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