Tag Archives: Philippine nationalism

Column: If Taruc is a hero, what?

Published on July 4, 2017, but perhaps apropos reading for yesterday’s celebration of National Heroes Day. 

The honors paid last month to Luis Taruc, cofounder of the Huks, invites us to think, again and with a greater sense of complication, about our notions of heroism.

An Inquirer editorial tried to anticipate the public’s response to the unveiling of a historical marker at Taruc’s place of birth and to the statement of recognition from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines “that Luis Taruc is a hero” by identifying three types of possible reception. “This pronouncement may strike some as belated but deserved recognition; others may criticize it as insufficiently historical or an affront to the memory of other heroes; still others may wonder what all the fuss is about.”

If not indifference, I would venture that wonder at what all the fuss was about was the majority reaction—but I did see criticism of the Taruc pronouncement. Inquirer columnist Manolo Quezon was one of those who showed his disagreement by circulating a Philippines Free Press cartoon listing Taruc’s many iniquities. I respect Quezon’s position, not only because his grandmother Aurora Quezon was assassinated by the Huks in 1949, but even more so because his work is shaped by a deep understanding of Philippine history.

Recognition of Taruc’s heroism, however, forces us to take a closer look at the different, even conflicting, narratives of heroism we have learned to tell. To make a nation, it takes all kinds of heroes. Continue reading


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Column: The misery of being Filipino

Published on July 7, 2015.

TRAVEL BROADENS the mind; for the Filipino tourist or scholar or worker abroad, it must also deepen the misery of being Filipino. Do not get me wrong; Filipinos are a famously happy people, with an extraordinary capacity for both work and play. I can also attest, from my own happy experience, to the resurgence in patriotic pride since the late 1980s.

Whether it was the People Power revolution in 1986 which electrified the world, or the 1991 Southeast Asian Games we hosted and nearly won, or the decade and a half of uninterrupted economic growth since 2001; whether it is the worldwide fame of a boxing all-time great, or the phenomenal rise of a completely new industry in business process outsourcing, or the determined challenge against an expansionist superpower in the West Philippine Sea, or the continuing celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of a heroic generation—I share the sense that many Filipinos are proud of their country, with an uncomplicated sense of pride. It is a pride different in degree from the identity-anxious nationalism of the 1960s, different in kind from the sham Filipinism promoted by a dictatorial regime in the 1970s.

At least that is my sense: There is today a greater clarity about our place in the sun. Continue reading

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Column: The OFW as a nationalist

Published on July 1, 2014.

In the eighth chapter of “Noli Me Tangere,” we see balikbayan Crisostomo Ibarra ride through “Manila’s busiest suburb” in a carriage. The drive turns into a trip down memory lane: “All the noise, movement, even the sun itself, a particular odor, the motley colors, awakened in his memory a world of sleeping remembrances.” (This and other passages from the novel are from the Soledad Locsin translation.)

The memories are those of his life before he left to study in Europe—until he passes a familiar landmark. “The sight of the botanical garden drove away his gay reminiscences: the devil of comparisons placed him before the botanical gardens of Europe, in the countries where much effort and much gold are needed to make a leaf bloom or a bud open; and even more, to those of the colonies, rich and well-tended, and all open to the public. Ibarra removed his gaze, looked right, and there saw old Manila, still surrounded by its walls and moats, like an anemic young woman in a dress from her grandmother’s best times.”

The sight of the landmark prompts more remembering, then, but of an outsider’s life in the cities of Europe and (“even more”) of a traveler’s passage through colonies like Singapore. The expatriate had returned, and found his country wanting. Continue reading

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Column: The 10 most important letters Rizal wrote

The third Rizal column, published on June 28, 2011.

I thought it might be an interesting experiment: In the country’s most important correspondence, which letters are the most historic? Several years ago, I came to realize that the best way to introduce a new reader or a new student to Rizal is through his letters. The Rizal correspondence runs to several hundreds, and almost literally there is something in it for everyone. But if one had time only to read the 10 most consequential, what would the short list look like?

It would probably not include some of the more personally interesting letters, such as Rizal telling his sisters that inviting their friends to resettle in Dapitan, where he had just been deported, was “a delicious idea”—in English. Or the letter, in German this time, where he explains to his great friend Ferdinand Blumentritt how to use his new invention, a “sulpak” or cigar lighter. Instead, a short list would probably include those letters that explain Rizal best: how he came to write his subversive novels, how he came to part ways with Marcelo del Pilar, how he came to find himself, for the third time, on board a ship bound for Spain. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Ualang dao ga sino’

In June 2011, celebrations to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Jose Rizal reached a crescendo. I was not immune to the power of that patriotic music; all three of my columns that month dealt with the national hero. The first of the three columns was published on June 14, 2011.

Call it a theory of refraction. Even when Spanish clerics or officials criticized Rizal, their criticism was often formed (refracted) by certain assumptions about the most famous man in the Philippines, assumptions both hidden and visible which we can use today to paint a vivid portrait of Rizal in the last 10 years of his life.

After the “Noli” reached the Philippines in 1887, for instance, many Spaniards and not a few Indios were scandalized. We can get a sense of the scope of the scandal when the Augustinian friar Jose Rodriguez published a series of pamphlets the following year. Originally written in Spanish, the eight pamphlets were translated into Tagalog posthaste; the most famous of them carried the title-and-subtitle “Caingat Cayo! Sa manga masasamang librot, casulatan”—which we can render as “Beware! Of evil books and writings.” Continue reading

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Column: Patriot’s primer

Published January 11, 2011. The “Kartilyang Makabayan” is on my wish list of book projects: I hope to complete an annotated translation in time for Bonifacio’s 150th birth anniversary. Bahala na!

IN 1921, largely through the efforts of poet-politician Lope K. Santos, an official holiday to mark the birthday of Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio was celebrated in the country for the first time (it came a generation after his execution at the hands of Emilio Aguinaldo’s men). The day before the new holiday, labor leader Hermenegildo Cruz later recalled, his school-age children asked him: “Sino ba iyan si Bonifacio (Who is that [man] Bonifacio)?” Continue reading

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My heart jumped …

when I saw who had collected (and donated?) a most useful set of newspaper clippings I found at Harvard’s magnificent Widener Library. And to top it all: Somewhere in the middle of the reel (the collection was in microfiche format), I read an unnamed American woman’s eyewitness account of Apolinario Mabini’s funeral, in 1903. I experienced several varieties of religious experience, right then and there.

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Column: A Tagalog conspiracy

Column No. 175, the first of a two-part series on Rizal’s Tagalog correspondence. Published on December 28, 2010.

“Kaibigang Selo: Ang may taglay nitong sulat ay isang lihim na kapatid natin sa Rd. L. M. no. 2 ang taas. Walang sukat at dapat maka-alam na siya’y kapatid kundi ikaw lamang at ako.” Thus Rizal, conspiratorially, to Marcelo del Pilar, on November 4, 1889.

Most of Rizal’s letters were meant to be read in company, to be passed from hand to hand, to be copied and circulated (indeed, copies of some of his letters were found by the raiding party that broke into the warehouse where Andres Bonifacio was employed, and were used as evidence in his trial for treason). A few, like this letter from Paris, were meant to be confidential, and a hundred and twenty years after it was written we can still easily intuit why. Continue reading

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Column: 5 million books

Published on December 21, 2010.

Google Books is controversial for several reasons; in this ambitious corporate attempt to digitize as many books as possible, copyright and monopoly issues may only be the most vexing. These and other issues are contentious even though, or especially because, casual reader and scholarly researcher alike already enjoy the benefits of digitized books directly.

Many of the books are available only in Preview format, but even the limits of this format can be liberating: some books offer a few pages (so we can read Fr. Miguel Bernad on “The Nature of Rizal’s Farewell Poem”); others several dozens, perhaps even a couple of hundreds (such is the case, for instance, of the massive and minutely detailed Indonesian-English dictionary by Alan M. Stevens and A. Ed.
Schmidgall-Tellings). Continue reading

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Column: Binay in the Katipunan

Published on December 14, 2010.

Very interesting feedback in the last two weeks, in response to the column on Chiz Escudero and Andres Bonifacio, moves me to revisit the topic. Instead of worrying the definition of “ilustrado” again, however, I would like to discuss the class composition of the Katipunan—and argue that somebody like Vice President Jojo Binay would have fit right in.

I am sure I am not the only one to wonder, reading the standard accounts of the Philippine Revolution, about Pio Valenzuela, the medical doctor, co-founder and Katipunan emissary to the exiled Rizal. What was someone like him doing in a revolutionary organization described (by the fecund Isabelo de los Reyes) as “a plebeian association” consisting of the “pobres y ignorantes” or (by the influential Teodoro Agoncillo) as “a commoners’ society” made up of “the unlettered masses.” Continue reading

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Column: The longest roll call

Published on December 7, 2010.

Without quite realizing it, a week ago I walked into the longest roll call I’ve ever been a part of—but I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a reflection on influence, and it begins with a book.

On Nov. 30, the Ateneo de Manila published “To Give and Not to Count the Cost,” a collection of essays about “Ateneo heroes,” to mark (several months late) the end of the university’s 150th anniversary. In the case of some of the subjects, the quotation marks were superfluous. No one can seriously dispute that Jose Rizal, Gregorio del Pilar, Benigno Aquino Jr., Edgar Jopson, Evelio Javier and several more were heroic, however that term is defined. In the case of a great many others, however, their heroism had a decidedly personal meaning: an unforgettable act of charity, a decisive intervention, the gift of lasting friendship or personal example. Continue reading

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Column: Escudero and Bonifacio, ilustrado

Published on November 30, 2010. It was a thrill to receive, a few days after the column came out, a letter from Jim Richardson (about whom, well, see below).

I don’t think there is any question that Senator Francis Escudero’s campaign support for the vice-presidential candidacy of Jejomar Binay proved pivotal in the May elections. One political ad of Escudero’s was especially well-timed and well done; it featured the popular first-term senator asking the simple question, Who is my vice president? against a backdrop of Binay images. His lengthy answer began this way: “Ang bise-presidente ko, hindi mayaman, hindi ilustrado, kulay Pilipino (My vice president is not rich, not an ilustrado, looks Filipino).” Continue reading

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Partial truths about the Philippine Revolution

The epilogue of John Schumacher SJ’s Revolutionary Clergy begins with a summary of four “certain stereotypes”, or partial views, or (if understood ideologically) outright myths of the Revolution that in my view is a marvel of lucidity and precision. Immediately after the summing-up, he hastens to clarify that “all of them contain some greater or lesser portions of the whole picture of the Revolution” (and all ignore, to a greater or lesser extent, the role of the Filipino clergy as “an essential element” of that same  Revolution).

I thought it might be worth our while to run those four paragraphs (from Schumacher 1981: 267-268) here, as a reminder, in Schumacher’s words, of “the one Revolution and the many revolutions.” Continue reading

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“But my cause is good and that is enough for me”

When Pablo Pastells SJ chided Rizal, then in exile in Dapitan, for not dedicating himself to worthier causes, Rizal replied with an eloquent defense, and a ringing affirmation of the least or even the lost cause. I think of his answer as his fanfare for the common man, but on closer reading it reveals itself to be a reply that is, at one and the same time, earnest and ironic. (I do not know if Pastells, at one time Rizal’s spiritual director, sensed the irony of it all.)

What follows is a series of three translations; the first is Raul Bonoan SJ’s, from his definitive Rizal-Pastells Correspondence; the second is Encarnacion Alzona’s, from Miscellaneous Correspondence of Dr. Jose Rizal, one of the many volumes prepared, somewhat hastily, for the Rizal centennial in 1961; and the third is Roman Ozaeta’s, from his translation of Rafael Palma’s biography of Rizal (the title by which we know it now, The Pride of the Malay Race, is Ozaeta’s own; Palma’s award-winning work, somewhat unimaginatively, was called “Biography of Rizal”).

The Spanish original, as reconstructed by Father Bonoan (but without the Spanish orthographical marks, due to my ignorance), follows after.

This particular passage, incidentally, figured in the Indonesian appropriation of Rizal. A high-profile feature article on Rizal in the December 30, 1944 issue of Asia Raya ran the passage (in Indonesian), and two years later a short-lived political magazine published in East Java ran it again. I suspect the young Indonesian journalists at that time of great upheaval heard the fanfare, and took arms. Continue reading


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Constantino on Rizal: More links

“Veneration without Understanding,” Renato Constantino’s still-controversial Rizal Day lecture, can easily be found on the Net. Here is a link to the version in joserizal.info, the mother-of-all-Rizal-websites. (“The Life and Writings of Jose Rizal” is maintained by Dr. Robert Yoder.) The version used is the one found in Constantino’s Dissent and Counter-Consciousness. It  has the added advantage of greater perspective, since the Table of Contents allows us to “place” the lecture in Constantino’s nationalist project.

E. San Juan Jr’s more successful Marxist reading of Rizal, “Understanding Rizal without Veneration,” has since been updated (or integrated) into a longer version, here.

Among those who were kind enough to respond to my two-part critique of Constantino (1, 2) was Bob Couttie, the “Mad Dog” himself, who referred me to a series of posts he wrote in 2007 deconstructing Constantino’s influential lecture. Unfortunately, the link to the PDF file no longer works; here is the first part of the series (which should allow those interested to thread the rest together). Happy hunting.


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On Constantino: A letter to the editor

Of the many interesting reactions to the two-part column on Renato Constantino’s Americanized view of Rizal, Sonny Melencio’s was the most detailed, the most thought-out. A shorter version of his original letter (whittled down to under 3,000 characters, the limit for letters) was printed on July 6, 2010 in the Letters to the Editor page.

Constantino’s view of Rizal still valid

John Nery’s critique of Renato Constantino’s “Veneration Without Understanding” (Newsstand, Inquirer, 6/15/10 and 6/22/10) may be summarized by the following point: that Jose Rizal was depicted by Constantino as unworthy of being a nationalist hero, a reformist who repudiated the Philippine revolution and whose rise to preeminence was mainly due to American sponsorship.

There is nowhere in Constantino’s writing, however, where Rizal is depicted as “counter-revolutionary” nor an “insufficiently nationalistic” figure. Continue reading

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Column: Falling for the American trap

Second of two parts, published on June 22, 2010.

Of the many false choices that are splayed throughout “Veneration without Understanding” like so much faulty electrical wiring, the most charged, it seems to me, is Renato Constantino’s argument from Americanization. “Although Rizal was already a revered figure and became more so after his martyrdom, it cannot be denied that his pre-eminence among our heroes was partly the result of American sponsorship.” And again: “History cannot deny his patriotism … Still, we must accept the fact that his formal designation as our national hero, his elevation to his present eminence so far above all our other heroes was abetted and encouraged by the Americans.” And yet again: “His choice was a master stroke by the Americans.” Continue reading


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Column: Renato Constantino’s false choices

The first of a two-part column, published on June 15, 2010.

The classic critique of Rizal, whose 149th birthday we mark on Saturday, has itself become venerable. Renato Constantino’s “Veneration without Understanding” was the astounding Rizal Day Lecture of 1969, over 40 years ago. In my view, it does not fare as well as any of Rizal’s key writings. But it continues to be a popular read, and is sometimes used to punctuate, or even stop, a discussion. Everything that a genuine nationalist ought to know about Rizal, I can remember a friend saying, is in Constantino.

What, exactly, did Constantino say, in the courageous, cobweb-clearing lecture that perhaps best reflects his approach to history? He says Filipinos who hold Rizal up as the ideal hero do not understand that he was, in truth, a counter-revolutionary—and therefore insufficiently nationalistic. “Rizal repudiated the one act which really synthesized our nationalist aspiration, and yet we consider him a nationalist leader.” That “one act” is the revolution of 1896. Continue reading


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