Tag Archives: reflection


On the Conflict in Sabah

By Kert

“… ‘nation’ is a fundamentally contested concept that defies easy definition or explanation.”

“when we locate and define a ‘nation’s origins’ we are in effect also mapping, often literally, it’s current political claims and aspirations”

(Jackson-Preege 2010)

(Image Via GMA News Online)

Presently, the talks and arguments I hear on Sabah from Filipinos revolve around the legitimacy of Sulu’s claim over Sabah. Different figures are maneuvering in relation to Sulu’s claim — the Malaysian government, the Philippine government and the Sulu sultanate.

But other things are also wanting of discourse here. First is how Malaysia was threatened as armed men from Sulu landed in Sabah, which the two parties consider their territory. As a nation, Malaysia has to protect if not their people, but their political claim towards Sabah. Second is the human rights violation the Malaysian government had done towards Filipino citizens (and the Philippine president’s inaction). The brutal response of the Malaysian government with sixty three people dead cannot and must not be overlooked.

There is another dimension to it that is absent in most conversations about the issue. Everyone seems to have forgotten the actual people living in Sabah and how they consider their nationality. How do they define their identity? Which nation do they consider “home”? We talk so much about the sultan of Sulu’s claim, but what about the claim of the people actually living in Sabah? Would they consider themselves Malaysians or members of the Sultan’s people? And if we take into account the definition of territoriality back in the time of the Spanish, what sort of national identities should we follow? — and I mean this not only for Sabah but for the entire Insular Southeast Asia.

Voices of the ordinary people are seldom heard in the conversations. But the people of Sabah should be at the heart of this issue.  At the moment, the lives of the people in Sabah will be the most affected by the recurring changes of the decisions of the nations. They’re in the middle of the game set between Malaysia, Philippines and the sultanate of Sulu. And as the tension gets higher, they’re the ones left in a difficult situation.

The Field Experience

By Kert

The Archaeologist’s guns (Image via assemblage.group.shef.ac.uk)

There’s always something charming about archaeological sites. Perhaps it’s the history of the place, or the deep cultural meanings and values enveloping that certain space. Or perhaps it’s the idea of being able to uncover the long-forgotten stories and the lives of past peoples frozen in that piece of land. There are so many reasons why Archaeology is an interesting subject and why it is so addictive to join archaeological excavations.

This year I was given the chance (which I am very thankful for) to be once again a member of an archaeological team investigating a site in Southern Luzon. I’ve been a part of the team for five consecutive seasons and there’s always something interesting to find each year. The site is very rich with archaeological material and the field still continues on.

The archaeology of the place is very exciting. It is just a few yards away from the beach (a very strategic place not only for the past peoples but also for us excavators). It is a burial site around a thousand or so years old. We found more than 60 burial jars – primary and secondary – and a handful of extended burials. These burials are topped by various forms of covering – cairns, slabs and grooved markers. Some jars also have tridacnae markers on top of them. Shell midden and pots are also present in the area, which may suggest that there are areas for offerings in the site. The jar burial culture of the site coincides with the burial procedures across the country and many parts of Southeast Asia and also early Japan (where they used two jars placed together mouth-to-mouth as burial). Several grave goods are also associated with the burials such as beads (one jar has more than 300 beads), shells and blades. One of the students from  our Australian counterpart wrote about the mortuary practices exemplified in the site but I have yet to read her research.

Aside from the archaeology, the fieldwork (not just this fieldwork, but every other fieldwork) is also interesting for its group dynamics. Everyday in the field is routine speckled by bits of fun and so many opportunities to learn not just about the site but also about the people around. In the field, you also learn about life and humanity. It sounds like a cliche but it’s true. The history and the material culture of the site are the main focus in an archaeological dig, but there are also many dimensions to it. The fieldwork is not a hollow space. It is a social space with different dynamics going on between people — between the locals and the members alike.

The fieldwork is not “reality” for the excavators and even for the locals. For the excavators, the field isn’t daily life. It is so much different and for many, it requires so much adjustments. It’s an alien environment surrounded by unfamiliar things.

Of course, the fieldwork is an opportunity to meet new people and even meet new friends from the locals and even from the team itself. Where I joined, there were familiar faces but there were also a lot of new people. Thankfully, my social skills are getting better and I became friends with many of them.

However, since it’s an alien environment, we only get to interact amongst ourselves. Imagine three weeks interacting with the same people and without escape. Much like being in Big Brother. Of course, tensions would arise and it’s usually about the pettiest things one could imagine. Different personalities get mashed in one space. Everything, every sensation, every emotion is heightened in the field as people become vulnerable from being detached from their real lives for some time.

Amidst the goings-on in the field, some of these new faces end up as good friends. I’ve gained a lot of amazing friends from the field — friends who have been there for me and helped me during my low moments, friends who have accepted me for who I am. These friendships last for a lifetime. I never saw some of the good friends I gained after the field (which makes me sad), but we still continue to be friends until now. And for those who come back, it is always a breath of fresh air to see them again.

As for the locals, the field season is the time when foreign people (even Filipinos from the team are foreign in the area) enter their lives. For some, life goes on and they are apathetic to the excavation. But for most locals, these new people are everywhere — walking in the beach, swimming in the sea, riding their boats, meeting them face-to-face on the roads, buying stuff from their stores. For three weeks, these foreign people enter their lives. And these locals also get involved in what these weird foreign people are doing. They visit, become curious, ask around and even help out in the archaeological activities. It’s always great to meet a curious local who’s interested to learn about what’s going on in the site and how it is connected with his/her past.

After three weeks, these foreign people leave. There is an abrupt disjunction to all the commotion that was stirred. For many of them, there is sadness in not seeing the people they’ve become accustomed in seeing everyday for three weeks. Every year, I see a couple of locals cry when we leave. We are sad too for we’ve become friends with many of them. Much more than being locals or more than being informants, they’ve become our buddies and they let us enter their lives.

A person must know how to tread in the field. One is never on his/her own so it’s not fair to only think about one’s self. Again, the field is not just about the archaeology but also about the community around. After a day’s worth of digging, one must face the people who make up an essential part of the field.

Lastly, I’d like to point out than an archaeological dig is more than just digging in the sandbox. It is also more exciting than an Indiana Jones film (in terms of archaeology, the people and experience). It is a mishmash of scientific and social encounters. There’s always something new to learn every season.

Note: Photos will follow tomorrow.

I am more than just your alarm clock and sandwich maker

By Patty Sue

Note: This post can also be found in Patty Sue’s blog, thenyannyanadventures

Hi! The male who drew me is a jerk (Image via cSlacker)

As an anthropology student, I have been exposed to a rich amount of literature which deals with gender issues especially those concerned with women empowerment and equal rights in society. In a culture where patriarchal manifestations are greatly felt, it is but appropriate and empowering for me at the same time to identify even in brief discourse the various institutions in society which create or reinforce unjustified gender roles and stereotypes to women.


The family is the most basic unit in society. In most cultures, just like ours, it is in the family where our deep socialization is deeply rooted. As the only daughter (and child) in my family, I have personally experienced situations wherein I am identified and defined because of my gender. My father who is quite the conservative one would often downplay my capacity to protect myself and would oftentimes reprimand me and confine me at home, even in school field trips. There are many underlying reasons as to why he does this and possibly one reason is because he wants to protect me. However, it is also in this context that I am degraded to nothing but someone who must be protected. My father would always say, “Babae ka. Hindi ko kaya proteksyonan sarili mo. Mahina ka.” These words would always have a great impact on me because I do not believe that I am merely defined by my biological characteristics.

Women- The Domesticated sphere of Economics

In a recent public presentation that my batch mates and I had in Naga, one interesting topic stood out in my classmate’s paper and it was the role of women as fisherman’s wives. I can’t but to reflect more on it because it has presented how women are clearly misconstrued and delegated to household chores and child rearing while the husband is the one who goes out and earn for the family through fishing. Being the Haligi ng tahanan would always undermine being theIlaw ng tahanan. It is in the connotations that most people attach to women as doing nothing but domesticated work or serving as alarm clocks for their husband and children that devalues women worth in the face of a capitalist society.


Media and its new forms namely the Internet and Visual media have had a great influence in reinforcing ideologies on gender. The picture above which I got from 9GAG.com, an entertaining and fun site which is becoming an internet phenomenon, would often display pictures like this of the adventures of Derp and Derpina and how Derp, being the male and all, makes use of sexist jokes on her girlfriend, Derpina all the time. Although I find these picture posts funny, there is also that hidden fear as to how sexist jokes are taken to the extreme as posts like this, “Make me a sandwich” gain several likes on Facebook and other social networking sites. Truly, media has helped reinforcing gender stereotypes and sometimes it does so in its sneaky, magic tricks and lures people into sensationalizing and disguising gender stereotypes in humor or satire, which can be eye-opening but personally more and more normal for society especially in a generation of youth where internet is the primary means of information and entertainment.

So how do we resist? Run the world, girls!

I may be identified as a feminist (not the extreme one though) because of a fairly amount of papers that I made in my years as an anthropology student. For me, there is really an existing gender inequality, not only between male and female but also among gays and lesbians in society. It is in this light that I propose that the greatest resistance one could even do is change the perceptions of gender roles and assignments and society. In a society where patriarchy is dominant, woman resisting should be able to prove that staying in home and taking care of the children is empowering rather than degrading, a girl like me should be able to go beyond my biological identity and will be able to defend herself (I enrolled in Elorde boxing class, by the way, much to my father’s disapproval) and characters such as Derpina must be able to fight back against Derp and his sexist jokes (or even play jokes on him too as sweet revenge).

Women should because women can.

Kert’s Note: This is a reflection paper Patty Sue wrote for her Anthro 141 (Political Anthropology) class under Prof. E.M. Taqueban


What makes you a woman?

By Patty Sue

Note: This post can also be found in Patty Sue’s blog, thenyannyanadventures

You will all burn in hell. Mwahah! (Image via whynotcoconut.com)

”Homosexuality is not a sin, it is a lie from the devil. Do not be deceived. God loves gays and wants them to know the truth.”  -Miriam Quiambao

This is a tweet from the former beauty queen, Miss Miriam Quiambao. At first, I could not believe that she thinks this way of the LGBT community. I thought beauty queens are chosen not only for their beautiful appearance but also because they represented what is beautiful in humanity. But, what the heck, who am I kidding. I hate beauty pageants in the first place. Even if most people in society regard this as a significant event that seeks “true beauty”, I think it’s just a venue of parading women who live up to society’s expectations of beauty. In short, it’s more of an imposition of beauty rather than a discovery of one. My art studies professor once said that beauty pageants are no more  than sheep contests, wherein you pin a blue ribbon to the most attractive and well-bred sheep. You can’t really realize genuineness through a bikini, vital statistics, or long gown contest. The question-and-answer portion won’t suffice either. (I think we have been witnesses to that so many times.) So this makes me really frustrated and angry to hear such statements from a beauty queen.

Now, what was the issue that, Miriam Quiambao had to say things like this? Well, it all started with Donald Trump’s announcement that in 2013, Miss USA will allow transgenders to join. This decision was pushed to a finality after it was revealed that Miss Canada 2012 was actually a transgender. Although the it is still deemed to be problematic, LGBT sees this an important step to assert their identity and empower their community even more. Let’s face it, LGBTs are discriminated against in every social institution there is. They’ve been called demons and social deviants. They are stigmatized with stereotypes that are far from which they truly are. There have been several incidents of abuse and hate-crimes against the LGBT in the country. One case describes the burning of a gay person then stabbing him to death. All of these happen because of reckless words and unjust actions.

Now back to Miriam Quiambao. Okay, she has her own opinion on this issue. I respect opinions but I abhor imposing your opinions on everyone else. Aside from her tweets, she also had a number of interviews on TV where she was seated with transgenders. Of all the arguments which were laid in the discourse, Miss Miriam used one of the ‘most used’ and rather ‘misused’ of them all- religion. Roman Catholicism to be exact. I am Roman Catholic but I don’t persecute or humiliate others using my religion as a front.

Miss Miriam Quiambao should have been careful in choosing her words. Although I understand where she’s coming from since she is a former beauty queen and tradition has also been a huge and great wall to break in our country, it still does not justify her saying that homosexuality is a lie from the DEVIL. She should have realized that she is an icon in the country and very much part of the media so anything she says will make a great impact or influence on the audience. And to use biblical passages to defend this, if I must say, is insulting to those like me who loves LGBTs and GOD. I have to be honest by saying that since I was little, I didn’t mind interacting with LGBTs, considering my father is a homophobic. I guess it has a lot to do with my mother who’s always fair in treating people (that’s why I love her so much!) I studied in Christian schools and I’ve met with the most stern and horrific nuns and school administrators. Posing a question in class that leans on going against the Scripture was actually a taboo. You questioning their authority (and assumingly God’s) will either make you a troubled child to be sent for counselling or a real troublemaker that needs to be silenced. I was a ‘good’ girl back then and I basically conformed to everything that my teachers said. There were a few mentors whom I can confide with and few friends who share my sentiments.

Everything changed when I went to college where I befriended beautiful and wonderful people who aren’t straight. most of them are my best friends now. And I tell you they’re not any less lovable or respectable as any of my straight friends. When you attach labels, you create a division that isn’t supposed to exist. Furthermore, if it’s reinforced in institutions which are supposed to protect you, it creates an atmosphere of hate based on opinions which are strengthened through force and enculturation and without much enlightenment. I mean, really. Hearing Miriam Quiambao hurts my ears so much and makes me think how the hell does she deal with gays in her everyday life? The most talented fashion gurus and stylists are gays and considering her line of work, she must have dealt with a lot of them. Does she judge them while looking at them? Does she bat her eyes and say thank you whenever they make her look beautiful, while deep inside she thinks that they are lies from the devil?

Aside from her tweets, (which now turned to apologies with matching biblical quotations) there was one particular interview that also got on my nerves. It was when she asked a transgender, “What makes you a woman?” Well, it could have been just an inquiry for the sake of shedding light in the issue but I recognize a malicious tone when I hear one. So what did the transgender say? She told Miriam that she knows herself probably more than anyone and that being a woman is not only determined by your biological characteristics. ”Beauty is not in the vagina,” said JC Tejano, former chairperson of our college student council. I wished I could have shoved this statement right on Miriam’s mouth.

Well, what makes a woman, a woman?

In beauty pageants, one of the most popular question would be, “What is the essence of a woman?” A lot would say it’s having children or when you have an education or do things that men could do. These could be valid answers but I think it all boils down to having a choice. In other words, whatever you choose to define yourself with, people should respect that and recognize that you are empowered in what you’re doing. In fact, I’d like to take this to the extremes by citing that some Japanese porn stars find pornography empowering for them since they are in control of their bodies. I won’t go far from home and say that my mother, who is “just a mere housewife” for some men and women alike, take pride in being at home and taking care of me and the rest of the family. Our society will always have the notion that successful womanhood entails only those women who have a high-paying job and a prestigious career. In lack of a better reaction to this, I’ll just say that it’s completely BS. :)

How do I end this blog? I guess, I’ll conclude it by saying that Miss Miriam Quiambao is irresponsible and insensitive in her statements. To apologize on how she said it but not on what she said is an even greater insult to the LGBT community. To say that she didn’t expect that her statements would cause an upset is a presentation of complete ignorance of the dynamics of human discourse and ethics. To limit womanhood and beauty to a biological woman is a grave assault to the LGBTs out there who live and express their lives, their whole being, to what they believe is right. To use religion and to preach in God’s name to spread animosity instead of understanding is a sin against the basic commandment of God that all “preachers’ tend to forget: love one another.

People are people, Miriam. You’re crazy to judge others just because they’re different from you.

Thoughts About Intellectual Dishonesty

By Kert

Note: This post can also be found in my personal blog Trippings

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah! (image via MemeCreator.org)

It is the finals week and I am checking the papers of my students. I am very shocked to find out that none of them could do citations properly and more than half of them copied materials from the internet word for word. During the midterm exams, half of them obviously copied from another student (I know this because a lot of them have exactly the same answers, same number of correct and incorrect answers and, as ridiculous as it is, same number of misspelled words. There were even two essays that are exactly identical). As a teacher, this is appalling. As a former student who was always reminded of academic honesty, this is hideous.

But what am I to do? If I am to impose an iron hand, I should fail the lot of them. Cheating and dishonesty in the classrooms can be the beginning of future dishonesty. Plagiarism has been a major issue in the Philippines lately. There was a big scandal in 2010 in which a Supreme Court judge, Justice Mariano del Castillo was accused of plagiarism. People from the academe, especially the faculty of the University of the Philippines College of Law, were very vocal in their statement against the said act, which made them the target of the Supreme Court. There was a lot of heat in the event with Asian Correspondent writer Carlos Conde saying in one of his articles that “Philippine justice (is) a laughing stock”. Just this year, there is the senator Tito Sotto who shamelessly plagiarized an American blogger and even former US senator Robert Kennedy. He denied both cases even though the evidence was clearly there with his chief-of-staff admitting that passages were lifted from Sarah Pope’s blog and a copy of Sen. Sotto’s word for word translation of Kennedy’s 1966 speech made available in the internet. He brushed it off just like that, as if nothing happened. After that, he had the audacity to put ‘libel’ in the Cybercrime law to stop people from flooding him with hate speech.

Oh crap! They caught me! (image via ellentordesillas.com)

With government officials getting away with plagiarism issues, what message does that send to the people (especially the youth)? What does that say about our principles and values? “Certainly if it’s okay for them, then it is okay for us too. Because nobody cares, really.” Intellectual honesty is not valued enough. People like the Supreme Court justice and the senator should know better. And really, they should own up to their mistakes and not hide in the curtains of the “law” like the cowards that they are right now.

Back to the students. For them, the image regarding plagiarism is bleak. But then I wonder if there is an image at all. I am teaching in the university. First day of class I told them about plagiarism and that it could cause them a failing grade. I told them about citations, but I’m not an English teacher and we don’t have time to cover it properly (except for one sitting). However, my words have gone unheeded. But why? They’ve been in school, in the education system for 10-12 years before I’ve even met them. Most of them gave me a confused look when I said the word plagiarism and I had to spell it out on the board. P-L-A-G-I-A-R-I-S-M. Deliberately copying another’s idea and/or writings without attribution. Of course proving that a person plagiarized an idea is kinda tricky, but copying texts is more obvious. After my words, everybody said okay, but here I am several months later checking papers directly copied from the internet without quotations, without citations. And I’m screaming in my head, WHY??! Do they think I’m an idiot? And yes, I am frustrated.

They’ve been in school 10-12 years yet cheating doesn’t seem to make most of them feel any remorse (but I’d say that I also have students who really work hard and I am very proud of them). Does that say anything about our educational system? Why hasn’t it been remedied in between their 10-12 years in school? Teaching in the tertiary level, it’s hard to change some things that have already been ingrained in the minds of the students. They’ve been in this education system far longer than the time they spent in my class. I’m only there for one semester — a total of five months. And they’ve been through more situations in which they got away with cheating than being actually taught that it is wrong. How can I break that?

I also think that the grading system and the competitive set-up of the classroom have something to do with cheating. The Filipino education system is established on treating grades like a god, as if grades define the worth of a person. Students are pressured to get certain grades that they end up losing sight of what is right to achieve that goal. Cheating is okay, but getting a 5.0 is not. How did this value end up among our students? A co-teacher of mine said that cheating is a culture of the university. But I don’t want to believe it. I refuse to believe it. Besides, culture is supposed to be good. It’s supposed to make the society better and not drag it down. Or am I just being optimistic?

Now I am at lost whether I should really fail them or just give them the lowest passing grade possible. In one part, they are at fault. But in another, it is also our fault — the teachers. We are supposed to guide them to discern right from wrong and if they can’t do that, then there must be something missing — maybe we haven’t done our duty as best as we can. And so, it is also a bit unfair to just fail them like that. But then, it would be another time that they’re getting away with it.