Renato Constantino, Revisited: Reflections on the Nationalist Paradigm in the Era of Failed Neoliberalism

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 U.S., 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, the Filipiniana collection of which 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. Through the selections in The Recto Reader Constantino was instrumental in introducing the “relevant Recto” to the contemporary nationalist movement.

Partisan Scholarship

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 U.S. 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.

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