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

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 Aug. 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.”

Social Activism

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. (Posted by (

Selected Bibliography:

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.

( Lecture in honor of Renato Constantino on his 90th birth anniversary, College of Arts and Sciences, University of the Philippines, Manila. March 11, 2009 )

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).

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