1. "So dramatic (and traumatic) was the Philippine Revolution against Spain at the close of the nineteenth century that it has been an obsession of Philippine historiography for over a century now…This has tended to define patriotism as opposition to power - any power. It has tended to define ‘heroism’ as bravado. It has not fostered a truly satisfactory national notion of statesmanship in the general population. It has produced a democracy of mere numbers not genuinely enriched with political discernment and statesmanly horizon."
    — Florentino H. Hornedo

  2. 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.


  3. diariodefilipinas:

    Jan 17, 1897. 2:20PM

    Manila, Philippines - While the Philippine Revolution, which began in earnest on August 30, 1896 when hostilities broke out between the Manila-based faction of the separatist group “Katipunan” and Spanish forces under the command of Governor-General Ramon Blanco, has been…


  4. 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.


  5. Lingua Franca

    One of the great misunderstandings when it comes to the goals of the revolution was their vision for the nascent Philippine Republic. They foresaw an opportunity to create an utterly unique (at that moment in world history) country; a nation built on an identity formed out of colonialism, subverting the best of that experience and expelling the worst to create something completely new. They were not seeking to ‘decolonize’ in the sense of eliminating all influence of the Spanish period. That would inevitably mean removing all that was Filipino, all that had become Filipino. If you look at history as a process of becoming, intertwined with experiences of cultural sharing and exchange over decades and centuries, the development of the Filipino becomes understandable. Colonialism formed the Filipino nation, eventually and inevitably in truth. Sooner or later, national consciousness forms amidst a repressed people. A consciousness, in fact, that exists beyond the rigidly bound strictures of territory will form. National consciousness is something much more, much greater than that.

    One historically sticky issue with the Philippines is our preponderance of languages. It faced the Spanish when they first arrived. The most commonly known, though erroneous, reason why the Spanish decided to teach Catechism and proselytize in regional languages, is that they did not want consciousness to form. The argument goes, when you eliminate the ability for easy communication, you prevent the formation of a nation, and undermine the ability to coordinate a revolution. While this may have been one of the substantiations for not teaching Spanish to Filipinos in the 19th century, it was not the reason why Spanish was not used in the 16th century is a little more prosaic, and at the same time complex, than that. On the more practical side, the decision to teach in local languages was a matter of numbers; there weren’t enough Spanish missionaries to both teach Spanish and then teach in Spanish. Instead, it made much more sense for priests to learn the language of whatever region they were being deployed. On the more complex side, what we ignore, or don’t understand at least, is that the colonization of the Philippines was undertaken with the failures of Latin America in mind. Namely, the complete destruction of pre-Hispanic culture and civilization, not to mention widespread death. The missionaries who came here were cognizant of those failures and did not want to duplicate them. That ‘soft’ perspective also played a part in the decision to preserve pre-Hispanic language and local customs. Essentially, all culture and customs that did not run counter to Catholic doctrine were to be preserved. To be frank, even customs that did run counter still survive; they were just overlaid with a ‘civilizing’ Catholic veneer.

     In a sense, we have the decisions of Urdaneta and Salazar, along with their experiences in Latin American and their Basque background, to ‘blame’ for the multiplicity of pre-Hispanic languages that remain extant. That is another untold story of the Spanish era, the differences in how Iberians approached the Philippines based on their own cultural background. 16th century Basques, as they are today, were militantly protective of their language and culture; fighting and dying in the name and protection of Euskadi. For them, their whole identity as a people is inextricably linked to their language. You are a Basque if you can speak Basque. It is not a stretch to imagine, coming from that sort of cultural grounding, that they would seek to preserve the same for others.

     What started out in the 16th century as a ‘humane’ and ‘open’ process of proselytization ended in the 19th century as a tool for maintaining Spanish hegemony. By the 19th century laws had been passed that ordered the teaching of Spanish to all imperial subjects; a dictate that Philippine colonial authorities ignored. The reformists who became revolutionaries understood the power of a lingua franca, but understood the complexities of raising one regional language over another. They saw in Spanish an opportunity to both subvert a colonial legacy for their own nationalist needs, while at the same time preserving regional language and culture. In a way, they were seeking the exact opposite of decolonization. They were trying to subvert colonial remnants for their own needs.

    It is a curious lesson, but one that is well understandable when we consider the type of milieu that the revolutionaries were fighting in. They had to form a nation from a loose collection of regional ethnic groups; they had to provide a level playing field and a basis that was respectful of extant linguistic and cultural differences. As well, they were wholly mindful of their place in the world. They had to demonstrate that they could stand as a free, self-sufficient and independent nation; not closed off from the rest of the world. Spanish was a tool that they could use for their own benefit. They decided to use colonial legacies for their own benefit in an attempt to build a new nation. How…revolutionary.


  6. Bad History: Ilustrado

    Lately I have become fascinated with the term ilustrado. A word so influential in our historical discourse on the revolution, but has so little meaning truly attached to it. Instead the word has become a catch-all; a label used to brand anyone who did not support one Andres Bonifacio’s revolution. Thus all that exists in popular consciousness are negative connotations. It is a by-product of our popular reductionist Marxist take on Philippine history. It is class warfare at its worst.

    Who exactly were the ilustrados? According to the most popular interpretation, they are the petty bougeous, those dastardly wealthy men who co-opted the revolution from the faceless, seething masses who spontaneously rose up against the Spanish. Spontaneously and at the same time I might add. How fascinating is that: The inarticulate seem somehow possessing of a mass sub-conscious that enabled them to rise up at the same time, in different areas with no coordination or preparation. After then to see their glorious spontaneous revolution stolen out from under them by the ilustrado, those wealthy men of education and status who were glory hounds and control freaks. Yeah…right. There are serious flaws in the common understanding of ilustrado, the restrictive and inconsistent application of the term.

    If going by the usage of Renato Constantino, and every historian influenced there in by his analysis, the ilustrado is everyone who wasn’t a peninsulare or a member of the masses. Constantino sees the ilustrado as the “petty bourgeois”; essentially the entirety of the middle class. For Constantino this stratum is, well, kind of bad. He specifically utilizes the term ilustrado as a way to separate the revolution of the masses from the actions of the middle class. Unsurprising in his highly restrictive class warfare sense of history. Yet is at odds with historical fact. Revolution usually rests on the shoulders of the middle class, the men of new wealth and education who are able to critique the status quo and conceptualize a new way of life. Thus, the middle class is frequently the engine behind revolutions around the world. In the 19th century this was borne out with the creole uprisings in Latin American and the Philippines (unsuccessful though they may have been). Just this year we have seen popular uprisings throughout the Middle East, driven by the strata of reasonably well-off and educated individuals. During the 1970s and 80s the middle class played crucial roles not only in resisting Martial Law but articulating why a popular revolution, like EDSA, was necessary. While Constantino approaches the middle class as the antagonists in his history of the Philippines, the realities were far different. As others have aptly demonstrated, the middle class was the leadership, the brains and some of the money behind the Philippine Revolution. They weren’t alone though. A revolution limited to one stratum of society would always be doomed to fail. Ours did not. The untold story is the level of cooperation that existed up and down Philippine society during the late 19th century.

    In modern parlance the term ilustrado has shifted away from its original concept of the educated and enlightened and become more closely aligned with the idea of wealth. Elite status is attributed to wealth, not necessarily forethought. When evaluating the complexities of the revolution, if we are to retain the term I firmly believe that we need to shift ilustrado back towards the idea of ‘enlightened individuals.’ As it is, there are so many exceptions to the rule when it comes to who is an ilustrado that the use of the term becomes a farce.

    For example, if we are going by the common use of ilustrado as a wealthy educated, where does that leave someone like Emilio Aguinaldo? Yes, he came from a landed provincial family, but he did not attain a very high level of education. Admitting that his Spanish was poor and he likely never really read Rizal’s works (even as he was inspired by them). While on the other hand Andres Bonifacio came from an urban family of some means, and was a mestizo. He attained a reasonably high level of education (for the period), was knowledgeable enough to manage warehouses for multinational corporations, read extensively and was able to translate Rizal’s works into Tagalog for dissemination. Then there is a man like Mabini; someone who on the surface should embody the term ilustrado: Enlightened, intelligent and…poor.  Ooops. Then men like Pardo de Tavera are also considered ilustrados, even as they existed much closer to in wealth and social status to the peninsulares. Or shall we say that all ilustrados are those who were able to leave the Philippines and achieve some level of education and exposure internationally. That means men like Rizal, del Pilar, Luna, Apacible and so on.

    I would rather that ilustrado was rescued from class warfare and racial bias and deployed in its traditional, original sense: those sons of the Enlightenment, the men who attempted to cultivate a higher educational, intellectual and rational sense.

    The root of our misunderstanding of the term ilustrado comes from a radical reinterpreting of our history along purely forced class lines: A dichotomization that also encompasses attempts to re-cast the revolutionary middle class as counter-revolutionary. Rizal the ilustrado, was reformist. Aguinaldo, the ilustrado, was the betrayer of Bonifacio’s revolution. And Bonifacio, the ilustrado, did not exist, because he was the exception to the ilustrado rule. The end result is that ilustrado doesn’t basically mean anything; it is instead a derogatory term used as a critique of any who were not ‘of the masses.’ This is best exemplified with a passage from Constantino’s flawed “Veneration without Understanding”:

    “Rizal was a bourgeois reformist…he cannot be our national hero…As a first step to decolonizing our minds we must liberate ourselves from the spell of ilustrados like Rizal. We should look for those more deserving of the title of national hero, such as Andres Bonifacio…”

    How interesting indeed that Bonifacio spent so much time translating and disseminating Rizal’s writings. But, that is an aside for this essay. Constantino’s succinct description of ilustrado and how he employs it encompasses so much of what is flawed with our history. Class warfare, bereft of historical evidence and in fact the inheritor of colonial thought. Constantino and his use of ilustrado is colonialism in action; it is highly influenced by Retana and Craig’s biographies of Rizal. I’d argue instead that the truest way to become a supra-colonial people is to reclaim the term ilustrado.

    Ilustrado as a term was not used by any of the actors in the 19th century. At least so far as I have discovered. The term was of more modern deployment; even if its roots are found in the 18th century and the Enlightenment. In that respect, the term does have positive notes. Our heroes were sons of the Enlightenment, even as they reinterpreted and filtered Enlightenment ideals through new frameworks. To reclaim the word and its original meaning we also have to stand away from pat classifications based on wealth and race. Using those forms for definition creates untenable contradictions, contradictions that undermine our understanding of Philippine history.  An ilustrado essentially was man, from any walk of life, who sought higher knowledge, greater understanding of self and country, and fought for it.

    Maybe we should just drop the use of ilustrado. Basically, the term has become meaningless, useless in modern discourse precisely because it has become a term associated with so many exceptions and misconceptions. The fact is ilustrado has become a tool in the arsenal of those who have analyzed our history along gross economic and Marxist lines; obscuring and pitting our heroes against one another, contrary to how they worked together and drew inspiration from one another. Ilustrado is bad history because it is not history. It is in fact a weapon of modern ideology, used to twist our history until it has become unrecognizable and a stumbling block to nationhood and greater cooperation. That is the danger of bad history. However, as the term is so embedded in our popular consciousness, re-understanding and re-interpreting the term in a positive and more accurate manner will likely redound throughout our historiography. We can start by reclaiming the legacy of the most well known and revolutionary of all ilustrados: Jose Rizal. Along with the rest of that motley band of conspirators, who came from every walk of life to try and fight for the betterment of the Philippines.


  7. February Bloody February

    Nick Joaquin once mused that the dominant hue of fin de siecle was red. Red for passion, patriotism/nationalism (Love in other words) and blood. The blood of martyrs and men who sacrificed all for Filipinas. For him, the idea of fin de siecle (so connected to decadence in Paris) in the Philippines was truly passion and…loss.

    February 1899 saw the start of the Philippine-American War (War mind…not insurrection). A war that would see at a minimum 200,000 Filipino civilians dead, along with 20,000 Filipino combatants (not to mention the loss of life on the American side). What started out with a $20 million ‘purchase’ from Spain of an colony battling for its independence, became a long drawn war between a new colonial power and a nominally free nation; a war that would end up costing the United States more in life and money than the Spanish-American ‘War’.

    The first shots of the Philippine-American War were fired on February 4, 1899; with the Battle for Manila raging from the 4th to the 5th. What came next was a long-drawn out and bloody affair that lasted for years in the provinces (you know, because they were organized, under Aguinaldo and the Philippine Republics accepted leadership); and did not end with the capture of Aguinaldo in 1902. The resistance devolved from there, lasting into the 1910s, even in the 1920s in some places. They lasted in the form of guerilla warfare. We forget, but the Mindanao resistance was some of the fiercest around (the US army had to adopt the single action Colt 45 because of the much needed stopping power to halt tribesmen). And let’s not forget the lengths that the US army went to quell organized and armed resistance: water torture, starvation, slash and burn techniques, mass murder and ultimately targeting civilian population centers to dissuade support of their countrymen. What started in February with the first Battle for Manila ended with hundreds of thousands of Filipinos dead, tortured and damaged. Resistance did not really relent in the country side though, even after formal hostilities ended and the Philippines was under US control. Pockets of religious-based and millennial (millenarianist) resistance were found well into the American era.

    1945 saw the start of the 2nd Battle for Manila, this time though the US was coming to the rescue of their abandoned territory. For three years the Japanese had brutally occupied the Philippines; to the toll of approximately one million deaths throughout the country. Cities were decimated, and while it has become popular to blame the US retaking of places like Manila for all destruction that was found, upon review it appears that much of the damage pre-dated US military moves. Cities in the South found themselves brutally overtaken by ‘benevolent’ Japanese forces. In a pathetic connection to the Philippine-American War, an aged General Ricarte acting as something of a show pony for the Japanese. A way to say: "Look we’re liberating you from foreign influence!" The exchange of one colonial power with a brutal occupying power is not liberation.

    What came next, from February 3 to March 4 is one of the bloodiest episodes of urban fighting in the Pacific Theater, and World War II. More damage was done and more people were killed than almost any city. Our losses in life and property rivaled those found in Warsaw, Tokyo and even Hiroshima.

    Over 100,000 Filipino civilians murdered, brutally. It was not by bombs falling, but at the hands of angry and scared Japanese soldiers; soldiers who believed in the rightness of their cause and the indestructibility of their nation. Faced with the specter of defeat the took out their aggressions in February on a trapped Philippine population. The stories are not well known, but they are there to be found. Whole families murdered, babies speared for sport, women raped on the streets. And homes set on fire with people trapped inside; only to be shot when they tried to flee death by burning. By the end of February, the Pearl of the Orient was no more. And a shell-shocked and decimated people who, aside from a select few disreputable collaborators, had never given up and never stopped fighting, were free. There was something to save, to rescue, because Filipinos never gave up.

    Fast forward to 1986, our country found itself again under a repressive regime fighting for freedom. This time though it was not a foreign colonial power, but our own. Lead by a man and his wife who sold themselves as saviors of a country, instead becoming one of the most corrupt duos in human history. The blood spilled though was not to be found in February 1986. That came before, that came during over a decade of systematic dismantling of democratic structures; of plundering and theft; of salvaging and kidnappings and outright government-sanctioned murder and terrorism.

    In February 1986, we saw something the world had never seen before: A people rising up, peacefully, powerfully and undeniably to retake their independence. That was People Power in it’s purest sense. No violence, no desecration and destruction, looting or thievery in the streets. A people took back what was rightfully theirs. Millions of Filipinos were in the streets. And all the failures that have come since, all the backsliding, compromises and self-inflicted wounds, cannot obscure that one seminal moment. No matter how much we’ve tried. In 1986, People Power resonated throughout the world. And there was…hope and love in the streets and throughout the country that day.

    The power of February is found in the Filipinos love of country. This is truly the month of patriotism, of nationalism, of love of Filipinas. In 1899 we went to war for our independence; in 1945 we survived and fought an occupying force; and in 1986 we peacefully took back what was ours. There is a redemptive power to be found in love.

    February is a month of sacrifice, heartache, pain, love, and resistance in our history. One day, we’ll harness that spirit to rebuild our country. One day soon, I pray.

    In the meantime, it’s time to reflect on what came before, what we continue to love, and what we can do for Filipinas tomorrow.


  8. Human Rights - Philippine Style

    No, this is not going to be a polemic against every Philippine administration since…well since Aguinaldo. Nor will it be a complete critique of the current human rights situation in the country; though I hope that understanding what our 19th century revolutionary heroes (and this extends into the 20th century) fought for and dreamed of will help illuminate how much we as a nation and people have failed.

    The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a seminal moment; in essence the world attempting to repudiate the excesses of the previous generations. This was just a scant few years after the Great War, itself preceded by World War I and the upheavals of the 19th century; a period of chaotic overturning of the world order that was signaled by the collapse of the European imperial hegemony and ushered in by the rise of the new globe-spanning American Empire. As well, it saw a small state attempt to rise up and declare its independence; in the process becoming Asias first declared democratic constitutional republic.

    Nations were saying that the future would be shaped by an understanding and acceptance of our intrinsic differences, and in turn, celebrating them. That the future could be founded on mutual respect and appreciation, that superficial delineations based on race, creed and socio-economic status were false. They are, and remain, building blocks. The understanding that differences are to be celebrated and accepted, their variance pieces with the potential to build a strong and more cohesive society. Ah humanism, this was the first attempt on a global stage to focus on that. However, the Philippines in its infancy attempted to build a society founded on respect and rights in the 19th century. They saw an opportunity to build on the revolutions that preceded (American, French and so on) and construct a new type of society. One without racially and religiously imposed delineations.

    The theoretical, political and philosophical points are exemplified in the works of writers like Emilio Jacinto, Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Apolinario Mabini (among others) in the 1880s and 1890s. It was ratified into action with the founding of the Philippine Republic, with Emilio Aguinaldo at its head. It was what they were fighting for when they revolted against Spain and stood toe-to-toe with the United States.

    Emilio Jacinto wrote the “Lessons of the Katipunan of the Children of the Nation” as a moral and ethical guideline for Filipinos. Among them were precepts such as; “One who as a high inner spirit, puts honor, goodness and virtue before self-interest; one who has a lowly inner spirit puts self-interest before honor, goodness and virtue.” Beyond discussing inner vs outer world view, Jacinto also touched on racial segregation (something that Filipinos of all racial origination felt under the Empire):

    The value of a person is not in being sovereign, not in an aquiline nose or in a white face, it is not in the priestly substitute for God, nor is it in the high station one has in life. Pure and truly esteemed, beloved and noble is the person even if he or she was raised in the forest and speaks nothing but his or her own language; who has beautiful behavior, and only one sentence (which is) honor and virtue; who does not oppress others or allow one’s self to be oppressed; who knows how to be sensitive and knows how to cherish the land of his birth.

    Amidst the clarion call for revolution and independence we find glimmers of the human rights that would be declared universally over 50 years later. As well, we see a synthesis of various philosophical and political views spanning the United States and Europe. In essence, its a vision for a country founded on the innate worth of each human being and, in this case, wholly Filipino.

    Part of human rights is equal representation in their government. Mabini directly addressed this in his Decalogue: "Secure for thy people a republic but never a monarchy; the latter ennobles one or several families and founds a dynasty; the former builds up a people, noble and worthy through reason, great through liberty, prosperous and brilliant through industry." As well, he saw that compatriots, those in pursuit of the ennobling of humanity, as a far more important brotherhood than ties of nations and imagined political boundaries: “Therefore, while the frontiers of nations exist, raised and maintained by the egotism of race and family, to him alone shouldst thou unite thyself in perfect solidarity of aims and interests, to attain strength, not only to fight the common enemy, but also to realize all the aims of human life.” Granted, coming from the Philippine cultural milieu, God figured prominently in their rhetoric (and very likely God influenced by Catholicism). However, much like the US Founding Fathers, they specifically shied away from elevating the Catholic interpretation of God to prominence.

    Another key concept was kalayaan; the Filipino belief in rightness and brotherhood. Among some of the early Propagandists, namely Marcelo del Pilar, kalayaan became the Philippine equivalent to libertad. For Jacinto it would become: 'every person's true right to think and do anything that does not harm the right of others” (Sta.Maria 20). Then as now the Filipinos were touching on the importance of individual human rights.

    There are antecedents in Philippine history to the human rights espoused by the Propagandists and Revolutionaries. One often forgotten is Luis Rodriguez Varela, or El Conde Filipino. In 1809 he argued for major reforms in the colony, as well as the upholding of the rights of the natives (Filipinos). Prior to the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution a Filipino protest song had the lines: “Poor, rich, ignorant, wise - all are equal and truly siblings.”

    The Philippines, despite our current human rights situation, has a broad and deep history of attempting to define and uphold rights for all. It is a mark in our favor; more so that our ancestors revolted and went to war for the opportunity to see these ideas put into political action. In many ways, their ideas still resonate, but remain unimplemented. The words of Jacinto, “Defend the oppressed and fight the oppressor,” remain a key guide for the future, a reminder of our duties as Filipinos, as human beings.


  9. "The mission superior was more critical of the Philippine schools he found. They hardly provided any chance for intellectual or literary growth, and they had failed to educate the young. The Philippines enjoyed a higher literacy rate than any European nation, but Philippine schools were notoriously lacking in “historical and humanistic” training. The young hardly learned to “compare and search for the causes of things.”"
    — Jose Arcilla SJ on Father Cuevas, SJ when Cuevas took over the Ateneo in 1859.