En Countering Martial Law: Rhythmanalysis, Urban Experience in Metro Manila

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(En)Countering Martial Law:

Rhythmanalysis, Urban Experience in Metro Manila,

and Ilokano Literature (1980-1984)

[11,632 words]
I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen,

And accrue what I hear into myself....and let sounds contribute toward me. […]

I hear the sound of the human voice....a sound I love

I hear all sounds as they are tuned to their uses....sounds of the city and sounds

out of the city....sounds of the day and night;
Walt Whitman (2004 [1855])

When the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos died on 28 September 1989 in exile in Hawaii, there was an outpouring of grief from among a number of Ilokano writers. Such grief was expressed as eulogies written as poems and published in the Ilokano weekly magazine Bannawag.1 Some of these poems were written by those whom Ilokano writers themselves consider to be pillars of Ilokano literature. Such explicit expression of their sadness for the passing away of someone who for them was a truly great person and leader, and their public mourning of what they called the end of an era attested to the esteem in which Marcos was held by many Ilokano writers. While in power, Marcos enjoyed their admiration, if not loyalty. Even in exile, he enjoyed the goodwill of those writers based in Hawaii. Arguably, Marcos’s being an Ilokano himself helped to foster this abiding and enduring respect and admiration for him (Galam 2008a).

Whereas it is easy enough to find Ilokano writers who openly supported and even extolled him, and who have even defended him after his excesses were exposed, it is very difficult to find one who self-identifies as anti-Marcos or anti-Martial Law. It is even more difficult to find one who has denounced Marcos or someone who has renounced him in a work written in Ilokano. It is equally difficult to find an Ilokano writer even vaguely critical of him during his years in power as president (1965-1972) and dictator (1972-1986). What abound in Ilokano literature are works that depict social injustice, oppression, insurgency, poverty, etc. which, not unexpectedly, are never attributed or linked to Marcos, to his military rule, or to the policies his regime pursued. This is not to say that Marcos is to blame for all that Filipinos suffered, but to ask of the writers to consider the central role that Marcos played in creating many of the conditions for what many went through and for where we are now.

I wish in this essay to examine depictions of life experiences of impoverished people who exist at the margins of urban Metro Manila in the work of Herman Garcia Tabin.2 Like many other Ilokano writers, Tabin himself has never made his position on the Marcos dictatorship known. However, his works allow for the possibility of a reading that considers his work as engaging (the ramifications of) the Marcos’ authoritarian regime. Although these literary texts do not explicitly link the regime to the suffering of Manila’s urban poor, I will argue that they can be read as engaging the social (broadly defined) reality obtaining in and engendered by the dictatorship.

These texts, written between 1980 and 1984 are read, to borrow from Neferti Tadiar (2009), for the ‘historical experience’ they record and help give shape to.3 I will argue in this essay that Tabin re-frames the terms in which the question regarding Ilokano writers’ ‘opposition’ to the regime is raised. Rather than whether Ilokano writers were explicitly or quietly pro- or anti-Marcos, he asks: what were the experiences of the most marginalized Filipinos in urban Metro Manila during Marcos’s rule or how did they experience this rule? By attending to what Tabin focuses on, and by following him as well as those people whose lives he records, we document a ‘phenomenological memory’ of martial law, that is, a body’s remembering of the period, a bodily experiencing of that particular historical time, what Mieke Bal (2009) has called “sentient engagement.” In a way, his works document the abuses that impoverished urban dwellers were subjected to during the early 1980s and even earlier in the Marcos period. By working within the terms Tabin may be said to have chosen to deal with the period in question or to deal with the question of the Marcos period, we are compelled to be more creative and adventurous in our undertaking to expose the strategies and positions he has taken. By tracing and following his moves, his movements, we might just be able to find clues to that which he cannot as yet publicly avow or disavow.

Through a rhythmanalysis of the poor’s experiences of life and living in Metro Manila depicted in the literary pieces concerned, I hope to demonstrate how these texts are bound up with the authoritarian regime, that is, with the conditions it has produced, and how the regime, through its economic and development policies, dictated the rhythm of people’s lives. This rhythmanalysis therefore implicates the constitutive role of the state and of capital. The essay is divided into three sections. The first develops a theoretical-conceptual argument linking state, capital, and the rhythmanalytical project. The second argues for the usefulness of literary texts for a rhythmanalysis of urban life. This section extends the methodology of rhythmanalysis as originally developed by Henri Lefebvre. The third section comprises the rhythmanalysis of Tabin’s literary texts.


Lefebvre (2004 [1992], 68-9) wrote that “[p]olitical power knows how to utilise and manipulate time, dates, timetables. It combines the unfurling of those that it employs (individuals, groups, entire societies), and rhythms them.” He explains that, officially, this is called ‘mobilisation’ for the “authorities have to know the polyrhythmia of the social body that they set in motion. It is the extreme case, revealing simultaneously official and empirical-political and military rhythmanalysis” (ibid., 69). Fraser (2008, 351) has argued that for Lefebvre, rhythmanalysis is “aware of the rhythms that have been instilled in time by capitalist production.” This awareness of how political power and capital have penetrated and rhythmed everyday life makes rhythmanalysis especially useful and critical for investigating and explicating everyday life and experience. As Fraser (ibid., 352) succinctly puts it:

A moving, living reality requires a mode of knowledge that is also mobile, capable of moving with it yet not becoming assimilated into it. It is this form of knowledge that, for Lefebvre, can approach the lives of those modern people who “not only move alongside the monster [that is capital] but are inside it; they live off it”. This mobile knowledge would make it possible to discern the qualitative difference between the rhythms imposed on life and the rhythms of life itself.

These two rhythms, the former, linear—rhythms imposed on life, and the latter, cyclical—the rhythms of life itself, co-exist. Linear rhythms are those “centred around [sic] human activity and the consecutive quality of social relations such as the rhythms of work and travel to work or school” (Cronin 2006, 624), what Highmore (2004, 322) calls linear rhythms of “rationalized modernization.” Cyclical rhythms, on the other hand, encompass those of nature (ibid. 2004): days, nights, seasons, waves, and tides (Cronin ibid., 624). Lefebvre and Regulier (2004 [1985], 73) characterize the linear as “the times of brutal repetitions,” as “tiring, exhausting and tedious.” The cyclical, in contrast, “has the appearance of an event, an advent,” possessing “the freshness of a discovery and an invention” (ibid.; also Simpson 2008). Hence, Lefebvre and Regulier (ibid.) argue that “[t]he everyday is simultaneously the site of, the theatre for, and what is at stake in a conflict between great indestructible rhythms and the processes imposed by the socio-economic organisation of production, consumption, circulation and habitat.”

Central to how these rhythms are experienced and analyzed is the body. As Lefebvre (2004 [1992], 67) wrote, “[a]t no point have the analysis of rhythms and the rhythmanalytical project lost sight of the body. [...] The theory of rhythms is founded on the experience and knowledge of the body...” (see also Lefebvre 1991, 205-07). Elden (2004, xii) argues that “Lefebvre believes that the rhythmanalyst does not simply analyse the body as a subject, but uses the body as the first point of analysis, the tool for subsequent investigations.”

Eduardo Mendieta (2008), in his critical survey of Lefebvre’s work, situates rhythmanalysis within Lefebvre’s writings on cities, space, and his critique of everyday life, which, he says, are intricately entwined. He argues that Lefebvre’s examination of the quotidian is implicated in the production of space as well as in the rhythm or ‘temporality in space and place’ (ibid., 149). He argues for the interconnectedness of these three central concerns within Lefebvre’s work, an interconnectedness that Mendieta claims “entail[s] and demand[s]” rhythmanalysis (ibid.). Tracing these connections, Mendieta elaborates that Lefebvre “demonstrate[d] that the extraction, production and accumulation of capital is enabled by the production of social space” (ibid.). In turn, the production of space “is the condition of possibility of the spatial fix that is indispensable for the stabilization of the capitalist system of capital accumulation” (ibid.). Mendieta explains that “lived, imagined and represented space” were linked by Lefebvre with “different social practices within the city” (ibid.). It is within the intersections of these spaces and social practices that Mendieta appreciates Lefebvre’s critique of everyday life, specifically how the quotidian, our everyday existence, was being commodified. He writes:

Thus, as space is produced through our spatial practices, representations of space, and spaces of representation, so is reification produced and reproduced as we produce and consume commodities. The critique of everyday life is the critique of alienation at the most evident, that is to say, phenomenological level, namely, at the level of the perceived, imagined and lived. (ibid., 150; emphasis in original)

Although our social being is mediated through the commodity form, Mendieta (ibid.) argues that nevertheless, our social existence occurs in social space and time, that it emerges from, and is shaped and constituted by, our very own practices which, admittedly, are themselves shaped by relations of power and becoming. Mendieta emphasizes the importance of social space and time to our existence because, although they are “never given in the abstract,” they “manifest in particular times and space” (ibid.) and these are what rhythmanalysis is about. Rhythmanalysis, because it takes the co-existence and co-determination of time and space as central elements shaping everyday lives (Edensor and Holloway 2008), alerts us to the antagonisms that animate and characterize urban experiences.

My discussion of rhythmanalysis has deliberately been political in orientation as I have attempted to build an argument for a rhythmanalysis that foregrounds the tensions in urban everyday life, tensions that to a large extent originate in the interplay of political power and capital in the shaping of everyday lives. Rhythmanalysis, as argued by Mendieta (2008), makes this interplay central to urban experience without however making it the overdetermining factor constituting and shaping everyday life. In this context, agency remains part of people’s lives and living in cities (see also Amin and Thrift 2002). Mendieta writes that human bodies, although like commodities which are “embedded in rhythms of production and consumption” and which are the resonances of social rhythms (151), are, however, “caught up in the grip of other rhythms: biological and natural, that are not always at the beck and call of the market and the designs of capitalism” (ibid., see also Highmore 2004). It is these rhythms that exceed the grasp and escape the grip of political power that rhythmanalysis can powerfully reveal.

Crucially, Mendieta points out that Lefebvre’s conceptualization of rhythmanalysis “remained embedded in his European context”. Consequently, he failed to “attend to the different dialectics of the rural and urban in the non-West” (ibid., 151). Moreover, Mendieta argues that for rhythmanalysis to become applicable to Third World contexts, the global rise of neo-liberalism must be accounted for inasmuch as “it has had a more profound effect on the urban question than the cold world may have had” (ibid.). He argues that rhythmanalysis must be informed by critiques of neoliberalism and neo-imperialism developed by such authors as David Harvey and Mike Davis: “The accelerated urbanization of the developing world is the product of the brutal impoverishment of the global rural populations, which has them exiled from depleted and dessicated lands, turning them refugees of over-bloated slums and favelas” (ibid.; see also Wolch and De Verteuil 2001).

Although Mendieta incorporates these critical and epistemological insights into a rhythmanalytical project appropriate for Third World societies and realities, he does not make explicit the role played by the state in the production of these realities as he trains his critical lens only on capitalism: “The rhythms of consumerist and financial capitalism have accelerated the urbanization of world cities in such a way that now most Third World societies are as, if not more, urbanized than the West...” (ibid.). Hence, for rhythmanalysis, the role of the state has to be factored in in the development projects of many Third World nations, projects that carry the imprimatur of international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
Structural Adjustment and Developing Metro Manila as Capital

Prior to the imposition of martial law in 1972, the IMF had twice intervened in the country’s economic policy-making. It pressured both Diosdado Macapagal (in 1962) and Ferdinand Marcos (in 1969) to devalue the peso relative to the US dollar by 50 percent and 60 percent respectively. The peso devaluation in 1969 caused a 50 percent increase in the cost of foreign loans repayment and a more than 30 percent increase in the peso price of imports (Bello and Broad 1987 [1982], 263). The imposition of martial law “provided unprecedented opportunities for the IMF and the World Bank to fully restructure the Philippine economy along the lines desired by the liberalization strategy” (ibid.).

By the late 1960s, it became clear that the economic policies the country pursued had failed to produce the development they had been designed to bring in (Gonzalez 1998; Kelly 2000; McKay 2006). Faced with a severe unemployment problem, a ballooning external debt, and balance-of-payment deficits, the Philippines increasingly came under pressure from the IMF-WB to reorganize its economy according to ‘structural adjustment’ policies aimed at, among others, eliminating protectionist measures, keeping wages down, and expanding foreign investments in the domestic economy (Hau 2004, 229). Under this regime of structural adjustment, the Philippines abandoned import-substitution industrialization (ISI) and pursued instead an export-oriented industrialization (EOI).4 Correspondingly, the Philippines introduced legislation and measures designed to make the country attractive to foreign capital. This included changing labour laws (no unions, lowered national minimum wage, relaxed foreign taxation and capital flight, etc.) (Miranda 2001). Fiscal and regulatory incentives were therefore aimed at foreign investment and export promotion (Kelly ibid., 34-5). EOI in the Philippines was most evident in the establishment of a number of export processing zones (McKay 2006).

Structural adjustment and export-oriented development policies prioritized debt servicing5 and foreign exchange earnings through export intensification (McMichael 1996). In order to comply, debtor nation-states cut spending on social services―the consequences of structural adjustments (Mills 2003)―on the one hand, and accelerated “the path of export-oriented development through industrialisation, largely unmitigated resource exploitation, and labour export, on the other” (Ball 1997, 1609). Kelly (ibid., 34) has pointed out that the “export economy was not ... limited to commodities. Starting in the 1970s, the export of human labour became an increasingly important part of the Philippines’ external economy.” EOI “redefined the development process as participation in the world market” (Ball ibid., 1609). James Tyner (2009, 101) has noted that it was during the martial law period (1972-1981) that the country became “more fully incorporated into the global economy”; that the country’s pursuit of foreign-capital driven development was made easier by the imposition of martial law (Ball ibid.; Kelly ibid.). Martial law therefore provided “the proper political climate for foreign investment” (McKay ibid., 55).

Part of the regime’s strategy of making the Philippines attractive to international capital was the development of the nation’s capital city, or the national capital region. The World Bank itself “pushed for the creation of a metropolitan administrative body as part of its objectives for technocratic centralization” (Tadiar 2009, 403 n39 citing Bello, Kinley, and Elinson 1982). Indeed as governor of Metro Manila and as Minister of Human Settlements, Imelda Marcos commissioned a study of urban planning strategies funded by the World Bank which, not surprisingly, “recommended major infrastructural investments to create a capital city in the image of the Western cities that the Marcoses were so keen to imitate and impress” (Drakakis-Smith 2000, 27). The Marcoses concentrated development priorities in the capital, development that primarily consisted of building projects that cosmetically projected the means and attainment of development, progress, and modernization. For example, to host an International Monetary Fund conference, the government built the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) at a cost of $150 million. Also, it spent some $360 million to build 14 new hotels. In contrast, it allocated $17 million in 1976 for low-cost housing (ibid., 28).

The concentration of development in Metro Manila was tied to another aspect of Marcos’s development strategy―tourism. It was a means of generating foreign exchange and international investors and bankers’s goodwill which the regime needed to legitimize its rule (Schirmer and Shalom 1987, 182). Drakakis-Smith (ibid., 28) has argued that the tourism program of the Marcoses was directly linked to the destruction of squatters’ houses. The regime had hoped to make poverty less visible, and their success in bringing in development more visible, at least, to foreign tourists.6 In 1976, some 160, 000 squatters lost their homes as a result of the regime’s beautification program, and that some “were resettled in sites up to 30 kilometers away from the city, with no shelter, water, or sewage facilities” (Drakakis-Smith ibid.; see also Davis 2006). Ricardo Abad (1991, 263-64) has noted that the creation of squatter communities in Metro Manila was the result of two major processes: “the increasing concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few families and institutions” and “the uneven development of the Philippine economy, which leads to the concentration of resources in urban areas, especially Manila, and the underdevelopment of the agricultural sector.”

From this truncated account of the imbrications of state power, capital, and development, we can begin to grasp how people’s everyday lives in Manila are powerfully shaped not just by international capital (as discussed by Mendieta) but also by how the state transacts with it. Allegedly, the goal of attracting capital was to spur development; however, it led to the unwanted (though not necessarily unexpected) result of more evidence of poverty, suffering, and the exacerbation of inequality.7

Ben Highmore (2005, 10) argues that Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis is “dedicated to the analytic description of the urban present” and that Lefebvre “doesn’t consider the possibility of writing historically about the rhythmicity of the city.” In contrast, for Highmore, “the articulation of rhythmicity through historical materials (even recent ones) is of central concern” (ibid.). Also, Highmore gives the articulation of rhythms in literary texts a centrality not given by Lefebvre. Lefebvre intended rhythmanalysis to be a highly ambitious project, concerned as it is with everything ‘from particles to galaxies’ and calling upon all the senses to be used. Highmore’s use of texts limits the range of sensory materials that he can bring into account because, unlike Lefebvre, he observes “observations (observations that take the form of written and visual text) rather than putting [his] head out of a Paris window and smelling and hearing the hubbub below” (ibid., 12).

My use of literary texts is due in part to the ‘confidence’ that scholars can now have concerning the methodological and epistemological soundness of treating literary texts as sources of social or empirical reality.8 Since the ‘crisis of representation’ and the poststructuralist questioning of hegemonic truth- and knowledge claims, and the bases upon which these claims are made and legitimized, the ‘second-orderness’ of cultural texts has continually been questioned. James Clifford and George Marcus’ edited volume Writing Culture (1986) was an influential text particularly in the American academic setting in the blurring of the boundaries between fiction and ethnography, highlighting the rhetorical and representational conventions and practices that both rely upon. The artisanal character of both narrative and ethnographic accounts, their constructedness, points to the ‘fact’ that what are considered to be ‘first-order’ accounts are themselves mediated by genre/formal conventions (Atkinson 1990; Behar 1996; Behar and Gordon 1995; Bruner 2004; Gupta 2005; Willis 2000) as well as by the interpretative acts of anthropologists or ethnographers, acts that, in a manner of speaking, suggest or point to the non-transparency of the reality we seek to represent. Hence, the ‘violence’ that needs to be done in order to make sense of it and make it ‘represent-able’. Furthermore, as Tadiar (2009, 17-18) has argued:

literary works are figurations of possibilities of life that authors exercise in their imaginations of historical experience; in this way, they are also theoretical perspectives on both dominant and residual cultural logics of social life. ...literary works are thus treated as both ethnographic material (ethnography of social imagination as much as of actually lived life) and theoretical resource for writing an alternative history of the present....

My other reason for using literary texts is that the urban experience I am rhythmanalysing obtains in a repressive regime of military rule where all forms of covert resistance were met with the state’s systematic cooptation of broadcast and print media (see, for example, Guillermo 1986; Youngblood 1981) or with the brutal force of the military. This, however, did not necessarily completely make it impossible. Covert resistance to the Marcos military regime became ‘undergrounded’ and expressions of resistance and dissent particularly by artists and writers were censored, not given any public space precisely because they were threats to Marcos’ authoritarian rule (1972-1981).9 Expressions of resistance, and resistance itself, had to utilize tactics10 of circumvention, as well as alternative ways, that is, media, of reporting on the Martial Law regime.11 This is because, as Alice Guillermo (1986, 67-8) has written:

[t]hroughout the duration of the regime, the State manipulation of the print and broadcast media was not an occasional effort but a total and systematic operation . . . to make them an adjunct of State power. [...] to perpetrate the widespread exploitation and plunder of the country’s resources.

[. . .]

...repression and censorship became institutionalized. The manipulation of the news became the order of the day. The Malacanang press boys fed the news sifted and deodorized to the different crony newspapers. “Developmental journalism” was the euphemism for a manipulated press in which writers were joined [sic] or coerced to show the bright, touristy side and conceal the harsh reality of Philippine conditions. Nothing was spared from censorship: columns and articles by staff writers and contributors were submitted for censorship; even photographs, especially those for magazine covers had to be approved by the watchdogs of the State. (emphasis added)

These literary texts therefore bear the traces of a kind of rhythm or dynamic of power that determined the circulation and dissemination of what was expressible or articulable. Hence, they can be rhythmanalysed on two levels: for what they are able to represent (what they thematize) and for the internal dynamic that constituted what they were able to talk about (how they thematize). My analysis of these texts will therefore be informed by an engagement with the political context that they sought to negotiate and counter.

As was earlier pointed out, during their conjugal dictatorship, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos embarked on a massive economic and physical ‘modernization’ of Manila. Their reconstruction/rebuilding of its geographical (land was reclaimed from the sea), physical, and spatial features was accompanied by a re-writing of the nation’s history, a rewriting that would make it coincide with their development trajectories that they, in turn, meshed with the personal history they fabricated (Ileto 1998; Rafael 2000; Tiongson et al. 1986). Their architectural and building program aimed to redraw Manila as the city of the good, the true, and the beautiful (Alcazaren 2003; Lico 2003; see also Caoili 1999) in order to attract foreign capital and tourism. Their development-cum-modernization project had no tolerance for those who would say otherwise (the poor, the squatters, etc.), thus their attempt to rid Manila of its unwanted and unsightly elements – those that pointed to the sham that was Marcos development. This, as Tadiar (2004) has written, through the forcible and violent removal of what the conjugal dictatorship12 considered Manila’s refuse.

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