Tag Archives: Philippine Revolution

Column: Bonifacio’s blank stare, Agoncillo’s ‘friendly hostility’

Published on October 20, 2015.

BONIFACIO BEGAN to eat his simple fare, and while thus employed he heard a rifle shot that made him start. He put down the bowl and looked blankly at his uncle-in-law. His heart beat loudly, savagely against his breast.

“What was that, Uncle?” he asked, fidgeting nervously. “Did they kill my brother?”

“No, my son,” the old man answered laconically.

“Well, how is he doing? Please feed him, too,” he implored, fearing that his brother was suffering from hunger. Continue reading

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Column: Miseducated by Constantino

Published on October 13, 2015.

If Teodoro Agoncillo was the Moses of the class-conflict theory of the Philippine Revolution, the historian Renato Constantino was its Joshua—he led their followers into the promised land. Since the late 1960s, the rich-versus-poor theory has become mainstream fare, even conventional wisdom; despite the efforts of the director and the cast of “Heneral Luna” to add layers of nuance to their interpretation of history, for instance, the movie’s narrative momentum leads easily to a confirmation of the Agoncillo-Constantino thesis. It is the frame that fits most conveniently.

To Agoncillo’s pioneering work, Constantino added structure and consistency; unfortunately for the Philippine revolutionary experience, it was the structure and consistency of a Marxist ideology. In groundbreaking, icon-shattering lectures and essays such as “Veneration without Understanding” and “The Miseducation of the Filipino,” and in forceful textbook-length arguments like “A Past Revisited,” Constantino advocated, in the words of his most perceptive critic, “the importance of the correct understanding of the Filipino past in order to have insight into the problems of the present.” The scholar John Schumacher, SJ, summed up the historian’s driving impulse: “[H]e has expounded on the pernicious role that the official view of the Filipino past inculcated by colonial historiography and the American educational system has had in disfiguring in the minds of Filipinos the true story of their past.”

It is a profound irony, then, that Constantino sought to recover that “true story” using a Marxist framework, which the revolutionaries themselves did not use and which the revolutionary experience disproved.

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Column: What we (still) don’t know about Antonio Luna

Published on September 29, 2015.

In “Heneral Luna,” the actor Alvin Anson portrays Jose Alejandrino—the revolutionary general whose memoirs serve as a supplemental source for the acclaimed movie. Those memoirs, published in 1933 and translated into English in 1949, offer the fullest portrait of his good friend, the mercurial Antonio Luna. It gives us vivid impressions (to borrow Luna’s favorite literary style) of his student days in Europe, his tumultuous year with the Army of the Malolos Republic—and, in 1896, his hour of treason and cowardice.

A two-paragraph section in Alejandrino’s “The Price of Freedom” and titled “Antonio Luna in the year 1896” makes for necessary reading.

“It appears in official documents that in this period Luna committed the greatest error of his life in denouncing the existence of the Katipunan and in revealing, during his imprisonment after the first outbreak of the rebellion, the names of some of his friends affiliated with the Society. Later, he explained however to me his aforesaid acts by saying that with the physical and moral tortures which he suffered during his imprisonment, and upon being assured by the Spaniards that he had been squealed upon by his own friends, denouncing him as an accomplice in the rebellion, his violent character made him lose his better judgment. And having fallen for the scheme woven by the Spaniards, he declared that those who had denounced him were more guilty than he.

“The events of 1896 separated us from each other, he having been prosecuted and later on sentenced to suffer imprisonment in Spain, while I left the country for China and Japan [on official missions for Emilio Aguinaldo to procure arms for the revolution]. We were able to see each [other] again in Kabite toward the month of July, 1898. He was returning home after having served his sentence in the Model Prison of Madrid, and he brought with him in his baggage books on military strategy and tactics and treatises on field fortifications. Above all, he brought with him a desire to atone for his past mistakes.” Continue reading

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Column: Apolinario Mabini vs General Luna

The first of five columns provoked, or inspired, by two viewings of Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna.” Published on September 22, 2015. 

Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna” is a masterpiece of filmmaking; we should all see it. But it is, primarily, art; only, secondarily, history. Learning to distinguish one from the other is an exhilarating, necessary, education.

The “but” in the lead is a testament to the movie’s persuasive power. Much of this power lies in the astute casting, in the sweeping cinematography, in the compelling pace of the storytelling; some of it rests on the familiar structure of the narrative: of one against many, of country before self, of nation above class, of good versus evil.

The movie begins, and ends, with a disclaimer about creative license. Tarog’s reimagining of parts of Philippine history has inspired spirited discussion in the classroom or animated conversations over coffee or beer, about the shape of our history and about our own role in the shaping. (I overheard one conversation between early-twentysomethings; they were hoping that, perhaps, just perhaps, box-office results would lead to a trilogy of movies—a trilogy about Philippine revolutionary heroes, not comic-book or Young Adult characters!) Continue reading

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A revolutionary movie

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Column: The most important book of our time

Published on December 3, 2013.

Last Friday, among several other titles, the Ateneo de Manila University Press launched “The Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies on the Katipunan, 1892-1897,” by the historian Jim Richardson. It is, in my view, the most important book of this generation.

I base my conclusion on three premises. First, and in the words of the Inquirer’s Bonifacio Day editorial last Saturday: “The Philippine Revolution of 1896 is the primary and formative experience of Philippine nationhood, and that revolution was principally [Andres] Bonifacio’s doing.” A work that allows us to reclaim this truth with all the innocence of rediscovery, while at the same time connecting other nation-forming experiences of our history in one integrated narrative, is important by definition.

Second, the true character of the Katipunan, the revolutionary organization Bonifacio founded, has been obscured by what Richardson describes as “a paucity of sources,” into which abyss ideologues and popularizers have willingly entered. This “crying shortage of reliable sources,” he writes in his preface, “has tempted historians to write history as they wish it had been, and has allowed every species of fallacy to flourish, from wild conjecture and fanciful exegesis to hagiography and myth-making; from simple error to outright fabrication.” A work that succeeds in offering “a corrective to the worst excesses,” then, to use Richardson’s own modest phrasing, is not only welcome but necessary to the national project.

Third, Philippine society continues to be divided according to ideological constructs that would have made no sense to the Katipuneros and revolutionaries themselves: reform versus revolution, Rizal versus Bonifacio, ilustrado versus plebeian, rich versus poor. A work that shows convincingly just how much Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto and other organizers of the Katipunan saw themselves as continuing the work of Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar and other propagandists, one that demonstrates beyond any doubt that those who joined the Katipunan were not only the “unlettered” but also the learned, that its membership came from all classes, a study above all that proves that the Katipuneros knew what they needed to do not only to fight for liberty but to conduct themselves according to liberty’s highest standards, is consciousness-altering. 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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