‘Planetary Thinking’ on Japan and East Asia in the Midst of Change

Opening Remarks | 8 Sep 2017 | Hotel Jen | ‘Japan and East Asia in the Midst of Change: Carving a Path for the Region’ International Studies Conference

It is my great honor and pleasure to welcome you all to the conference. I’m on my first week as the new dean of DLSU’s College of Liberal Arts, with such big shoes to fill, coming after Dean Julio Teehankee who made great strides in strengthening liberal arts education and connecting DLSU to the world, as well as being a leading figure in De La Salle University’s international studies program and initiator, key inspirer, and mover of this conference. May I ask for a round of applause for Dean Teehankee?

The conference this year is very special because the International Studies Department of De La Salle University is celebrating its twenty-fifth (25th) foundation year. Twenty-five is still a young age and I am confident there will be better years ahead, of ripening, of fruition, of reaping the harvest of hard work, but being twenty-five now and enjoying success at the peak of youth is something else, definitely a grand reason to celebrate. Please accept my felicitations and congratulations.

To the Ateneo de Manila University’s Japanese Studies Program, thank you for co-organizing the conference, and thank you so much, Japan Foundation, for your annual support for the conference. We would not have come this far without you.

The conference call speaks of a world of change, that is, a world being changed rapidly in an age of globalization, to which ideas are invited to think through and think about these changes and their effects and what possibilities are open to solve problems, to move forward, to work together. May I extend my privilege a bit by giving my own brief response to this call.

Recently I have come across the idea of ‘planetary thinking’ in the work of a colleague in my field of performance studies. My sense is that this is something we can take on board as a discursive direction. 

(What follows are mainly references to Felipe Cervera’s article in Global Performance Studies, which can be accessed for free here: https://gps.psi-web.org/issue-1-1/gps-1-1-3/.)

Stanford Friedman describes the ‘planetary’ as a much better term than the ‘global’. While ‘transnational suggests the on-going tension between nation-states and globalized postnational political formations, [and] global invokes the endlessly debated pros and cons of contemporary globalization’, planetary[…] echoes the spatial turn in cultural theory of the twenty-first century. It is cosmic and grounded at the same time [….] [It] gestures at a world beyond the human, even beyond the Earth… Planetary suggests the Earth as a matter of matter and climate, life and the passage of time, and an array of species of which the human is only one [….] Planetary has an open-ended edge that transnational and global lack (Friedman 7-8 quoted in Cervera 2017). This thinking is an example of what has been called the planetary turn that positions ‘the planet’ as an alternative critical framework to ‘the globe’. As authors Elias and Muraru of the book The Planetary Turn aver, ‘While flat-out dismissal or wholesale demonization of globalization processes in economy, technology, and culture remains misguided, the planetary perforce builds on the global, critiques it, and, to some degree, “completes” it’.

More to the brief point I am making here, planetary thinking is relational thinking, as asserted by Gayatri Spivak. ‘The [planetary] attempts a move away from the totalizing paradigm of modern age globalization’ and ‘globalization’s homogenizing, one-becoming pulsion is challenged by relationality.’  In the words of my colleague Felipe Cervera, talking about planetary performance studies, the concept of planetarity can be a framework for ‘a comparative inquiry that benefits relational, circulatory, and co-creative histories’ and the planet can be thus be thought as ‘a matrix for multiple co-presence’.

In my own work I have spoken about and advocated for an acknowledgement of co-presence and co-performance (inspired by the work of Dwight Conquergood), which is both an assertion of equality among peoples, institutions, nations who relate to each other and an impulse towards discovering possibilities and mechanisms for working together. 

As this conference tackles the challenge of ‘carving a path for the region in the midst of change’ I hope first of all that there is a recognition of the multiple co-presences in the region and the need to work out solutions to problems from this basic ground. 

Good morning everyone, thank you all for coming, and have a great conference.

Works Cited:

Cervera, Felipe. “Planetary Performance Studies.” Global Performance Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 2017, https://doi.org/10.33303/gpsv1n1a3.

Moraru, Christian, and Amy J. Elias, editors. The Planetary Turn: Relationality and Geoaesthetics in the Twenty-First Century. Northwestern University Press, 2015.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Death of a Discipline. Columbia University Press, 2003.


Justice and Equality for Women in Theatre

2020 Festival of Women’s Plays | Women Playwrights International Philippines Forum 6-8 March 2020 | Cultural Center of the Philippines

Brief Introduction: Day 3 Panel — Katarungan at Pagkapantay-pantay ng Kababaihan, Katarungan at Pagkapantay-pantay sa Dulaan

‘The theatre, it is universally recognised, is always among the most conservative of institutions.’ This is from a 1911 article by Marjorie Strachey, ‘Women and the Modern Drama,’ which appeared in The Englishwoman May 1911 – quoted in a 2008 journal article by Maria DiCenzo, writing on feminism, theatre criticism, and the modern drama.

I mention this as a way into our topic in this forum: katarungan at pagkapantay-pantay – justice and equality for women in theatre. If the theatre is a conservative institution, is there space in it for women to thrive? What does being conservative mean? Does it equate to a lack of justice and equality for women?

In 2012, The Guardian had an article titled ‘Women in theatre: why do so few make it to the top?’ talking about results of surveys in the UK on how many women work in theatre, how many women directors or playwrights or actors or designers, how many female roles vs male roles, whether female writers write more female roles than males, whether male directors use plays written by women playwrights, and so on. The results were not good and the verdict was that English theatre is dominated by males in all aspects, including in governance boards of the theatres. And the view is that this is very much a cultural phenomenon that goes all the way back to Shakespeare and remains strong to this day. One thing to problematize though is the survey numbers on the audience: there were more women than men.

In the Philippines, I don’t know if there has been a similar research conducted. I am very curious if the same can be said of theatre in the Philippines in the contemporary time. It is surely not that simple, because we have to be clear first of all what is or are designated by the term ‘theatre’ and who then are included in the count. Certainly we have to think of our own context, which is very different from that of the UK. For instance, do we count the Arakyo players in Nueva Ecija alongside the actors of Repertory Philippines or PETA? And focusing on the women in theatre question, if we go back in history – at the time Shakespeare was writing his dramas and his female roles were being played by male actors in an all-male company, our ‘theatres’ if we may call them that, were dominated by females, the babaylans who officiated the major rituals in the form of chanting and dance and trance-like theatricals. We read this in Pigafetta’s account of the Spanish arrival in the Visayas and in the accounts of the friars. Of course, later, things changed, and if we flash forward to the time of the drama simboliko, the ‘seditious’ plays of 1901-1907, we find only male figures in the historical accounts: Aurelio Tolentino, Severino Reyes, Juan Matapang Cruz, and others, even if the female ‘Inang Bayan’ or a similar female figure is the single most arresting character in the major plays of the period.

In the Philippines, theatre has always had a revolutionary function in questioning conservatism and breaking it apart. I will venture to say it has never been conservative in its intent, if we think of the long history of radical and protest theatre for instance. But the question of justice and equality for women in theatre must still be asked. And as I suggested earlier, this is more than just about numbers.

Today we are very fortunate to have two key female figures in contemporary Philippine theatre who will share their thoughts on the topic: Dr. Glecy Atienza and Ms. Liza Magtoto.


DiCenzo, Maria. ‘Feminism, Theatre Criticism, and the Modern Drama’, South Central Review, Vol. 25, No. 1, Staging Modernism (Spring, 2008), pp. 36-55.

Higgins, Charlotte. ‘Women in theatre: why do so few make it to the top?’, The Guardian, 10 December 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2012/dec/10/women-in-theatre-glass-ceiling, accessed 5 March 2020.

Closing Remarks at ‘The Malay World: Connecting the Past to the Present’

Fourth International Conference of the International Council for Historical and Cultural Cooperation – Southeast Asia and the 2017 Philippine Historical Association Annual Conference, 15 September 2017 | DLSU

Historical thinking is always a retrospective looking back, ‘a retroactive mode of thought’ that is really a thinking of the contemporary, of the now – ‘conducted in order to elucidate the present as much as to illuminate the past in its historicity’ (Kear 2013). My PhD supervisor Adrian Kear talks about this ‘as a performative historiography [that brings] about that which it appears to represent’, such that historical thinking itself plays ‘a constitutive role in the construction of the event[s]’ of the past. You might say this is a process of historicization as expounded in yesterday’s keynote talk by Dr. Curaming, but I wish to emphasize its performativity, the way that it becomes, as my teacher says, ‘a critically, creatively and politically affective afterwardness that enables some form of moving forwards’ (Kear 2013: 217) in the ‘politics of the present’ (8).

Of course, I am speaking from my own practice of doing history in the arts and humanities, specifically in theatre and performance. Real theatre, as the philosopher Alain Badiou has famously asserted, ‘orients us in the confused times’ of the present, telling us ‘where we are in history’ (Badiou 2015: 63), implying of course that the act of historicizing is really a recognition of the incessant march of time, but one that attempts to intervene, to stop time or bend it towards a different direction. This may not be such a strange idea, since yesterday too we heard from Professor Salleh how history may be construed as a stage full of characters in play, such as the ones he shared from his work on the Malay Annals—characters intervening in time, ‘recreating history’.

I am myself currently engaged in a historical project, looking at a practice of re-enactment theatre in Escalante, Negros where a group called Teatro Obrero has been staging political theatre—a re-enactment of the 1985 Escalante massacre, for 31 years now, every year without fail since 1986. Theirs is an example of a very local struggle but one that connects to a nationalist project that is ongoing even as we speak, perhaps linked in some way, however indirectly, to what Professor Rey Ileto spoke about – the Filipino struggle for history, noting from his talk how it might be productive now to think back to the ideas articulated by Agoncillo.

I will further say that the last talk by Prof Zaid Ahmad on indigenous epistemology in the Malay world is an important concern that we must take up beyond the conference.

Again, let me quote Adrian Kear, talking about performative historiography:

The gesture of looking back in order to look forward […] should […] be seen as a political act undertaken in order to examine the complicated articulation of the condition of the present more clearly (Kear 2013: 219).

In closing may I say I was particularly stricken with guilt about my own lack of knowledge on the Philippine ties to our Malay neighbors. Professor Andi Achdian’s question struck deep, and sitting beside Charles from NCCA, I asked what could have happened to the important manuscripts in Marawi discussed by Prof Fatuhrahman and whether the NCCA heritage experts know about the existence of these manuscripts.

The conference has been wonderfully rich, with the ideas shared by the plenary speakers, and the wealth of contributions by the paper presenters in the different parallel panels. And, certainly, perhaps most importantly, this conference has been an embodiment of the Malay world itself, a community bound by collaboration and solidarity.

I wish to thank the Philippine Historical Association, the International Council for Historical and Cultural Cooperation – Southeast Asia, Society of Indonesian Historians, and the Malaysian Historical Society, as well as the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, for the opportunity accorded to the College of Liberal Arts and our History Department at De La Salle University to make a humble contribution in making this event happen.

Congratulations especially to Dr. Fernie Santiago Jr. and his team, Dr. Rinna Orillos-Juan and the DLSU History Department, Dr. Rene Escalante and the NHCP, and Dr. Emmanuel Calairo and his team at PHA. To all participants, thank you for your contributions and participation. I hope it has been as productive for you as it has been for us. Enjoy the rest of the conference events; enjoy the walk with Xiao Chua tomorrow. Good evening.

Cited works:

Badiou, A. with Troung, N. (2015), In Praise of Theatre, trans. A. Bielski, Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press. Check out: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26515390-in-praise-of-theatre

Kear, A. (2013), Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century, London: Palgrave Macmillan. Check out: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9780230008083

Taking Care of our Mental Health during the Pandemic and ECQ, 28 April 2020 Webinar, Closing Remarks

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak here today and share a bit about my own pandemic experience. It’s a pleasure to be able to connect with you again even if only virtually. At the very least I got to dress up and put on lipstick like I would for an ordinary occasion when we gathered for an event, back when things were ‘normal’. We have been cooped up for close to two months now and the confinement has been hard to bear. Up until the quarantine I didn’t mind staying at a condo unit, because it’s really mainly a sleeping place as I spend all of my days at the university. But now I long for my home in Daraga more than ever and I envy some colleagues who are able to grow things in their garden, like Dr Dinah Roma who told me she is making her garden a memorial to the pandemic. On second thought, though, I realize I am also growing things in many ways. I have started a personal website and growing its pages. I have enrolled in an online teaching MOOC to better guide my college in the current move towards full online education which we are forced to take up. I meet with colleagues every week and attend to faculty and student concerns on a daily basis, all virtually, but sometimes even late into the night. I am still active in my own arts sector and working with colleagues at the NCCA to be able to provide assistance to artists who have lost jobs or work opportunities because many shows have been canceled. On the side I read news and watch Kdrama and movies on Netflix or do crossword and play games. And best of all I am with my family and we laugh together or cringe together at the most recent news on Trump telling people to ingest bleach to sanitize themselves from the virus, or we are moved together by the stories of many people trying to help others through this pandemic. We have also settled into our quarantine rhythm so to speak, with work from home and domestic chores thrown in with netflix time and conversations on anime and the deep philosophical ideas embedded in the narratives. You might say this is how we have been taking care of our mental health. 

Br. Ray just reminded me — I should watch Fiddler on the Roof again — I’ve watched it countless time, I know all the songs and it would be great to watch it again at this time. My version of Tevye’s roof is the tilted earth we live in, where we are always on the brink of disaster if not right smack at the center of one, like we are now, and we need all the strength of character and mental wellness and fortitude we can muster to forge through.

Dr Rosemarie Clemena, salamatonon — thank you very much for your sharing today. Your session has been an opportunity to self-reflect and face my own emotions and mental state, and I’m sure this is shared by the participants. It’s a humbling experience, but also an enlightening one. I realize we take many things for granted and it’s easy to surrender to our feelings of vulnerability and to forget what is essential. Thinking about this I am reminded and encouraged by the words of Paul on weakness and vulnerability in 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:9):

8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.’

A philosopher has called this as Paul’s ‘militant discourse of weakness’ (Badiou 53) — that I find strength in my weakness — and I say we need such a militancy in these difficult times, a militant fidelity to what we believe in, to forge on in the war against the pandemic. 

Thank you to the heroic TLC team led by Dr Caring Tarroja composed of faculty and student volunteers. Thank you for the support of Br Ray, Fritzie, Dean Raymund Sison, CLA Associate Dean Dr Ron Resurreccion, and Psychology Chair Dr Robert Javier Jr.  The Telepsychology initiative is a brilliant idea, both for awareness raising about mental health and for the provision of psychological services to those who need them. To the team, I wish you all the best in the days to come. I hope you take care of yourselves first of all because we need you to take care of us and of others. And for what it’s worth, let me say I continue to be committed to support this endeavor in whatever way I can.

Thank you all for attending this webinar and I hope to see you at the next one.

Opening Remarks at ‘Reimagining Cultural Citizenship’ Lecture

This is the first of several brief talks I gave which I’d like to share to a bigger audience through this blog.

When we have guests here for a lecture, I always imagine the event being a gathering to hear stories and what immediately comes to mind is Walter Benjamin’s essay on the storyteller. In it, Benjamin distinguishes between storytelling and the sharing of information, favoring the former of course and saying that storytelling has lost its place in the life of the community due so much to the new form of communication that is in the form of ‘dissemination of information’. 

Written in the 1920s, Benjamin’s essay still resonates strongly today. ‘Every morning’, he says, ‘brings us the news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation. In other words by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information’ (Benjamin 89). But ‘the value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new’ says Benjamin. ‘It lives only at that moment… A story is different. It does not expend itself. It preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a long time’ (90).

At this point I’d like to share one such story told by Benjamin himself in his Selected Writings but which I heard from another storyteller, Freddie Rokem, in 2007.

‘In a Hassidic village, so the story goes, Jews were sitting together in a shabby inn one Sabbath evening. They were all local people, with the exception of one person no one knew, a very poor, ragged man who was squatting in a dark corner at the back of the room. All sorts of things were discussed, and then it was suggested that everyone should tell what wish he would make if one were granted him. One man wanted money; another wished for a son-in-law; a third dreamed of a new carpenter’s bench; and so each spoke in turn. After they had finished, only the beggar in his dark corner was left. Reluctantly and hesitantly he answered the question. ‘I wish I were a powerful king reigning over a big country. Then, some night while I was asleep in my palace, an enemy would invade my country, and by dawn his horsemen would penetrate to my castle and meet with no resistance. Roused from my sleep, I wouldn’t have time even to dress and I would have to flee in my shirt. Rushing over hill and dale and through forests day and night, I would finally arrive safely right here at the bench in this corner. This is my wish.’ The others exchanged uncomprehending glances. ‘And what good would this wish have done you?’ someone asked. ‘I’d have a shirt,’ was the answer’ (Selected Writings 1977, 433).

We need stories and storytellers, very much so now in the twenty-first century for, as Benjamin says, ‘the storyteller is the figure in which the righteous man encounters himself’ (109) – and we need this kind of encounter with ourselves, assuming we are ‘righteous’ humans interrogating ‘righteousness’ itself in a world increasingly grown complex and terrifying, often because we find ourselves or our kin displaced in it. In today’s talk, for instance, we will be hearing about ‘diasporic intimacies’ and how the nuances of artistic work by Filipino Canadian artists might be producing knowledge of cultural citizenship in Canada that ‘unsettles’ common and official understandings, perhaps, may I suggest, very much like the beggar in Benjamin’s story who confounds his listeners with his wish.

Today, we are fortunate to have another edition in our ongoing program of guest lectures by eminent academics and artists in the arts and humanities. I say these lectures are a mark of our good standing in the world academic community, telling of how far and wide is the reach of our network of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, but, more importantly, these are ways for the Lasallian community to gather around and learn together from great minds and in the presence of earnest and passionate seekers of knowledges and truths. And, as I said earlier, we come to listen to storytellers whose power will not be only for the moment. In the end, perhaps if we listen closely, we’ll see more than just the shirt. 

Welcome and thank you, everyone, for attending today. Welcome and warm thanks to our guest, Dr. Robert Diaz. Good afternoon.

22 February 2016 | Yuchengco 408 | De La Salle University

Works Cited:

Benjamin, Walter. ‘The Storyteller: Observations on the Works of Nikolai Leskov’ . Translated by Harry Zohn. In Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 3, 1935-1938, edited by Howard Eiland and Michel W. Jennings, 143-66, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University. Originally published in 1936 in Orient und Occident; republished in 1977 as ‘Der Erzahler Betrachtungen zum Week Nikolai Lesskows’, in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 2, 438-65 (frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp). A later version can be found here: https://arl.human.cornell.edu/linked%20docs/Walter%20Benjamin%20Storyteller.pdf

Rokem, Freddie (2007). ‘Wishes, Promises and Threats: Walter Benjamin as Storyteller’. Keynote Talk at the Storytelling in Contemporary Theatre Conference on 15-17 November 2007 at the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland. The essay that he shared can be found in Mateusz Borowski and Małgorzata Sugiera (eds), Words: Storytelling in Contemporary Theatre and Playwriting, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010, pp. 13-29. Access a book sample here: https://www.cambridgescholars.com/download/sample/61547 and here: https://books.google.com.ph/booksid=6VAaBwAAQBAJ&printsec=copyright&source=gbs_pub_info_r#v=onepage&q&f=false

A gift of presence

We call her Peps. My daughter and her cousins call her Lola Fe. Today she is turning 66, so we had spaghetti for breakfast and ordered Jollibee chicken joy for lunch. We wanted pansit palabok and pichipichi but Amber does not deliver. But what do we do except say ‘sayang’. Can’t go to the mall. Can’t treat Peps to a better meal on her birthday. We are all confined in our condo unit beside the university where I work and trying to enjoy this long and indefinite period of being constantly together because of the pandemic. I imagine Peps must be quite stressed too, since we are now constantly in her space. Before the lockdown she had the condo to herself the whole day, sometimes late into the night. Now she cannot go outside even for fresh air. We have forbidden her as she is a senior and more vulnerable to the contagion. And so someone else is doing even the grocery tasks. Mico my nephew has developed a new competency as a ‘master shopper’ for all our needs, from food to toiletries.

Fe has been with us for the last thirty years and is now part of my family and our extended family: mine and my husband’s. She is my daughter’s yaya and of course my daughter would say mine too. She has cleaned and cooked and fetched things for us, and laughed and cried with us throughout all these thirty and more years. I always say I have been able to do what I have been doing because she has been with me. It’s a gift of service and presence and love that cannot be returned or given justice to with material compensation.

Recently she has decided to retire and in fact she had left us and was away most of last year. She had built a house close to her old mother and would come back usually to stay for two weeks or a month. She came in February this year and was supposed to leave again early March but the lockdown was enforced and so she had to stay on. How lucky we are, my sisters said during one of our chat sessions. Fe is here and we’re able to enjoy home cooked meals while we’re on confinement! I just hope she likes it too, since most of her children are now also in Manila, and they talk on the phone or communicate on Facebook regularly. She is able to ‘attend’ mass via the Quiapo Church service on FB Live or YouTube, and monitor what’s happening in the outside world using her smartphone.

Happy birthday, Peps! I can never forget that I owe my freedom to forge a career and work and write and raise a family all at the same time to your gift of presence and loyalty and service.

Together Apart

Each day my soul ascends
Constitution Hill
Right outside my window
All rock and clingy brush
I follow the well worn paths
With my eyes
Saying I will go today
I will go today

I am crazy to wait
For you
You won’t wait
Like the hard face of rock
You just are
And I can’t seem to be
For I am and stuck with am
Only my soul will be

There on that hill
On that bench by the bend
On that well worn path
Clasping hands
Eyes mirroring
Your question
My answer
Or the other way around

Embracing but not quite
Waiting for me
You are as crazy as I
Like the hard face of rock
I am and can only be am
But you can be
You will be
You should not wait

Oh how my soul ascends
It’s right outside my window
But I can’t go
I should not go
I won’t go
You are there now
I am and can only be am
You can and will be

1:06 am
25 October 2007

The view from my window now: not rock but sea, and the beautiful Manila Bay sunset.