1. Reflections of a by-gone Revolution

    There were two ways I was considering approaching a post on the 114th anniversary of the founding of the Philippine Republic, neither were inherently “positive” (so to speak). The first was to look at how little the Republic matters in domestic affairs. Oh sure the idea that it was the first Asian constitutional democracy is something we all know. Or at least should know. And sure we talk about how wonderful it was that Filipinos revolted against a collapsing Spanish empire. But beyond those superficial little details, the names and some dates and places, we know very little about the Philippine Republic. Its foundations, trials and tribulations. The hopes and fears and dreams of the men and women who sacrificed so much to try and build a better country.

    The other was to approach how flawed our public, and even scholarly, histories are in how they approach that era. Most material is filtered through the lens of the American Imperial Era. American historians and translators culled our Spanish era documentary history to create a self-serving interpretation of the Filipino people’s past. They downplayed the Republic, for good reason. The Republic was still extant, the men and women still fighting against the burgeoning American hegemony. They co-opted our history, they co-opted some of our dead heroes, and they systematically defiled and degraded the heroism of members of the Philippine Revolution and Republic. They re-interpreted the Philippine Revolution in support of American interests. That insidious colonialism is still found in much of our histories. The battle to remove much of it has barely begun.

    Upon reflection, these two approaches are intertwined. Our public perception of the revolution and republic are fatally flawed, precisely because of the nature of our public histories. There are a number of scholars, men who have plumbed the depths of the philosophical, political, social, and economic nature of the 19th century, to compile complex and challenging understandings of Filipinos and their fight for independence. But those insights rarely filter into public histories. Instead, our popular histories play along the insignificant edge of the margins of Philippine history. They revel in pop gossip, luxuriating in miscellany; proffering it up as deep insights into the heroes of our past. Instead of deepening our understanding of our history, it turns our history into nothing more than insubstantial fluff.

    Among the writers who have tried to reconstruct our history as a risen people are Father John Schumacher, O.D Corpuz, Resil Mojares, Floro Quibuyen, Vicente L. Rafael, and others. Then there are the brilliantly insightful writers, like Nick Joaquin and Felice Sta. Maria, and Anding Roces, who would never call themselves historians, but bring (brought) new insights and connections to the study of our history. Yet, among those names just listed the only one who may have any such broad resonance would be Joaquin. And in his case only as a fiction writer.

    Bringing up a scholarly point, the root of history is the Latin word historia, which means inquiry. The basis for the study of history is simple: It’s about asking questions, inquiring into our past. That, I truly believe, is something that our historians have forgotten. History is not about ideology or politics, its not about reworking it to fit a pre-determined narrative; in the process losing the cumulative narrative thread of our history. The broad understanding of the Philippine Republic is a prime example of that. The 19th century is more about the Cult of Personality, more about the importance of a few select individuals, and far less about the struggle of the Filipino people throughout the archipelago to not only defeat the Spanish, but establish a Philippine Republic. We fixate on the struggle, we forget about what came after the struggle. I doubt many know that the Philippine Republic had a police force, that it raised taxes and sold war bonds, that it maintained a postal service and established a university. These are all integral components of the Philippine revolutionary experience, yet they are ignored. Even fewer know that there was an American military report that detailed how there was a functioning Filipino led government. Of course that report was buried, forgotten, so that American leaders could build the case for invading our country.

    With so much of our history left by the wayside, it is little wonder that the importance of that history is broadly unappreciated. Felice Sta. Maria purposefully called her epic book on the Philippine Republic Visions of the Possible. O.D Corpuz titled his book on the military nature of the Philippine Revolution Saga and Triumph. While Father Schumacher named his compilation of essays on the 19th century propaganda movement The Making of a Nation. Floro Quibuyen, as well, titled his book about Rizal and the Revolution A Nation Aborted. 

    See, that is the forgotten component of the Revolution and Republic. It was not just about defeating the Spanish and later the Americans, it was about building a Filipino nation; and everything that entailed. The question for us is: Do we even know what our heroes believed that nation entailed? Oh the answers are there for us to find. They are writ large in their actions and words. That is one of the great things about our revolutionary history, so much of its meaning is preserved. Yet, we barely look at it, rarely delving deep to construct the vision of the Philippines that our heroes were trying to create. It was far deeper and far more resonant than just independence from colonialism.

    After all, without understanding what our heroes were fighting for, and what the Philippine Republic was supposed to represent, how can we even begin to fathom who we are as a people and nation today? That is a continuing struggle, one that is visible every single day. And an issue that will continue to haunt us, unless really begin to inquire about our past. 

    That understanding will not only set us free, it will help us fulfill a 114 year old promise of true independence.


  2. ellobofilipino said: Apparently Nik, the guy is one of those who were led astray by his teachers who seem to have a penchant for "wise" remarks without actually looking at things in context.

    I agree, despite the short life span of the Republic created out of it, the June 12 declaration is THE declaration of our independence and not July 4. People seem to forget that we did not declare ourselves independent on July 4, it was the Americans who declared us "independent."

    Agreed my friend!

    I hope you don’t mind my replying publicly, thought this would be a good jumping off point to my idea of why June 12 fits much more than July 4th.

    Well, other than the fact that you pretty much covered it all in your excellent post.

    When it comes to the actual June 12th Declaration of Independence document, it is fraught with issues. In discussions with some historians the nature of the declaration seems to be their point of contention with June 12. Namely, the issue concerning “under the protection of the United States” (not verbatim). But, as I always point out, the June 12 declaration was rushed and harried; political more than anything else in its nature. At the time the nascent Republic believed that the US was going to support their bid for independence. Much, as Bonifacio and Aguinaldo probably hoped, how France befriended the baby America after their Civil War. Then there are those who attempt to date independence to August; manufacturing the Katipunan and Bonifacio as some sort of revolutionary national government and using the Cry as a substantiating event. Well, you and I know what school of historical thought that is from.

    Post-June 12, a number of important and more fleshed out documents were issues by the Revolutionary Government; documents that detailed the scope and focus of the Government. Effectively setting up lines of organization, communication and mechanisms for governance. As faulty as the June 12 document may be, without it, those subsequent documents would not exist. The Philippine Republic, that short era in our history that is so important and so forgotten, would not exist at all.

    When we congratulate ourselves about having the first democratic, constitutional government in Asia, its moment of inception was June 12. Again, there was a host of developments stretching back centuries (or at least to the mid 18th century) that lead to the point. Much like the lead up to the American Declaration of Independence was decades in the making; with important tipping points of its own. But what is important is that there was a unity, a sense of nationalism, that animated that declaration, and subsequent actions. It was a spirit and legacy that buoyed anti-American and pro-Independence actions (both publicly peaceful and violent) for the entirety of the American period.

    When it comes to July 4, I am wholly in accord with you. July 4 is when it was granted, given by a so-called benevolent empire. July 4 was even selected to bind the Philippines as a neo-colonial state closer to the US. It was another example of their attempt to control the Philippines post imperial era.

    I find the idea that we should be grateful to the US for granting an independence that was taken away from us by them kind of disturbing.

    The day today though serves an important purpose; much like Filipino-Spanish Friendship Day. It reminds of our deep and complex history; it reminds of the role that the United States played in ‘developing’ our country. It also acts as a promise for future relations. The Philippines cannot act in a vacuum, especially with how fraught our region is. Reminders of shared history and culture offer bridges for strengthening future ties.

    As long as we can reconcile ourselves with the past. Reconciliation, much like what still vexes us with Martial Law, involves understanding and acceptance. It is a process of discovery and catharsis. An act that is never found in forgetting, ignorance and blind forgiveness.

    That to me is what the crux of the June 12 vs July 4 issue truly is: forgetting. Forget what Rizal died for, what Bonifacio fought for, what Aguinaldo and all the revolutionaries attempted. July 4 is an attempt to tie us to a short, scant, 50 year period in our history. To say that everything that happened in that time is ok, it’s fine, because our independence was given to us.


  3. The Rise of the Republic

    The Declaration of Independence 113 years ago was not a spontaneous development. The revolution did not spring fully formed out of the subconscious of the masses: no matter what some historians may argue. Instead it was the culmination of over a hundred years of social, economic and intellectual growth, buoyed by complex relationships between social classes. One stratum did not “co-opt” the revolution of the masses. In truth, the revolution was as much one of the ilustrados, as it was the masses. It was a revolution of the people, of Filipinos. It is not something we really know, it is an idea that we have to rediscover.

    The Philippines prior to the invasion of the British in the 18th century was a territory in disrepair. Economic and social development was at a standstill, the promise of a country and the initial hopes of the Spanish empire unfulfilled. A concept we are quite familiar with today. Something happened when the British came though. The perception of the Spanish empire as untouchable was shattered. At least that is what we typically consider the true effect of the British invasion. Yet, there was a corollary effect to that event; a nascent Philippine identity sprung into being. While some areas such as Mindanao remained defiantly independent, with little Catholic penetration into those areas, lowland Filipinos were fairly assimilated by this point. ‘National’ identity, a cohesive sensibility that extended beyond regionalism, did not exist. What uprisings did exist were small, localized and insular in scope. When it comes to a national revolution, with attendant philosophic under-pinnings and goals, that did not exist until the 19th century.

    The side effects of the British invasion were two-fold – other than the aforementioned shattering of perceived Spanish invulnerability. First, during that invasion Simon de Anda and the provisional Spanish government worked with Filipinos to isolate the British. De Anda became an indefatigable leader and friend; when he passed away he did so shunned by the Spanish and beloved by ‘natives.’ He was able to leverage the love of Filipinos for Catholicism in mounting a defense against the British. Basically, the British had a misstep; they promised the Filipinos they would take away Catholicism. That was enough to galvanize them into military action. It helped coalesce them into a people with wider ranging concepts than just localities.

    The other effect was the opening up of the colony’s economy. It became patently obvious that if the Spanish did not begin developing the Philippines, they would lose the colony and all her potential riches. Simon de Anda eventually became governor-general and commenced sweeping social, religious and economic reforms. Chief among them infrastructure development and measures designed to break the hold of the friars and promote secularism in the Church. Jose Basco y Vargas came soon after, continued and expanded the social and economic reforms that began under de Anda. He even sought to infuse Enlightenment ideals in major economic vehicles like the Royal Company of the Philippines and the Royal Economic Society. Eventually, the Philippines became self-sufficient. Eventually, the ports were opened, trade began, capital infusions increased and new wealth was grown. Wealth was no long only isolated among a few Spanish elites; it began to expand into a nascent middle class composed of native born Filipinos. In essence, economic reform gave birth to future revolutionaries.

    The British invasion was a seminal, overlooked and understudied, aspect of our history. If only because its ramifications changed the relationship of Filipinos to the Spanish empire and even their own nation. With economic prosperity in the 19th century a middle class did develop. That middle class began to agitate for new opportunities, better education and more say in the activities of the colonial government. Reform was in the air. Revolution was inevitable.

    The 18th century ended and the 19th began with a bang - metaphorically speaking. Creole agitation was beginning in the colony; mimicking their middle class brethren in Latin America. We can look at the Philippine Revolution as either the last of the Latin American revolutions or the first of the Asian. No matter, we straddled two separate revolutionary eras, yet stood apart in terms of our philosophies. Our revolutionaries sought to create a nation where race and color played no part in politics. Those humanist ideals mimic closely those espoused in the Universal Human Rights Declaration of 1948. We were there first.

    The creole revolts were the first to take on a national sentiment. While we often think of Rizal as the First Filipino, in fact it was a creole by the name of Luis Varela Rodriguez who first styled himself El Conde Filipino. He and his group of creole reformists were eventually exiled for espousing such radical beliefs, as Spaniards should be punished more severely for harming a native than other Spaniards. From the creoles came such secular priests as Father Pedro Pelaez, a notorious priest who fought for secularization and Filipinization of parishes. His disciples numbered among them Father Jose Burgos, of Gombuza fame. Not only that, Father Jose Burgos took up the call for reforms in the Church and broader society. He in turn had a young student under his wing, Paciano Rizal. Paciano of course was the older brother of Jose Rizal. We forget but Jose Rizal dropped Mercado and became Jose Rizal because of the seditious acts of Paciano.

    Preceding every so slightly the development of a national consciousness was a growth in education. The influx of new liberal ideas, buoyed by a focus on philosophy and Enlightenment era thought, helped expand the outlook of young Filipinos. The new middle class was no longer happy with the quality of education in the colony. They wanted more and now they could afford it. Some enrolled in universities like UST and the Ateneo. Others were sent overseas, to Europe, to study. There they encountered radical ideas, the precursor to the fin-de-siècle. The letters between the Philippine diaspora and their family back home bore this out. In the case of Rizal, Paciano would remind him in letters that his goal there was much bigger than acquiring technical skills and an education. He was there to discover how to make a nation out of a colony. As were many of the other Filipinos. Today remittances come in currency form, then it was in revolutionary ideas and unbridled passion.

    The roots of the revolution are complex; growing from a seething mix of passion, economics and social development. It was a reflection of a ceiling imposed by the Spanish. The Filipinos could only rise so far, in their estimation. Yet Filipinos knew they were equals in all and even their betters in some areas. The frustrations of a people found their voice, found the ability to articulate their plight in the 19th century. From identification and articulation it is only a short jump to revolution. Attempts at reform are a necessary precursor to revolution. Without them, without that philosophic underpinning, revolution is nothing more than a changing of the tyrants, with a liberal amount of bloodshed thrown in for good measure.

    Our preoccupation with a ‘revolt of the masses’ ignores the larger interplay between domestic and international social and economic forces. The ilustrados did not just develop out of nothing, nor did the masses just cooperatively decide to revolt at the same time. It was a process, a fight, over decades to finally arrive at the point where the country could even conceive of a national identity, much less a revolution. Even then, there was still so much work to be done to prepare the nation for self-rule.

    In this respect, I know our understanding of our history does us a great disserve. In popular history we deride, denounce even, the efforts over years necessary to prepare the Philippines for revolution. It’s dismissed as a pre-occupation with education. Revolution is not a slow-building process, according to this line of thought. It’s a moment of spontaneous frenzied passion that is supposed to sweep all before away in a blaze of glory! How romantic! How wonderful! How utterly wrong headed. Our history teaches us that you don’t build a nation overnight; it is created brick by brick, mind-by-mind, thought-by-thought. It is instilling in people the understanding that they can achieve something great, that they are a part of something wonderful and beautiful and unique in the world stage.  That is revolution. Changing people. How they think, how they act, what they believe in and how they believe in it. All of that are necessary ingredients in nation building; they are forgotten ingredients today. We see revolution as the slight of hand of propagandists and ideologues. We think revolution is found in nifty slogans and perverse ideas. For all of our revolutions, we have forgotten how to truly revolt.

    The message of 1898 and even 1986 is not bloodshed and glory on the battlefield. It is a story of preparing a people. Of developing a country through education and economics, though instilling ideas and never backing down. It’s not about the Church, it’s not about the Empire, it is about the people. Whether they be ilustrados, mestizos, sangley, peninsulare or indio. When they believe in an idea, when they believe in it so strongly that they will die for it, that is when a country comes into being. That is what we saw in the 19th century. That should be our enduring memory.


  4. On History, Historians and June 12

    One of the symptoms of our lack of respect for our history is such a trite thing: Moving the celebration of the declaration of independence day from June 12…to any day that falls on a Friday or Monday. This year it happens that we will be celebrating Independence Day on June 14. What is June 14? What is the significance? I am not sure, but I do know what the significance of June 12 is. I guess our Independence Day is a movable feast; and not even the result of mis-matched calendars.

    It was during the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal when they moved independence day from July 4 (when the Americans “granted” it to us) to June 12. The reason was simple: while July 4 is when we were oh so very graciously given independence by our second colonizer, June 12 is when we stood up and declared that we were a free people. For a while we were; the territory that the United States went to war with was a free state. After all, the Spanish had been initially defeated by Aguinaldo. Diosdado understood the symbolic importance of things like our actual Independence Day. On the other hand, his daughter doesn’t (among other…flaws). Oh sweet delicious irony, it’s always fun when you show up.

    History and Historians

    I am no historian. It takes a special type of person, and a unique sense of dedication, to be a real historian. Not just anyone can take on the title of “historian” live up to it and do the title justice. For all of my numerous critiques of Philippine Marxist influenced historians, they truly are historians. The dedication to their craft, the research, their interpretations add to Philippine historiography. It’s kinda like that funny little meme that was floating around a while back about journalists and writers: Just cuz you write about history doesn’t make you a historian (which kinda sucks for people like me…I want a cool title like that).

    History is more than just facts (people, events, dates and numbers), it is a living breathing entity that has informed and formed who we are as a people today. In this, I have always thought there are two sides to history: factual and interpretative.

    Factual history is that on June 12 Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence on behalf of the Philippine Republic. Interpretative history is concerned with what that meant, what lead up to it (even if he had the right to do so) and what the impetus was to form a Philippine Republic.

    Unfortunately for us, both factual and historical history in the Philippines have become distorted. I do not think this is a point of argument. A few days ago we saw a prime example of this (Oh hi Villalobos and Urdaneta). Yet, our history is one of the most vibrant in the entire world. Not many other countries have such a potent mix of pre-Imperial, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Catholic, Islamic and American influences. When they call (or used to…we still are) us the Pearl of the Orient, it’s not just about the beauty of the Islands, it’s about the uniqueness of our history and our culture.

    June 12 (14)

    As I said, I am no historian, but it is a passion (and a bit of an escape from my work). So, I’ve been thinking, with the up-coming June 12 (I’m sticking with that and ain’t budging) celebration I may post a bit on things that I’ve picked up over the years on the Revolution. It won’t be “hard” or factual history, but things that I think may have contributed. Hopefully, they won’t be boring will be some what interesting and maybe open up new areas for discussion (and people telling me I’m off my rocker wrong…likelihood of being true? High). I promise I’ll try and make it interesting (really).

    Well, at the very least they should be good sleep-aids (/falls asleep on keyboard).

    Upcoming : Language and the Revolution