Doing philosophy in the margins of PH society

12:05 AM August 23, 2016

DR. JEFFRY Ocay of Silliman University, a scholar in Critical Theory under the eminent thinker Axel Honneth, in his study “Exploring the philosophy of work of the elderly people in some remote areas in Negros Oriental,” critically applies “doing philosophy in the margins” in understanding the alternative to the destructive tendencies of globalization, underscoring the significance of our precolonial and precapitalist mode of organizing human labor. He has found out that old folks in Negros Oriental still practice a distinctly “communal way of behaving and consuming,” one that he says is anchored in “old culture and wisdom.”

The Filipino way of doing things is often informed by imported liberal principles which, by the way, are also the root cause of our problems. Globalization, for instance, has allowed people to experience comfort by means of the technological advances in the modern age. But at the same time it has also promoted the superficiality of some types of human relations.


For example, two people at a café may be busier in manipulating their phones or gadgets instead of valuing their face-to-face encounter. This is symptomatic of the estrangement of people at the interhuman level.

As Filipinos, we have a rich cultural heritage that has enabled our society to survive. One example of which is “bayanihan.” An individual lends a hand in order to help others in times of need. But the emphasis is not really in the “choice” of that person to be able to contribute to the wellbeing of his or her community. Rather, it is the spirit of “community” that empowers his or her resolve to be of help to others.


The term “bayanihan” has “bayani” as its base. However, a further examination will actually yield the word, “bayan.” To be a “bayani” in this regard is to be of selfless service to country, above all else.

Some noted Filipino scholars, notably Fr. Daniel Franklin Pilario and Bro. Karl Gaspar, have examined various instances upon which concrete philosophizing may be able to deliver actual change in Philippine society. The works of both scholars consider the importance of the common tao in bringing meaningful reform as opposed to state-centric ways of promoting social justice that has actually put aside the rich tradition and heritage of local culture and history. Ethnoresearch, in this sense, plays a very crucial role in doing philosophy in the margins of Philippine society.

But what are our present challenges? In point of fact, we are still dominated by oligarchs. Under our prevailing economic system, the ordinary individual does not have the means or power to determine the meaning of his or her life. The production of goods is controlled by rich capitalists who in turn extract profit from people.

Furthermore, the values of consumer culture have put the satisfaction of human desires above all else. This attitude bespeaks of a dangerous “throw away” culture that is characteristically materialistic. As a repercussion, people look at the world in a purely economic way, stripping the person of those human qualities that represent his or her meaningful ways of “being” and “living.”

In the analysis of modern Marxist scholarship, alienated labor has been connected to the idea of modern consumption patterns. People work anywhere in order to earn income. People use this income in consuming things or goods and, thus, in providing themselves with a certain level of satisfaction. Yet, this mode of human existence is limited and sometimes, empty.

In contrast, Doctor Ocay says that in the practice of “dagyawan” in Negros, one does not get from nature more than what is needed. In this sense, it is a mode of self-discovery or a way of life that goes beyond material satisfaction.

Philippine society has since evolved into a monstrous megamachine that has become unbearable to many. The majority of our people consider the state and its massive bureaucracy as an apparatus that needs to be fixed from a legal perspective.


But a purely legal framework cannot emancipate our people from the ills and moral discomfort of consumer culture. Laws are bereft of love’s labor. We may have actually forgotten, in this sense, to draw from our innermost values and history as a people, or in the uniquely Filipino experiences of “pakikiramay,” “malasakit,” or “pakikitungo,” all of which are ways and authentic expressions of the act of “pakikipagkapwa-tao.”

Doing philosophy in the margins is rooted in our social solidarity. But more importantly, it seeks to retrieve that sense of Filipino selfhood that is uniquely our own. While Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus,” or Gabriel Marcel’s “The Mystery of Being,” is always an interesting and an important read for all of our college students, they must also be told that the richness of human life goes far beyond the abstractions of continental thought.


Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of Philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He holds a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden. He is the founding president of Social Ethics Society.

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