Families and Counter-Families
by Lukas Förster
In this essay, I will examine two films by two of the most original and prominent exponents of Philippine independent cinema: Kidlat Tahimik’s Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow (1994) and Lav Diaz’s Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004). Both films engage with the history of the Philippines, especially during and immediately after the end of the Marcos regime, by constructing not just family stories, but family histories: histories of families that are set up, quite explicitly if in different ways, as histories of Philippine counter-families, and thus perhaps also as counter-histories of the Philippine family, the Philippine nation. weiter lesen
Families and Counter-Families
by Lukas Förster
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 defines the family as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society.” Following Sigmund Freud, one can at the same time identify family, or rather the “family romance,” as one of the fundamental (and least curable) sicknesses of society. Be that as it may, if cinema wants to be an agent of social change, or at least a medium of social consciousness, it must deal with the fact of the continuing presence of family both as an empirical reality and as an ideological construct. One might even argue that for a politically committed cinema the family is an especially privileged subject; not because of its alleged universality and self-sameness, but because of its lack thereof. Family is a rich, multifaceted metaphor precisely because it has no fixed meaning. Family relations are always subject to change, to negotiation, to ideology ... in short, to all the forces shaping society as a whole.
In the political context of the Philippines, the family metaphor gained another layer of relevance through its use by the Marcos regime. During his presidency, which lasted from 1966 to 1968, and especially after he assumed dictatorial powers by declaring martial law in 1972, Ferdinand Marcos styled himself as not just the first man of state, but as a father figure for the entire Filipino nation. Perhaps even more successful was his regime’s bid to install his wife, Imelda Marcos, as the mother of all Filipinos in the popular consciousness. In fact, the latter idea especially is far from dead even today, as evidenced by books like Cecilio T. Arillo’s “Imelda: Mothering and Her Poetic and Creative Ideas in a Troubled World”, or a 2014 musical based on her life called “A Mother’s Soul” (which is an astonishing piece of sing-along ideology: “Ahaha, a mother’s soul / it embraces the giving, the caring, the protecting / and the nurturing of everything that is humankind / of nature, and of god / it is whole, invisible, absolute, and eternal”). In a book published in 1976, Primitivo Mijares coined the phrase “conjugal dictatorship” for the way Marcos included his wife in various aspects of the affairs of state.
The Marcoses were the most prominent and probably the most destructive family clan in Philippine politics,1 but they weren’t the only one. To this day, many aspects of Philippine society are dominated by a small number of powerful families. In fact, the opposition against Marcos was led by another clan, the Aquinos (see below).(2) And the Marcos clan itself is far from out of the picture. In the 2016 presidential election, Ferdinand and Imelda’s son Bongbong was a candidate for vice president, ultimately losing by a margin of less than 1 percent.
In this essay, I will examine two films by two of the most original and prominent exponents of Philippine independent cinema: Kidlat Tahimik’s Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow (1994) and Lav Diaz’s Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004). Both films engage with the history of the Philippines, especially during and immediately after the end of the Marcos regime, by constructing not just family stories, but family histories: histories of families that are set up, quite explicitly if in different ways, as histories of Philippine counter-families, and thus perhaps also as counter-histories of the Philippine family, the Philippine nation. In neither film do the families at all correspond to the conservative, patriarchal family model that was, of course, not invented by the Marcos regime, but has a long history of its own. This family model has especially strong roots in the doctrines of the Catholic Church, which still today has a strong influence on Philippine politics and society. In these films we are given two cinematic counter-families that live alongside and inside the family of all Filipinos established by the conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Each film, however, employs a very different mode of opposition, as well as differing tactics for countering the hegemonic force of the mainstream Philippine family-as-society ideology.
Tahimik and Diaz are clearly two of the most important artists shaping the still emerging new wave of Philippine independent cinema. But each is helping shape it in a different way. While Diaz’s Evolution of a Filipino Family and its predecessor Batang West Side are widely acknowledged as foundational texts, or at least starting shots, for what has since become one of the most vital film cultures in contemporary cinema, Tahimik’s work, which belongs to another time, another notion of filmmaking, asserts a more hidden kind of influence. Perhaps one can argue that Tahimik’s films in general, and Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow in particular, have the power to teach the new wave of Philippine filmmakers—who also constitute a sort of film family—about a sense of possibility inherent in all cinema, in each film, shot, and single image.
Points of Contact, Points of Divergence
In addition to their shared point of departure, Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow and Evolution of a Filipino Family have other similarities, especially in the ways in which both films set themselves apart from the usual, everyday mode of cinema and filmmaking. The most obvious difference is an unusually long running time: while Tahimik’s 175-minute film might no longer be considered excessive in the days of overblown three-hour blockbuster spectacles, the 643 minutes of Diaz’s Evolution, on the other hand, clearly represent a challenge not only to conventional cinema scheduling, but even to special-venue presentations at film festivals or cinematheques.
These long running times correspond in both cases with unusually long production intervals. The duration of the filming of Why Is Yellow is clearly delineated in intertitles included in the finished film: Tahimik’s film structures itself along a time span that begins in 1981 and ends in 1991, and due to its diary-like form it seems natural to assume that most of its visual material was shot during the same span—although it seems just as natural to assume that a filmmaker like Tahimik would continually deviate from this seemingly linear timeline. As, indeed, he does. Nevertheless, Why Is Yellow, in all its hybrid glory, serves as a container for everything Tahimik did (with film) in the 1980s—it also includes the remnants of a temporarily abandoned fictional film on Ferdinand Magellan’s slave Enrique de Malaca (a project the director was finally able to finish in 2014).
Evolution of a Filipino Family also took ten years to finish. Diaz shot this feature film between 1994 and 2004—not continuously, but in several distinct intervals, whenever he had enough time and resources at his disposal. This also means that there is a gap between the historical time represented in the film and the period the film was actually made in. Diaz’s family history spans 16 years, from 1971 (one year before Marcos declared martial law) to 1987 (one year after the dictator was driven out of the country), although the bulk of the story is set in the mid-1980s. Since Evolution of a Filipino Family includes documentary footage of some of the same demonstrations and political events Tahimik filmed for Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow, Philippine political history serves quite literally as a point of contact for both films.
Another aspect both films share follows from these extraordinary shooting schedules. Both Tahimik and Diaz made use of the possibility of directly referring to the biological aspects of family life in ways most other family films can not: in both Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow and Evolution of a Filipino Family, the viewer can perceive the signs of time relentlessly moving forward because the characters’ bodies change visibly throughout the course of the films. Such traces of time are most obvious, of course, in the case of children growing up. Biology serves here as a political metaphor: in both films, growing up also means getting rid of the dictator and his autocratic regime.
Diaz’s film acquires yet another layer through his use of various kinds of technical equipment throughout the production. While Why Is Yellow for the most part still uses images captured on 8mm and 16mm film (although it is evident in many sequences that Tahimik’s ongoing experiments with video equipment spilled over into this project, too), Evolution was shot almost exclusively on consumer-grade digital cameras. Therefore, the first period of filming in the mid-1990s resulted in images of very low resolution, while as time went on the equipment and thus the image quality significantly improved (although ultimately this is very much a low-def world). As a result, both the real political history of the Philippines and the fictional family history are reflected in the technological history of digital image-making. Non-linear editing heightens the eerie quality: Diaz filmed his story in a linear manner, but in postproduction he destroyed the continuity. Each time flashbacks hark back to the nightmare-like beginnings of what later becomes a family history (of sorts) and also to the early days of the Marcos dictatorship, the images suddenly take on a much rougher feel; some of them are barely recognizable, just digital noise lost in the violence of history.
The most obvious differences between the two films can be found on the level of aesthetics. While both Tahimik and Diaz develop distinct, complex visual styles far removed from mainstream film language, they do so in widely divergent ways. One might even argue that the difference between the two films exemplifies, with almost clinical precision, one of the fundamental oppositions in the history of film styles: if the former can be seen as a prime example of montage aesthetics, the latter is an extreme exponent of long-take cinema.
A Metaphor Machine: Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow?
The family in Tahimik’s film is his own: his wife, Katrin de Guia, his three sons, Kabunyan, Kawayan, and Kidlat Senior (sic!),(3) and of course Tahimik himself; he inserts himself into the film in many other ways, as well. The same is true for most of his other films—for Tahimik, cinema is always a family affair. But at least among his longer works, only in Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow does the family take center stage to such a degree that the film sometimes feels like an animated and thoroughly Kidlat-ized family album. Indeed, the first of several intertitles reads: “Third World Projector Presents a Kid’s Rainbow Album.” We witness Kabunyan’s first steps inside an airplane in midair as well as Kidlat Sr.’s attempts to get rid of a milk tooth; we see the boys fighting for their mother’s breast; we watch the destruction of the family home in the aftermath of an earthquake. There are family vacations, family meals, school graduation ceremonies. Two scenes further widen the scope by introducing the preceding generation: the appearance of Tahimik’s own mother leads Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow back to 1946, the year the Philippines gained independence from Spain, at least on paper. Earlier in the film, the family visits Bavaria, home of Katrin de Guia’s parents, who introduce a completely different perspective into the film (“one thing about my German relatives—eating. It’s a joy. Leberkäse, weisswurst, bier”).
During the first few minutes of Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow, Tahimik asserts that family is not just one among several topics in the film. This is a film not only about family, but also by family, a film of family. After introducing the film as a “Kid’s Rainbow Album,” Tahimik describes it a few seconds later in another intertitle as “a celluloid collage by Kidlat Tahimik and Kidlat Gottlieb Kalayaan.” The latter is the full name of his eldest son, who serves as co-narrator throughout the film—although his contribution is felt most strongly in the first part, during a long segment dedicated to a journey through the United States that Kidlat Sr. took with his father. Especially in this first part, the film’s principal communicative mode is dialogical. The son talks about family life, about the Philippines as a Third World country, about the United States and the global impact of its culture industry, while the father intervenes with questions, corrections, complications, and—perhaps most importantly—with wordplay.
In fact, Tahimik’s most important mode of opposition, the most important weapon in his arsenal of counter-filmmaking, is language; his cinema intervenes in and through language. In so doing, it starts not with fixed meanings and language-as-definition, but with the opposite—the notion of the fluidity of language. In Tahimik’s cinema, wordplay is not an abuse of language but its natural form of existence. Wordplay is indeed a subversive act, but even more importantly, it is a creative one. When Tahimik alters slogans, proverbs, figures of speech, his goal is not so much to unearth previously hidden meanings as to actively invent new ones. It’s about taking control of language in ways both pragmatic and playful. In order to make sense of the world and their relationship to it, his films constantly bend, repeat, and distort words (and by extension images, since Tahimik’s notion of cinematic language encompasses both verbal and visual articulations, easily bridging a gap film theorists have often declared insurmountable). The “Trojan horse” becomes, by way of Disney, the “Trojan mouse.” The “benevolent assimilation” proclaimed by the American colonizers might be better described as a “benevolent assassination.” The “boycott against Marcos” might be joined by the “boy scouts against Marcos.”
Tahimik’s favorite means of bringing words and images into play is metaphor. Or, to be more precise: not one metaphor, but many metaphors, a continuing invention and re-invention of metaphors. One could almost describe Tahimik’s filmmaking as a metaphor machine. (Not, I should say, unlike the filmmaking of Jean-Luc Godard and Alexander Kluge—the differences and similarities between the works of these three filmmakers and their respective politics of metaphor are elaborated in C. Pavsek’s book-length study The Utopia of Film: Cinema and Its Futures in Godard, Kluge, and Tahimik.) Some of Tahimik’s metaphors are complex and, at first glance, rather obscure, such as the “Zwiebel (onion) complex,” which has its roots in Tahimik’s German period and the design of German church steeples. Others are more straightforward, and still others are even a bit childish, such as the camera as “spaghetti machine” constantly referred to throughout Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow. The title itself is yet another metaphor: yellow was the Aquino movement’s signature color; Tahimik’s film installs it as the new center of the Philippine rainbow/society.
One of the most important metaphors in this film is of course the family itself, as I mentioned above, because of how it relates to dominant ideologies of state and society. But the film doesn’t content itself with simply countering one family model with another. Tahimik’s key move is a different one: he repeatedly inserts his own family, and especially his three sons, into other metaphors. In a way, family is not the content of the film but the form, the fabric of metaphor. Using Lego blocks, his kids reenact a crucial event that led to the end of Marcos’s reign: the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., an opposition politician gunned down on August 21, 1983, at Manila International Airport. The children pose with toy skulls in front of a statue of John Hay, Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of state, who played a pivotal role in establishing American rule in the Philippines in the 1890s. Sometimes, the kids just hurl tree branches against posters celebrating the dictator.
As the above examples make clear, Tahimik’s investments in metaphorical play are never ends in themselves. By inserting his sons and himself (more rarely his wife4, which can result in a certain gender imbalance) into metaphors and other language games, his cine-family becomes part of the political struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. The entire family celebrates Corazon Aquino, Benigno’s widow and successor as opposition leader, and the entire family joins the protest movement emerging in the mid-1980s, which led to the People Power Revolution in 1986. The first real Philippine post–martial law election in 1986 is reflected in an elementary school election in which one of Tahimik’s sons is on the ballot. In Tahimik’s work, family life is never a private matter, but can be viewed instead as a natural correlation to and continuation of both political history and artistic practice. This continuation becomes especially evident in the second half of his most recent film, Balikbayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III, where Tahimik casts Kabunyan as his own alter ego, symbolically handing over his artistic legacy to his son—who is by now a renowned artist himself.
A Different Form of Stasis: Evolution of a Filipino Family
In Lav Diaz’s work, such successful lines of inheritance are completely unthinkable. If the family in Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow is always evolving, in Evolution of a Filipino Family the family disintegrates, which makes the film’s title paradoxical. In Tahimik’s work, the family at the center of the film can almost be thought of as a sort of political art collective, a flexible interpersonal association that is in touch with history by default (although not necessarily in synch with it). Diaz’s families, in contrast, are always both isolated and scattered, as well as already thoroughly cut off from history, sometimes even cut off from their own histories. The most obvious difference from Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow is that in Evolution of a Filipino Family, the family in question is a fictional one, which exists only for the duration of projection.5
In addition, the family isn’t a “proper” family even within the fictional world of the film. The complex web of characters Diaz establishes never coalesces into a family unit in the classic sense—into father, mother, kids all unified under one roof. Instead, the families are always makeshift—just a few, almost random, people who are, for a limited time, living together, some of them related biologically and some not. Indeed, if the film has a single human center, it is Raynaldo (Elryan de Vera), an orphan who, after the death of his first adoptive mother, moves around between various groups of people, various family fragments.
For most of the film—and in the case of Evolution of a Filipino Family, this means for several hours—Diaz cuts back and forth between two distinct households, one almost exclusively male, the other almost exclusively female. Raynaldo has come to stay with Fernando (Ronnie Lazaro), who takes the boy along with him into the mountains, where, together with two of Fernando’s male relatives, they dig for gold. Meanwhile, Raynaldo’s old adoptive family is living an impoverished life in the countryside. After Raynaldo’s disappearance and the imprisonment of Kadyo (Pen Medina), the sole other male around, only women remain: the three sisters Huling (Banaue Miclat), Ana (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo), and Martina (Lorelie Futol), as well as their grandmother (Angie Ferro). Diaz establishes the ever-shifting connections between his characters through the fundamentally uncertain fate of Raynaldo, this most marginalized of figures; through the precarious presence of a largely silent, withdrawn kid.
Like Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow, Evolution of a Filipino Family announces itself as a family film from the start. The first words spoken belong to a voice-over, in the voice of Huling: “This is the tale of my grandmother, my father, my mother, my aunt Hilda, the story of my sisters and myself, and the story of Raynaldo.” As I indicated above, this enumeration isn’t exhaustive, and it also suggests an interpersonal coherence that never emerges in the ensuing film. Indeed, later voice-overs do not adhere to the narrative point of view established in the first one, if only because most of them are not spoken by Huling, but by Raynaldo, and are thus positioned outside the family.
To be sure, the voice-over itself is an anomaly in this film. For the most part, Evolution of a Filipino Family unfolds in a decidedly detached way, with single shots often lasting several minutes. While the film never claims to speak from a position of objective neutrality, cinematic markers of subjectivity, such as voice-overs and POV shots, are largely absent. If Tahimik’s film can be described as a family stream of consciousness, Diaz’s film can be viewed as a family record of unconsciousness. Indeed, in Evolution of a Filipino Family, the characters spend a lot of time just sitting around in silence, not even waiting for something to happen, utterly numb and immobile.
This specific mode of unconsciousness is doubled in a strange way in the Philippine radio soap operas that several characters in Evolution of a Filipino Family follow with avid, even manic, dedication. These soaps were broadly popular during the Marcos years, and more often than not they themselves told extremely lurid tales of family life. They are constantly present throughout Diaz’s film, serving as narrative glue connecting the various strands of the story as well as representing a distorted mirror image of this very same story. At first glance, one might assume that this elaborately constructed text (Diaz even includes scenes set inside a fictional radio station studio) within the text serves to establish a simple opposition between escapist entertainment on the one hand and the harsh realities of its audience’s lives on the other. And thereby, also, between escapist cinematic entertainment and the stylistically detached counter-historiography Diaz’s cinema approaches. At second glance, one realizes that the two modes of storytelling might not be that different, after all: Diaz’s sometimes almost completely motionless time-images and the hyperventilating but ultimately aimless narrative hyperboles of the radio soaps might be, in the end, just two different forms of stasis.
This also means that, when confronted with historical change, both forms of storytelling are ultimately helpless. In this way, the inclusion of the radio soaps hints at the scope of Diaz’s skepticism regarding the power of cinema as an agent of social change. At its core, Evolution of a Filipino Family is not a film about history, but about the inability to relate to history on both a biographical and an artistic level. This becomes especially clear in one of the most intense sequences of the film, when Kadyo, one of the main characters, walks through Manila while a political demonstration is taking place. Contrary to the members of Tahimik’s family, Kadyo does not enthusiastically join the crowd, but instead drags himself, mortally wounded, in the opposite direction, to die a lonely death, far away from his—or any—family.
Seen from this perspective, the differences between the two films couldn’t be more pronounced: while in Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow Tahimik inserts his family into history, in Evolution of a Filipino Family the family is expelled from history. In Tahimik’s film, the counter-family destabilizes meaning (but at the same time produces a new one); in Diaz’s, it destroys it. Tahimik is clearly the more optimistic of the two filmmakers. In several passages of , Tahimik turns his attention to indigenous cultures, to the ecological movement, and sometimes also to a spirituality along the lines of ancient Philippine and Japanese philosophies. In doing so, Tahimik is looking for positive alternatives to the destructive forces that shaped Philippine history in the twentieth century, forces that he identifies with the violence inherent in Western modernity. In Evolution of a Filipino Family, on the other hand, there’s no escape from negativity. A new form of political subjectivity might only emerge, one day, from a position of total outsider-hood and marginality.
Philippine Cine-Families after Marcos
Both films are exceptional works even within the oeuvres of their respective directors, especially when compared to the majority of Philippine films. This also means that they do not easily fit into the usual accounts of film history. In concluding this essay with some reflections on Tahimik’s and Diaz’s relationship to the development of Philippine cinema in the last few decades, it is not my intention to install the directors as “twin fathers” of the family of Philippine independent filmmakers. Rather, I’d like to point out some of the ways in which the work of both directors reveals frictions inherent in the fabric of that family.
In the 1970s, when Tahimik became a filmmaker, Philippine cinema was enjoying what some today think of as its golden age. However, the local film scene was still thoroughly dominated by an industry-style, studio-based mode of filmmaking. This structure might have been suitable for directors of socially committed narrative cinema like Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal (or at least, allowed them to exist), but it had no place at all for personal, experimental work outside the genre/star system. Because there was neither financing nor an audience (or, to be more precise: an infrastructure that would produce and support an audience) for the kinds of films he wanted to make, Tahimik had to look elsewhere. While many of his films were made basically without any financial support worth mentioning, he sometimes managed to acquire funds from foreign backers, especially Japanese. There were also almost no screens available in the Philippines for his cinema, so the distribution of his films was by and large confined to international festivals and other special venues. This specific geographic hybridity of Tahimik’s cinema finds a direct continuation in the films themselves: while Why Is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow is not an essay about globalization to the same degree that his famous first feature The Perfumed Nightmare was, the film is nevertheless set in at least half a dozen different countries.
In this regard, Tahimik can be viewed as a pioneer of a mode of production that today is common among a younger generation of art filmmakers in his home country. The vitality and (relative) success of Philippine independent cinema is directly related to the exponential growth of what Thomas Elsässer, in his book European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood, has called “festival networks.” Not only has the number of festivals increased tremendously over the last two decades, but they have also grown more powerful. In the past, festivals represented just one among several venues of distribution, a convenient place for producers to introduce their products to the marketplace. Now, in many cases, and especially for films from countries like the Philippines, festivals are the only marketplace available, and sometimes they even take over the role of producer—see, for example, the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund, an important source of financing for many Philippine art filmmakers, Diaz among them. This also means that a sizable portion of contemporary independent cinema never leaves the festival networks, which in some ways no longer represents a window to the world, but rather a closed circuit.6
Diaz’s fame is also at least partly built on these mechanisms: after being “discovered” on the fringes of the international festival circuit in the mid-2000s, he slowly but steadily worked his way toward its center, where he finally arrived by winning top awards in Locarno (2014) and Venice (2016). Still, among directors of the recent wave of Philippine independent cinema he is an exceptional case, not least because at the beginning of his career he did try his hand at commercial filmmaking. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, while simultaneously working on Evolution of a Filipino Family, Diaz shot four features for the production companies Good Harvest and Regal (even earlier, he had directed two short films and co-written screenplays for action film star Fernando Poe Jr.). While he ended such mainstream ambitions in a rather unambiguous manner with the release of Batang West Side and Evolution of a Filipino Family, it might be argued that he never really cut the cord to more traditional notions of a national cinema as radically as Tahimik did.
Diaz’s decision to shoot his films almost exclusively in the Philippines although he was living in New York half the year indicates an ongoing commitment to the cinematic traditions of his home country, and his use of well-known actors forges a connection to local popular culture that is absent in Tahimik’s work (as well as in the work of many of his contemporaries, including Raya Martin and John Torres). Also, after Evolution of a Filipino Family, he abandoned his experiments with docu-fiction hybridity. While his newer films are not necessarily more accessible, at least some of them (for example Norte, the End of History) explore aesthetic patterns somewhat more in line with European art-house cinema, especially in the way they favor formal and narrative closure over the more open-ended structure of his early magnum opus. Indeed, while Evolution of a Filipino Family had almost no visibility in the Philippines for many years, these days, his films—even a 485-minute work like A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery—do receive distribution in his home country, if very limited. It is not impossible that Diaz might one day join predecessors like Brocka (who is directly referred to several times throughout Evolution of a Filipino Family) and Bernal as a Philippine “National Film Artist”—an ambition Tahimik clearly never nursed.
Again, by pointing out these differences it is not my aim to pit one filmmaker against the other. Rather, I would argue that the diverging aesthetic choices and career paths of the two directors emerge from the same source: both Diaz and Tahimik have staged (and continue to stage) radical interventions against dominant modes of filmmaking as well as against dominant ideological assumptions. Each in his own way—and maybe even more important, each in his own historical time. Different times call for different (counter-)measures. In the 1970s, Tahimik almost single-handedly managed to blast open the tight restrictions surrounding Philippine cinema, not only discovering new modes of artistic expression, but also clearing a path for future filmmakers to follow. Diaz, on the other hand, started out in the 1990s from the position of the total but precarious freedom of digital no-budget filmmaking. Now he is trying, against all odds, to create a new kind of national cinema. A national cinema that does not gloss over all the black holes, all the negativity lurking in Philippine history, but that instead takes this very negativity as its logical and only point of departure.