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5th International Research Forum on the Philippines draws 42 research papers from around the world

MELBOURNE, Australia – More than 40 research papers from as far as the United States, Europe, and Asia were presented during the 5th International Research Forum on the Philippines conducted on November 23-24, 2017 at La Trobe University here.

The theme for this year’s forum was “Interrogating Paradoxes in the Philippines.” According to Oscar Serquiña, co-chair of the IRFP, this theme is a response to the contradictions happening in the country.

“[The research presented] were very diverse. At first, we were afraid that the participants would come from the centre. But we’re happy to know that the research were not as concentrated in Manila as it usually is,” he added.

Among the 12 concurrent oral presentations during the forum were research on social empowerment, education policy, arts and culture, human rights, migration diaspora, law and governance, and the environment. Two keynote presentations were given by esteemed academics Dr Nicole Curato of the University of Canberra and Dr William Peterson of Flinders University. Australia-based Filipino and Australian academics participated in panel discussions on the impact of the post-truth era on Philippine research and scholarship as well as effective dissemination of research work.

“We hope that the new knowledge generated from the work that you have passionately laboured on for months, would be more than written texts on academic journals but would go on to change lives, effect change, and inform policy,” said Ethel Villafranca, president of the Filipino-Australian Student Council of Victoria (FASTCO).

Participants of the International Research Forum on the Philippines 2017 pose for a photo at La Trobe University.

The challenge for Philippine studies in the time of Duterte

During her keynote address on “The Hierarchies of Misery in Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, Curato discussed the unequal distribution of compassion among communities of misery by comparing case studies on Typhoon Haiyan survivors and families or drug war victims.

She agued that research is one area where contestation of Duterte’s policies should come from.

“What we need is a form of understanding, a form of bearing witness that generates not only empathy but also reflexive judgment. And this form of witnessing the suffering of others necessitates us to ask questions about the boundaries of our moral communities…” Curato said.

She added: “Whether we are talking about disaster contexts or supporting families who are victims of the drug war, compassion is not enough, we need contestation. [We need to] inquire into the structures of misery, inquire into the performances of victimhood that underpin these discourses. The paradox of hierarchies of misery may never be resolved but they can be debated.”

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 12,000 people have been killed in Duterte’s drug war. Most of the victims come from slums and poor communities.

For presenter Dr Agustin Rodriguez, professor of the Ateneo de Manila University’s philosophy department, the rise of Duterte is wake up call for academics.

“From a local perspective, it really reveals a lot about how the marginalised have been marginalised…It’s a wake up call to all self-righteous liberals that there are things we don’t understand about Philippine society, especially academics. We’ve never been really able to address governing ‘the others’ in the population,” said Rodriguez, who presented about “How Kristo Democratized Langit and Framed Liberation.”

Dr Nicole Curato (University of Canberra) delivers her keynote address for IRFP 2017.

The Philippines’ Grabe Performance

Meanwhile, Peterson discussed the Philippines’ performance at the 1964-1965 New York World Fair and how this phenomenon of too-muchness or grabe in Tagalog marked the affective encounter between Filipinos and Americans in this era.

“The experience of grabe involved a significant, repetitive relentless assault to one or more senses that exceed the human organism to process the stimuli,” he said.

According to Peterson, there were four sites of encounter of grabe during the 1964-1965 World Fair, namely, (1) he affect of encounter inside the pavilion itself, (2) the performance of gender at the opening ceremony, (3) the public performance of diplomacy, (4) the public performances during the Philippine cultural invasion of New York.

“The Philippines offered not only excess but did a kind of short-circuiting of public expectations subverting the then prevailing stereotype of sexy Asian women by placing women in key active roles as cultural ambassadors,” Peterson added.

The discussion that followed Peterson’s speech highlighted how this experience of excess, especially in the context of the Philippine oligarchy, served as the backdrop for the excess Imelda Marcos showed in the years that followed.

Areas for collaboration

IRFP 2017 is the flagship academic project of FASTCO, the umbrella Filipino student organisation in the state of Victoria. Its member organisations include the Melbourne University Filipino Students Association and the RMIT University Filipino Student Association. The forum is organised in partnership with the Philippines-Australia Studies Centre of La Trobe University, with support from Aussisz Group.

Philippine Consul-General to Australia Nina Cainglet said the forum pushes Philippine-Australia relations forward: “It’s good to be having these research forums because it helps the Australian public know more about the Philippines and from there we might be able to see areas for further cooperation.

Moving forward, Serquiña hopes the future IRFP conferences will become broader in scope and participation. “We’re looking forward to encounters between academics and policy makers, private citizens and public officials, students from all levels, and most importantly, stakeholders in the community.

Some of the IRFP 2017 Organising Committee with the Philippine Consul General Nina Cainglet (3rd from left) and La Trobe University Philippine Studies Director Dr Trevor Hogan (right most). (L-R) Neslie Tan, David Lozada, Allen Espinosa, Oscar Serquina, Ethel Villafranca (all from UniMelb).

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