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Export-Quality Martyrs: Roman Catholicism and Transnational Labor in the Philippines

By Julius Bautista

Cite As:
Bautista, Julius. 2015. “Export-Quality Martyrs: Roman Catholicism and Transnational Labor in the Philippines.” Cultural Anthropology 30, no. 3: 424–447.


In this essay I examine how a Catholicized economic ethos in the Philippines is promulgated by rhetorical pronouncements about the positive value of sacrifice that rationalizes the cultivation of so-called export-quality martyrs. In the state’s discursive linkage of transnational capital to heroism, Filipino Catholicized neoliberalism is operationalized as an affective space in which the generation of remittance capital is branded as a legitimate return on the Overseas Filipino Worker’s moral and ethical investments. In this scenario, the Roman Catholic institution exerts a distinct yet complementary form of governmentality. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork on Roman Catholic Passion rituals in the Philippines in focusing on two embodied arenas of labor power: (1) a labor brokerage regime in which transnational agents have been trained to externalize certain ethical and corporeal disciplines as forms of export capital; and (2) the self-mortifying body able to craft and sustain transnational agency through a renegotiation of the soteriological promise of Christian salvation.


Roman Catholicism; Passion rituals; Philippines; labor migration; empathy; embodiment; affect