Philippines: Resisting Gobble-ization

Against the Current, No. 146, May/June 2010

Michael Viola

Toward Filipino Self-Determination:
Beyond Transnational Globalization
By Epifania San Juan Jr.
Albany, New York: State University of New York, Press, 2009, 184 pages, hardcover, $65.

IN HIS LATEST book, Epifanio San Juan Jr. uncovers the concealed operations of power and the historic inequalities of political economic systems that have impacted Filipinos in an age of globalized crisis and contradiction. While the definition of globalization is often debated, for the majority of people in the Philippines the process of globalization can be more accurately described as “gobble-ization.”(1)

Similar to the mass destruction in the wake of Hurricane Ondoy that hit the Philippines in September 2009, the mechanisms of corporate globalization have enabled an international ruling class to pillage the resources of the islands, leaving behind an entire population submerged in the swollen overflows of structural adjustment, debt, and privatization.

The rule of the high water is the doctrine of neoliberalism where every layer of the nation’s social fabric is a site of looting, as the market has become the organizing logic of an entire social sphere. E. San Juan foregrounds the domains of transformative possibility within culture and social life for Filipinos in a global diaspora, a population that has historically been greatly impacted by the tides of capitalist production.

Toward Filipino Self-Determination is a compilation of essays written after 9/11. E. San Juan argues that the struggle to end oppression for Filipinos, women, and people of color within the United States as well as throughout the Diaspora is not simply a discursive or semiotic liberation but a global social relation. He explains:

“We are not transmigrants or transnationals, to be sure, despite the theories of academic pundits and exoticizing media. We are Filipinos uprooted and dispersed from hearth and communal habitat. We will find our true home if there is a radical systemic change in the metropole and, more crucially, a popular-democratic transformation in the Philippines.” (xvi)

San Juan shows how seemingly disconnected events are linked through systemic exploitation and an international division of labor necessitated by the current global economic order. He provides a constant reminder that ecological disasters, anti-immigrant racism, and the escalating violence against women are dialectically related to the motions of capitalist development.

Even though Filipinos have become one of the largest Asian American groups in the United States, Filipino language instruction in the academy is sparse. San Juan argues that the struggle over language in our schools is a struggle over Filipino identity — an identity that must be rooted in the ideas of liberation, democracy, and justice for Filipinos throughout the world. “Literacy must be based on the reality of the subaltern life if it is to be effective in any strategy of real empowerment, in the decolonization of schooling for a start.” (50)

The struggle for Filipino languages, however, cannot be confined solely within institutions of higher learning. San Juan argues that the struggle for Filipino languages “cannot be achieved except as part of the collective democratic struggles of other People of color and the vast majority of working citizens oppressed by a class-divided, racialized, and gendered order.” (51)

It is this social order that Carlos Bulosan confronted in literature and labor organizing at the beginning of the 20th century. The influential writings of Carlos Bulosan are widely available due in large part to E. San Juan’s research. San Juan builds upon Bulosan’s analysis in an assessment of the irrational conditions that continue to plague Filipinos in America in our present moment.

In the chapter “Revisiting Carlos Bulosan,” San Juan requests that the reader not examine Bulosan’s writings as a sacred or finished text. Rather, he invites us to resume Bulosan’s unfinished project — as well as those of countless “others” who have worked to understand the challenges that confront racialized and subjugated peoples of America in order to prepare for a more humane and just tomorrow.

E. San Juan’s examination of Bulosan’s life and legacy is a dialectical endeavor. The author highlights Bulosan’s life experiences, but reminds us that individuals do not exert such an influence alone. Rather this is done by generations building on the labor of those who have come before.

The last chapter, “Tracking the Exile’s Flight: Mapping a Rendezvous,” reproduces the author’s speech to alumni of the Philippine Studies Program, a program that enabled university students from around the United States to gain college credit for their summer studies in the Philippines.(2) San Juan maintains that through “exposure trips” one can gain a critical standpoint of neoliberal globalization not provided by corporate media or by mainstream academic textbooks. These personal experiences can provide critical points of analysis, especially when widened and applied to the conditions in which entire groups of Filipino people are situated.

The common theme throughout these essays is that Filipinos have passed on a rich legacy dedicated to the projects of democracy, liberation and self-determination.

A new generation of culture workers, scholars, activists and radical feminists is emerging with their own adapted strategies to bring forth a new society from the vestiges of the old.(3) E. San Juan reminds us that we are all located within arenas of battle, “between humanity and barbarism, between oppressed third world peoples fighting for survival and the rule of a dehumanized global capital.” (166) In this historic struggle new ideas, imaginations and strategies are needed that enable us to transform the world in which we live. This transformation requires understanding, and such understanding can be furnished with theory.


  1. McLaren, Petei-and Farahmandpur, Ramin. “Educational Policy and the Socialist Imagination: Revolutionary Citizenship as a Pedagogy of Resistance.” Educational Policy. 15.343-2001.”
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  2. University exchange programs to the Philippines, such as the very popular Philippine Studies Program (PSP), have been widely reduced or cut altogether due to the U.S. State Department travel warnings.”
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  3. Such examples within the United States include: the academic work of Jeff Cabusao, Peter Chua, Valerie Francisco, and Anne Lacsamana; the cultural production of Habi Arts in Los Angeles as well as the important music of hip hop artists Blue Scholars, Kiwi, and Bambu; and the radical feminism of such collectives as SIGAW in Los Angeles and Pinay sa Seattle, to name only a few.”
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ATC 146, May-June 2010