Politically Speaking: YStyle interviews Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz on PAMPUBLIKO05.06.2016
In the lead-up to the 2016 Philippine elections, YStyle sat down to talk politics with our co-founder, Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz. Read the interview below!
#GirlsGoneYStyle: Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz, fashion girl turned Yale PhD Candidate, reorients the political conversation.
By: Marbbie Tagabucba
MANILA, Philippines - In a makeup chair, between Nicole CuUnjieng’s fingers are her readings, speckled with her handwritten notes. She will be working on her dissertation as a PhD candidate in Southeast Asian and International History at Yale University for the rest of the year, but this pretty much captures one side of CuUnjieng: always reading, learning. She doesn’t mind the behind-the-scenes buzz; she was once part of it.
The arts and its wearable arm were her first loves, but even as a press office intern at the Stella McCartney London office and subsequently at the Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, what she couldn’t help doing set her course. “I found myself always going deeper into the archival aspect,” the academic admits.
Approaching her passions as a student and a writer, the arts and politics are disciplines that aren’t too far off. “Everything responds to the longer timeframe of the discipline. You’re responding to what’s been created before, you must be conscious of your contribution to the changing history and vocabulary,” she muses.
She completed her B.A. in History from the University of Pennsylvania with an awarded and published research of the contextualization of Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship in Philippine historical political tradition, highlighting the relationship between the judicial and executive branches; her other interests are Pan-Asianism and turn-of-the-century visions of alternate world order but discussing Philippine politics make her feel connected to home. Still, CuUnjieng felt something was amiss. Being away from home, being on her own for so long triggered questions and none of the other jobs in New York held the answer.
“I thought through who I am without the kind of network the Philippines is,” she recalls. “In New York, I am a part of nothing larger than myself. Then the questions take place: ‘How Filipino am I, how Filipino is my life?’”
Her 10- to 20-year plan involved her career track that was set on becoming a professor studying at Yale. “I was contemplating the idea of being away from home forever, and being away for so long, it became my way to orient myself to the Philippines without being here,” she explains, studying and doing research three months a year in the Philippines.
Coming to Yale to start her PhD connected her to her family friend Sam Ramos-Jones who was finishing up his undergraduate degree. Two Filipinos abroad, they too felt connected to home by talking about Philippine politics and society, critiquing the elites. When they moved to Manila in 2015 to do policy research for one of the country’s top politicians, they felt their discussions needed different perspectives. At the think tank and policy discussion lab Pampubliko (pampubliko.com), CuUnjieng and Ramos-Jones are opening the floor for discussion.
As one of Philippine history’s most heated presidential elections looms close, YStyle gets the ball rolling.
YSTYLE: What role does history have in building a better government?
Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz: As a historian and academic, I always start with a premise that we have to understand the context and history of everything. This is the kind of depth needed to formulate solutions and think going forward.
The Internet is a dark place of biased news and discussions and Pampubliko strikes us as a beacon of light. What is the guiding vision behind it?
My co-founder Sam Ramos-Jones and I wanted to have the same policy discussions we were having but on a wider level, with more people included. These kinds of high-level policy discussion happen all the time in academia and amongst legislators and professionals, but the media doesn’t talk to the electorate about questions of governance. It’s always about who’s going to be elected instead of answering the “how” of governance.
We wanted not only to democraticize public policy discussions but also to elevate the mainstream political discourse. It’s all personality politics, the way mainstream media talks about it. In part, that’s due to the way our political parties are set up, which doesn’t feed for large political differences among political parties, but we can demand different things. We saw that in this current election.
Democracy is not just about voting—it requires active participation, and this means being engaged, informed, and included. That's what Pampubliko wants to achieve.
Since launching in January, how has the response been?
We get the greatest responses to our background briefings. It’s hard to find in our public sphere an easy way to educate ourselves about pressing issues with ease, clarity and nuance at the same time.
We've been getting a lot of readers so far, but now we want more people to join the conversation—to contribute to Pampubliko.
What’s next for Pampubliko?
Pampubliko is a slow read, rather than the news cycle of every day turnovers. (Meanwhile, the way too many people read news articles online, they just comment on the headline without reading it!) We want to engage people on issues for a longer period of time. The way we formulated our publication is very issues-based.
What change does Pampubliko wish to see?
We want to encourage younger Filipinos to see that they have a stake in governance and to think in timeframes longer than the six-year presidential term.
To younger readers we'd say: act strategically; if you have one issue you care about that’s where you can have an impact. Take the time to understand it, follow it.
Marbbie Tagabucba, "Politically Speaking," YStyle, May 6, 2016