2nd best essay winner: John Leihmar Centeno Toledo, Laguna

How and in what ways Filipinos can decolonize knowledge?

Decolonization begins with the mind, a conscious act of foregrounding the unconscious, silenced, unsaid, or gaps in our ways of seeing our society. Filipinos can decolonize cultural practices and knowledge by realizing that throughout history, our education and theories, were patterned and centered on the Western master narratives, theories, practices, and constructions of the Self, that is from the American/European white bourgeois male center of thought. To decolonize knowledge is to avowedly foreground the narratives, histories, realities, and cultures of minorities, silenced, and voiceless sectors in our society (peasants, working class, women, indigenous peoples, sexual minorities, persons with disabilities, persons with illnesses and traumas, and many others).

The question that demands certainty and articulation in the project of decolonizing the Filipino mind entails the rejection or conscious critique of master narratives or theoretical studies from the West. This is not to mean, in the nativist sense, the total disavowal of the influences of the West on our current regimes of understanding. In order to decolonize knowledge, we must acknowledge that our culture is a simultaneity or overlapping of myths inside/outside or from/with/in our nation that colonized or entered our culture, with ethical and religious philosophies, and with aesthetic, political, and economic ideologies that also shape the way we live (as produced by conflicting cultures—the residual, the dominant, and the emergent—in contradiction, uncertainty, and cultural violence with each other).  I lay down here some of my ideas about the decolonization project:

1. The first suggestion is to address the gaps, unsaid, and silences in our current literature of cultural minorities/subalterns. By refocusing our literature and our methodologies on searching for indigenous Filipino knowledge and foregrounding the realities (say of the Bajau), we deepen our commitment to decolonizing the mind and articulate, in our discourses and specific fields of knowledge, the multiplicity of our realities, histories, and aspirations (borrowing from Priscelina Patajo-Legasto).

2. The second is to continue further studies to the relationship between language and colonization or cultural/spiritual subjugation (reaffirming what Ngugi Wa Thiong’o has established in his book Decolonizing the Mind). Linguistic violence has proliferated in our education and political systems as enabled by the dominant regime. For example, we have to establish a set of studies that reaffirms the power of regional languages over colonial languages dubbed as global languages. We have to critique Western hegemonic practices and policies in Filipino language, education, and culture that assimilates or silences the marginalized and propagates neoliberal principles of individualism and self-interest as naturally occurring or essential in the everyday. By articulation of this critique, we recover, resurface, revaluate, or unearth indigenous cultural groups, cultural practices, and cultural texts that have been forgotten, sidelined, or neglected in history. Its reproduction in knowledge revaluates counter-hegemonic/alternative texts. For example, we encourage indigenous concepts from the languages of our country (say pusong or pamumusong) as sources, influences, or theoretical paradigms that may open up our understanding or philosophy of kahihiyan, pagpapahiya, or pagmumura in the contemporary popular culture. It may also encourage the survival of medicinal practices that has endured modernity and post-modernity such as pagsusuob. Another idea would be to translate Western concepts in what is present in the Filipino language such as kagaw for an illness caused by coronavirus.

3. The third and last suggestion is to resituate our decolonizing project into the political and social realities of this period. To significantly not only voice but immerse in the other, we must therefore highlight the lived realities, histories, and struggles of the sectors that we foreground in our studies. We must realize how social minorities like the unemployed and the urban poor, and the middle class and elite, are fragmented or damaged by the neoliberal condition. In political realities, we read how certain hegemonic practices have subjugated or oppressed the lower classes of society. Decolonization also addresses solutions, not anymore confined within the walls of academic discourses and literature, but for the creation of a more humane environment of our future generations. It is also concerned with how the collective became popular movements in our history. It highlights why these movements are counterparts or even totally opposites of the Western political, social, and civic movements. By acknowledging that we have practices like gay beauty pageants in the barangay fiestas that function as religious feasts, we hurl alternative practices in our Filipino histories that are sidelined or neglected by Western concepts of drag and underground ball culture.

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