Fighting for Life: Embodiments of Suffering, Survival, and Solidarity in Pandemic-Stricken Philippines



26 November 2021

2:30 p.m.

Fighting for Life: Embodiments of Suffering, Survival, and Solidarity in Pandemic-Stricken Philippines

The COVID-19 outbreak has put the Philippines at an unprecedented standstill. At the height of the health crisis in 2020, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte implemented castigatory measures to keep Filipinos at bay and with the view of stemming contagious transmissions. Currently, the Philippines has one of the most dragging lockdowns in the world. It is also a hothouse of the virus in Southeast Asia. These realities have taken a toll on the individual and collective lives of Filipinos, who continue to face the national consequences of COVID-19, such as rising unemployment rates, increasing number of infections, and ballooning prices of market commodities.  

In spite of these challenges, however, many Filipinos do not simply ride the tide. Different artistic communities, religious groups, civic organizations, and social movements deploy diverse practices to put up a fight and chronicle the social histories of their time. This panel offers perspectives on how Filipinos tap into a range of linguistic repertoires, social media networks, and communicative and performative acts in order to register their responses to their critical conditions. Highlighted in the following four presentations are Filipino bodies in constant motion and action, even while locked up in the (dis)comforts of their respective homes, particularly in online spaces which serve as the stages for their differently configured performances. This panel demonstrates that Filipinos dynamically work along and against a pandemic and the ongoing mayhem it has wrought in the domestic affairs of a nation placed, now more than ever, in protracted states of emergency. 

Filipinos on the Line:

Going Viral as a Mode of Collective Endurance in the Age of COVID-19?

Oscar Tantoco Serquiña, Jr.

The intersection between the virality of COVID-19 and the virulence of politicians like President Rodrigo Duterte has brought new tribulations to the Filipino people, while at the same time throwing into stark relief the longstanding social, political, and economic challenges besetting the Philippines. These unprecedented conditions have instigated numerous tactics of survival, creative expression, and resistance specifically among performing artists who continue to commit themselves to the ongoing fight for social justice. This paper highlights a gamut of individuals, organizations, and institutions in and beyond the Philippines that have maximized online platforms in order to stage their rhetorical and embodied responses to a generation-defining period and phenomenon rife with political and pathological risks. It underscores the role of performative spaces such as the Internet not only in documenting everyday contemporary life but also in offering more humane modes of surviving the current or any forthcoming period of crisis. 

Oscar Tantoco Serquiña Jr. is Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts at the University of the Philippines. Currently, he is a PhD candidate in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. His essays have appeared in Theatre Research InternationalPerformance ResearchHumanities DilimanKritika Kultura, the Philippine Political Science Journal, and the Philippine Humanities Review.

MonoVlog as a Protest from Home Movement

Olivia Kristine D. Nieto

This paper explores the aesthetics and sociality of the MonoVlog (a coinage that contracts the terms “monologue” and “vlog”) whose creation took place when Filipinos turned to the Internet to exercise free speech and creative expression in the time of enforced lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. This genre of online performance bundles the various Filipino lockdown experiences as a proof of life, a private conversation in social media, a health advisory, a tribute to frontliners, a death folder, a shout-out to advocacy groups, a community-led response to the pandemic, and a call for help. The art form not only creates a digital archive of the ways in which Filipinos live and lead their lives in intimate communities; additionally, it publicizes the conditions of work and emotional labor of Filipino performance makers who are also within these local communities. In the end, the MonoVlog is an emergency response of performance makers and an emerging artistic form that makes a stand on current issues concerning the unequal distribution of resources and the conflicting social positionalities of Filipinos that the global pandemic and the national government’s response to it have brought forth.

Olivia Kristine D. Nieto is an assistant professor at the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines Diliman. She is also a performance maker.

Hashtag Activism in the New Normal:

Sites of Contention and Acts of Citizenship in the Philippines under a pandemic

Charles Erize P. Ladia

Constrained physical mobility and suppressed oppositional action have become the new normal for democratization movements in the Philippines under a global pandemic. Under these current crises, social movements have turned to social media platforms and their corresponding affordances, such as hashtags, as viable sites for free speech and dissent. One of which, #MassTestingNowPH, called for the improvement of healthcare facilities, dissent to military approach to pandemic, and the implementation of free mass testing to the concerned population. This presentation examines how netizens enact their citizenship by claiming their rights, asserting their demands, and publicizing their responsibilities in the online space. Consequently, these acts of citizenship reveal the amorphous nature of social media and the capacity of netizens to strategize the space for their own advantage.

#MassTestingNowPh enables netizens to dissent, demand, and discuss illiberal health policies and exact accountability from those who instigate them. This process not only engenders performances of citizenship in online platforms but also transform social media spaces as sites of contention. This paper finds that social movements still employed traditional offline repertoires even in online spaces (e.g., spreading information about the cause, creating a community of supporters, and arguing against their opposition). But they have also introduced actions that are online specific, namely: establishing transnational democratization alliances, using multiple hashtags, mobilizing people to do online actions and promoting use of scientific data as evidence. This new site of contention is where netizens symbolically converge, collectively brainstorm, and, even more importantly, proactively come up with alternative proposals and policies they deem beneficial to the Filipino people. In doing so, netizens crucially redefine what it means to be a Filipino citizen amidst undemocratic health policies and draconian attacks on resistive voices and bodies.

Charles Erize P. Ladia is an assistant professor of speech communication and rhetoric at the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines Diliman. He earned his BA (Speech Communication) from UP Diliman and his Master of Public Management from the University of the Philippines Open University. Currently, he is pursuing PhD in Political Science and he is doing research on public addresses, political rhetoric, gender communication, social movements, and youth civic engagement.

As we gather (online): Covid-19 and Protestant church rituals 

Junesse Crisostomo

Faith and religion are often considered important resources for resilience and survival during times of crises. The COVID-19 outbreak, however, has affected even the ways in which religious messages are regularly transmitted. Governments across the world, for instance, have temporarily halted public church events and practices that can prospectively contribute to the spread of the virus. In the Philippines, most churches transferred their rites of faith to online sites primarily to comply with the lockdown measures implemented by the government and to keep congregations safe. This transportation/transformation of sacred acts and rituals to cyberspace gives light to how churches perform the legitimization of their views on the scientific and political dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis.

This paper will look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is rhetorically constructed by three Protestant local churches in the Philippines. The artifacts of the study are statements, sermons, interview transcripts with pastors and parishioners, and participant observation notes that offer insights to the churches’ views on the COVID-19 pandemic and to the ways they perform their responses to it. This paper pivots around the following questions: How are these rhetorical constructions translated into embodied (and) online performances? How do these changes contribute to a performance theology of a “new normal” in spaces of worship, member participation, and church growth? This paper argues that the rhetorical performances of churches during the pandemic have a crucial role in shaping the public’s embodied responses in coping with the crisis and in acting out their faith.

Junesse Crisostomo is a faculty member of the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts, University of the Philippines-Diliman. She recently finished her MA Communication degree with the UP Department of Communication Research through which she wrote her Master’s thesis on the role of the organizational rhetoric of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in shaping political participation during the Duterte administration. Ms. Crisostomo has also presented research in rhetoric and performance studies at academic conferences in the Philippines and abroad, and has published works on social drama, religious hashtags, and politics in Humanities Diliman and Plaridel.

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