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  • Military Bases, "Royalty Trips," and Imperial Modernities:Gendered and Racialized Labor in the Postcolonial Philippines
  • Vernadette V. Gonzalez (bio)

The best thing you can do to beat the heat or the rain is to bring along your retractable roof and pay her after the game. Umbrella girls are a phenomenon unique to Southeast Asia where there are a lot of women in the labor force. If you feel like taking a "royalty trip" just ask for an umbrella girl, and one will be provided.

Buddy Resurrecçion, "Local Style"1

[T]he people there are very, very trainable for the hospitality industry.

Tony Gonzales, quoted in What's On&Expat2

The epigraphs that introduce this essay are part of the gendered and racialized discourses that construct and manage low-skilled Filipina labor in the Philippines today. The first is an excerpt from a guidebook that characterizes the Philippines as a series of golf destinations for the (mostly Asian) golf tourist. Its author, a local Filipino writer and golfer, places Filipina service in the familiar tradition of accommodating colonial servant who happens to be the recipient of the trickle-down benevolence of golf development. The umbrella girl, holding an umbrella over the vacationing golfer while he walks up and down the fairways, epitomizes the gendered relations of labor that the transnational leisure class has come to depend on for its exotic "royalty trip." The second epigraph is a quotation from former Secretary of Tourism Tony Gonzales describing the available exploitable labor force at the Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ or Clark hereafter), earlier the site of the United States' Clark Air Force Base. At Clark, one of Gonzales's pet projects involved the conversion of part of the military grounds into a privately run "leisure estate," complete with a twenty-seven-hole golf course and the cheap, "trainable" labor to make such an enterprise profitable and attractive to investors. Plentiful numbers of malleable, [End Page 28] willing, and desperate workers are the present-day boon for global capital. For both men, the overabundance of labor is not a problem that has larger socioeconomic causes and consequences but rather a unique opportunity for corporate investors and tourists. The sentiments in the epigraphs construct a moment in which recourse to the potentials and joys of economic neoliberalization requires the suspension of a critique of the neocolonial Philippine economy. Here, the racialized and gendered labor of the Filipina body (as surplus, as trainable) not only justifies and enables the discourses of uplift so necessary to the project of Philippine economic development and modernization, it also ensures and distinguishes the privileged positions these men occupy in Philippine society.

The body of the Filipina—as a trope of manageable, cheap, and available "service" in state and private development discourses and as a material laboring presence in the modern Filipino diaspora—operates as a crucial bridge between the colonial period and the present day in the Philippines. Specifically, I examine the ways in which Filipina bodies are crucial to the narratives and projects of progress and modernity operating within the transforming space of a former American military base in the Philippines. What are the critical continuities of colonial discourses and structures of racialized and gendered labor in an ostensibly postmilitary, postoccupation space? In tandem with this analysis, it is also important to examine the ways in which the Filipina body enables critical linkages between empire and modernity for scholars and activists invested in issues of feminism and postcoloniality in the changing and uneven terrains of globalization.

What also occurs in the epigraphs above is the elision of the protracted colonial history of the Philippines through the innocuous narratives of leisure and service, as if such a history was already safely over and the pleasures of hospitality can again be enjoyed without colonial guilt. Indeed, in the epigraphs, the provision of much-needed jobs to the "people there" is rendered philanthropic—the effect of neoliberal economic policies the Philippine state has embraced in the past twenty-five years, through which the state cedes even basic welfare concerns to corporate and private interests. Yet, I argue, we must challenge this formulation of neoliberal benevolence to account for the...


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