in Philippine society that moves people to Leftist political action?

References Cited:

1. Berger, Peter L. and Luckman, Thomas. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Anchor Books, Doubleday. 1966.

2. hooks, bell. “this is the oppressor’s language/yet I need it to talk to you”: Language, a place of struggle,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Eds. A. Dingwaney and C. Maier. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1995: 295-301.

3. Lutz, William D. Language, Appearance, and Reality: Doublespeak in 1984 in Annual Editions: Anthropology 00/01. Ed. Elvio Angeloni. Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, Guilford, CT. 2000:54-59.

4. Mao Tse Tung. “On Contradiction,” in Selected Works of Mao Tse Tung. Vol. 1. Peking: People’s Publishing House. 1966:311-347

5. Mojares, Resil. From Cebuano/To Cebuano: The Politics of Literary Translation in Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 18(1990):75-81.

6. Pei, Mario. The Story of Language. Revised ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1965.

7. Sengupta, Mahasweta. “Translation as Manipulation: The Power of Images and the Images of Power,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Eds. A Dingwaney and C. Maier. Pittsburg, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1995:159-179.

Mojares, Resil (1990). From Cebuano/To Cebuano: The Politics of Literary Translation Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society


1. Communist Party of the Philippines. Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution. 1971.
2. Nilo de la Cruz. Where Does the Real Problem Lie. 4 April 2000
3. Grasp the revolutionary tradition of the Kabataang Makabayan in Kagawasan. Kabataang Makabayan-Cebu. 1995
4. Jalandoni, Luis. Rectification Movement Strikes Deep Roots, Grows with Clear Direction in Kalayaan. 1993:4-6.

Raging with The Jerks

Growing up, one of the bands that I listen to frequently is The Jerks. Like the fate of all alternative bands during the Marcos years, their albums were seldom found in record stores. Their genius only got passed around by word of mouth and cassette tapes changed hands like contraband. It’s not that The Jerks shunned the mainstream. I believe they’d gladly jump at any chance to change society one song at a time. After all, they’re activist musicians before Rage Against the Machine made raging hip.

Their songs smolder in protest. Take for instance their rendition of Dylan Thomaspoem, Do not go gently into that good night. While the original intent of the poem is to rouse Thomas’ father to continue being the fierce man he had previously been, The Jerks retooled the poem and made it an indictment of a moribund ruling system that brought the nation to “the dark ages, an era of lies.” Chikoy Pura, their vocalist, roars on for the listeners to “not go gently into the night” amidst all the injustices but to resist and do our share in changing society for the better. He implores us to

Rage against the dying of the light
Sing a song about this terrible sight
Rage until the lightning strikes
Go not gently, go not gently, go not gently
And rage with me

From 1979 until now, The Jerks are still raging on. In their facebook group, Chickoy Pura announced a reissue of their 1997- NU Rock Awards Album of the Year and 1998-Katha Awards for the song RAGE. If you want to get hold of their albums, do email them through

Rage Against the Dying of the Light-The Jerks

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Rage“, posted with vodpod

On the Maguindanao Massacre

On that eventful day of November 23, I went cold when I got the news that one of the 57 massacre victims was Atty. Cynthia Oquendo, a fellow activist, friend, and mother. The last time I saw her was when we had a small gathering a few weeks before: sharing a few drinks and friendly banters over sisig and crispy pata with a few college friends.

There was never any indication that that would be the last time I would see Cynthia, no black butterfly hovering around nor stories of goodbyes that in Cebuano folklore denotes a discreet premonition of one’s passing. We were there gathered, partaking of the cozy warmth of shared memories and the usual fare of how-are-yous sprinkled with a dose of political rhetoric. It was a nice albeit short night.

Many weeks later, there she was plastered on the frontpage: her voice muffled forever, body riddled with bullets, covered in dirt, dumped with 56 other bodies in a shallow grave dug using the Maguindanao provincial government’s backhoe. Brutalized. Dehumanized.

I browsed through various online analyses to understand the morbid logic behind these deaths and all other victims of political violence. I wanted to understand because in less than ten years, I have lost friends through a murderer’s barrel, Cynthia among them. There was Marvin Marquez, a youth activist and my son’s godfather, felled by sniper bullets in the hinterlands of Bohol. Another was Rev. Edison Lapuz, a human rights defender and an occasional house visitor, brutally assassinated while relaxing in his father’s house. There were also farmer-leader friends like Mayong Auxilio and Victor Olayvar, whom I met during my days as an agrarian reform volunteer, killed while preaching peasant rights to landless farmers.

Grief did gnaw at the soul for every passing of a dear friend. It made me reflect on this monster of a social structure that breeds and coddles sociopaths.

According to Mike Dobbie of the International Federation of Journalists: The Maguindanao massacre “is a culmination of the decades-long culture of impunity, where it’s been okay to kill journalists and nothing will ever happen — there will be no prosecution, there will be no trial..” Extrajudicial executions have been so rampant that the United Nations sent a team to investigate. In a 2007 report, United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston said that:

Since 2001 the number of politically motivated killings in the Philippines has been high and the death toll has mounted steadily. These killings have eliminated civil society leaders, including human rights defenders, trade unionists, and land reform advocates, as well as many others on the left of the political spectrum. Of particular concern is the fact that those killed appear to have been carefully selected and intentionally targeted. The aim has been to intimidate a much larger number of civil society actors, many of whom have, as a result, been placed on notice that the same fate awaits them if they continue their activism. One of the consequences is that the democratic rights that the people of the Philippines fought so hard to assert are under serious threat.

The murders however went unabated even with strong international and local pressure exerted on the Arroyo government. From January to October of 2009 alone, KARAPATAN, a human rights organization, reported 78 extrajudicial killings of journalists and political activists raising the total to 1,119 victims under the Arroyo administration. For KARAPATAN, the blame squarely lies on the shoulders of the government:

In the first place, the massacre would not have happened had the AFP stopped supporting vigilantes and militiamen which it conveniently appropriates for its counter-insurgency program. It would not have happened had the PNP been serious in disbanding and dis-arming private armies as its billboard at Osmeña Boulevard brags. It would not have happened had the Gloria government junked the rule of the gun and its militarist Oplan Bantay Laya…These practices spawned a culture of lawlessness and worsening human rights violations across the land. Local warlords, like their national counterparts, impose their will as laws over their dominion. Worse, law enforcers, including military commanders, become warlords too.

Analysts point to a ‘weak’ or a ‘failed’ state as the structural cause for these deaths. Local elites like the Ampatuans ensure the political survival of national elites in exchange for largesse from the national coffer. To sustain this parasitism, any threat is muffled with weapons siphoned off from corrupt military brass. News reports relay that the Ampatuans maintain a weapons cache that could arm three full-sized battalions, replete with 60-mm mortars, machine guns, explosives, recoilless rifles, AK 47s, among others.

Truth be told, wherever political dynasties reign, a clan-owned military-supplied armory can surely be found. It comes as no surprise then that the massacre happened during the election period. Elections are often imagined as democratic exercises, instead these have become catalysts for intensified, and often violent, elite competition.

With Malacanang-pampered tinpot dictators spread all across the archipelago, the Ampatuan massacre will not be the last. Let’s just pray that no one we know will be the next victim. Again.

Gender story: Gay guerilla


This was a paper for my graduate class on gender in 2007. Judy Aguilar, our professor, required us to submit a gender story. I instead made a feature that incorporated stories from various activist friends and presented them as one coherent story. The “I” here consists of many people.


Back in the early 1990’s, I was a youthful revolutionary who was willing to sacrifice life and limb for the sake of the “people.” The mere mention of the word “people” evoked a sense that I could make my life and the people’s lives better; that somehow I could contribute a bit to the destruction of the structural problems besetting our country. I did not know who those “people” were—never knew their names. As far as I know then, they were faceless, nameless, depersonalized, disconnected from the stale classroom that I went to for the most of the day.

So, I decided that I need to know them better, their day to day life, what they eat, their hopes and dreams. Eventually, my forays in activism led me to decide to integrate with guerillas somewhere in the hinterlands of the Visayas. I knew that my knowledge of the revolution is conceptual and integrating this with revolutionary practice is necessary if I were to transform waging war into a science and an art. Besides, in a poor country with a rich revolutionary tradition like the Philippines, the romantic idea of turning into a guerilla is always an attractive option.

With me during that integration were Maria and Mario, health activists from an urban area in the Visayas. Maria was a lovely chinita nurse who can alternate cheerfulness and sadness as fast as bullets from an automatic rifle. Mario, on the other hand, is laughter personified. I was fortunate to have been in a guerilla camp with them. I think they are aliens because they made nocturnal walking in a very harsh terrain seem shorter. And, as if by magic, they can turn a sack of rice that I used to transport almost every week for more than five kilometers into a kilo of cotton. I also met Brando, a partisan operative from the feared (now defunct?) Sparrow unit of the 1980’s NPA, who also part-timed as the unofficial barber of the guerilla camp.

The context

My gender story revolves around my observations about Mario, an openly gay revolutionary, and Brando, a “remolded” guerilla. Back then, homosexuality was seen by NPA cadres as a product of bourgeois decadence. One cadre explained to me that being gay is the cultural consequence of the leisured class, which eventually gets replicated among the lower classes (read: the impact of ruling class ideology on the subordinate classes).  He reasoned out that those that are more involved in production, such as the workers and farmers, have a lower incidence of homosexuality—which he rationalized as the outcome of the incipient formation of a proletarian identity among the lower classes.  For many cadres, being proletarian meant to be disciplined, fearless, objective, and logical. Traits that are associated with being masculine in mainstream Filipino culture.

The document that served as the guidebook for the relationship between the sexes in the revolutionary movement was the Oryentasyon sa Proletaryong Relasyong Sekswal (OPRS or ORS). This document had been crafted during the early years of the guerilla movement, putting more importance on maintaining class love (love for the proletarian class’s mission) over bourgeois love (which pertains to the personal). OPRS ensured that the revolution is always the primary focus of the relationship—thus necessitating the involvement of various yunit (red collective) in the decision-making process from courtship to divorce. The relationship is not simply an agreement between two individuals but is part and parcel of the revolutionary movement (thus, marital conditions and plans are integrated into the collective planning process). However, the guidelines were solely on heterosexual relations; it was silent about homosexuality.

A good revolutionary aspires for a proletarian character. While the definition of what is proletarian is conceptually clear (from various readings on proletarian morality, for example, the Five Golden Rays of Mao Tse Tung), the meaning of what is a good proletarian however takes a variety of forms in everyday life. One can be a good proletarian in the theatre of war by being adept in military tactics and strategy, by being wounded in an attack, or by refusing alcohol and denying oneself of “bourgeois” pleasures. For the guerillas, the all-embracing concept is self-discipline “to get rid of the vestiges of bourgeois and feudal influence;” thus, the necessity of undergoing the process of “remolding,” a process of  embracing the “seal of the proletarian class.” The difficulty however of defining what is proletarian, bourgeois, and feudal remains problematic among many activists and guerillas. For example, one joke goes that a real proletarian who is in the act of procreating will raise a clenched fist while doing it. In another instance, a student activist segregated her clothes according to bourgeois or proletarian fashion and ended up as confused as I was.

Guerillas euphemistically call homosexuals as mahuyang (weak) and not bayot (from babayeng otinan or woman with a penis). If do spoken, bayot is usually used in jest while mahuyang is more frequently used during formal meetings and casual conversations. I think the preference for mahuyang as a word carries with it a metaphorical weight that is connected to the guerillas’ desire to serve the weak. In some instances, Mario was spared “manly” tasks (involving manual labor) and was assigned to “feminine” tasks like the washing of dishes and cooking.


Mario and Brando

Days after Mario arrived, the whole guerilla camp was abuzz. All were talking about a gay urban-bred nurse who was willing to learn the ways of the guerilla. For many, this was a surprise. Many questioned whether a homosexual, urban-bred at that, could survive the rigors of living along the crevices of hillocks, standing guard against the enemy troops, and, much less, firing a gun.

Mario was very open about his sexuality despite the stares and the occasional smiles of amusement. Although most of the guerillas embraced his coming as a change in atmosphere, questions remain about his endurance and determination. In a highly disciplined (and I should say, veeerrry silent) guerilla environment, I could see that the coming of Mario was a welcome respite. The nights became livelier with him around as he poked fun at almost anything. Eventually, his talent for the arts, if you will, did not go unnoticed. He was assigned to oversee the makeshift theatre together with Brando, making the (ir)regular guerilla celebrations more animated.

At times, he was assigned to conduct organizing activities among the farmers to form revolutionary groups. He was very active in raising the awareness of the peasants. However, some of the feedback of his organizing activities was viewed as unseemly by many of the NPA cadres when the peasants started asking whether the NPAs are accepting homosexuals. Mario is expressive of his gayness. He traversed muddied pathways with swaying hips and raised pinkies. He talked in a sugary voice with the the last syllables sounding as if it were rubber. Although he had a receding hairline, this was covered by long bangs that reach to the ear, which appeared in clumps when wet thus exposing his rather long forehead. Yet he was a good educator. He could relate the peasants’ sud-an, which was usually salt, to the burning issues of the day and then to the need for a revolution.

Despite the adeptness of Mario in educating the peasants, many guerillas found the peasants’ comments disturbing. They feared that the peasants might not believe in them. I mean, they must have imagined how out-of-sync it was to bear arms against the government with a gumamela (red hibiscus) stuck by the flaps of the ears (they have not heard of that gay muay thai champion at that time).  The concern of the guerillas was understandable considering their interpretation of what a peasant mindset was: as basically feudal and patriarchal, thus intolerant of homosexuality. To remedy this, some of the guerillas followed up Mario’s work and explained to the peasants that Mario was still in the process of “remolding”—that it would be helpful if the farmers understand Mario’s predicament and help him return to “being a real man.”

However, Mario was adamant about his sexuality and maintained that he does not need to be a man to be considered a good revolutionary; that his many years of service to the revolution are a testament to his dedication and commitment to the cause. Despite this however, stories were recounted about how a gay armed partisan operative turned traitor because military intelligence units were able “to discover his weakness for handsome men.” Thus, being homosexual was imagined also as being mahuyang sa baruganan (weak in principles) and not only as being physically weak.

In spite of the rumors, Mario’s dealings with the guerillas remained warm, fun, and friendly. The polysemic character of Mario’s sexual identity perhaps explained this ambivalence, added to this was the fact that the cadres themselves were still in the learning process (in their continuing search for the “correct proletarian” approach vis-à-vis homosexuals). In Maoist revolutionary parlance, this conflict was merely a contradiction among the people and not a contradiction between the people and the enemy. Lastly, the long record of Mario’s revolutionary service could not be simply dismissed. He had shown fortitude in the face of the enemy albeit in an urban setting where the enemy is armed with “mere” truncheons and water hoses.

What the guerillas insisted was for Mario to follow Brando’s way back to “being a man, the casting away of bourgeois decadence,” as part of his remolding process. By turning into a man, Brando was seen as a “better guerilla” because there is less weakness in him that the enemy can exploit. It appeared to me then that maybe the guerillas are afraid that the enemy might “out-man” them in this war of men, where the jargon is steeped in “manly words” like insertion, penetration, finding the enemy’s weakness, coaxing and teasing the enemy, etc. (This reminds me of a poem by Adonis Durado where he used the encircling-the-cities-from-the-countryside metaphor in a very sexual verse).

One night, Brando, the guerilla barber, confided that he was gay but had turned back from homosexuality to serve the people better. He said that by being a man, he does not need to explain to the masses why he is gay and thus the discussion is more about them and their predicament and not about him. His sexuality is secondary to his proletarian mission of liberating the people. He na  his initial struggles in containing his sexuality and was only able to get through it by remembering what the revolution means to him. “Anyways,” he concluded, “in the last analysis, in the society that we are striving to build, people will not be relating to each other as man, woman, or gay, but as persons.” So, for him, the words bayot, lalaki, or babaye become moot and academic. Gender becomes obsolete.[1]

I would have recounted more but I was reassigned to another guerilla zone and later to urban revolutionary work (besides, my memory is starting to fail me). A few years after, I reintegrated back to the mainstream society and went back to “normal” life. One day, I stood amused as I chanced upon a headline news about the Communist Party of the Philippines “legalizing” same-sex relationships and marriages. How times, indeed, have changed. I wonder if it took an increase of homosexual cadres within the revolutionary movement to finally break from this decades-old tradition of homophobia. Later on, I saw on the news that Brando was captured and was eventually released. Friends later told me that Brando finally embraced his homosexuality and was in a healthy relationship. Mario remains a health activist who balances his time with teaching and NGO work. He never “remolded” and thus remains a dyed-to-the-bone revolutionary gay.


Gender ideologies permeate all aspects of social life, including liberation movements that aspire for social justice and equality. These gender ideologies are not mere ideas that people can debate and intellectualize about and then move on. The em-bodiment of these ideas is a violent act, which Bourdieu calls as symbolic violence, where people need to reconfigure their selves and bodies to fit into the structural demands of society. The example of Brando and Mario also shows that individuals have a say in the formation of social structures. They contest and negotiate prevailing structures and thereby creating spaces by which these same structures are eventually changed. Gender structures are never fixed or static. They are, as Bourdieu said, structured structures as well as structuring structures.

While the question of class is important, I refuse to consider class as a determining factor in our total social life. The tendency of certain liberation movements to subsume other dimensions of social life to economic questions reduces the diversity of our human experience.  Reducing ideology to class interest largely ignores the independent existence of other factors, such as gender, race and ethnicity, in affecting a person’s social position or life chances.  However, I admire the reflexivity of the cadres in the mainstream revolutionary movement. They tackled the issue of heterosexism head on and presented a more progressive alternative than what the Philippine government currently offers. This is clearly a case of better late than never.

[1] Brando and Mario have gotten closer as the days went by. Certain NPA cadres feared that the frequent association of Brando with Mario might set back his remolding process. After three months, Mario finished his exposure trip and went back to the city. Brando remained with the NPA until his capture.