Tag Archives: Philippines

Forgiveness, please

Language Log discusses an article about the president of the Philippines’ refusal to apologize to Hong Kong over the death of a group of Hong Kong tourists when they were holidaying in the Philippines. The post is about a particular claim that part of the problem is that Tagalog has no word for “sorry”. The claim is of course complete crap.

However, one of the comments on the post gives a very old-fashioned way to apologize in Tagalog: “Ipagpaumanhin po ninyo ang aking pagkakamali.” This sounds seriously formal to me. If I were to translate this into English with approximately the same connotations I would render it as “I humbly beseech you for your forgiveness for the grievous wrong I have committed”. Somehow I can’t imagine saying it in any other position besides kneeling in abject supplication on the ground, clothes perhaps rent in anguish.

My admittedly poor translation sounds kind of hokey, or it can if not intoned with the proper gravitas. However, saying the Tagalog sentence with anything less than utter sincerity somehow seems wrong and even faintly immoral. I honestly can’t think of any situation where I would need to deploy this linguistic equivalent of the nuclear option. Perhaps if I’d accidentally killed my neighbour’s child or something like that.

Anyway, now you know how to apologize in Tagalog if you ever commit manslaughter.

Goodbye Edublogs

Let’s see other people. Actually, I’ll see other people and you can just cry as I walk away or something. That’s right, I’m finally moving to a new site. The lucky winner is Anthroblogs for their non-annoying spamless hosting solutions, plus there’s that whole anthropologist ghetto they’ve got going. It only took me an entire month to accomplish the move. Thanks go to John Norvell for letting me join his merry band.

Actually, I’m still not done with the move. I want to migrate all of my posts at the very least and I’m screwing around right now with Perl scripts to do just that. Let me tell you, it’s not simple at all, especially for someone who used to play Tetris back in programming class in high school (six years ago, I might add). I’ll probably have to move comments manually which will add another layer of frustration to this bastard of an undertaking. If anyone is better than me at Perl, I’d be glad to accept their help.

I’m also trying to finish a chapter of my thesis to include as a writing sample in grad school applications, so I might not have the new blog set up the way I want until the new year. Until then, don’t mind the exposed wires and wet paint as you follow me — into the future!

Here’s what you can expect to see over there:

Cavite (the movie)

I learned of this movie from The Wily Filipino. Got to say, I wasn’t impressed. I already rented Suicide Girls on his recommendation and found it a bit “wtf?”, although there is a Clockwork Orange-y rape scene in Suicide Girls that is eerily beautiful. One more strike, though, and I’ll just have to say that The Wily Filipino and I have divergent tastes in movies .

CORRECTION: It was actually Suicide Club.  Suicide Girls is the porn website where the models all have tattoos and piercings.  And no, I’m not a subscriber (sin is a financially taxing endeavour).

The plot centres around a 2nd generation Filipino American in the Philippines whose family is being held hostage and who is forced to do all kinds of illegal things by the bad guy who relays all his instructions by cellphone. Yes, just like that one cellphone hostage movie that was out recently which I never plan on seeing. Oh, and he has to do all his running around in the province of Cavite.

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Cavite (the movie)


I learned of this movie from The Wily Filipino.  Got to say, I wasn’t impressed.  I already rented Suicide Girls on his recommendation and found it a bit “wtf?”, although there is a Clockwork Orange-y rape scene in Suicide Girls that is eerily beautiful.  One more strike, though, and I’ll just have to say that The Wily Filipino and I have divergent tastes in movies .

CORRECTION: It was actually Suicide Club. Suicide Girls is the porn website where the models all have tattoos and piercings. And no, I’m not a subscriber (sin is a financially taxing endeavour).

The plot of Cavite centres around a 2nd generation Filipino American in the Philippines whose family is being held hostage and who is forced to do all kinds of illegal things by the bad guy who relays all his instructions by cellphone.  Yes, just like that one cellphone hostage movie that was out recently which I never plan on seeing.  Oh, and he has to do all his running around in the province of Cavite.

I grew up partly in Cavite, but that has nothing to do with my dislike of the film.  Rather, it’s clear to me that I’m not the target audience.  The movie is obviously set up with 2nd generation Filipinos in mind, since the whole thing is about the anxieties of the 2nd generation in regards to their Filipino identity.

The first thing that didn’t fly with me was the language.  I speak Tagalog well enough, and to me, the menacing voice on the phone issuing Tagalog commands didn’t sound menacing at all.  In fact, the guy sounded like a complete tool.  It was hard to take his threats seriously since he actually has more of a comedian’s voice.  I kept expecting cellphone guy to start cracking toilet humour jokes.  Not only that, but it seems rather odd to me that Adam, the main character, should understand Tagalog, since his family is supposedly from Mindanao and I would expect him to be more fluent in Chavacano or other more regionally-appropriate languages.

In fact, language is one of the things that 2nd generation Filipinos have an ambivalent relationship with.  Obviously, Adam has passive fluency in Tagalog so that the story is able to take place, but he also talks almost entirely in English because he’s “not comfortable with the language [Tagalog]”, just like many 2nd generation Filipinos.  Quite a few don’t understand any Filipino languages at all, what with their parents wanting them to assimilate completely.  That, or they’re embarrassed by their parents’ languages and make an effort to speak entirely in English.

In this case, the menacing voice on the phone represents the Filipino-ness that 2nd generation Filipinos (the kind that would watch this kind of movie) want but don’t quite feel they’re worthy of.  The voice is the inadequacy that 2nd generation Filipinos feel towards being Filipino, that they’re not really authentically Filipino if they can’t speak Tagalog, have never been to the Philippines, can’t eat balut, and all sorts of other things.

In fact, the movie is all about gaining this elusive authentic Filipino character.  Cavite begins by forcing Adam to confront the poverty and material deprivation in the Philippines (what could be more authentic than the poor?) and he is then forced to participate in other “authentically” Filipino experiences such as watching a cock fight, drinking soda out of a plastic bag, and eating an unhatched duck egg.  In fact, the scene with the balut is significant because watching foreigners recoil at the thought of eating balut is one of the pastimes Filipinos engage in with outsiders.  Having eaten the balut, Adam has proven that he is really Filipino.  The taunts of the voice on the cellphone are merely the prickings of his guilt at not being Filipino enough.

So this movie is actually about discovering one’s identity, and not just any identity, but ethnic identity.  Therefore, it’s about discovering what one always already is, or so the proponents of ethnicity will claim.  Still, the journey of ethnic discovery parallels the journey of the tourist in many ways.  Both centre on finding the authentic among foreign Others, particularly savage Others (the poor, the non-white, and the non-Western).  Second generation travellers might argue that they’re different from tourists, that tourists only see the surface, the superficial, but we have penetrated this wall of inscrutability and have beheld the true faces of the Filipinos.  In fact, we have always been Filipino, so there was never a wall there in the first place.  But the desire for the authentic still marks both journeys.

The search for authenticity is of course not politically neutral.  Second generation Filipinos look to the Philippines as a source of identity because they cannot find it in their home countries.  That is, the search for inclusion within the Philippine imaginary is contingent on the exclusion that 2nd generation Filipinos experience in their lives outside the Philippines.  Identification is always a political act, and a diasporic imaginary, as James Clifford put it, can be seen as making the best of a bad situation.

Which is all well and good, but the political goals of 2nd generation Filipinos don’t speak to me at all.  Cavite didn’t resonate with me because it showed me nothing that I hadn’t already seen before.  Rabid dogs on the street?  Floating mountains of garbage in the rivers?  Squatter children bathing outdoors?  Ho hum, how very boring.  Adam is shocked, but I sit and wait for the movie to start.  By the time it ends, I realize those scenes were the point.  And there’s nothing more boring than watching a movie that was made for someone else.  I wish I’d just gotten Superman Returns.

She talks Tagalog more better than me (and probably cusses better too)

[Original Youtube link defunct, please view clip here]

Seriously, the Russian teacher of Tagalog (a.k.a. Filipino) at Moscow State University speaks better Tagalog than me. Actually, I speak Taglish and my academic Tagalog is at a 4th grade level. I sometimes even have trouble reading the Tagalog comics my uncle brought with him when he was visiting from the Philippines. Anyway, this situation isn’t unusual for a lot of 1.5 generation immigrants.

But back to the video: Russkies speaking Tagalog! It’s always surprising to learn when people who don’t have friends or family in the Philippines are actually interested in learning Tagalog. Actually, I got this from the tagalog community in LiveJournal and one of the people there is actually a student in that class (but wasn’t in the video). In response to the question of why anyone not Filipino would want to learn Tagalog, ptiza_schastya says:

No, i don’t have any friends and relatives in The Philippines and i have never been there :)
The thing is I’m studying in the Institute of Asian and African Studies and there are many different languages to choose to learn (the most popular are japanese and chinese of course) But the groups are small and there are many languages except these ones, so some people don’t pick the languages, they are just given it. So, i was given tagalog. But i absolutely don’t regret it :)

Just for the hell of it, I’ll try translating the above into Tagalog to see if I can do it:

Hinde, wala akong mga kaibigan o kamag-anak sa Pilipinas at hindi ako ever nakapunta duon :) (Fuck!)

Ano kasi, nag-ii-study (Goddamit!) ako sa Institute of Asian and African Studies at marami yung mga lenguahe na pwede ko matutunan (crapper!) (yung pinaka popular ay siyempre yung hapon at intsik). Pero maliit ang mga grupo at meron mas maraming lenguahe kaisa sa mga ito, kaya hindi pini-pick (fuck bucket!) ng mga ibang tao yung mga lenguahe [na tinututunan nila], in-a-assign (bugger!) sa kanila. Kaya binigay lang sa akin ang tagalog. Kaso hindi ko ni-re-regret :) (mother of fuck!).

The comments in parentheses are the muttered curses I let out when I kept resorting to Taglish. I marked out the cussing so you’ll know just how bad my Tagalog is. Six substitutions in one paragraph? That’s weak. I just know the Tagalog words will come to me later when I’m chopping vegetables or something. The “crapper” is for the fact that I actually swapped the Tagalog for “learn” for “choose to learn” because I couldn’t remember what “choose” was in Tagalog, subtly changing the meaning of the translation. And “popular” is spelled the same way as in English but pronounced like in Spanish. By the way, did you notice that I curse in English? I only have a ten year old’s grasp of Tagalog imprecations, I sound childish when I try to swear in it. Perhaps I should work on that.

[youtube]i3pGxctGDlc[/youtube]Also, this video from Youtube combines anthropology with Filipinos, or so the title screen claims. It seems to show the hijinks of a group of Filipino students in the Philippines and apparently doesn’t have anything anthropological in it, or so the comment below it says (I haven’t watched the whole thing):

astig ng vid, kahit di me anthro.. astig pa rin! galing mo kuya kimchi gumawa ng vid! -ann

“Cool video, even though there’s no anthro . . . but still cool! You’re great at making videos Kuya (big brother) Kimchi! – Ann”

That one was easier to translate. I assume this Kuya Kimchi is Korean from the nickname. Perhaps these are anthropology students? Youtube has so many of these enigmatic videos on it, they’re kind of sickeningly fascinating to watch. It’s like reading the personal blog of someone you don’t know and where almost all of the comments are clearly from people the blogger knows in person.

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So I married a killer robot

I know I’m kind of late to this party, but danged if I’m a gonna quit. I’ve been reading a bit of what the reaction to the new season of Battlestar Galactica has been on some parts of the English blogosphere and I just had to offer my take.

Battlestar Galactica began as a clash of civilizations: the genocidal and merciless Cylons versus the battered yet defiant humans. The people of the Colonial fleet were shown as noble but flawed, peace-loving but driven to violence, grief-stricken but stalwart, courageous, craven, paranoid, and cooly rational — in short, they were shown as human. The humans were the flawed heroes while the Cylons were the perfect Others, the anti-humans: relentless where the humans faltered, inscrutable where human pain was displayed, and all-knowing where the humans groped around blindly in the dark.

That was where Galactica began, but it’s certainly not where it is now. Slowly, we began to see more of what Cylons were really like, and slowly, we began to sympathize with what had been an unknowable enemy. Finally, by the third season the tables had turned and “we” were supposed to feel conflicted as to which side root for: the violently incompetent Cylons, or the suicide-bombing humans?

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the issue of suicide bombing in the show has become so controversial. After all, suicide bombing has been relentlessly portrayed in the news media as a cowardly tactic used by the enemies of civilization, possibly in league with Satan, Darth Vader, and Lord Voldemort. Setting aside the issue that cowards cower, not willingly blow themselves to smithereens, it’s a bit odd that the characters’ use of suicide bombing should be so fraught with moral crisis. I’d always gotten the impression that the problem with suicide bombing was that it was inconsiderate of distinctions between civilians and soldiers, whereas the tactic on Galactica has been used only against military targets. I think that the discomfort with suicide bombing among the show’s viewers comes from two main reasons.

The first reason is that suicide bombing lays bare the fiction that soldiers are human beings. That is, suicide bombing acknowledges that soldiers are not and cannot be human as long as they are soldiers; rather, they are military assets, pawns to be moved back and forth in war, the true game of kings. If a cause is worth killing others for, then it’s also worth killing your own soldiers for (Dean Stockwell’s character voiced a similar sentiment on the show, though he was arguing for the war to become genocidal again). Soldiers are trained to be the tools of their leaders, and the more perfect they can be as machines, the more perfect they become as soldiers. Therefore, when you see Colonial rebels blowing up themselves and their enemies, you aren’t seeing humans killing Cylons. Instead, what you are witnessing is the spectacle of killer robots killing other killer robots.

The second reason I think that suicide bombing in the show is controversial to its viewers is that its viewers are mostly composed of those who conquer, instead of those who are conquered. That is, it is the privilege of the viewers to see suicide bombing as a horrendous crime instead of being forced to consider it as a viable tactic. Which is why I don’t relate at all to the controversy over suicide bombing, since I’m descended from people who might have considered suicide bombing had the option been available.

What I’m referring to is the Philippine-American War of 1898-1902 (the latter year being somewhat arbitrary since armed resistance was still taking place in many “pacified” territories). It’s an obscure war to most Americans, though its impact is still felt today. Many historians see it as the precursor to the Vietnam War and therefore the ancestor of the current war in Iraq, though I see the Indian Wars as the truly prototypical conflicts that lent their shape to later wars of American imperialism.

Briefly, the Philippine-American War grew out of the the Spanish-American War of 1898. The United States, having finished its land-based empire-building in the Indian Wars like the Russians in Siberia, wanted to get into the overseas possessions game. Spain was already in the process of imperial decline and it was the ruler of colonies immediately adjacent to the US (remember, the Monroe Doctrine had already established the Americas as the playground of the United States). With the Philippines in hand, the US hoped to use it as a springboard into China. US troops invaded the Philippines, arriving in the middle of an ongoing insurrection by Filipino rebels. Hoping to use the native insurgents against Spain, the US tacitly encouraged the cause of Philippine independence. By the time the Spanish-American War ended, Spain had ceded the Philippines to the US, which claimed the colony for its own. Feeling betrayed, Filipino rebels went to war against a new colonial master. In the end, they lost and the Philippines became a US Commonwealth.

The conflict soon became a guerilla war for the Filipinos, who could not use conventional tactics against better-equipped and better-trained Americans. The US Army saw guerilla war as dishonourable and uncivilized. A US general, in an exchange with a leader of the revolution, remarked that war

[C]ould only be justified by a combatant where success was possible; as soon as defeat was certain, “civilization demands that the defeated side, in the name of humanity, should surrender and accept the result, although it may be painful to its feelings.” Combatants who strayed from this principle “place themselves in a separate classification” as “incompetent in the management of civil affairs to the extent of their ignorance of the demands of humanity.” In this specific case, the end of conventional war and the dispersal of the Philippine Army meant that continued Filipino resistance was not only “criminal” but was “also daily shoving the natives of the Archipelago headlong towards a deeper attitude of semicivilization in which they will become completely incapable of appreciating and understanding the responsibilities of civil government.” Civilization meant “pacification” and the acceptance of U.S. sovereignty: “The Filipino people can only show their fitness in this matter by laying down their arms…” (Kramer 2006)

However, the Filipino revolutionary countered that the statement

was simply the claim that might made right, that the U.S. war was “just and humanitarian” because its army was powerful, “which trend of reasoning not even the most ignorant Filipino will believe to be true.” If in real life, he noted, “the strong nations so easily make use of force to impose their claims on the weak ones,” it was because “even now civilization and humanitarian sentiments that are so often invoked, are, for some, more apparent than real” . . . [T]he Filipinos had been left no choice. The very laws of war that authorized strong nations’ use of “powerful weapons of combat” against weak ones were those that “persuade[d]” the weak to engage in guerrilla war, “especially when it comes to defending their homes and their freedoms against an invasion.” (Kramer 2006)

Update the language a bit and they might have been talking about suicide bombing. I think that instead of asking how suicide bombing can exist, it is better to ask what kind of dire situation a person can live in that they would think blowing themselves up is a good idea. Make no mistake that suicide bombing is a weapon of the weak, else they would be using cruise missiles and nuclear threats.

Therefore, I cannot really understand why just the very use of suicide bombing in a fictional context can be so fraught with debate. Personally, it seemed perfectly logical that people in the position of the Colonials on New Caprica would turn to suicide bombing in the face of the overwhelming power of their enemies. Why suicide bombing? Why not? To me, something less would have seemed more unrealistic.

O brave new world, a whole new fantastic point of view

I’m still living out of boxes here. It’s charming how the first sight I see upon waking up are bottles of hair gel and vitamin C tablets, plus the dead bugs I haven’t swept up yet. (Update: bugs are gone, vitamin C and hair gel remain ready for use in vitamin and hair-related emergencies).

In case it’s not clear, I’m talking about the new place I moved into. It’s not so bad now that I’ve got an air mattress, I actually had some really good sleep last night. Lots better than when I had to sleep in my office chair because I didn’t have any other furniture (it felt like I was at an airport).

But I didn’t pick the title of this post just because it amuses me to discuss my new place under a title that combines lines from 1984 and the Disney movie Aladdin. I thought I would discuss these two articles: More Koreans Look to Retire in Philippines and Living, Doing Business the Philippine Way

Briefly, the articles talk about (South) Korean emigration to the Philippines. I’ve long been aware that more and more Koreans are moving to the Philippines, but I’ve never known exactly why. Now it’s clear what’s happening: middlingly-wealthy Koreans are retiring and living in the Philippines because they get more value for their retirement fund and pension money.

It’s not just that, though. Those retired Koreans need people that can cater to their needs, which is something that has occurred to a lot of other Koreans. It’s also well-known in migration studies that once a certain group has established itself in a particular country, it becomes easier for other members of that group to migrate to that country, as in the case of children joining their parents or sisters sponsoring their siblings. So you get a secondary wave of Korean migration that comes to the Philippines to make money off their fellow Koreans. I’m willing to bet a lot of these businesses were established in the early days by retirees who were rushing to fill this economic niche.

This whole situation is only possible because of globalization, which I take here to mean “the intensification of global interconnectedness . . . [combined with] the the speeding up of economic and social processes” (Rosaldo & Inda 2002:2-6). This intensification has happened due to several factors. First is the development of new technologies that make it easier to transfer money overseas as well as communicate with distant relatives and friends. However, just as important, if not more so, is the development of new regulations and the signing of new agreements between governments which make the bureaucratic processes involved in international money transfer and immigration easier. After all, to take one example, the technologies involved in jet travel haven’t really changed that much in the last few decades, but the deregulation of the airline industry and the resulting competition between the different carriers have driven ticket prices down.

Because international migration is much easier to achieve, South Koreans have been engaged in what Anna Tsing refers to as a “scale-making project” (Tsing 2002:473). Retiring to the Philippines may have been inconceivable to previous generations of Koreans, but it’s increasingly possible to imagine such a thing today. The sense of scale for South Koreans has been expanded. While the distance between South Korea and the Philippines seemed vast in former times, today the Philippines doesn’t really seem too far to Koreans. This is thanks to the larger scale-making project behind globalization (“It’s one world,” “We’re all connected,” etc.) which is presenting the world as being more interconnected. This is also thanks to the smaller scale-making project in South Korea which is trying to construct the Philippines and Southeast Asia in general as part of the natural sphere of South Korean migration. These scale-making projects are training South Koreans to think of the Philippines as a natural destination for business and retirement.

However, as David Harvey points out, the compression of time and space in globalization is not a neutral process, but has moral implications: a revolution “in temporal and spatial relations often entails . . . not only the destruction of ways of life and social practices built around preceding time-space systems, but the ‘creative destruction’ of a wide range of physical assets embedded in the landscape” (Harvey 1996:241). In theory, capitalism is not a zero-sum game, but in practice, for someone to win at the game of capitalism, someone else has to lose. This is especially true in an age of global capitalism, where companies go all over the world looking for places where they can make the most money while spending the least.

What are the moral implications of intensified global interconnectedness? Consider who it is that participates in international migration. Relatively wealthy people are not the only ones that migrate internationally, there are also millions of the relatively poor who migrate under dangerous conditions to work at dangerous, exploitative, and underpaid jobs. Consider also that making it easier for corporations to move money around means that it’s also easier for corporations to shop around internationally. Don’t like the fact that your workers in Virginia are entitled to bathroom breaks and a living wage? Sell your assets and set up shop in Shenzhen where such things are entirely optional.

Beyond that, also consider who it is that is able to migrate: relatively wealthy South Koreans. Why is it that citizens of South Korea are able to retire overseas, while citizens of the Philippines generally aren’t? The answer is contingent on the different histories of the two countries. The Philippines was a colony of the United States, and after independence the country was still controlled by neocolonial practices that meant the Philippines was still dependent on its “former” colonial master. However, South Korea was vitally important to the United States in its Cold War against the Soviet Union as a bulwark against communist North Korea. It would not have been wise for the US to have South Korea end up like the Philippines, since it would not be able to put up much of a resistance against the North. Therefore, no neocolonial and neoimperial policies were enacted against South Korea and plenty of aid in building infrastructure and such was offered by the US. Simply put, then, it served American interests to have a weak Philippines dependent on the US while at the same time having a strong South Korea to defend against the North. Which brings us to today, where — economically speaking — we have a mini-US in South Korea acting towards the Philippines like the US acts towards Mexico: like a personal playground for its citizens.

And on that note, Happy Labour Day and enjoy the long weekend to those of you that have it.


Inda, Jonathan Xavier; and Renato Rosaldo. 2002. “Introduction: A World in Motion”. In Jonathan Xavier Inda and Renato Rosaldo (eds.), The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Pp. 1-34.

Harvey, David. 1996. Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Tsing, Anna. 2002. “Conclusion: The Global Situation”. In Jonathan Xavier Inda and Renato Rosaldo (eds.), The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Pp. 453-485.