MORO-MORO: COLOUR AND THE ANTAGONISMS OF FILIPINO CULTURE

In a classic Filipino Moro-Moro, a pale skinned Christian hero combats a brown skinned savage Moro (a Muslim warrior). The end is always a victory for the Christian hero after which a litany of invocations to the Christian God is made. The prayers consist of an invocation to the Holy Spirit and a litany of thanksgiving to the three persons of the trinity, thanking them for the success in battling the forces of evil and bringing good back to the community. This binary discourse—that of us and other evil other—reaches its apex in the European and American exceptionalism in which the ideals of the enlightenment and American industry are gospel truths set against the barbaric and savage peoples of the Orient. This discourse lost to a new reversal of roles and a re-writing of the old Moro-Moro discourse. Gone were the days when the pale skinned liberator comes from the West, freeing us from the savage brown skinned people of a barbarian faith. In our politically correct times, it is the brown skinned savage that must win but not through conquest but by preventing the physical antagonism while at the same time maintain the antagonism in allowing the other remain as other. There is no victory in this case but the outcome of the story is that the pale skinned Christian warrior tolerates and shakes hands with a “supposed” enemy, while singing some version of Beethoven’s Ninth or Billy Bragg’s version of the Internationale.

Transgressing this ideological discourse unlashes a myriad of antagonisms inherenent in liberal politically correct discourses of the West. With the rise of Islam and the decline of Christianity, Western discontent over its own legacy gathers up to an extreme case of self pity, ignoring the emancipator potentials of its own universe. Ignoring the place upon which they view the other and the tiring search for alternatives, the west is sooner going to collapse under the weight of its own artificially imposed guilt, leaving the place for far-right extremists to provide a hermeneutic reference point to a vacuum left by liberal complacency. Are we in the Philippines lagging behind the western search for alternatives? Is it apparent in how we approach history and how secular interpreters of Filipino history tend to condemn the Spanish colonial era as the country’s own Dark Ages? The search for an ethnic golden age of pure Filipino tribal values and pure Filipino religious world view, untainted by Colonialism drives the intellectual drive towards  self-pity against the present order and an unwarranted nihilism maintaining a distance between my supposedly enlightened vision and the gullible masses. Among “Asian values” capitalisms (including Vietnam and China), following a mixture of liberal or communist forms of economy and governance, the Philippines with its virulent anti-left mass culture, created by an Americanized social institution and government is the candidate for the most Western-like society with its dislike for socialism and communism and an almost religious admiration of democracy and non-violent revolutions. While Singapore and Chine have created its own economic paradigm in authoritarian forms of capitalism, Filipino society is resilient in its belief in free-market economy and the practice of exceptionalism and individualism.

Despite attempts to be like its Western compatriots, it fails to achieve a Western liberal democracy. With an “Extramuros-Intramuros” mentality that transcends the adobe walls of the historic Fort Santiago, the walls separating peoples in Filipino Society are worse than any form of racism. The common thinking is that educated petit bourgeois families (with pale to yellow skin and small Chinese eyes) are always on top of the brown skinned big eyed citizens; any commentary by a university degree holder is viewed as aloof, offering little to nothing to the plight of the poor. The rich are always Chinese, white and educated, wearing their tailored suits and speak straight English with an American (or English) accent. The popularity of the Binay family can be traced back to thins thinking. To those who support the Binays, the Binay family is part of the “other” class, doing their part in the service of the poor and bullied by the elite for being successful at that. The problem is that we are confusing the cause of the illness with the illness itself. Far from being a “rags to riches” story, the Binays are only popular because of the circumstances around the colour of their skin and the exigencies at play with crowd identification. While to a great majority, the Aquinos remain as the poster family for freedom and what stands as the success of democracy post-1986. To critical theorists, the democratic project needs to be expolored given the multicultural circumstances of having 7,107 islands. All of these—for the bottom dwellers—are mere calculations and instruments of elite domination. There is a gist of truth from the criticism of Filipino independent films that they have exploited poverty as a concept, transforming it into a marvellous celluloid spectacle. From the popularity of Lino Brocka’s Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag and Insiang to Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay, the aesthetic of the ugly has prevailed to a certain extent in the films of these directors. Called by critics as “pornography of the poor,” the topic of poverty in independent films makes it a matter of suspicion for common taste. Thus, the black humour in Babae sa Septic Tank perfectly satirizes the excesses of independent filmmakers.

Antagonisms therefore are between academically posh educated theorists of the universities and the common sense mindsets of the urban and rural poor. The task of theory is to present an educational program for the advancement of peoples; but when the theory itself bolsters the antagonism between the educated and the urban and rural classes, the task of criticism and self-criticism remains a burden for all. It is enough to say that democracy, liberalism and the like remain theories that separate the educated from the uneducated. Belief in the “equality before the law” and the “secular liberal state” are privileged positions made by someone who is detached from the community and has the presupposition of freedom within this theoretical state. There is an old joke from the Martial Law period: “in the Philippines, everything is relative, you have to be related.” Is this joke still applicable today in the distrust in any notions of free market capitalism? Clearly, it reflects the notion that free market capitalism is not “free” at all but controlled by a few people inside a meeting room, calling the shots in the control of supply and demand and the economic laws. In this case, there is nothing “free” or a-political in capitalism. Its assertion of apathy to politics is its very inclusion within the political. The pattern provided by telenovellas suggest that participation in the liberal democratic discourse of the law and the market requires economic constraints: from struggling to pay for a lawyer to the payments to the court proceedings, to be even allowed justice, the poor characters are pushed to their economic capacities, driving them to absolute poverty while achieving no justice at all. The rich with the capability to hire the most unscrupulous of lawyers can achieve justice and confidently believe in the democratic notions of due process and the equality before the law. Within the preconceived notions of justice, the economically downtrodden are unable to participate in the Western dominant discourse of liberal democracy. Are they simply bitter in remaining within the sidelines of the minor discourse, seeking participation only at some moments in history?

Here is where advocates of Habermasian theory of dominant discourses and its application in our society find an inevitable impasse. Their effort is: to legislate the denial in the participation in the dominant discourse as the very participation in the dominant discourse of those who are outside it. They are considered other, as outside the legal jurisdiction whose being other is their sole participation in the dominant discourse. They remain as edifices of a resistance to the dominant discourse but at the same time their resistance solidifies the status quo since their very existence is granted by the dominant discourse itself.[1]   The boundary between the dominant discourse and those outside it is separated by class conflict and the refusal to acknowledge this antagonism in the exchange of discourses only proves the weakness of such theory.

Is it not clear in the investigations against the Binay family? The allegations thrown by Sen. Trillanes only bolstered by the popularity of the Binay family and their refusal to appear in the Senate stand as the singularized refusal to participate in the dominant discourse of liberal democracy and its notions of justice and equality before the law. the antagonism between the liberal party, President Aquino, the Senate and Binay as well as the whole media fiasco surrounding it serve as symptoms of a greater rift in Filipino society and democracy. The refusal to accept a materialist approach to the antagonisms in our society proves the bankruptcy of our intellectuals and great admiration is given to the activists who fervently believe in the futile bourgeois attempts to cement its relevance into society.

[1] I am reminded of a passage from Jean Baudrillard’s Simulations where in order for ethnology to live it must posit its object as something before it came to study it. Therefore, ethnology and its methods posit pre-ethnology as a constant and that the very method of ethnology is to study its object as a pre-ethnological object. Hence, what it does is to make its own model and retain the old as old, a living museum for the efforts of ethnology. Is it not the same with the Husserlian project of “going back to the things themselves?” In order for phenomenology to work, it must posit as a constant the suspension of any conceptualization in order for the object to appear which means the phenomenologist must consider himself not doing phenomenology (in the epoche) in order for phenomenology to work as a (rigorous) method.

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MORO-MORO: COLOUR AND THE ANTAGONISMS OF FILIPINO CULTURE

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