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October 24 1966

Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the Manila Hotel demonstration of October 24. The protest was a turning point in Philippine politics. To commemorate the event I am making available a portion of a draft chapter from my rewriting of my dissertation for publication as a book. This is still a work in progress. Sources are available in my dissertation itself [Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership: Martial Law and the Communist Parties of the Philippines, 1959-1974]


The great currents of the past year — the blood-dimmed tides of war and dictatorship and the turbid undertow of social unrest — met in awful confluence on October 24 1966. The sediment of social resentment, deposited over the course of a half decade of declining living standards, social inequality, and political rot, was dislodged by the Vietnam war and brought to the surface by Johnson’s visit in an upwelling gyre of outrage. It remained as yet a particulate anger, its banners and placards diffuse, but it was strident and growing. The Manila Summit demonstration marked a sea-change in Philippine history.

The immensity of Washington’s war in Vietnam, the rapidity of its growth, and the brutality of its conduct were breathtaking. By December 1965 the United States had already deployed 185,000 soldiers to the former French colony, yet commanding General William Westmoreland stated that at least 443,000 combat troops would be needed by the end of 1966. Operation Rolling Thunder unleashed an incessant rain of death on North Vietnam, dropping over 250,000 tons in its first nine months, including the widespread use of napalm. In June, B-52s began taking off from Guam to carry out the saturation bombing of South Vietnam and within a year they had carried out 350 raids and dropped 70,000 tons of explosives. These numbers only increased in 1966 and by December, 637,000 tons of bombs had fallen on Vietnam, almost equal to the total tonnage dropped in the Pacific theater during the Second World War. Explosives were not the only payload, however; by the end of 1966, the aerial spraying of Agent Orange had produced a million acres of poisoned desert. The violence spilled into Laos as Washington launched a secret campaign that left the country the most heavily bombed per capita in history. An implacable escalatory logic governed the imperialist war. In the middle of the year, the Joint Chiefs of Staff insistently informed Defense Secretary Robert McNamara that an invasion of North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia needed to be prepared and that it might require the use of nuclear weapons against southern China.

The bloodshed required political cover. Johnson cast Washington’s war as part of a broad international response to the needs of a stable democratic government in South Vietnam, and to shore up the pretense turned to the regimes in Seoul, Bangkok, and Manila, cobbling together the best regional support that money could buy. As early as the middle of 1964, before the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the White House was already in an advanced stage of negotiations with both the Macapagal and Park Chung-hee governments for the deployment of forces to South Vietnam. Significant sums of money were on offer and Macapagal moved with alacrity to supply Filipino troops. Then Senate President Ferdinand Marcos derailed Macapagal’s support for Washington in 1965, and secured the support of the PKP and its new youth wing, the KM, in harnessing the popular outrage over the war to his bid for Malacañang. Thus, as Marcos took office at the beginning of 1966, two thousand South Korean troops arrived in South Vietnam while Manila had not yet commited any Filipino forces to Johnson’s manufactured multilateralism.

Marcos had no interest in defying the United States but he was politically savvy. Having brokered his opposition to the deployment of troops into a presidential election victory, he now sought to truck his support for the highest possible price. US Vice President Hubert Humphrey attended the inauguration, feeling out Washington’s new man in Manila, and on December 31 he sent an eyes-only despatch to Johnson, then in Texas for the holidays, stating that “Marcos’ response on discussion additional commitments South Vietnam strongly encouraging. … However, Marcos obviously has ticklish Parliamentary situation …” Jack Valenti, then special assistant to the President, was traveling with Humphrey and, upon playing a round of golf with Marcos, wrote a memo to Johnson on January 4.

We need Asians to take the lead in Asian affairs. Best asset to US is strong Asian leader … Suggest we bet on Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines … Let Asians take up the burden we have been carrying … Equip two or more Korean divisions, and send them to Vietnam. They could easily take the place of 30–40,000 Americans … The price we pay for this is cheap … I suspect [Marcos] wants to be a great president, and is willing to do unpalatable things in order to achieve that greatness … Marcos has the gifts of brain and courage to do those things that need to be done, but which need an Asian cover to be done.

Johnson followed Humphrey’s advice, and on February 25 secretly sent a personal invitation to Marcos to visit Washington, routing the letter as eyes-only traffic through Ambassador Blair in Manila. Marcos negotiated, seeking arms to suppress the central Luzon Huk rivals of his ally Sumulong; funding to supply ten domestic engineering batallions; and payment for the costs of the Filipino troops deployed to Vietnam. The money, he insisted, should not be earmarked but sent in a direct and unaccountable fashion as he intended to place a significant chunk of it in his increasingly capacious pockets. Throughout the summer of ’66 Washington and Manila haggled over the price of Filipino mercenaries. In the end, the White House spent as much as was necessary to fabricate a guise for its war. As Marcos pushed through the PHILCAG legislation and prepared to visit Washington, Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Walt Rostow summed up the perspective of the Johnson administration, “… Marcos has really put his political neck on the block in backing our Vietnam position and in sending military forces there. But he did it.” Johnson commmitted to supply Marcos’ engineering batallions and to pay $39 million in discretionary money to the Philippine President from the US Department of Defense budget, thus circumventing legislative oversight of the deal. Marcos’ tour of the United States was turned into an ego trip. At his request, Marcos was granted an honorary doctorate from the University of Michigan and spoke before the joint House of Congress.

They bartered in backrooms and paid under the table. The true character of the deployment of Filipino troops to Vietnam — that PHILCAG was the mercenary hireling of Manila’s former colonial master — only emerged during the inquiries conducted by the Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee under Stuart Symington in 1969. The White House posed its actors in a geopolitical tableau sharply at odds with reality: South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines all shared Washington’s desire to provide aid to the embattled, democratic government in Saigon. The props purchased and the blocking well-rehearsed, all that lacked was an Asian proscenium. On September 21, during the midst of Marcos’ state visit, the Johnson administration drafted its proposal to hold a summit in Manila in late October. In a display of imperial hubris, Johnson invited Harold Holt and Keith Holyoake, the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand, and only upon securing their agreement did he inform the Philippine President of the impending gathering he was expected to host. The theme of the drama was multilateralism, however, and the idea was thus presented to journalists as having originated with Marcos. The Philippines Free Press accurately summed up the whole staged affair, “the entire firepower of the American delegation during the Summit was concentrated on changing the complexion of the war in Vietnam from an American war to a war of, by and for Asians.”

On October 23, in the grande dame of American colonialism, the Manila Hotel, on the Dewey Boulevard waterfront — of late made over as Roxas — Johnson assembled his Summit. That morning an American freighter, insisting on its right of way, collided amidships with a Philippine passenger vessel, the Pioneer Leyte, off the breakwaters of Manila Bay. The Leyte, a American Freight and Supply vessel sold as surplus at the end of the Second World War, foundered and sank in five minutes. Scores of dead bodies, including pregnant women and children, floated for days in the bay outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of Johnson’s MacArthur Suite. A coterie of State Department grey men and RAND corporation drones stalked the hallways, supervising the event. Holt and Holyoake quietly staged their cameos while the gathered Asian leadership adopted a pose of regional concern. Nguyen Cao Ky, given to openly fascistic sympathies and installed as Prime Minister by military coup; Park Chung-hee, put in office by a military junta in 1961; Thanom Kittikachorn, military dictator of Thailand; and Ferdinand Marcos, the only democratically elected figure in the bunch — all fixed their signatures to a joint declaration of support for South Vietnam which Johnson had drawn up for the occasion. The vast Texan shadow of the American president — shrewd, vulgar, and utterly dominant — loomed over the gathering. The evening before the summit, he met privately with the Vietnamese delegation and coached Ky, “lean as far away as you can from the ‘imperialist’ Johnson, from the hard-liner Rusk, and that fellow with stars on his shoulders, Westmoreland. You just hold the Bible in your hand tomorrow. You be a man of good will; love your neighbor.” As the summit opened the next morning, Johnson praised Marcos’ work in preparing the event and, to the Philippine President’s enduring embarrassment, described him as his “right-hand in Asia.” The summit closed on October 25 with the signing of a joint communiqué committing the assembled powers to the military defense of Saigon, and a “Declaration of Peace and Progress in Asia.” That evening Westmoreland contacted Johnson through Rostow calling for dramatically expanding the bombing of North Vietnam. Johnson ordered the US Navy to begin shelling the Vietnamese coastline. Between late October and the end of 1966, the US military launched more than 500,000 shells at the Vietnamese people, a number which exceeded the total it had fired during the entirety of the Second World War. The joint declaration of peace in his pocket, Johnson departed the next morning for Cam Ranh Bay, where he reviewed the troops.

The Manila Summit was quickly forgotten, its posturing and declarations were at best a historical footnote, crêpe flooring over a widening quagmire. The developments immediately outside the Manila Hotel were of far greater significance.

A week before Johnson arrived, Voltaire Garcia chaired a “tumultuous meeting” of the UP Student Council, securing by a narrow margin a resolution to stage a protest of the Manila Summit.

Manila Chief of Police Ricardo Papa refused to grant a permit for the protest, so Ignacio Lacsina appealed to Manila Mayor Villegas and was issued a permit for a protest to be held in front of the US Embassy, several blocks removed from the Manila Hotel. UP students traveled in eighteen buses from Diliman toward the arranged meeting point of Agrifina Circle where students from UE, Lyceum, and members of LM were already gathered, but police stopped the UP buses at the Quezon City-Manila border in Sta. Mesa and demanded to see the students’ protest permit. Garcia or Violeta Calvo, at the head of the student delegation, explained that the protest permit was with the advance group already at the circle. The police refused to allow the buses to enter Manila and the students walked the remaining five kilometers. Bored with waiting, the protestors at Agrifina circle broke out a guitar and began singing “folk-songs” in a circle and “[t]he spirit of a hootenanny took away some of the boredom.” When the UP contingent arrived, the rally marched from Agrifina Circle to the Embassy, where they demonstrated for an hour. Each speaker stood on top of a jeep to address the crowd: Voltaire Garcia and Orly Mercado spoke on behalf of the UP Student Council and Lacsina on behalf of LM, distributing copies of his statement to news crews.

Manila Times, 25 Oct 1966, 12-A

At this point accounts conflict. According to Ninotchka Rosca, the idea to move the rally from the Embassy to the Manila Hotel arose spontaneously from the crowd, and added that “an officer suggested that the leader’s jeep follow the crowd to pacify them and Carlos del Rosario, secretary of the Kabataang Makabayan, agreed to this.” Violeta Calvo testified that it was Ignacio Lacsina who instructed the students to go to the Hotel rather than remain at the Embassy. Contemporary accounts record that there were two thousand protestors present, but in 2004, with her usual sense of inflation, Rosca claimed that five thousand marched to the Manila Hotel, apparently forgetting that in 1966 she had estimated that the protest involved “2,000-odd workers and students.” When the protestors arrived at the Manila Hotel, Manila Deputy Chief of Police, Major James Barbers, instructed them to disperse because their permit was for the Embassy not the Hotel. 

Tensions mounted as the protestors refused to disperse in the face of the riot-gear clad police. A number of contemporary reports state that Americans in suits were standing behind and circulating among the Manila police; the police attacked the protestors when an American shouted “Go get ’em!” The protestors fled in the face of the violent dispersal. The police beat students with rattan batons and fired shots in the air. At some point during the dispersal, a police officer aimed and fired at a fleeing student named Prudencio Tan, shooting him in the neck. Rosca reported that “doctors had to open a hole at the base of his neck to enable him to breathe: his windpipe had been punctured.” As the police attacked the protestors, members of the foreign press were also injured and reporters and cameramen for UPI, Washington Post, CBC and ABC were hurt in the dispersal. The police arrested and filed charges against five people.

Blood darkened the Manila Hotel pavement. The youths of October 24 marched against war, colliding with the state and its bodies of armed men. With earnest voices and hand-drawn placards they strained forward against the police line but behind the rattan shields was a gaze blank and pitiless. They were shot, beaten, and arrested. Outrage rapidly displaced shock, and the conduct of Manila’s police became the focus of all ire.

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Using LaTeX in the Humanities

I interrupt my series of posts reviewing my recent publications on Pasyon and Revolution to briefly touch on the subject of LaTeX and its use in the humanities. 

When I embarked on the writing of my doctoral dissertation, I was confronted by the question of with what software I would write. I knew that I would be managing an immense number of citations and had no desire to write the entire work in Word or LibreOffice Write.

I have happily used LibreOffice for short articles, letters, and other minor projects, but I knew that this would require a sophisticated adaptability calibrated to the needs of scholarship. I began looking into the use of LaTeX.

There was an initial, rather steep learning curve to LaTeX for me, but the results have more than compensated for this effort. I have been able to seamlessly manage a thousand separate sources which were incorporated into an neatly formatted 950 page final document. LaTeX made writing a distraction free affair, in which I could focus on producing content and set aside formatting for a separate stage in the process.

Here is a snippet from the opening of my main tex file which pulls together and compiles the document class I created, JPSDissertation.cls, the bibliography, JPSDissertation.bib., and all of the seventy-eight chapters, five appendices, and three indices, including numerous images, maps, and tables.

The end result was not only in compliance with the requirements of UC Berkeley for doctoral dissertations, but also, I believe, elegant.

I have made the code of both my master’s thesis and my doctoral dissertation available on Bitbucket.

I wrote my entire dissertation in Vim. My sources are maintained in a bibtex file.

I found using git to be extremely useful for version control and keeping tabs on my progress. I used git branches to make major revisions to my dissertation. Thus I could on one branch maintain a stable copy of my work in progress that I could distribute if needed, while on a separate branch I could make major modifications and only merge the branches when the modifications had reached a presentable stage.

For those interested in working with LaTeX on a longer academic work in the humanities, I would encourage you to review the code. I will occasionally on this site go over certain points in the code that I created that I believe will be particularly helpful for other scholars.

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Pamitinan

I propose over the course of several posts to review what I regard as the critical points of my two recent articles on Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution (PAR).

The first article, “Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution Revisited, a Critique,” was published in SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia in March 2018. 

After a lengthy summary of the book’s argument, I turned to three basic criticisms: Ileto’s class categories were problematic; he approached his sources using an elite textual hermeneutic and failed to attend to the significance of performance; and he founded his entire work upon what in the end was a deeply flawed idealist conception.  I will turn to the second and third criticism in future posts.

In my last post I mentioned the sense of disquiet that I felt upon re-reading PAR as an undergraduate. The initial source of this sense of unease rested in what I felt was Ileto’s loose and unscientific class terminology. 

This was not a secondary question. The explicit thrust of the argument of PAR was that there was a continuity of class consciousness that ran throughout the varied revolutionary struggles and upheavals stretching from 1840 to 1910. This consciousness, he argued, was structured around the pasyon idiom. Before examining the credibility of this idiom and its relation to political upheaval, it was necessary to understand precisely what class possessed this consciousness.

This passage from my article contains the heart of the criticism.

Relationships among social classes changed dramatically in the nineteenth-century Philippines. … The introduction of foreign, largely British, capital, between the first and the second half of the nineteenth century overthrew pre-capitalist relations of production. What class relations had prevailed in 1841 Tayabas during the Hermano Pule uprising would have borne little resemblance to those of the Katipunan’s Tondo fifty years later.

By the 1880s and 1890s, Philippine society was awash in class contradictions. Small landholders, tenant farmers, share-croppers, landless agricultural wage workers, an urban proletariat, clerks and professional wage workers comprised various sections of the oppressed classes in society. All of these were grouped together under indefinite rubrics in Ileto’s account. Pasyon and Revolution lumped these classes together as “the masses” (p. 5), those “from below” (p. 8), “unlettered peasants” (p. 114) , the “illiterate tao” or folk (p. 26), They collectively shared the “popular mind” (pp. 14, 131) and the “folk mind” (pp. 25, 135). They occasionally appeared in the book as indios who shared “the Filipino mind” (p. 16); they are, quite often, simply “pobres y ignorantes,” the poor and ignorant (pp. 23, 144, 197, 205, 316).

These categories are troubling. Pasyon and Revolution introduced the phrase pobres y ignorantes as “the common ilustrado term for the masses” (ibid., p. 18), and yet never questioned the validity of this ilustrado characterization of the classes that are in fact the book’s focus. The “masses” in Pasyon and Revolution were a superstitious, illiterate lot. Ileto sought to learn about the categories of perception of these pobres y ignorantes; he did not, however, question the idea that they had been and were backward.

J. Scalice, “Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution Revisited, a Critique,” SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 33, no. 1 (2018): 37-38.

I concluded on this point

Without a clear sociological definition of the class or classes to which it referred, Pasyon and Revolution began with the ilustrado notion of pobres y ignorantes and then asked what consciousness this “group” possessed.

Clearly this would not do. The task of reconstructing the consciousness of the lower-classes in the late nineteenth century Philippines could not proceed on such a static and stereotyped basis. 

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Tapuzi / Tapusi.

As an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley in the early aughts, I was, like most scholars of Philippine history, deeply inspired by Reynaldo Ileto’s classic 1979 work, Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910. In my first semester as a freshman, I wrote a research paper on the life of Macario Sakay, drawing heavily from Ileto’s ideas and material.

Pasyon and Revolution
Reynaldo Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution (1979)

Pasyon and Revolution was a work to which I returned repeatedly, but each re-reading left me with a growing sense of unease. Something did not gel. Ileto’s question — how did the masses’ perceive the Philippine revolution against Spain and their place within it? — resonated profoundly with me. And yet, my lingering awareness that something  about his answer was not right expanded.

In late 2004, I first wrote down some stray notes expressing this unease —

This work left me feeling unsettled and critical.

A sentence in Ileto’s concluding paragraph [to an article of Ileto’s, “Rizal and the Underside of Philippine History”] clarified for me the unease that I had felt throughout the article: “These leaders [Lantayug, et. al.] have, until recently at least, always belonged to the ‘dark underside’ of the struggle for independence dominated by such ilustrado notables as Quezon, Roxas and Osmena.” It seems clear to me that the division between an ilustrado led resistance and a ‘dark underside’ is a false dichotomy.

There are a multitude of underside resistances, many of them with a very different self-concept from the one put forward by Ileto. It would appear that in a attempting to ‘retrieve’ history from below, Ileto has manufactured a monolith: a Filipino ‘underclass’ that conceives of power and loób in terms that sound remarkably like those used by Benedict Anderson in his “Idea of Power in Javanese Culture.”

Where in this underside would Ileto fit the Union Obrera Democratica, the first Filipino labor movement, which was forming at this time, was composed entirely of working class Filipinos and whose perceptions were sharply different from that of Ileto’s underclass? Where to put Isabelo de los Reyes’ and Gregorio Aglipay’s Iglesia Filipina Independiente? Do Macario Sakay and the Republika ng Katagalugan really fit Ileto’s description?

It would involve an extensive investigation of sources, but it seems likely that Ileto’s ‘underside to Philippine history’ was actually a minority of lower class resistance movements.

This brings me to a second objection: underside? Lower class? Ileto’s article really has no definition of class. What groups constitute the subject of his investigation? It would seem that Ileto has merely taken the ilustrado concept of ‘pobres y ignorantes‘ as his starting point and has attempted to listen to this ilustrado defined group and to recover their voice. It seems doubtful that the Philippine peasantry and incipient working class defined themselves in these terms.

An investigation that started by examining the historical relations of production and exploitation might have given much needed definition to Ileto’s concept of ‘underside.’

I also posed the question —

Both Ileto and Vicente Rafael have explored the way that Latin and Spanish words like ego sum, Verbo, potencia, Espiritu, and Personas can become reified and take on bizarre, unintended meanings through colonial pretensions of untranslatability and ‘underside’ reappropriation. Is it not odd then that Ileto should do something similar with loób, kapangyarihan, and liwanag? Does this not open the door for bizarre and unintended meanings through academic pretensions of untranslatability and scholastic reappropriation?

I did not turn my attention to these questions until I began work on my Master’s thesis at Berkeley in late 2007. I determined that I would undertake a careful re-examination of Ileto’s work and attempt to conduct my proposed “extensive investigation of sources.” I went back over my old notes and posted them, in November 2007, on an older blog that I maintained at the time, under the title Notes on Ileto’s “Rizal and the Underside of Philippine History.” While the site no longer exists, the Waybackmachine maintains a copy from December 2007.

In 2008, Ileto responded to my post and, while the website containing the response is now lost to the sands of time, Von Totanes in a chapter published in 2011 documented the exchange.

 Totanes V.R. (2011) Filipino Blogs as Evidence of Reading and Reception. In: Crone R., Towheed S. (eds) The History of Reading, Volume 3. Palgrave Macmillan, London

In December 2009, I completed my masters thesis, “Pasyon, Awit, Legend: Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution Revisited, a critique.”

The work attempted to do two things: to document what I considered the marked limitations of Ileto’s answer to his critical question, and to formulate an alternative methodology to answer it adequately.

I presented my findings on June 18, 2010 before a conference hosted by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, Engaging the Classics in Malay and Southeast Asian Studies Conference. Over the course of the conference, Bomen Guillermo and I spoke extensively, and discovered that we were addressing ourselves to similar issues in regard to translation in Ileto’s work. Guillermo’s ideas were published in Philippine Studies in 2014.  He wrote

Guillermo, Ramon. “Translation as Argument: The Nontranslation of Loob in Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution.” Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints 62, no. 1 (2014): 3–28.

Guillermo carried out a sustained and careful examination of Ileto’s nontranslation of loób in his work and the implications of this for the plausibility of Ileto’s argument.  In a footnote to Guillermo noted, “Indeed, although Scalice has devoted much more time developing a critical Marxist perspective on Ileto’s work, I have been surprised by our convergence of views independently arrived at while using quite different tools.” I can only express a similar feeling of pleasant surprise at this marked convergence.

My attention, however, turned to my doctoral dissertation on the Communist Parties of the Philippines in the 1960s and early 1970s. My thesis on Ileto gathered dust for several years.

In 2017, having completed my dissertation, I revisited the old project, rewriting my thesis into two articles, effectively reworking and separating its two aspects — criticism and alternative methodology. These parts were published in 2018 as “Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution Revisited, a Critique,” SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 33, no. 1 (2018): 29–58, and “Pamitinan and Tapusi: Using the Carpio Legend to Reconstruct Lower-Class Consciousness in the Late Spanish Philippines,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 2, no. June (2018): 250–76.

In my upcoming posts, I will examine several critical issues that emerged in these articles.

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gusali | building

My cobbled-together English translation of the epigraph to the first chapter of Edgardo M. Reyes’ Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag seems an apt text for the opening of this personal and academic site. This is a deliberately rough translation, far more literal than literary — the scaffolding for a later, and more polished, work.

Sa simula, siya’y isang kalansay na nakatalalan sa hangin. Isang matayog, buhaghag na bunton ng patapong mga piraso ng tablang gato, mabukbok, mabitak, masalubsob, pilipit, kubikong, na pinagpaku-pako nang patayo, pahalang, patulibas, kabit-kabit nang walang wawa, tulad ng kahig-manok sa lupa, at dito’y sisingit ang mga tadyang na bakal at ang mga yero at mga playwud at mga lawanit upang saluhin ang buhos ng labusaw na halo ng tubig, graba, buhangin at semento, at ang malabsang sangkap ay sisiksik at titigib sa hulmahan, matutuyo, titigas, yayakap sa mga tadyang na bakal at sa mga bitukang tubo. Bawat buhos ng malabsang sangkap ay karagdagang laman ng kanyang katawan, karagdagang guhit sa tutunguhing anyo. Unti-unting mapapalis ang mga kalansay na kahoy, kasabay ng unti-unting paglapad at pagtaas ng katawang konkreto. Kikinisin siya, dadamitan ng salamin, tisa, marmol at pormika, hihilamusan ng kulay upang umalindog ang kanyang balat. At sa kanyang ganap na pagkaluwal ay bibinyagan siya, at ang pangalan niya’y iuukit sa tanso.

Sa simula, siya’y isang kalansay na nakatalalan sa hangin. Pagyayamanin siya, maglalaman at lulusog sa dilig ng pawis at dugo. At siya’y matatayo nang buong tatag, lakas at tibay, naghuhumindig at nagtutumayog sa kapangyarihan, samantalang sa kanyang paanan ay naroon at lugmok, lupaypay, sugatan, duguan, nagtingala sa kanyang kataasan, ang mga nagpala sa kanya.

Sa simula, siya’y isang kalansay na napahahabag, at nagwakas na isang makapangyarihan, palalong diyos.

There is a great deal going on in this marvelous opening passage. There are shades of Feuerbach and Marx, as the alienation of the construction workers is expressed in language of fetish and projection. Among the workers — prostrate and collapsed — is the protagonist Julio Madiaga. There is a marvelous and untranslatable ambiguity to the verb nagpala, which conveys simultaneously shoveling and blessing. Bound up in this single commonplace word are both the spiritual alienation and economic exploitation of the working class in Reyes’ novel.

In the beginning it was a skeleton struggling in the air. A towering, loose heap of thrown-off pieces of rotten wood, worm-ridden, split, splintered, twisted, cubiform, nailed standing, jutting, crossing, senselessly cobbled together, like chicken scratches in the dirt, and here will joint the steel ribs, galvanized iron, plywood and particle board to catch the turbidly flowing mixture of water, gravel, sand and cement, and the pulped material will squeeze into and overfill the mold, dry, harden, embrace the steel ribs and the pipe intestines. Every pour of pulped material is added flesh on its body,an added line to the intended figure. The skeleton of wood will slowly be swept away as the concrete body slowly widens and rises. It will be polished, dressed in glass, tile, marble and formica, facewashed with color to pretty its skin. And at its complete birth it will be christened and its name engraved in bronze.

In the beginning it was a skeleton struggling in the air. It will be enriched, fattened and given health by the watering of sweat and blood. And it will stand in perfect stability, strength and sturdiness, erect and towering in power, while at its feet are – and prostrate, collapsed, wounded, bloody, faces turned upwards to its height – the ones who shoveled it.

In the beginning it was a pathetic skeleton; in the end a powerful, arrogant god.

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