Renato Constantino, Revisited:
Reflections on the Nationalist Paradigm
in the Era of Failed Neoliberalism
Prof. Roland Simbulan
( Lecture in honor of Renato Constantino on his 90th birth anniversary, College of Arts and Sciences, University of the Philippines, Manila. March 11, 2009 )
The 90th birth anniversary, and 10th death anniversary this year of the nationalist scholar and former colleague, the late Professor Renato Constantino, is being commemorated amidst perhaps the most serious global crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and at a time of a great imperial disorder. Events are showing that the empire’s economic base after all is not formidable. Without national state support or infusion of bailout assistance to its economic base, thereby violating its very capitalist market fundamentals, it can self-destruct or collapse on its very foundations.
Indeed, the financial quagmire rocking the establishments of our region and the world today are tensions rocking the very foundation of the U.S. imperial capitalism, a disorder that disregards the working people, if not being anti-people . It does not really care if the working people starve, so long as the banks and big corporations have liquidity. The crisis of a failed neoliberal globalization project needs to be assessed, both as a situation pregnant with danger and opportunities for the working people as well. The crisis for sure, will make many countries who were hoodwinked in the scam of neoliberal globalization project, to retreat back to the nation, and nationhood. Global hegemons, both corporate and as big powers, have all but effectively dismantled nations and their ability to protect their people, their industries, their women, their environment and health.
Who was Renato Constantino, and why is his work and life relevant today as we see what may be the final demise of the neo-liberal globalization project? Constantino challenged the idea that we are doomed to live in a region or world that is dominated and defined solely by hegemons which have forced their economic, military, cultural, political and diplomatic power upon us.
Renato Constantino was the Filipino historian and scholar who taught us to reexamine our colonial history, to rectify it and to learn from the past. He wanted Filipinos to have a useful memory of a past to advance the Filipino’s quest for genuine nationhood. This lecture is a tribute to this great Filipino intellectual, a celebration of his life and works by way of reviewing his contributions and impact on Philippine nationalist historiography. He will be remembered as one of the most influential Filipino writers of the 20th century who through his pamphlets, columns and books influenced several generations of Filipinos. It is no overstatement to say that his advice, commentaries, historical writings and essays guided the contemporary nationalist movement from the late ’60s to the current period. No Filipino writer has perhaps contributed as much as Constantino did in terms of substance and volume of writings to advance the Philippine nationalist cause in the 20th century.
The Young Nationalist
Tato, as we fondly called Professor Renato Constantino, was the Filipino nationalist and scholar par excellence. Born on March 10, 1919 he dedicated his life to the cause of Philippine national sovereignty, democratic rights, peace and social justice.
In 1939, as editor in chief of the Philippine Collegian, student newspaper of the University of the Philippines, he attracted early on the ire of U.S. colonial authorities in the country who ordered his arrest and interrogation at Fort Santiago in Intramuros. At that time, Constantino had written articles about the atrocities committed by the United States in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War. He was released after explaining to his interrogators that he only got his facts from open and documented sources that had been published in the United States.
During the Commonwealth period when he was Collegian editor, he was also summoned by then President Manuel Quezon for his editorial warning of Quezon’s dictatorial tendencies because of the Commonwealth president’s proposal for a one-party system. These experiences molded the young Constantino’s commitment to the national democratic cause.
Renato Constantino obtained his Bachelor of Philosophy degree at the University of the Philippines. He was enrolled for two years (1939-1941) at the U.P. College of Law after which he took a graduate course at New York University (1947). In 1990, he was honored for his intellectual achievements and contributions to nationalist education by the University of the Philippines which conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Laws (honoris causa).
The McCarthy Witch-hunt
Early in his career, from 1946 to 1949, Constantino served as executive secretary of the Philippine Mission to the United Nations. The McCarthy era that held sway in the United States had its ripples in the Philippines. Constantino was one of the prominent victims of the vicious witch-hunts. He was blacklisted and removed from the Department of Foreign Affairs when he had already attained the rank of counsellor, the third-ranking position in the foreign service at that time. As a professional diplomat, he had articulated what were considered dangerous ideals such as self-determination for the Philippines. And in those days, anyone proposing establishing diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China—as Constantino did—became suspect.
The 1950s were difficult times for Constantino: publishers and newspapers were afraid to print his writings. He was prevented from teaching and serving in government. It was during those trying years of the ’50s that Constantino became closely associated with the late Senators Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Tañada, two intellectual titans in the Philippine Senate, whom he assisted in fighting tooth and nail the neo-colonial impositions of the United States. Both of these senators fought lonely battles opposing the presence of the U.S. military bases in the country and U.S. domination of the Philippine economy inside and outside the halls of Congress. The activities of these two nationalist senators were apparently monitored by the US, as could be gleaned from the now declassified dossiers of the U.S. State Department and military attaches available at the U.S. National Archives in Maryland.
Uncovering the Past
From 1960 to 1972, Constantino was the curator of the Lopez Memorial Museum whose Filipiniana collection he expanded from 800 to 40,000 titles. Also as curator of the Lopez Museum, he edited and published the five-volume “The Philippine Insurrection Against the United States” which was a 1971 reproduction of Taylor’s “Insurgent Records,”. This was a rare collection of primary sources consisting of captured documents of the Philippine-American War which had long been kept classified material by the United States government. Constantino wrote an introductory essay for this collection titled, “Historical Truths from Biased Sources” and donated copies free of charge to selected Philippine libraries and institutions.
In the late 70’s and during the First Quarter Storm, no activist worth his salt failed to read and master Renato Constantino’s essays which were published individually and made available in pamphlet form. Among activists, these essays became their basic course on Philippine nationalism in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The essays shattered almost single-handedly the colonial and neo-colonial myths that had for so long dominated Philippine society. Some of Constantino’s popular essays printed as pamphlets included: “Origin of a Myth;” “Roots of Subservience;” “The Filipino Elite;” “veneration Without Understanding;” “Miseducation of the Filipino;” “Society Without Purpose;” “Towards a New Past;” “The New Missionaries;” “Fascism: Prospect and retrospect;” “The Radical Campus Press;” and “Parents and Activists.”
Having been a close associate of late Senator Claro M. Recto, Constantino was designated by the Recto Memorial Foundation to edit and publish “The Recto Reader,” a collection of passages from Recto’s most important speeches on nationalism, economic independence, international affairs, democracy and civil liberties, the Constitution and Philippine politics. Thru the selections in “The Recto Reader,” Constantino was instrumental in introducing the “relevant Recto” to the contemporary nationalist movement.
As a senior colleague at the University of the Philippines here in Manila, Professor Constantino kept reminding his colleague professors of the imperatives of committed scholarship. He said, “What is needed is a core of well-informed social scientists who are dedicated nationalists and who can contribute not only to the liberation of their disciplines from neo-colonial imprisonment but also to the final liberation of the country from the forces that dominate it.”
In his keynote speech in 1983 entitled, “Social Science in a Neo-Colonial Society” which he delivered before the Faculty Conference of the Division of Social Sciences, University of the Philippines, he advised us, his academic colleagues:
“Social science is a neo-colony must neither be a sideline nor a passport to national ‘establishment’ recognition, to international jetsetting, or for careerist competition for lucrative research funding. Social science must be a dissenting discipline. Critical social relevance must be inculcated in students. Debate and dissent must be encouraged, otherwise scholarship will be totally co-opted by the new orthodoxy and social scientists will become mere cogs in the business of selling marketable skills.”
Nationalism under Siege in the Era of Globalization
In this author’s conversations with Constantino during the historian’s last few years, the historian articulated his deep concern for the unity of progressive anti-imperialist forces in the Philippines, a unity that was being threatened by division and fragmentation. He also looked forward to the efforts of Asian nations in presenting a common front and pursuing development programs independent of Northern capital. Unity of all progressive forces both nationally and internationally —- this was the only way we could counter “globalization, which really means recolonization”, he said.
He clearly saw the link between neo-liberal economics and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) when he wrote in one of his weekly columns: “The VFA should be seen as the military aspect of US-led globalization which erases national borders. Globalization is above all the free movement not only of foreign capital but also armed components that will assure the protection of international capital.”
He decried the Philippine government’s grand fiesta celebration of the centennial of the Philippine revolution (1996-1998) which was supposed to be a celebration of independence. According to a subsequent Presidential Fact-Finding Committee report, the celebration cost P 9.2 billion pesos, most of it going down the drain in shady deals, anomalous contracts and other scams. Ultimately, the national sovereignty that the centennial celebration was supposed to commemorate became the casualty, he said, because the emphasis was on the Revolution against Spain while the Philippine-American war was downplayed, with the US even being projected as an ally and benefactor of Filipinos. And as the nation celebrated the centennial of its independence, the Ramos administration negotiated and signed the Philippine-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (1998) which gave rights and privileges to U.S. soldiers on Philippine territory without the same rights and privileges being given to Philippine military personnel visiting the United States.
The denigration of Constantino today is direct and indirect as local and foreign detractors attack nationalism in the economy as outmoded and not relevant to the period of globalization under the regime of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT). Recent attempts to amend the Philippine Constitution through “Cha Cha” or Charter Change are meant to tailor the present Philippine Constitution so that its economic provisions that still defend Philippine economic sovereignty and patrimony are removed if not amended. I do not believe that the economic provisions of the constitution need to be amended to comply with globalization measures under GATT/WTO. I submit that the present constitutional provisions are good for us in these times of global financial crisis to shield us from the external attacks of the neoliberal global order that is now in shambles. Is it wrong for the constitution to require the state to take measures that will guarantee priority for Filipinos and assure , in the words of the constitution, “ an economy effectively controlled by Filipinos?” (Simbulan: 2008)
In these times of external uncertainties, we need to be inward-looking and protectionist if you will, of jobs, local industries and the national patrimony. The more we depend on other countries for jobs, capital investments and loans for our economy, the more we will be a hostage to the uncertainties of the global market. What we need is not constitutional change, what we need is to address poverty and provide basic services to the very poor. We need to strengthen and protect the economy to create local industries and jobs in our country.
The anti-nationalist attacks are often subtle and not so subtle as Constantino and often, together with nationalist historian Teodoro Agoncillo, are blamed for using their writing for the nationalist crusade for economic and political sovereignty.
Like a cultural guerilla, Constantino taught Filipinos the importance of nationalist scholarship in exploding the pro-imperialist cultural obstacles to nationhood. He stressed that scholarship must be clearly partisan to the perspective and interests of the Filipino people. Constantino’s books such as “The Nationalist Alternative,” “The Making of a Filipino: A Story of Philippine Colonial Politics;” “Dissent and Counter-Consciousness;” “Identity and Consciousness;” “Neo-Colonial Identity and Counter-Consciousness;” “Synthetic Culture and Development;” “Insight and Foresight;” “The Filipinos in the Philippines and Other Essays;” “Maldevelopment and Globalization” clearly reflected this partisan scholarship.
Reactions to Nationalist Scholarship
Glen May, an American academic who tried to sell the idea that the very person of Andres Bonifacio was an “invention” of the Philippine nationalist movement to advance its cause, tried to attack partisan scholarship through a book, A Past Recovered. This work discredited itself because as soon as Glen May published it, he was exposed as an apologist of U.S. colonial occupation of the Philippines, even trying to belittle Filipino civilian casualties during the Philippine-American War. Other detractors against Constantino’s nationalist paradigm include Floro Quibuyen who lambasts the utilitarian nationalist framework of Constantino. The Filipino expatriate David C. Martinez on the other hand in the book, A COUNTRY OF OUR OWN, a title that becomes its own anti-thesis, denigrates nationalist historiography and what Martinez calls the “fabricated state” and fake national political economy envisioned by nationalist scholars. Martinez launches these attacks to suggest the fragmentation and partitioning of the country into five separate nations as the solution to solving the national malaise.
Constantino’s writings emphasized that since colonial mentality and culture were effective instruments of colonization and neo-colonialism, a counter-culture for national liberation was necessary to blast the myths and distortions of history. Constantino was often criticized by orthodox Filipino and foreign scholars and historians because of his multi- or interdisciplinary approach and methodology, but more so because of his clearly nationalist framework. This was because cultural decolonization for him was imperative to counter the continuing dominance of neo-colonial consciousness.
Part of the counter-culture that we must advance today is to take stock both of the emerging global and regional trends, including that of the social movements and pan-national alliances struggling for a more democratic global order. The role of the nation-state in helping crystallize counter-hegemonic forces must be reassessed , to make it an effective counterweight—both nationally and internationally — to the sinking global disorder. The dialogue and networking among social movements all over the world is becoming a counterweight that has emerged as an important development. In some regions of the world, as in the Middle East and Latin America, alternative voices in the mainstream mass media have become powerful voices challenging critically the neoliberal global system and advancing a people’s new world order. And in some regions, governments with bad experiences in dealing with the IMF-World Bank – World Trade Organization, have bonded together to offer a working alternative to the paradigm of captivity.
Some have even proposed an antidote to the unleashing of “unaccountable power” by global corporations, and the Pentagon, through the creation of a “Global People’s Assembly”, a governing body whose grassroots members represent “ the worldwide voice of the people in action and decision-making.” (Falk and Strauss, 1999). This antidote of resistance is emerging in such initiatives like the World Social Forum, and its regional counterpart, the Asian Social Forum. The alternative paradigm is emerging in international organizations like Migrante International, a Philippine-based transnational alliance of Filipino migrant workers’ organizations. Migrante played a role in the formation of the International Migrants’ Association. This exciting trend is also emerging in such formations as the International League for People’s Struggle (ILPS). These formations have not only tackled issues such as the so-called ‘War on Terror’ and U.S. military bases and intervention, but also issues like labor protection, trafficking of women, migrants’ rights, local industry formation, and environmental protection issues. A democratized People’s Monetary Fund can be created on the basis of mutual respect, transparency and solid economic cooperation, not based on impositions and blackmail. The democratic management of our financial institutions can greatly reduce IMF or ADB intervention in the economic planning activities of the Philippines and other countries.
To those who questioned Constantino’s advocacy of “partisan scholarship,” he would use a familiar historical example to explode the myth and pretense of objectivity. Constantino said, “Macario Sakay and other Filipino resistance fighters who continued the struggle against the imposition of American rule at the turn of the century were branded by colonial scholars as bandits and brigands.” But from the vantage point of the Filipino people, he said, they were heroes and martyrs who gave up their lives in valiant resistance against the superior forces of a foreign invader and in relentless pursuit of the national goal for complete independence.
For instance, “Two sets of truth are here contraposed” he wrote—“the truth of the colonizer and the truth of the colonized”. If a historian as social scientist wants to pursue the so-called objectivity in this case, he will find it impossible and ridiculous.” He is faced, according to Constantino, with two-diametrically-opposed viewpoints and must make his choice. His razor-sharp columns which appeared in the Manila Chronicle, Graphic Magazine, Philippine Daily Globe, Pahayagang Malaya, Dyaryo Filipino and the Manila Bulletin always questioned the premises of the colonial viewpoint, but he also always presented a viable alternative which is protective of Filipinos’ interests and favorable to their development as a people.
Constantino’s most important works, however, are his two-volume books on the history of the Philippines entitled A Past Revisited (1975) and The Continuing Past (1978), both of which were co-authored with his wife, Letizia Roxas. The first volume covers the pre-colonial period up to the Commonwealth Period before World War II. The second covers the Japanese occupation up to the end of the Macapagal administration (1965). The two seminal works emphasized the Filipino masses’ role in making history, which therefore should be written from their point of view, not the colonizer’s nor the vacillating elite’s. He blasted the myths long propagated by colonial historiographers, exposed their fake heroes and resurrected the real Filipino freedom fighters such as Macario Sakay and Teodoro Asedillo. He and Letizia were working on the third volume of the Philippine history which was to cover the entire Marcos era, when he passed away on Sept. 15, 1999.
These historical writings are clearly recognized by the teachers and students who read all these books which are popular for espousing the point of view of the Filipino people. In a university tribute on August 30, 1999, a few days before he passed away, the University of the Philippines Board of Regents, administration, professors, students and staff honored him with a special recognition: “For his passionate advocacy of a people’s history based upon the struggles of the Filipinos for national emancipation, achieving in this regard the most among his contemporaries as the lead interpreter of Philippine history.”
Constantino’s scholarship was also put into practice with his social activism. In the late ‘60s, he helped found the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN), a multi-sectoral coalition of progressive and nationalist organizations that united around a nationalist agenda. He was also an active member of the Civil Liberties Union and editorial board member of the Journal of Contemporary Asia. In 1989, on the occasion of Constantino’s 70th birthday, the Journal of Contemporary Asia published a book in his honor, titled Partisan Scholarship (Essays in Honour of Renato Constantino).
Time and again, Renato Constantino explained in his works and essays that the partisan scholarship that he advocates must be specific, its assertions “based on solid grounds because it assumes a high sense of academic responsibility and a deep commitment to certain ethical standards.” So much depends, he said, on the quality of the output of partisan scholars, including the credibility of the cause they are espousing.
Constantino’s spirit lives on through his students, colleagues and all those he had influenced through his life, ideas and writings. It continues to be felt among the workers, peasants, teachers, tribal peoples and students who today keep vigil in the frontlines, the barricades and picket lines against the imperialist forces who want to dictate the terms of globalization and impose these on the Filipino people.
Let me conclude that in the context of a current world order dominated by a unilateral superpower and hegemon (the United States), what we are in fact waging in the spirit guided by the memory of an intellectual warrior– by globalization from below with other peoples of the world – is a form of guerilla warfare in international relations.
Falk, Richard & Strauss, Andrew (1999) “Globalization Needs a Dose of Democracy”, International Herald Tribune. Oct. 5, 1999.
Ofreneo, Rosalinda. (2001) . Renato Constantino: A Life Revisited. Quezon City: Foundation for Nationalist Studies.
Simbulan, Roland G. (2008). “In Defense of Economic Sovereignty”. Expert testimony and statement before the public hearing of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, House of Representatives,Philippine Congress, Mitra Bldg., November 25, 2008.
This is an expanded version of an article that first appeared in the special 2000 issue (Vol. 3, No. 3) of the Journal of Contemporary Asia (JCA).
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in Mar. 25th 2009