Legasto speaks to students at UCLA. (Photo by Angilee Shah)

Philippines Without Borders

UCLA visiting scholar's online distance-learning program brings new perspectives to cultural study of the Philippines.

What I'm trying to do is open the discourse to people beyond the boundaries [of the Philippines].

Priscelina Patajo-Legasto asked a roomful of UCLA students, many of whom were of Filipino descent, "Who should constitute the Filipino nation?" The complexity of this question, she explained, is what she hopes Filipiniana Online, a virtual course offered by the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOP), can begin to address.

Legasto gave a presentation about Filipiniana Online to UCLA students and faculty on Oct. 25 in an event sponsored by the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

The Philippines' colonial history, from Spanish to American rule, and the prevalence of Filipino citizens living and working outside of the country make defining the Philippines very difficult.

"In the next few years, one-third of Filipinos will be in the diaspora," Legasto says. "But when they're here in America or Canada, they still have an understanding of what it means to be Filipino."

Legasto has a long list of projects and interests. She was a dean at the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOP) for three years and has edited or written for over twenty publications. She is a board member of the Philippine Studies Association and of the Network of Outstanding Teachers and Educators and edits the Diliman Review.

Now she wants her teaching of literature, theater, and feminist and Marxist theory to have an impact on those studying the Philippines from the United States and elsewhere. So far, the success of Filipiniana Online has been to bring high-level course work to Filipinos in remote locations in that country. The next course should also allow students from around the globe to engage with her and other scholars of Filipino culture.

"What I'm trying to do is open the discourse to people beyond the boundaries" of the Philippines, she explains.

The online course was conceived in 1998, the centennial of the Philippine Republic—a fitting time for the nation to ask, or, as Legasto says, "problematize" the question "What is Filipino?"

Filipiniana Online was last offered in October 2003 for the University of the Philippine's spring semester, with Legasto at the helm. The course covered "heterogenous articulations of what is Filipino," she says. Course materials include the Filipinana Reader; the Filipinana CD-ROM, a multimedia archive of art and music; and the Filipiniana Digital Library, a guide to Filipino culture on the web. The virtual classroom is UPOP's Integrated Virtual Learning Environment.

Online discussions took place via the "Filipiniana Cafe," an electronic mail list for course participants to read and post to. Each section of the course was led by a Philippines expert in a given field—the literature section by UP Professor Neil Garcia, noted poet and literary theorist; the section on popular culture by Soledad Reyes, a prominent scholar from Ateneo de Manila University.

"It's like a production number because you have to coordinate with different professors," explains Legasto, an expert on Phillipine theater.

From the northernmost island of the Cordilleras to the Mindanao in the south, Filipino students brought in varied perspectives on what constitutes Filipiniana, says Legasto. The online discussion, Legasto hopes, will soon become and international one, bringing together Filipino diaspora from around the globe.

The course can be taken by anyone who has reliable Internet access, and graduate students enrolled in colleges or universities can earn three units. The fee for this sixteen-week course is 4,000 Philippine pesos (under US$75). Legasto hopes UPOP will offer the course again in next year's summer or spring semester and also create a credit-bearing course for undergraduates. In particular, she hopes to enroll students who are considering studying abroad as well as UC alumni who want to continue learning.

Those interested in the course may contact her via email at priscelina.legasto@up.edu.ph.

Published: Wednesday, November 02, 2005