JULY 23, 2008
(STAR) PENMAN By Butch Dalisay - Some scholars might quibble with my use of the word “Filipiniana” in the title of this piece, but now that I have your attention, let me announce that the world’s biggest gathering of people seriously interested in all things Philippine and Filipino will be taking place this week in Quezon City.

The University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University will be the venues for the eighth International Conference on Philippine Studies (ICOPHIL). Held every four years, ICOPHIL brings together world-renowned scholars and experts in Philippine Studies for several days of sharply focused discussions on various aspects of Philippine life, culture, and society covering history, politics, economics, and art and literature, among others. This year, more than 70 panel discussions featuring some 270 speakers have been organized, with seven panels to choose from at any given time from July 23 to July 25; there will also be several plenary sessions revolving around the conference’s overall theme of “Philippine Studies in the 21st Century: New Meanings, Critiques, and Trajectories.”

The Philippine Studies Association, headed by its president, Dr. Bernardita R. Churchill, is organizing the conference with the help of the Philippine Social Science Council (PSSC) and the International Board of Philippine Studies Conferences. (I sit on the PSA’s board, which is why you’re reading this.)

It still comes as a surprise to me sometimes to realize how interesting we are to the world, and how some foreign scholars — say, Roger Bresnahan at Michigan State and Alfred McCoy and Michael Cullinane at UW-Madison — have spent much of their lives mulling over our history and our problems. Beyond America, there’s also been a lot of critical attention coming recently from Japanese, Australian, and other scholars from the region. I’m particularly happy to be hosting an old friend, historian Greg Bankoff, who has developed a unique expertise in environmental history and who has written and lectured on disasters and on crime in 19th-century Philippines. Greg now teaches at the University of Hull in England after many years of being based in Australia and New Zealand, but he’s never lost his interest in the Philippines and has tied up his ICOPHIL stint with some research and lecturing he’s doing in Baguio.

And in the Philippines, of course — thanks to the promotion and strengthening of Philippine studies in UP and other universities—our own scholars, researchers, and writers have been confronting the complex and often difficult realities of life in these islands. (In this ICOPHIL’s lineup of topics, I’ve noted that people have also begun looking into how Filipinos have been making an impact beyond the Philippines—in places like Austria, Brazil, and Macau.)

It’ll be impossible for anyone to attend even half of all the sessions on offer, so participants will have to plot their days very carefully. (The sessions on Wednesday and Friday will be held at the PSSC; those on Thursday will be at the Ateneo). I won’t be reading anything, but I’ll be moderating a session on Philippine Literature in English, so I’ll use my free time to run around and listen in on a virtual smorgasbord of sessions.

I’m intrigued, for example, by such topics as “Forty-Eight Nights at the Opera in Manila in 1865” (William John Summers); “Blogs and Blogging: Writing in the Diaspora (Judith B. Salamat); “Making a List: Analytical Bibliography, Literary Historiography, and the Filipino Novel” (Patricia May Jurilla); “Jose Rizal in Hong Kong and Macau” (Isabel Morais); “Voices from the Underground: Life Stories of Women in the Huk Rebellion in the Philippines” (Maria Vina A. Lanzona); and “Locust Outbreaks in the Philippines 1909-1934” (Ma. Florina Orillos-Juan).

You can look up and download the full conference program and find other details at http://www.pssc.org.ph/icophil. There’ll be a substantial fee to pay — this is, after all, an academic conference — but I believe there’s an option to pay just for a day’s attendance, if that’s all you want to do. You can also email the ICOPHIL Secretariat at icophil@pssc.org.ph or call them at 929-2671 for more information.

ICOPHIL 2008’s other sponsors — aside from UP, ADMU, and PSSC — include the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, De La Salle University, the National Historical Institute, the University of Hawaii, and the Quezon City Mayor’s Office.

* * *

And on a completely unscholarly note, I ended a long day of meetings last week by granting a request of my mother to go out and watch a movie — what else but Mamma Mia! She had seen the play in the US and was eager to check out the movie version, so we took her out to the mall to catch the last full show. I was dog-tired, but at 80 years old my mother can command me to climb a tree or jump into the river if she wants something that badly, and I wouldn’t mind.

I love it when my mama giggles at the little pleasures that come her way, like the chocolates I bring her from my trips abroad, or the tiyan ng bangus that Beng makes sure she gets a regular supply of. Mamma Mia! was no problem; I had, in fact, been looking forward to seeing the movie if not the play, having been frustrated at every chance I had these past 10 years to catch it on Broadway or the West End.

Like many of you reading this now, I was one of those people who thought they discovered sophistication in the ’70s and dismissed ABBA’s oompah-oompah melodies as the cheesiest sound in music. That resistance eventually faded as I came to appreciate the sheer singability of their songs; like The Beatles, the music endured long after the band, returning us to a time seemingly as pure as Agnetha’s voice.

In brief, we had a blast watching the movie. I can’t recall having had as much fun, and I can only admire the skill of the writer who wove all those ABBA songs into a coherent thread (a task made easier by the fact that, as my friend Neil would point out, ABBA’s songs are all different from one another, unlike our one-track love songs). This is a movie to be watched with your high-school barkada; stay on until the closing credits, and I’ll guarantee you’ll be walking out of the theater singing. Neil says that at Robinson’s Galleria, they showed the film with subtitles, for a community sing-along.

After a long day’s critical colloquy in ICOPHIL, what could be better than some mindless fun at Mamma Mia! — and what, strangely enough, could be more Pinoy?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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