a1 History, University of Washington
After more than three hundred years of colonial rule, Filipinos began a revolution against the Spanish empire in August of 1896. By June of 1898, revolutionary forces had managed to overwhelm the Spaniards who were already reeling from the destruction of their navy in the initial days of their war with the United States and had been fatally weakened by the decade-long revolution in Cuba. In the Philippines, a Revolutionary government was formed under the dictatorship of Emilio Aguinaldo. It declared independence, convened a convention to write a constitution and briefly succeeded in forming a Republic led by the wealthiest men of the archipelago by January of 1899. But by February, Filipinos were engulfed in a new war against an emergent U.S. empire that was to last through much of the first decade of the twentieth century, leading to U.S. colonization of the Philippines until 1941.
1 The significance of this title will become evident in the last section of this essay. Still, it is worth pointing out that “welcoming what comes” is my rough translation of a common Tagalog saying, “Bahala na,” or “come what may.” It is usually said in response to conditions of extreme uncertainty that nonetheless call for urgent action. One acts without knowing exactly what one will do, or what effects such actions will have, or what will become of one at the end of an act. How does one manage without a job and with four children to feed, pass an exam without enough time to study, embark on a job in a foreign country whose language and customs are entirely alien from one's own? “Bahala na,” would be the first, but certainly not the last response. It thus signifies a willingness to expose oneself to chance, to face the unknown which is yet to have a face, and to open oneself up to the other from another place and in another time: thus, to be free for a future that is yet to come. With “bahala na,” we begin to get a sense of what the vernacular notion of sovereignty might be like, which is one of the topics of this essay.
Acknowledgments: I am grateful to the four anonymous CSSH readers who offered extensive comments on this essay. I am particularly thankful to Reader #1, who remains wholly skeptical and unconvinced of my arguments about the political theology of Spanish imperialism, yet in the end acquiesced to the essay's publication, assigning my failure to his and other, presumably Spanish, scholars’ inability to explain the complexities of Spanish imperial history to the academy outside of Spain. The pathos in his comments draw attention to the essential fiction of authorial sovereignty, suggesting that despite conventional gestures of taking sole responsibility for one's shortcomings, one's failures like one's successes are in fact a shared and open-ended responsibility.