Partnership explores new avenues of research in the Philippines

La Trobe University and Ateneo de Manila University's partnership leads a PhD program encouraging a growth in research collaboration between scholars in the Philippines and Australia.

Written by Rei Fortes

La Trobe University’s partnership with Ateneo de Manila University has encouraged researchers to explore a wide range of areas involving society and culture in the Philippines.

The long-standing partnership of more than two decades has continued to promote cross cultural sharing between Australia and the Philippines. In 2019, the two institutions initiated a PhD partnership program with six research scholars from Ateneo de Manila University who are enrolled in the PhD program at La Trobe University.

Last month, five PhD candidates from this partnership presented final progress reviews of their theses showcasing a variety of relevant topics about the Filipino community giving an insight into deep-rooted societal and political subjects.

Dr Anthony Moran, Associate Professor in Sociology and Director of Graduate Research in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, acknowledges the high calibre of work conducted by the PhD candidates and how they have come to embrace interdisciplinary research through the partnership.

“The program has been intellectually enriching for the candidates,” said Dr Moran. “It has resulted in new experiences of collaboration for everyone involved, with the imagining of new future projects and ongoing research connections between researchers at the two universities.”

One of the research subjects presented examined the Indian diaspora in the Philippines. Gilbert Jacob Que shared how his thesis sheds light on the stories of the growing Indian population in Manila and breaks down stereotypes to build a stronger connection between Filipinos and Indians.

“Belonging is based on commonalities for the Indian diaspora in the Philippines,” said Que. “The emphasis on commonalities in the Indian community is a temporal aspect, focusing on how long they’ve been in the Philippines or have a similar occupation.”

Migrant populations in the Philippines have also had significant influences on the Filipino community. One of the major sensational topics adored in the Philippines is K-pop.

Andrew Albert Ty presented on examining the way people interact and experience pop music through the internationally acclaimed K-pop group BTS. Ty’s research shared a new approach of listening to pop music through ‘musicking’, a term popularised by the author Christopher Small.

“Small urges people to reconceptualise music, not as a noun, but as a verb. Not a static thing, but dynamic actions that bring together all sorts of elements to create something large and inclusive enough for the word ‘musical experience’ to encompass,” said Ty.

Experiencing music is one of the major aspects of Filipino community. Music is an element of culture in the Philippines that brings people together, whether it’s families owning home karaoke machines or listening to Original Pinoy Music (OPM).

The global experience of the COVID-19 pandemic also brought Filipinos together for another reason. Jacqueline Marie Tolentino shared her research analysing the injustices experienced by the Filipino community during the pandemic through the lens of relational justice.

“I think what needs to be done is empowering communities and establishing the communal aspect of health, rather than how it has suddenly become the responsibility of the individual and what you can do and afford,” said Tolentino.

“Inequalities involving health have relational aspects that overlap with other distributive inequalities and that are profoundly shaped by existing social hierarchies and prejudices.”

During the early stages of COVID-19, the Philippines also experienced severe shortages of face masks limiting the accessibility of PPE to the general public. Later, the government then mandated the use of face shields along with face masks that put an additional financial burden on many families.

Two more PhD candidates also shared unique findings about their research involving the Philippines.

Francis Sollano provided a powerful insight into Constitution-making in the Philippines and the role of press media during the process, and Neville Jay Manaois shared authentic stories of the fascinating Korean migration phenomenon in the Philippines.

Dr Moran praises the research conducted by the PhD candidates for exploring unique facets of Philippine society and the learning experiences gained by everyone involved in the partnership.

“Discussions are underway for what future collaborations in higher degree research may be possible between La Trobe and Ateneo de Manila universities.”

The PhD partnership program is a key aspect of La Trobe University’s strong interest in the Philippines. Future growth of partnerships and research involving the Philippines will continue with the support of the Philippine-Australia Forum at La Trobe and La Trobe Asia.