Speech | Karl Castro at the National Book Awards

December 4, 2017

36th National Book Awards, Book Design category for “Colonial Manila, 1909-1912: Three Dutch Travel Accounts” (Otto van den Muijzenberg, translator and editor; Ateneo University Press, publisher)

36th National Book Awards
Book Design category
For “Colonial Manila, 1909-1912: Three Dutch Travel Accounts” (Otto van den Muijzenberg, translator and editor; Ateneo University Press, publisher)
2 Dec 2017, National Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium

Thank you, National Book Development Board – Philippines and MCC, for this recognition. This is a particularly interesting moment for me because in 2009, I won my first National Book Award for Design for “The Philippines Through European Lenses,” a book also authored by Mr Otto van den Muijzenberg and published by the Ateneo Press. So winning an award for the sequel to that book is rather mindblowing. Thank you to Mr van den Muijzenberg, Ms Karina Bolasco of the Ateneo Press, Ms Cristina Castro and all the staff of the press. A special thank you also to Cielo Castro, who helped design the inside pages of this book. No relation, but this book has been a very Castro effort.

The book “Colonial Manila, 1909-1912” gathers the travel accounts of three Dutch nationals (and forgive me if I massacre the pronunciation of their names): feminist doctor Aletta Jacobs, scholar Gerret Rouffaer, and ethnologist Hendrik Muller. Through their network of key personalities in government, elite, and expatriate circles, they were able to observe various aspects of the developing American colonial state.

In her account, Jacobs observes: “The Filipinos hate the Americans more than they ever did the Spaniards and don’t believe that they are being educated for self government.”

I wonder what she and her two fellow travelers will say, if they were here now to observe our state—Neocolonial Manila, 2017.

They would probably note that it has been 25 years since we rejected the presence of US bases in our lands in 1992, but if they went to Marawi, they would’ve seen US troops in the battle, and if they went to Aurora, they would see the continuation of the Balikatan exercises.

If they went to the NEDA, they would see the administration’s plans to allow 100 percent foreign ownership in key areas, including education, telecommunications, land ownership, and mass media.

I wonder what our three travelers would say if they were at the recent ASEAN summit, where our president Rodrigo Duterte upstaged Pilita Corrales to serenade the American commander-in-chief with a love song, “Ikaw.” Our president literally professed undying love to Donald Trump and everything he represents. Now THAT is a neocolonial spectacle.

If Aletta Jacobs, Gerret Rouffaer, and Hendrik Muller were able to revisit the Philippines, more than a century later, they would probably note the conceptual sameness in how the state is being run. On the one hand, there is the veneer of benevolence and prosperity. But on the other, more familiar hand, there persists notions of white supremacy, the discourse of assimilation, and the systematic disenfranchisement and underdevelopment for the majority.

But Jacobs, Rouffaer, and Muller are long dead. And this book wasn’t published by the Ateneo Press to glorify outsider opinions on our country. The author, Mr van den Muijzenberg, contextualizes and problematizes the ideological underpinnings of each traveler, emphasizing the need for critical assessment of narratives.

This book was published so we can get a clearer picture of our own history. This book was published so we can better understand the workings of colonial governance—and also, colonial thinking. Walter Benjamin, writing about history, said: “To articulate what is past does not mean to recognize ‘how it really was.’ It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” And what historical moment can be more moribund, more dangerous, than today?

In Neocolonial Manila 2017, the challenge remains for all of us who reside in this country: to learn from history, to observe keenly and participate actively; to discern which narratives need to be allowed to develop, and which ones demand to be ended.

Thank you, and good evening.


Karl Castro

Karl Castro

Karl Fredrick M. Castro is an artist and designer from Angono, Rizal. His design work has won numerous awards, including Philippine National Book Awards and Asian Publishing Awards. He works with different media for his art practice, spanning painting, photography, weaving, etc. Karl is also a former editor-in-chief of Philippine Collegian, UP Diliman's official campus publication. His work can be seen on www.karlcastro.com.