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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. 

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
.” 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.


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.