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Special to the Century Book
Re-constructing Colonial Philippines: 1900-1910
Patricio N. Abinales
THE birth of the Philippines in 1896 was one thing; consolidating the territory was another matter. While most Filipinos would attribute the unification of the Philippines to the 1896 Revolution, in reality it was a series of local revolts against the Spanish, and later against the Americans. It remains debatable as to whether these revolts either identified wholly with Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s Malolos Republic, or whether, had they all succeeded, whether would unite under one contiguous territory. Already when the first American troops landed in Negros Island, Negrenses were threatening to create their own republic.
The Americans were actually responsible for giving territorial reality to Las Islas Filipinas, the basis of the future Republic. They did this first by employing force against those who opposed American rule. They waged brutal military campaigns against forces loyal to the Malolos Revolutionary Government of Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo, pushing the latter as far back as the mountain fastness of northern Luzon and scattering his troops in southern Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. The American use of armed might was so brutish that in Samar Island, for example, hundreds of women and children were killed when Gen. Jacob Smith ordered to turn the island into a “howling wilderness.” After Aguinaldo’s capture at Palanan, Isabela, there were attempts to re-establish a new revolutionary center, but all this was quashed by the Americans.
In the towns and in Manila, American suppression of Filipino revolutionary nationalism took the form of proscribing the publication of “seditious” materials that could be disseminated through the emergent print media and the ever-popular plays. Public display of pro-revolutionary sentiments were also prohibited, with the most notable ban being the Flag Law that disallowed any showing of flags associated with the Katipunan and the Malolos Republic. The Americans also sped up the organization of police forces to oversee “peace and order” and this successor of the hated Spanish Guardia Civil proved up to the task of suppressing urban dissent.
Once sure that their control would not be seriously challenged anymore, the Americans turned their attention to governing “the new possessions.” The foremost problem that immediately confronted them was the generating money for the colony and then developing the personnel necessary to run the government.
The U.S. Congress approved the colonization of the Philippines but refused to provide sustained financial support for the undertaking. In fact, the Congress allotted only $3 million for the Philippines in the entire period from 1903 to the formation of the Philippine Commonwealth. One economist called it colonial administration “accomplished ‘on the cheap.’” Financial constraints were also complicated by the difficulty of attracting Americans to govern the colony. The solution to these problems was found in generating revenues from the colony’s own resources, particularly the existing crops that the colony was exporting abroad later years of Spanish rule. Enhancing this export economy, however, was not easy. American legislators, especially those coming from the agricultural regions of the U.S., vigorously opposed proposals that Philippine products enter the country tariff-free. As a consequence, the so-called “free trade” that introduced under American rule was not so free. The U.S. was very selective in the choice of Philippine products that could be exported to the American mainland. Only sugar, hemp and coconut were allowed open access to the U.S. market; and even these products would later be taxed in American ports. Selective entry of these goods however was enough to resurrect the export economy, and by the end of the decade much of it was re-energized because of the American market.
The second issue—putting people into the administrative and political structure—proved more successful because the Americans early on opened up the structure to Filipino participation. It is general knowledge that even as the war against Aguinaldo was raging, the Americans were already able to recruit prominent Filipinos to their side. These collaborators became the backbone of the Federalista Party, a party committed to full American control as well as the medium for introducing the party system to the Philippines. The Federalistas were also supposed to become the dominant Filipino party in the soon-to-be formed Philippine Assembly and American backing initially helped them to mobilize Filipino support.
The Americans transformed the Philippine Commission from its original function as a fact-finding and policy-recommending body created by Pres. McKinley, to the highest policy-making body of the colony. Through the Commission, the Americans were also able to bring in Filipinos into the leadership (although they had limited powers) and further legitimize their rule. With the Federalistas supporting them and the pacification campaigns winding down, especially after Gen. Macario Sakay, the last of the revolutionaries fighting for a Tagalog Republic in 1905, the Americans proceeded to prepare the grounds for eventual self-rule.
The Commission ordered a colony-wide census to ascertain the exact population of the Philippines. The census was followed by provincial elections in 1906 where a new group of Filipinos emerged to challenge the Federalistas. The former consisted of local elites who saw the value of the nationalism of 1896 and how it made many Filipinos suspicious of the pro-American Federalistas. Using their provincial positions, this group began to present themselves as the real alternative to the Federalistas. Americans increasingly recognized the strength of this sentiment, especially at the provincial and municipal levels, and began to turn their attention to these new elites. The result of this new collaboration was the creation of the Nacionalista Party, a coalition of provincial elites who promised to fight for the cause of nationalism but within the framework of the American policy of eventual self-rule.
On July 30, 1907, the first elections to the Philippine Assembly—the legislative body which would act as the “lower house” to the more “senatorial” Philippine Commission—was held and the Nacionalista won a majority. From their ranks emerged Manuel L. Quezon (from Tayabas province) and Sergio Osmeña (from Cebu), who would lead the fight to expand Filipino power inside the government and eventually become the dominant leaders of the American period. Under Quezon and Osmeña, a colony-wide party system began to take shape, its power derived from a combination of clan-based alliances, patronage and a commitment to Filipinization. As more Americans chose to return to the mainland instead of staying to serve the colonial government, Filipinos increasingly took over their position.
By the end of the first decade, “regular provinces” comprised half of the Philippines. These provinces had elected and appointive Filipino officials, many of whom owed their positions to Quezon, Osmeña and the Nacionalistas. Combining their local political experiences learned from the last years of Spanish rule, with the “political education” they were getting from the Americans, the Filipinos proved within a short period of time that they had the ability to be equally adept at governing the colony. In its first year at work, the Philippine Assembly had already shown a marked adeptness in introducing additional provisions or new amendments to existing colonial laws, and in negotiating with the Philippine Commission and the Governor General over matters of policy formulation, funding and government personnel changes. Quezon and Osmeña were at the top of all these processes. They were fast becoming astute leaders of the political party they helped build, of the Assembly that they presided over, and of the colonial regime they co-governed with the Americans. If Rizal was credited for having conceived of the “Filipino,” and if Bonifacio and Aguinaldo were the leaders who gave this imagination a reality with the Revolution, to Quezon and Osmeña must be given the distinction of helping construct the political and administrative structure that would be associated with the term “Filipino.” The Americans may have created the colonial state, but it was these two leaders who gave flesh to it and putting the foundations that the future Republic would stand on.
This type of political and administrative consolidation however was only happening in one part of the colony—the “Christian” Filipino dominated “lowlands” in Luzon, the Visayas and northern Mindanao. In the other half of the colony, the U.S. army administered the “special provinces” on the grounds that their population—the so-called “non-Christian tribes”—were more backward than the Filipinos and were prone to more “warfare.” The Americans saw their “civilizing mission” as special given that the underdeveloped character of the Cordillerans and Muslims required a longer time for them to become familiar with self-government. They also had to be thoroughly “pacified.”
Surprisingly, the pacification process was fast and relatively easy. There was hardly any resistance from the various indigenous communities in the Cordilleras, while Muslim resistance was scattered and unsustained. At the middle of the first decade, the Cordilleras and “Moro Mindanao” had become very stable and peaceful areas.
A major reason for the American success was the cooperation extended by Muslim and Cordilleran leaders to the Americans. They regarded colonial rule as a means of protecting themselves against Christians and “lowlanders.” American military officials reciprocated this cooperation by resisting the efforts of Filipinos to extend their power to the “special provinces.” A working relationship eventually developed between these community leaders and the Americans whereby the former were given minor posts in the provincial government (“tribal wards” in the case of the Muslims) in exchange for agreeing to recognize American sovereignty. U.S. army officers who administered these areas also became their protectors against Filipino leaders, doing everything they can to limit the presence of Manila and the Nacionalista party in the Cordilleras and “Moro Mindanao.”
The only major resistance came from the Muslims at the hills of Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak, when the army declared a ban on weapons and raised head taxes. American military superiority prevailed and over a hundred Muslim men, women and children were killed. Politically, however, these actions eroded the army’s standing and opened up an opportunity for Quezon to attack military rule in Mindanao. After the massacres, the army was forced slowly to concede authority to Manila and the Filipinos. The army’s powers were also clipped once the U.S. Congress authorized its partial demobilization, and once the American president ordered its withdrawal from the special provinces and its replacement by Philippine Constabulary units. Many American officers also preferred to continue their military careers in the U.S. mainland, seeing very little prospects in just limiting themselves to the Philippines. All these problems emboldened the Filipinos to assert their political presence in these special provinces. This was something that a weakened military government could not repulse anymore. In 1913, the army conceded its power to the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, a body controlled from Manila and by Filipinos. The Cordilleras’ status as a special province was also terminated and the Nacionalista Party began recruiting its first “Cordillerans” to join the organization.
Two major features therefore characterized the first decade of colonial rule. First was the full and effective unification of Las Islas Filipinas under American rule, and second was the division of colony into two major zones of administration reflecting the histories of their respective populations. These two zones were eventually unified under the Filipinization policy, but the distinctiveness upon which they were based continued to affect overall colonial development. Muslims and Cordillerans remained staunchly pro-American and anti-Filipino, while Christian “lowlanders” continued to mistrust and maintain a low regard for these “wild tribes.”
About half a century later, a separatist movement threatened to disengage “Moro Mindanao” from the Philippines, while in the Cordilleras, the quest for autonomy remained strong.
September 21, 1996
Our Centennial diplomacy
THIS, the first year of our Centennial celebrations, has served to highlight the gravity of our collective historical amnesia. This loss of memory would be pardonable—because, after all, amnesia is often reversible—if it weren’t exacerbated by the selective amnesia of our officials. They seem to think that making a lot of noise about Rizal will distract the public from pondering on the gruesome legacy of the Revolution he condemned.
Mercifully, this attempt to blot out the disquieting aspects of our past has been noticed by enough journalists and academics to ensure that instead of the bland Centennial festivals hoped for by the government, a sort of guerrilla war on the cultural front is taking place. And so we are content with the fact that our commemoration of the Filipino struggle for freedom will benefit from the nation’s conscience in the schools.
But the government’s efforts on the diplomatic front seem to have escaped serious criticism. This is lamentable in that the Centennial face presented by our Republic’s leaders will often be the only aspect of our country to be noticed by the rest of the world in the next few years. And that face is one of bumbling confusion, which would be pitiful if it didn’t smack so much of the mendicant foreign policy we’ve had since it was criticized by Claro M. Recto almost two generations ago.
Our diplomatic tradition is one of subservience, and while we have ceased to expend our energies on reaming Uncle Sam, apparently we have gotten to enjoy the habit so much that we just had to start reaming someone else: if not Singapore for its authoritarian method, then Indonesia for its spectacular graft-ridden progress, of which, you would think, we had had enough under Marcos. And now it is Malaysia.
Indeed in the case of Malaysia, our diplomatic tack has tended toward finding choice morsels to praise.
The Centennial is supposed to be the commemoration of our country’s struggle for freedom, a struggle that, as Jesuit priest Jose Arcilla pointed out, was the culmination of one great historical cycle and the beginning of another.
Our Propaganda Movement and Revolution were the last of the great upheavals generated by the European Enlightenment, which gave birth to the American, French and South American revolutions and came to end with ours. On the other hand, our Revolution and the Filipino campaigns for autonomy that followed it were the beginning of a worldwide movement to bring an end to Western colonialism—a struggle that had its parallels in the great Indian struggle under Gandhi.
This is a commemoration that obviously calls for the highest dignity, independence of mind and seriousness by our people and our leaders. And it should be marked with greater resolve by everyone to demonstrate pride in our past and present achievements. Instead of this, all we have seen is the usual sycophantic and maladroit behavior on the part of the people entrusted with planning the Centennial celebrations.
Characteristically, to celebrate our Centennial we spotlight on Malaysia: a country that has had the chutzpah to lecture us on democracy while almost every critic of Mahathir is in jail, and that had the nerve to preempt the Philippines in commemorating Rizal, to the extent that it hosted an international conference on our national hero, which humiliated the Philippine government. And yet Malaysia was not even conceivable as a separate country at the time of the freedom struggle in which Rizal figured with glory. A man who has been mistaken as the Great Malaysian—when, at worst, he might be called the Great Malayan; although, the best superlative for him might be the First Filipino.
At any rate, the Malaysian Rizal conference was splendidly organized, serious discussions were held, and it took place a full year before anything concrete was scheduled to take place here (our Centennial energies being wasted, at the time, on Centennial Tower stupidities).
And what did our government do to make up for this slap on its face? Why, it organized an International Conference on the 1896 Philippine Revolution. This may have been international, but it was hardly a conference—and, worst of all, it essentially failed to take up the 1896 Revolution.
The conference took place over three hectic days, the end of which was marked by a speech by Anwar Ibrahim, the deputy prime minister of Malaysia who had organized the Malaysian Rizal conference the year before. But the high point of the conference was the signing of a resolution that criticized the utter (actually merciful) lack of media attention on the conference.
From the start, it struck some observers as strange that on August 23, the centenary of the Katipuneros’ tearing up of their cedulas, Ibrahim was being honored with the distinctions pertaining to the Knights of Rizal in a ceremony that marked the conclusion of one full day of lectures on Rizal, during a three-day affair meant to commemorate the Revolution he had, at best, bewailed for the loss of lives its threatened, and, at worst, condemned as counterproductive of higher national aims.
The reason for this strange event was simple. The Philippine government had to find a way—any way—to quid Malaysia’s quo, and the conference on the Revolution was the most convenient way.
Never mind the true purpose of the conference—never mind the incongruity of honoring Rizal to the extent of overshadowing Bonifacio and the Katipunan. Malaysia had to be fawned on, and if some people wrinkled their noses at the brown noses of our officials, tough. Pride and nationalism—simple self-respect and dignity—do not build Proton Wiras. And besides, Rizal has been so often honored in the past, a commemoration honoring him yet again would be easier to pull off than one honoring the less celebrated and real heroes of the 1896 Revolution.
In the event, they didn’t even honor Rizal, because the Philippine representative just compared himself to the national hero and confined his speech to drawing parallels between Rizal’s life and his own failures. The Malaysians again ran off with the prize with a well-prepared, if not entirely credible, interpretation of the national hero.
The Conscience of the Filipino: The Sacrifice
by Teodoro M. Locsin
“WHEN my blindfold was removed, I found myself inside a newly painted room, roughly four by five meters. The windows were barred and covered with plywood panels from the outside. A space of six inches had been left between the panels and the window frame to allow a slight ventilation. A bright daylight neon tube on the ceiling was on day and night. There was no electric switch and the door had no knob, only locks on the outside. Except from an iron bed without a mattress, the room was completely bare. No chairs, no table, nothing.
“I was stripped naked. My wedding ring, watch, eyeglass, shoes, clothes were all taken away. Later, a guard in civilian clothes brought a bed pan and told me I would be allowed to go to the bathroom once a day in the morning, to shower, brush my teeth and wash my clothes. In case of emergency, I must call a guard. I was issued two jockey briefs and two T-shirts which I alternated every other day. The guard held on to my toothbrush and toothpaste and I had to ask for them in the morning. Apparently the intention was to make me really feel helpless and dependent on everything on the guards. . . Diokno, who was brought in with me and locked up in an adjoining cell, later told me that he had gone through the same thing.
“They took my eyeglasses away and I suffered terrible headaches. For the first three or four days, I expected my guards were the ‘Monkeys’ who were licensed to kill. Suspecting they put drugs in my meager ration, I refused to touch it. I subsisted on six crackers and water for the rest of my stay. I became so depressed and despondent. I was haunted by the thought of my family. . .”
He came to question the justice of God. A friend had told him that God never slept. But what if He’s taken a siesta, Ninoy thought, “and when He finally wakes up, I’ll be gone?”
That was early in 1973 when he and Diokno, blindfolded and handcuffed, were taken by a helicopter emblazoned with the Presidential Seal to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija and kept in solitary confinement in adjoining sweatboxes. To let the other know he was still alive, they would occasionally sing to each other. Neither could carry a tune.
After 30 days, he and Diokno were whisked out of their cells and returned to Fort Bonifacio. There they endured again solitary confinement, broken only by rare visits by their families. After a year or more, Diokno was released. Ninoy stated on in prison — for a total of seven and a half years.
“I would watch a line of ants go down the wall of my cell and another line going up and I would make a mental bet on which line, when the two met, would give way. I tried to befriend a mouse that ventured into my cell. When I felt my mind giving way, I would do a hundred pushups and then take a shower and I would be myself again.”
Every year in prison is a year thrown away out of the limited span of man’s life; it is the death penalty by installment: life without freedom is not life. Ninoy decided to fast and, if not given his freedom, die. His death would be on Marcos’s head. A terminal cry for justice, it would be an ultimate act of life.
On the 38th day of his hunger strike, his mother pleaded with him:
“My son, are you trying to outdo our Lord?”
Only one argument convinced him to break his fast and leave the divine record intact. He was told that the government would not let him die. A few more days of fasting would inflict irreparable damage on his brain and then the government would force-feed him. But he would be a vegetable by then. The government would be blameless.
It was during his hunger strike that he was made to stand trial before a military commission for all kinds of crime against the regime. I remember him, at one session, being lifted by two guards to the stage. He sat there and listened, without saying a word, as a government witness, a Huk commander, raged at him for being a Huk-coddler. Ninoy, he sputtered angrily, had helped him — yes, him, a Huk commander—when he was in need. Previously, another government witness had also accused Ninoy of helping the rebels. He was a man whom Ninoy had brought bleeding from gunshot wounds to a hospital in Manila. “The classic Filipino,” Ninoy said of this witness.
During the fast, one of Ninoy’s lawyers went to the newspapers and asked them to print Ninoy’s answer to the charges against him, charges those newspapers were playing up. Their answer was “no”. He asked if Ninoy’s answer could appear as an ad, which would be paid for, of course. The answer was still “no”. Later, the regime would accuse the American press of breach of journalistic ethics for “one-sided” reporting of the conduct of the regime.
When masses were being said for Ninoy during his hunger strike, only a hundred or so would attend. Nobody else seemed to care.
Now he was going back to all that.
“I am going home,” he said to me shortly before his departure from the United States for Manila.
He would seek an appointment with Marcos, he said. (He would get no further than the tarmac.)
“Have you thought of what would happen to you?”
We discussed the possibilities: arrest on arrival, followed by imprisonment again or house arrest or execution. Perhaps, freedom — who knows? I asked him if he seriously believed that he would be set free — to campaign in the coming elections against the regime, or as one of the Opposition candidates? I reminded him of his conviction by the military court for murder which bears the death penalty.
“I don’t think they’ll shoot me. As for that conviction—if I were guilty, would I be going home? My return would be the best proof of my innocence. How could they shoot me then?”
I asked him what good his return would do. His arrival would be made a non-event by the government. He would be either imprisoned or kept under house arrest—in either case , isolated and neutralized. What could he hope to do when he got back?
“I’ll go to Marcos, if he’ll see me. I’ll appeal to his sense of history, of his place in it. He would not be publishing all those books of his if he did not care for the judgment of history, if he did not want to look good in it. And that would be possible, I’ll tell him, only if there was an orderly restoration of democracy and freedom for our people. Otherwise, there would be only revolution and terrible suffering. I give the moderate opposition five years to restore democracy, after that there will be only the Communists as an alternative to Marcos or his successor. I’ll offer my services to him, but my price is freedom for our people.”
“Do you seriously think,” I asked, “that if you are able to see him, he will listen to you?”
“I can only try. If he is as sick as they say he is, then, more than ever, I must talk to him. If he dies suddenly, there will be a brutal struggle for power. Orderly succession is possibly only under a democratic regime. He must set up a system to make such succession possible before he goes. I must talk to him if I can. Who know, he may listen. He will know he is talking to a man who does not care for life and its comforts and must be telling him the disinterested truth. On the 38th day of my hunger strike, I though I was as good as dead. A dead man. I have regarded the years that followed as a second life that I should be able to give up. I have already lived and died and I am ready to go. I cannot spend that extra life here in American just living well, while our people are suffering. I must go home.”
He was hopeful.
“Maybe Marcos will listen to me. He would not want to appear in our history as a man who took away the liberties of our people and gave them only suffering in return. I am making a bet that there is good in him, deep inside him, and I shall talk to that.”
“Have you ever thought of the record.”
“I must take the chance. Think of the good that will come to our people if he listens to me. What have I got to lose? My freedom? He can have it. I’ll do anything, I’ll be his servant, but my price is freedom for our people..”
Freedom wasn’t the only thing he could lose, I reminded him.
“I have died, I told you. This is a second life I can give up. Besides, if they shoot me, they’ll make me a hero. What would Rizal have been if the Spaniards had not brought him back and shot him? Just another exile like me to the end of his life. To the end of my life. But if they make that mistake…”
“I’d rather have a live friend than a dead hero,” I said, then asked myself what I was doing arguing with a man in determined pursuit of his destiny whatever that might be.
He talked about his meeting with Mrs. Marcos, of her warning that there were people loyal to them whom they could not control and who might kill him. Financial help was offered if he did not go home. He politely said nothing. As for the loyalists . . .
“So be it,” Ninoy said.
“What will you ask Marcos if you do get to see him?”
“I’ll propose a caretaker government to be set up composed of independent and respected men so that free and honest elections could be held and democracy finally restored.”
“Do you think he will agree to that? Do you know what that would mean?”
“Yes. First, he must step down. Resign. He has had so many years of power! Now, he can resign. He can retire from public office to the thanks of a grateful people that will forget what it had suffered in its joy at being free again. We are a forgiving people. What a graceful exit that would be from power. He’ll go with honor.”
Was it this identification that moved millions of Filipinos to follow Ninoy’s body to its simple grave? Hundreds of thousands lined the long road to Tarlac when his body was brought to his hometown, before the funeral in Manila. When the cortege passed Clark Air Force Base, American fighter pilots revved their engines in tribute.
This massive outpouring of people and emotion had as much to do with what Filipinos had become once more, as with the national incredulity over the official version of the murder.
Soon after the imposition of martial law, a high American official reportedly described the Filipino people as composed of 40 million cowards and one son of a bitch. Otherwise, they should have risen as one against the destroyer of their liberties, the American must have reasoned. Yet, six million Jews went like sheep to the slaughter, stopping only to bicker over an extra crumb of bread that might keep one alive an extra day. The Nicaraguans swallowed 40 years of indignity and official thievery from the Somozas before putting an end to their rule. And the Poles, to date, have done nothing but picket. The Hungarians, after a brief spasms of prideful revolt, have traded the hope of liberty for that extra roll of toilet paper in the Soviet showcase of a consumer society.
The Filipino people rose in revolt against Spanish rule again and again through 350 years until the Revolution had cornered the last Spaniards in Manila. Then they fought the Americans, who had suddenly snatched the freedom that was almost in their grasp. Ten percent of the Filipino people died in that war. When the Japanese drove out the Americans, the Filipinos fought the Japanese.
Then came martial law, if not with American fore-knowledge and approval, definitely with American support after the event. First, submission. (Cowardice?) Resignation. (Not the Communists, for sure.) Almost 11 years after that, August 21, 1983, and Ninoy’s body bleeding on the tarmac.
The Filipino people are themselves again. And it took less than 11 years for a nation of “cowards” to be the men and women they are now.
So he went home, with these words:
“According to Gandhi, the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man.”
Before boarding the plane from Taipei for Manila, he said to a television crew that was accompanying him on that fatal day:
“You have to be ready with your hand camera because this action can come very fast. In a matter of three, four minutes it could be all over and I may not be able to talk to you again. Now I am taking precautions. I have my bulletproof vest. But if they hit me in the head there’s nothing we can do.”
Then he gave a gold Swiss watch he prized to his brother-in-law.
“I think it’s victory if we just land,” he said as the plane came in on final approach.
And a victory it was, if death is ever a victory.
He had come home to Filipinos rejoicing at the economic privileges and political offices that the death of Filipino liberty had procured for them. To a people weakly submissive to authority whatever it be. The arrest of thousands of their countrymen and imprisonment for months, years, without charge or trial, had failed to move them. The torture inflicted on so many was ignored. “No one, but no one has been tortured,” Marcos said. But Amnesty International reported a state of terror at 84 prisons where interrogation was marked by use of “fists, kicks, karate blows, beating (with) rifle butts, heavy wooden clubs, and family-sized soft-drinks bottles. . . the pounding of heads against walls or furniture, the burning of genitals and pubic hair with the flame of a cigarette lighter, falanga (beating the soles of the feet), and the so-called ‘lying-on-air’ torture.” The last consists of being made to lie rigid with one’s head on the end of one bed and the feet on that of another then the body beaten or kicked when it sagged from weakness or exhaustion.
“When we start to feel the pain of those who have been victimized by tyranny,” Ninoy said, “it’s only then we can liberate ourselves… The feeling right now is ‘Fred was tortured, thank God it’s Fred, not me.’ That’s the tragic part. Society is atomized. Until the Filipino nation can feel the loss of one life as if it was their own, we’ll never liberate ourselves.”
The Masks of Filipinos
by Teodoro M. Locsin
To be a Filipino is not a simple thing but a great bewilderment, a matter of great complexity, which is only a way of saying what is to be a man
June 17, 1961—THE FILIPINO as Spaniard, the Filipino as American, the Filipino as Japanese—when is the Filipino going to be himself? He has worn so many masks, appearance is difficult to distinguish from reality. But the mimic, no matter how expert, must, sooner or later, be himself. The act must stop, when the lights go out, in the loneliness of his room, in the loneliness of his soul.
The fate of Ezra Pound is instructive. Unhappy in his country, contemptuous of its culture, he went into voluntary exile, and, not able to be anything but American, disguised himself in his poetry as an ancient Roman, an ancient Greek, an Anglo-Saxon bard, a Provençal poet, a Confucian Chinese, in his politics serving Italian fascism, and wound up in an American insane asylum.
“I began this search for the real in a book called Personnae, casting off, as it were, complete masks of the self in each poem. I continued in a long series of translations, which were but more elaborate masks.”
He is the master of many styles, but what, it is asked, does he have to say for himself? His identity eludes the reader. Perhaps, in this disjointed world or ours, he is the true hero. There is a picture of him taken after his release from the sanitarium, just before his departure once more from the United States. Only those would share his fate who have a taste for tragedy. He left his country to go home—into exile.
For centuries, Filipinos had constantly to prepare a face to meet the faces that they met: those of their new rulers—to paraphrase Eliot. Protective coloration is the scientific term for it. Here is a Filipino under Spain:
“If he heard anyone speak ill of the natives, he, who did not consider himself as such, would join in the chorus and speak worse of them; if anyone aspersed the Chinese or Spanish mestizos, he would do the same, perhaps because he considered himself already a full-blooded Iberian. He was ever the first to talk in favor of any new imposition of taxes or special assessment, especially when he smelled a contract of a farming assignment behind it. He always had an orchestra ready for congratulating or serenading the governors, judges and other officials on their name-days and birthdays….For such occasions he would secure laudatory poems and hymns in which were celebrated ‘the kind and loving governor’, ‘the brave and courageous judge for whom there awaits in heaven the palm of the just’, and many other things of the same kind.
“He was the president of the rich guild of mestizos in spite of the protest of many of them, who did not regard him as one of them. In the two years that he held this office he wore out 10 frocks coats, an equal number of high hats, and half a dozen canes. The frock coat and the high hat were in evidence at the Ayuntamiento, in the governor general’s palace, and at military headquarters; the high hat and the frock coat might have been noticed in the cockpit, in the market, in the processions, in the Chinese shops, and under the hat and within the coat might be seen the perspiring Capitan Tiago, waving his tasseled cane, directing, arranging, and throwing everything into disorder with marvelous activity and a gravity even more marvelous.”
Protective coloration tends to be, with human beings, overprotective. The Filipino who would survive Spanish rule tried to be more Spanish than the Spaniard, more “Catholic” than those who brought the faith here:
“In the sala of Capitan Tiago’s house, that door hidden by a silk curtain leads to a small chapel or oratory such as must be lacking in no Filipino home. There were placed his household gods—and we say ‘gods’ because he was inclined to polytheism rather than to monotheism, which he had never come to understand. There could be seen images of the Holy Family with busts and extremities of ivory, glass eyes, long eyelashes, and curly blond hair—masterpieces of Sta. Cruz sculpture. Paintings in oil by artists of Paco and Ermita represented martyrdoms of saints and miracles of the Virgin; St. Lucy gazing at the sky and carrying in a plate an extra pair of eyes with lashes and eyebrows, such as are seen painted in the triangle of the Trinity or on Egyptian tombs; St. Pascual Bailon; St. Anthony of Padua in a guingón habit looking with tears upon a Christ Child dressed as a Capitan-General with the three-cornered hat, sword and boots, as in the children’s ball at Madrid that character is represented—which signified for Capitan Tiago that while God might include in His omnipotence the power of a Capitan-General of the Philippines, the Franciscans would nevertheless play with Him as with a doll. There might also be seen a St. Anthony the Abbot with a hog by his side, a hog that for the worthy Capitan was miraculous as the saint himself, for which reason he never dared to refer to it as the hog, but as the creature of holy St. Anthony; a St. Francis of Assisi in a coffee-colored robe and with seven wings, placed over a St. Vincent who had only two but in compensation carried a trumpet; a St. Peter the Martyr with his head split open by the talibon of an evildoer and held fast by a kneeling infidel, side by side with another St. Peter cutting off the ear of a Moro, Malchus no doubt, who was gnawing his lips and writhing with pain, while a fighting cock on a Doric column crowed and flapped its wings—f rom all of which Capitan Tiago deduced that in order to be a saint it was just as well to smite as to be smitten.”
The female counterpart of Capitan Tiago is Doña Victorina who, “in the ecstasies of contemplating herself … had looked with disdain on her many Filipino admirers, since her aspirations were toward another race,” and married a poor wretch of a Spaniard, who looked into a mirror a few days after the wedding night and saw that he had aged 10 years.
There was the liberal mask which would consider, in the liberal tradition, both sides, as if there could be two sides to the question, as if there were something that could be said for the oppressor. And there was the mask of reform, well-meaning and futile, of which we have said elsewhere:
“The voice of moderation pleading for due process of law under a despotism, arguing the possibility of persuading the tiger to change its stripes and cease to be a tiger, does not know the tiger. Asking the tiger and the lamb to lie down together, as though it could be done, disarms the lamb and feeds the tiger. It is a form of Pharisaism, doing evil with a good conscience. In the end, the tiger, grown dull and stupid from too easy an existence, fails to distinguish between friend and food, and devours not only lamb but also Pharisee. And that clears up the confusion.”
The American regime produced a grinding sense of incompetence in the Filipino; before so much American know-how, he could only feel overwhelmed. How could he ever be as good as an American? If he could not be one, however, he could seem to be one. Hence, the cultivation of American ways, including the American accent. The Filipino would be indistinguishable from an American—in the dark. After all, one woman is equally so from another under the same condition.
The motivation here is obviously not protective but something else. Not fear but admiration is the compulsion. No people ever came under a foreign rule that went for it with such enthusiasm as Filipinos did for the American after the initial brutalities. When independence came, it brought no great rejoicing but nostalgia and regret. “The good old days” were recalled—with a passion that might have been absent had the new republic shown any dedication to the public good. But who took over the government? Snakes, vultures, hyenas…whales, sharks, crocodiles! Animals! The government might have been a zoo. The old days that were not really so good seemed good, indeed!
The late President Quezon expressed a preference for a government run like hell by Filipinos to one run like heaven by the Americans, knowing very well that no government run by Americans or by anybody else for that matter could possibly be heavenly. Weren’t dogs—and Filipinos—barred from certain establishments where Americans foregathered? But if no government run by Americans could possibly be heavenly, does the new government run by Filipinos have to be hellish? Were it merely purgatorial, hope would be possible. But what hope can there be in this?
The American mask fitted not too well, but at least it was put on—after a while—most willingly. It is significant that while nobody objected to calling one of the bridges of Manila “MacArthur,” many were quite upset by the renaming of a street, “Azcarraga,” after a Filipino who had made a name for himself by trying to put the Americans in this country in their true place.
Despotism produces protestations of loyalty, rewarded with uncertain toleration, with the “loyalist” as likely as not being eventually shot. (The case of Rizal is instructive.) The “benign” imperial rule of the United States resulted in what might be described as happy self-depreciation. If Americans could do everything, Filipinos, it was widely held, could do nothing. Of course, one must be superior in something—let it then be in vice. A short story by Alejandro Roces, “Filipinos Are Mild Drinkers,” celebrates Filipino triumph in the vice. What knocks Americans out—a native concoction—hardly affects a “mild-drinking” native. A humorous masterpiece, yet a sad one. Filipinos may not be able to win wars or make planes that fly faster than sound or cigarettes for which one would walk a mile, but they can drink Americans any time under the table. What further reassurance does the national pscyhe require?
Admiration, however, is all very well, but it leads to what? The thing admired is not the admirer. Filipinos who go to the United States—this is all they need to realize that they are not, in spite of having elevated Americanism to a religion, Americans. They are not Americans at all. But what are they? They are filled with an overwhelming sense of not belonging; they would go home—but what is home? What is the Philippines? What is the Filipino? An imitation American….
The Japanese occupation interrupted the Americanization of Filipinos. The military bankruptcy of the United States—a temporary one, it was to turn out—provided Filipinos with the traumatic spectacle of Americans being led captive and helpless into concentration camps. This had an equivocal effect. Love and contempt struggled for possession of the Filipino soul. Never had the master race been closer, that is, more human, than then. To be humiliated—is that not the human, the Filipino, condition? And here were Americans in actually the same situation!
The mean rejoiced, but the masses of the Filipino people lost their hearts to the Americans as they had never done before. They were one with them in an unprecedented fashion. They were truly brothers. Not power but weakness united them.
Meanwhile, one must live—an arduous process. Life was possible through resistance or collaboration. It may be that those who are afraid to die do not deserve to live, but many who were afraid to die managed to live, some quite comfortably. The price of survival seemed, as under all oppressive rules, protective coloration. Some Filipinos became, or seemed to become, even more Japanese than the Japanese.
What could be more “Japanese” than these pronouncements?
“Let us express in unmistakable terms our deepest gratitude and sincere good wishes to the August Virtue of His Majesty, the Emperor or Japan, fountainhead and origin of all the blessings that we are now enjoying.”
All who continued to oppose the “New Order” after the old had so obviously fallen, who still fought in the hills and the countryside, who sniped at the Japanese and their Filipino collaborators, were lawless bandits and brigands, the Filipino-as-Japanese argument went. And when Japan granted the Philippines “independence,” the indignation of the New Filipino was boundless. Couldn’t Filipinos understand that the Japanese had come as friends, to deliver them, to lead them out of the house of bondage? That the “independence” so generously given was “genuine”—a word that was to cover, significantly of the regime, more articles and faiths than honor and only somewhat less than faith—and true?
“O Almighty God, Creator and Lord of the heaven and the earth,” went another voice, “Omnipotent Judge who holdeth the destinies of men and nations, to Thee we offer this eternal oblation and everlasting gratitude for all the blessings that Thou hast condescended to shower upon these fortunate islands.
“Four hundred years had passed before [sic] the first light of Thy teaching broke upon this land, when it became the shining start that has been guiding the nation through vicissitudes of fortune, until this great day when we realize our wildest dream of freedom and witness the birth of a new Republic of the Philippines.”
Thus, the “Republic” was praised, pawed and prayed over. The Japanese could not have asked for more. A year later, shortly after the American attack on the Japanese airfields around Manila and the Japanese ships in the bay, the existence of a state of war between the “Republic” and the United States was declared. It is indicative of the mentality prevailing at the time that a distinction should have been made by the collaborators (in private) between a declaration of the existence of a state of war and a plain declaration of war. The distinction had to be made, for though one was with the Japanese, one was also, really, in secret, with the Americans.
The wish to cushion the shock of the occupation by playing ball with the invader, or sheer opportunism—to make hay while the Japanese sun shone—or hatred of the Americans, suppressed all those years and now coming to the surface and finding profitable expression—who can tell what was the motivation for these utterances? Who was to distinguish patriot from scoundrel?
The Americans, we know, returned. It is no use for “nationalists” to depreciate that event. The sense of liberation that Filipinos felt with the return of the Americans cannot be described. But it is a fact of national experience. Filipinos meeting American soldiers on the street while the battle for Ermita and Malate raged “shook hands with their eyes,” as one put it.
Independence, which installed the unspeakable in office, did not liberate Filipinos from their emotional dependence on the United States. How could they possibly have felt any pride in the Filipinos who assumed office? What was there good about being one of them?
Imitation may be emotional suicide; it is also, to repeat, protective coloration. After four centuries of foreign rule, a certain national ambivalence is inevitable. Filipinos managed to live through those centuries by appearing to be what they were not. A deplorable slyness developed in the Filipino character. The Filipino as eel which eludes the foreigner’s grasp—that is a plausible portrait of the Filipino.
The question arises: What is the Filipino after he has been stripped of his many disguises, of his successive masks?
There was a general opening of geography books in the United States after the American victory in Manila Bay. Thus, Americans “discovered” the Philippines. The Filipino has still to find himself; his search for national identity is the theme of this rambling piece. So foreign has he become to himself that he feels pathetically desolate. At times he almost doubts his own existence.
“Is there anybody there?”
Like Walter de la Mare’s traveler, only silence answers him, and the sound of plunging hooves as he spurs his horse away from the lonely scene.
“Is there anybody there?”
If there is nobody there, if the Filipino is only a collection of masks, an accretion of foreign cultures, if there is nobody behind them at all, then we must, it is obvious, invent someone. Nature abhors a vacuum.
We cannot go on as nobody at all. It is true that wily Ulysses got around the man-devouring Cyclop by giving his name as “Nobody’. He blinded the Cyclop, who cried for help in vain—for help against “Nobody”. His fellow monsters thought nothing was the matter with him and Ulysses made good his escape.
But we are not Ulysses; we are not Greeks; we are Filipinos and we cannot go on as we are, as “Nobody.” We must have an identity of our own. How are we to know what we should do if we do not know who we are. If we have, after centuries of masquerade, of imitation of our foreign rulers, no identity any longer of our own, we must imagine one.
We act and feel according to our conception of ourselves. As we think, we are. Now this self that determines our reactions is something else that may be wholly artificial, for is it not the product of something external, outside ourselves? Are we not what life, what experience, has made us? If our experience had been different, would we not be entirely different persons?
Experience, then, is all-decisive, or, to be precise, the memory of experience. We are the sum of our remembrance of things past. If memory, therefore, could be changed, or manipulated, so could our identity or sense of ourselves. A new self could be created.
This should not be too difficult to do. Modern life tends to make the same kind of people of us all. Conformity is the end product of a materialist civilization. What is desired is not quality but quantity, not the individual but the common man. Very well, let there be more of the same. The same inhibitions, the same anxieties, the total insecurity. Not a pleasant situation, but better, surely, than nothing.
There should be no difficulty in erasing such identity or illusion of identity as we have, in replacing it with an artificial one. The vague would be substituted with something positive, logical and, therefore, restful. Pasts may be invented, relationships assumed, a sense of purpose developed, a new harmony gained by an arbitrary choice of identity. If God could say, “Let there be light,” and there was light, why can’t we say, “Let there be me”? Something is bound to appear.
There is a novel, Cards of Identity, by Nigel Dennis, which tells of how the inadequate are made to feel up to existence by merely reconstituting—like powdered milk—their shattered selves. The product is, of course, not the same as the original, whatever that might be; the mixture is never quite as before. But what an exhilarating sense of wholeness, of direction!
“But First, I think, I must ask: what is your name? We have been very patient about it, you know, but if all the staff were as reticent as you, we should find ourselves living in a state of suspended anonymity.”
“If I knew my name, sir, I would feel more myself than I seem to feel.”
“Surely it is written on your ration-book and identity-card.”
“I’ve never thought to look, sir. What’s come my way, I’ve eaten and been grateful for, with no thought to spare for the name that’s brought it. Now, when I’d like to know, I can’t find the dratted books.”
“It is not an edifying story, you know. You might just as well have put the food in the larder. Tell me, is there any name that would appeal to you particularly?”
“Can’t you think of anyone you would like to be known as?…We have been taking a grave risk in continuing to employ a person who has no sense of nominal responsibility….You must try to understand that the old days are over—the days when you could take your identity for granted. Nowadays, all the old means of self-recognition have been swept away, leaving even the best people in a state of personal dubiety. Even dispossession, the surest means of bringing home the naked identity, has disappeared. Very wisely, governments all over the world have sought to stop this riot before the entire human population has been reduced to anonymous grains. They give you cards, on which they inscribe in capital letters the name which your fading memory supplies before it is too late. It is their hope that by continually reading and re-reading your name, you will be able to keep your hold on a past that no longer exists, and thus bring an illusion of self into the present. What I want to emphasize is: don’t lose your name again….Don’t, at least, lose the cards on which that name is written. Not only would you yourself be left nameless, but people have been known to pick up such lost cards, put them in a wallet with their own, and start a hopeless tangle of selves that spreads like a bush fire. Even people in very high places today, men whose names are being printed and spoken aloud repeatedly, are often so foreign to their selves that they become involved in the most extraordinary identical lapses….”
The Rubaiyat anticipates it all:
Ah Love! Could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry scheme of Things entire,
Would we not shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!
Wouldn’t we shatter our sorry selves to bits….And all we have to do is get a brand new set of memories. This can be done by sheer fabrication or by the patient excavation of our past. If we dug deep enough, we might recover what we were. We might find, to replace our series of masks, our ancient self, which, though perhaps a poor thing, would be our own. We could be Filipinos at last, after having been imitation Spaniards, Americans, Japanese…and Americans again.
The multiplication of masks, the confusion of selves cannot go on. The Filipino as Nationalist—that’s the ticket! With this old-new identity, there should be an end to emotional bankruptcy, not to mention economic, political, cultural. The limitations of American aid are as obvious as those of slavish imitation. We cannot do much with what we are not. Nationalism should fill us with a new self-confidence, for we would be as we really are, whatever that might be. The love-hate condition is no longer tolerable.
Love and hate—love-hate. Hate and self-contempt. We are not Americans though we would be, so we hate Americans. Hell hath no fury like a would-be American scorned. But if he is not an American, what, to repeat, is he?
“Who am I?” he shouts in the darkness, which answers, “Who am I?”
Colonialism is hateful, and the hatefulness lies in this: “This is what you made me!” When the product of colonialism screams at the system, it is screaming at itself.
A new identity, then, is the answer.
But the attempt to recover our past self—the Filipino before he was called a Filipino, before the Spaniards, Americans, Japanese made him over—has produced only a thriving business in old images. Airconditioned mansions now display more or less authentic examples of folk art. Westernized Filipinos find them “exciting”—that is the operative word. And, indeed, the naïve against the ornate—it is as exciting, we suppose, as black stocking on the white thighs of an expensive prostitute.
The Filipino-as-Filipino is, somehow, unconvincing. It is like to write English entirely in “English,” that is, by eschewing words that are not of Anglo-Saxon origin. The native should be preferred to the foreign, by all means, the authors of The King’s English counsel. The foreign, however, becomes, in time, even more native than the native; to exclude words of foreign origin from one’s speech is to be, if not completely unintelligible, certainly affected. The Filipino who would not act as if the Spaniards and the Americans had never been here should go about in a G-string.
Is there no identity, then, to be usefully recovered—or manufactured? We were much impressed, some time ago, by images of Mary and Joseph in a church in the Visayas; they were presented as Filipinos. We had known the two, who were Jews, with features derived from the Italian renaissance. We are impressed by the new presentation, but it had less meaning for us than Mary and Joseph as Europeans. The old images had not been replaced in our heart by the native version.
Whatever we were, we are. Whatever we pretend to be, if we pretend long enough, hard enough, we become. There is a story by Max Beerbohm, “The Happy Hypocrite,” that is enlightening.
No wickeder man lived than Lord George Hell. He was “a great grief” to his parents. He fell in love with a girl who refused to marry him because, well, because he looked, if one might put it that way, like hell. Being a good girl, she would marry only one with a saintly face, the face, it is assumed, being a reflection of the soul.
So, he assumed a disguise; he put on a saintly mask, and it was so good a mask that the girl married him. And to live up to his new name, that is, to his mask, Lord George Hell atoned for the wrong he had done, giving all he had to the poor. Then, a woman he, as Lord George Hell, had scorned, tore off the mask, hoping thus to avenge her injured pride and expose him, in all his wickedness, to his loving wife.
But the face was as saintly as the mask.
In bewilderment his good wife asked:
“Why did you woo me under a mask? And why do you imagine I could love you less dearly, seeing your own face? Surely, your face is even dearer to me, even fairer, than the semblance that hid it and deceived me. I am not angry. ‘Twas well that you veiled from me the full glory of your face, for indeed I was not worthy to behold it too soon. But I am your wife now. Let me look always at your own face. Let the time of my probation be over. Kiss your wife with your own lips.”
And he had never been happier before. As for the mask, which lay on the lawn, it was soon melted by the sun.
Our masks become our nature. When we try to remove them, we find we can’t. If we could, the face underneath would prove to be the same as the masks. The Filipino is all he has tried to be, the masks he has put on. He is more than the primitive darkly present in the background. To be a Filipino is not a simple thing but a great bewilderment, a matter of great complexity, which is only a way of saying what is to be a man. The native returns, but only to himself. The inescapable one.
To cultivate the virtues of honesty, industry and justice, to learn how to love, is to be human. To be a Filipino, in the best sense of the word. Whether as Spaniard or American or Japanese, or as Nationalist, the Filipino must reckon with himself at last. He has no excuse for what he does; he should blame nobody but himself for what he is. If he has courage, he is brave; if he is honest, he is true; if he loves justice, he is decent, and if he loves rather than hate, he is at ease. The rest is merely economics, politics and the movies.
THE CHURCH UNDER ATTACK
May 5, 1956
There is a new outburst of anti-clericalism as Catholic politicians denounce the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to the bill requiring Filipino students to read the two controversial novels of Rizal
By Teodoro M. Locsin
NOT for a long time has the Catholic Church, or, at any rate, the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines, been subjected to such attacks as it has for the last two weeks. Archbishops, accustomed to having high government officials kiss the ring of their office, were mocked and ridiculed, were called enemies of freedom, to great applause. Catholic political leaders led the attack….
Did the hierarchy expect the attacks when it issued the pastoral letter objecting to the Senate bill which would make the two novels of Rizal required reading in all public schools—novels the hierarchy considered impious and heretical? If it did, and went ahead just the same and registered its objection, it could only be because of an overriding concern for the safety of the Faith; to read Rizal is to endanger it. A temporary embarrassment is nothing in the light of eternity; the Church is 2,000 years old; it will still be standing when the supporters of the bill are no longer around. The Senate, as it is presently composed, will not prevail against it. Thus, perhaps, wen the thought of the churchmen. It was a calculated risk.
It was all very surprising. A month ago, one could not have imagined a Filipino politician speaking in any but the most respectful terms of the prelates of the Church; he would have considered it political suicide to express himself critically of them. Now all caution seems to have been thrown to the wind. Anything goes. There is a new freedom, or, to put it another way, license.
The Church has grown in power and influence since the days immediately following the Revolution. Then every other Filipino leader seemed to be the critic if not the enemy of the Church. Many had lost their faith; even among those who retained it, there were not a few who were, in some degree, anti-clerical. The women were pious but the men were something else. During Mass, when the priest turned around to deliver a sermon, the men would walk out of the church; when the priest was done, they would come back. “Do what I say, but don’t do what I do,” the men would say, referring to the man of God.
In time, many Filipino leaders returned to the Church, abjuring Masonry as in the case of the late President Quezon; they became quite devout. It no longer seemed queer to be a priest or to listen to one. The Church grew in prestige. When a Protestant, Camilo Osias, made known his intention to run for president, he was told he couldn’t win; he was not a Catholic. He could be a senator; he was. He could never be president. He must face the facts of political life. When he wouldn’t, and bolted to the other side, he couldn’t even get elected as senator.
If Ramon Magsaysay is president of the Philippines today, it is due not a little to the help of the Church. The hierarchy, reluctantly coming to the conclusion that the perpetuation of the Quirino administration through electoral fraud and terrorism would eventually drive the people into Communism, urged the faithful to keep the elections free. Free elections would mean the defeat of the Quirino administration. The Church couldn’t help that. The elections were free, and there was a new administration.
Quezon and the church
By Frederic S. Marquardt
The Bible was near his bed.
JOSE Rizal and Manuel L. Quezon were both born into the Catholic religion. Both were educated in church schools. Both spend many of their adult years outside the church. But that’s the end of the parallel religious experiences of the two leading Philippine heroes. While historians differ as to whether Rizal reasserted his faith in the church, there is no doubt that Manuel Quezon died a Catholic.
There was an altar in the room in which death came to Quezon at Saranac Lake on August 1, 1944. A frequently read Bible was near his bed. Quezon took almost daily communion from his personal chaplain, the Rev. Pacifico J. Ortiz, S.J., during his long illness. He and the members of his family said the rosary together every night.
Quezon’s was no death bed conversion, or more accurately reconversion. For the last 14 years of his life he was a practicing Catholic. But for the previous 25 years he had nothing to do with the church. It was during this earlier period that he was married in a civil ceremony in Hong Kong, later repeating the vows before a priest almost an afterthought. During his break with the church he was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines, an order generally regarded as anti-clerical. The Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Masons in Washington, D.C., elected him to the 33rd degree, highest honor in Masonry. Caballero and Concepcion, in their biography on Quezon, date this event as October 23, 1929.
Less than a year later Quezon was back in the Catholic fold. Time, the American newsmagazine, reported in its issue of December 9, 1935: “Catholic-born Manuel Quezon retracted Masonry on his 52nd birthday, 1930, aboard the s.s. Empress of Japan, in the presence of Most Rev. Michael J. O’Doherty, Archbishop of Manila. Two years later he demitted (i.e. resigned) from his lodge.”
In his autobiography, The Good Fight, Quezon was amazingly sketchy about his religious experiences. It should be noted, of course, that the book was unfinished at the time of Quezon’s death, and was published posthumously after his friends and relatives had done some work on the manuscript. He was a sick man when he dictated the book, and he had no opportunity to put it in final shape. As the head of a government in exile, he was taking a high-level part in the struggle that would leave scars on his country for years to come. There was little time for reflection or research. Still, Quezon did indicate in his book one of the events that may have led him away from the church.
Describing his part in the Philippine Revolution, Quezon told how he came down with a bad case of malaria while serving on General Mascardo’s staff. The illness probably occurred in 1900, although the date is not definitely established. “I spent a month in the house of Cabesang Doro’s friend in Navotas”, wrote Quezon, undoubtedly referring to the town in Rizal province. “This old man had amassed so much money from the fishing business that he had been able to send his son to be educated in Europe. While convalescing at his house, I read books which left in my mind some doubt as to the certainty of the existence of hell as taught by my friar teachers—doubts which in after years contributed to my leaving for a long time the Catholic faith and joining the Masonic Order. I returned to the old church after my children had grown up.”
The foregoing pithy reference doesn’t throw much light on Quezon’s religious experience, but it is all he chose to include in his autobiography.
I have been able to find no published record of Quezon’s beliefs during the years when he was outside the church. However, I once examined an unpublished autobiography of the late Teodoro M. Kalaw, who had a distinguished career in Philippine politics during the first half of the American regime. In the manuscript (Chapter X) was a letter from Quezon to Kalaw. As nearly as I could ascertain, it must have bee written about 1915, when Quezon was representing the Philippines as resident commissioner in Washington. In the letter, written in Spanish, Quezon said:
“You know that I am a free thinker. I do not believe matrimony is an indissoluble tie, just as I do not see the necessity of any religion for any people and nation. Science should be, and has to be, the Religion of the future. This Religion will make the man of tomorrow more perfect, morally speaking, than the religious man of today, because the believer of our day is synonymous with the ignorant. To believe is ‘to see what we have not seen’; in other words to have faith in whatever hoaxes some people, who consider themselves semi-divine, preach and practice. Nevertheless, even when such are my honest convictions regarding divorce and religion, I still consider it very inopportune to pass the Divorce Law now.
“Because of the trouble between (Archbishop of Manila) Harty and the YMCA, Harty has written to American Catholics attacking our Government. For the first time the Catholics here are (word indecipherable) if it is good for Catholicism to have the American government in the Philippines. It is very convenient for us to let them ponder over this, while at the same time we show them what good Catholics we are. The Catholic vote may yet give us our independence.”
There seems to be an inconsistency in Quezon’s referring to himself as a “free thinker,” and then suggesting “we show them what good Catholics we are”. One can only surmise that Quezon was speaking ironically in the latter instance. As a matter of fact, Quezon was wrong if he thought the Catholic vote in the United States would bring about independence. Only a few years after this letter to Kalaw was written, the same Archbishop Harty sent a cablegram to the predominantly Catholic New York delegation in the House of Representatives urging he delegates to vote against immediate independence.
If Quezon didn’t write much about his experiences with the Catholic Church, he showed no reluctance in discussing them. On October 21, 1937, I made extensive notes of a press conference President Quezon had held the preceding Sunday in his study in Malacañan Palace. The conference lasted two hours. Originally called because the President wanted to discuss a forthcoming legislative message, the conference soon branched out into discussion of nearly everything under the sun, including religion. Other correspondents present were Walter Robb of the Chicago Daily News, Ray Cronin of The Associated Press, Dick Wilson of the United Press, Dave Boguslav, then editor of the Manila Tribune, now The Manila Times. I was associated editor of the Philippines Free Press, and correspondent for the International News Service.
I had always been curious about Quezon’s return to the church, and I kept the conversation on this subject as long as I could. The President was speaking “off the record”, so his statements were not published at the time. His story went like this, according to the notes made at the time and still in my possession.
“I first considered re-entering the church for the sake of my children. My wife was a very devout Catholic, and as the children grew older I knew they would wonder why she was so religious when I was apparently lacking in religion. And I was afraid they might, believing me to be more intelligent than their mother, follow in my footsteps without giving the question of religion serious thought.
“So I asked Father Villalonga, former head of the Jesuit Order in the Philippines, if he would give me some instruction in the Catholic religion.
“Father Villalonga, whom I had known for years, came out to see me and the first thing he wanted to do was say mass, I said to him, ‘Never mind the mass. Tell me why I should re-enter my faith.’
“He talked to me for a while, and then he sent me a book, saying it would instruct me in the Catholic religion. Well, I read the book, and one of the portions in it told about a good-for-nothing Spaniard who sailed from Spain for the Philippines. Before he left his home his mother gave him a Medal, bearing the likeness of the Virgin of the Rosary, and once a day this fellow would say a ‘Hail Mary’ to the Medal. The rest of the time he was the worst possible sort of a rake, committing all the crimes imaginable.
“When the boat he was on passed Mariveles, a storm came up and the man was shipwrecked. By dint of great effort, he managed to swim ashore to Cavite but he was so exhausted by the time he reached there that he fell down on the beach and died.
“The next day the people in Manila noticed that the Virgin of the Rosary in the chapel of the Dominican Church had dust on it. And do you know what the conclusion of the story was? That the Virgin in Manila, made of wood, had walked all the way to Cavite to help this sinful man into Heaven, merely because he had said one ‘Hail Mary’ a day!
“When I read that story, and considered that the Catholic Church expected grown-up, intelligent men to believe it, I decided that I had better stay outside the church.
“So I did nothing until once, when I was returning to Manila from the United States, I found myself on board the same boat with Archbishop Michael J. O’Doherty. I was chatting with the Archbishop one day when he asked me why I did not return to the church, pointing out that my children were growing up and that I owed it to them, if for no other reason, to again become a practicing Catholic.
“I said to the Archbishop, ‘I personally would like to return to the church. But I can’t join an organization which expects me to believe that a wooden image walked all the way from Manila to Cavite to help a sinner get into Heaven.’ Then I told him the entire story which I had read in the book.
“The Archbishop laughed and said, ‘Well, I don’t believe that story either, but I’m still a member of the church. It wasn’t long before he convinced me that I could rejoin the church without insulting my own intelligence. As I recall it, he said a mass on that occasion.”
I was anxious to find out Quezon’s attitude toward Masonry. So I pressed him on this subject. His statement, also taken from my notes of October 21, 1937, follows:
“I didn’t actually resign from the Masonic order until several months later, and I never denounced Masonry. There is a formal form which those returning to the church from the Masonic lodge are supposed to sign, but I refused to sign it. Instead, I wrote the Archbishop a personal note saying that I understood that I could not be readmitted to the Catholic Church so long as I remained a Mason for that reason I was resigning from Masonry.”
The “personal note” from Quezon to Archbishop O’Doherty is included in Sol Gwekoh’s Quezon, His Life and Career. The original was in Spanish, says Gwekoh, and was witnessed by Mrs. Quezon. It was dated August 18, 1930, which is one day off from the 52nd birthday mentioned in Times’s account. Since he was crossing the Pacific at the time, it is possible that Quezon was confused by the International Date Line.
In the document cited by Gwekoh, this statement is attributed to Quezon: “I abandon Masonry and I abandon it forever, not only because this is a condition sine qua non for a Catholic, but because the religious beliefs that I now sincerely profess, are in direct opposition to certain Masonic theories. I shall never again belong to any society condemned by the church. I deplore with all my heart having spent the best years of my life in complete forgetfulness of my God and outside His church.”
Not long after the press conference at which President Quezon spoke so freely of his religious experiences, I asked him if he would authorize publication of the facts that led to his readmission to the church. I pointed out the doubts that always arose regarding Rizal’s religious beliefs, and suggested that Quezon prevent all speculation in his own case by writing an article for the 1937 Christmas issue of the FREE PRESS, repeating what he had told us at the press conference.
The President thought about my request, then turned it down. It is only now, 10 years after his death, that I fell free to publish this personal version of Manuel Quezon’s religious beliefs. In his note to me, dated November 18, 1937, President Quezon said:
“I have been thinking over the question you submitted to me yesterday and I have come to the conclusion that it would not be proper for me at this time to write such an article. It is of no concern to the public what my religion is and why I belong to that church. The separation of church and state is fundamental constitutional mandate and people may suspect some ulterior motive in my writing such article.
‘Therefore I will not write the article you’ve suggested.”
The important thing about President Quezon’s letter, it seems to me, was his concern over the separation of church and state. The issue of religious education in the public schools was a live one. Only a veto by President Quezon prevented the enactment of a law that would have permitted religious education in the schools during regular time.
Despite the President’s veto, the bishops of Cebu announced their intention to continue the fight for religious education in the public schools. President Quezon then made a blistering statement ending all speculation as to where he stood on the question of separation of church and state.
“It should be unnecessary to remind the ecclesiastical authorities in the Philippines”, said Quezon, “that the separation of Church and State in this country is a reality and not a mere theory, and that as far as our people are concerned, it is forever settled that this separation will be maintained as one of the cardinal tenets of our government. They should realize, therefore, that any attempts on their part to interfere with matters that are within the province of government will not be tolerated. If the said ecclesiastical authorities desire to have the government respect their rights and afford them every kind of protection in the free exercise of their religion, they must not only abide by the laws and lawful orders of the government, but they must also acknowledge and respect the principle of the separation of church and state.”
If President Quezon’s message to the bishops was the highlight of his intensely religious period, his letter to Teodoro Kalaw was a similar highlight of his years as a free-thinker. When he was almost literally at war with the church, he advised Kalaw against any breakdown in the sanctity of marriage. And when he had again become a practicing Catholic, he warned a congregation of bishops to keep their hands off political affairs. Both events illustrate the essential balance that is a requisite of true statesmanship.
Rizal in the American Congress
By Vicente Albano Pacis
December 27, 1952–IN the semi darkness of the ground floor of the US Capitol in Washington, I entered an office by mistake—and stumbled upon the author of the Philippine Bill of 1902—and an interesting episode in Rizalian lore.
It was 1926. Though perhaps not as critical as that of 1902, the American congressional situation with respect to the Philippines was serious. In Manila, General Leonard Wood, the Governor-General, and Manuel L. Quezon, the Senate President, were in the midst of a knock-down-and-dug-out fight. And friends of the general on Capitol Hill were active. One of them, tough and determined Congressman Robert Bacon of New York, had introduced a bill separating Mindanao and Jolo from the Philippines and retaining them under US sovereignty, should Luzon and the Visayas become independent, Senator Sergio Osmeña has rushed to Washington in alarm to try and block the shocking proposal.
A young Associated Press correspondent, I was closely watching the developments on the measure and was that day on my way to the office of Congressman Kiess of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Committee on Insular Affairs, when I entered the wrong door. I was about to withdraw, having started to offer my excuses, but what the elderly female secretary said rang a bell in my head.
She said. “This is the office of Congressman Henry A. Cooper; can I help you?”
“Cooper of Wisconsin?” I inquired.
I had been in and out of the Capitol for five or six months and had not heard any mention of his name now seen him in the house session hall. I had no idea that he was still a member of Congress. But feeling sure now that the man into whose office I had gotten by mistake was none other than the man for whom the Cooper Act—the first Philippine Organic Law—was named, I decided to see him. I asked the secretary if I could do so.
She slipped into the dim inner office and almost right away came back to usher me in. Seated beside an ancient roll-top desk, the completely white-haired, short, thin old man trembled visibly as he rose slowly and offered me his hand.
“I’m Cooper,” he stated simply.
I explained who I was and added for its possible psychological effect that I had just left the University of Wisconsin the previous summer. But it was not necessary. The mere fact that I was a Filipino seemed to have had a tonic effect on both his strength and memory.
“Well, sir, so you’re from the Philippines?” he said in a reedy voice as he motioned me to a seat.
Having himself sunk back into his swivel chair, he continued, “I’m always glad to meet Filipinos. In all modesty, one of the highlights—one of the most thrilling moments—of my long congressional service was my participation in the drafting and enactment of the first enabling act for the Philippines. And, sir, President McKinley, Governor Taft, and the rest of us met obstacles on every side. But do you know who came to our rescue, sir? None other than you great martyr and hero, Jose Rizal.”
I had gone in, glad of the opportunity to meet a history-book name. His reference to Rizal left me in a state of trembling expectation. What he did next heightened the suspense.
He leaned back in his chair, pressed interlaced fingers on his breast and closed his eyes. He remained thus for some time. I began to wonder if he had gone to sleep as old people often do at the oddest moments. I was about to call his secretary when he suddenly opened his eyes, sat erect, gripped the arms of his chair with each hand as if he had just remembered something very important. His mind had evidently traveled some two decades back, and now he resumed talking.
“Philippine-American relations started very badly, sir!” he recalled. “Those of us who were trying to formulate what might be a just and wise Philippine policy were harassed on every side. Do you know, sir, that President McKinley finally had to resort to nightly prayer?”
With a faraway look in his eyes, he related how the president, criticized on all sides and offered conflicting advice, had finally decided to go on his knees every night in the White House. And one night there had come to him what appeared to be the ultimate solution of the situation. Give back the Philippines to Spain? Leave them to another power in the Orient—Germany, Great Britain, Japan? Abandon the Filipinos? Each of these questions had brought an unsatisfactory answer. So the president had inescapably reached the decision that the only honorable course left to America was to take over the Philippines “to civilize, to educate and to train in self-government.”
The old congressman talked of the Anti-imperialist League, headed by powerful men like Ex-President Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie, and Justice Joseph Story, which was “spreading fear and indignation by alleging that the Republican Administration, in taking over the Philippines, was embarking on a career of imperialism and wrecking America’s constitutional principles.” The Democratic Party, having promised independence to the Filipinos as early as in the presidential campaign of 1900, announced itself in favor of giving that independence immediately.
“But sir,” Congressman Cooper pointed out, “the Democrats were less interested in the Filipinos than in their own skins. Do you know that their official platform declared, ‘The Filipinos cannot be citizens without endangering our civilization. . . .'”?
Although by 1902 General Aguinaldo had already been captured in Palana, Isabela, by Colonel Funston, and the backbone of the insurrection had been broken, Filipino guerrillas were still active. Americans and Filipinos were still killing each other and the American press continued to carry lurid and gory tales of alleged Filipino brutalities and atrocities. As a consequence American public opinion was bitterly anti-Filipino.
“Most Americans, including prominent Republicans and Democrats, believed that your people were unfit for self-government,” Congressman Cooper went on. “In fact, many of them, including our leading newspapers and responsible statesmen, were convinced the Filipinos were barbarians, pirates, and savages.”
Then he recalled the day when, as chairman of the house Committee on Insular Affairs, which handled Philippine legislation, and as principal author of the Bill of 1902, he made his sponsorship speech. The date was June 19.
“Soon after I’d started speaking,” he recounted, “gentlemen on both sides of the House stood up and demanded to be heard. They badgered and interrupted me often. Finally I refused to yield the floor. I made a long speech; I covered every phase of the Philippine problem—economic, social, political, and Philanthropic. But the strongest argument which I had to demolish was the claim that the Filipinos were savages unfit for self-government. Therefore, I had to address myself especially to this particular point; and, just as President McKinley looked upon God for guidance, so I called upon your Rizal for support. He didn’t fail me.”
The Congressional record for that day chronicles that Congressman Cooper opened his argument against the detractors of the Philippines as follows:
“Everyday we hear men declare that the people of the Philippines are ‘pirate,’ ‘barbarians,’ ‘savages,’ ‘incapable of civilization’. . . newspapers of prominence have repeatedly endorsed this view.
“Mr. Chairman, I am not here to join in this cry so often hear. . . . Before we say that the Filipino people are barbarians and savages whose future is hopeless, we should remember the past and not forget how largely human beings are the products of environment. . . . Think of their history! For three hundred hopeless years they had seen Spanish officials treat office merely as a means by which to rob the helpless people. For three hundred years they lived under a government which deliberately kept the mass of the people in ignorance, which deliberately sought to close to them every avenue of social and political advancement; a government under which it was well-nigh useless for a man even to attempt to acquire property, because his accumulations furnished only so much more of temptation and opportunity for the rapacity of government officials; a government which punished even the most respectful protest against its infamous executions with banishment or death. . . .
“What the Filipinos think, what they feel what they do, are only the natural results of what they have undergone. Yet, sir, despite this environment, this deprivation, this wrong and contumely and outrage, this unfortunate race has given to the world not a few examples of intellectual and moral worth—men in the height of mind and power of character.”
Then the talked of Rizal:
“It has been said that if American institutions had done nothing else than furnish to the world the character of George Washington, ‘that alone would entitle them to the respect of mankind.’ So, sir, I say to all those who denounce the Filipinos indiscriminately as barbarians and savages, without possibility of a civilized future, that this despised race proved itself entitled to their respect and to the respect of mankind when it furnished to the world and character of Jose Rizal.”
Briefly, he narrated the life of the hero from his birth in Calamba to his sentence to death by a Spanish court-martial in Manila.
“On the night before his death, he wrote a poem,” Cooper continued. “I will read it, that the house may know what were the last thoughts of this ‘pirate,’ this ‘barbarian,’ this ‘savage,’ of a race ‘incapable of civilization’!”
With eloquence and feeling, Cooper recited Mi Ultimo Adios as translated into English by Derbyshire. When the last line, “Farewell, dear ones, farewell! To die is to rest from our labors,” had faded away, there was a long, deep silence. Then the entire House broke into prolonged applause.
“Encouraged by the demonstration,” Congressman Cooper continued his narration to me, “I plunged into my climax. Even now I can remember the words; I fairly thundered them:
“Pirates! Barbarians! Savages! Incapable of civilization. How many of the civilized, Caucasian slanderers of his race could ever be capable of thoughts like these, which on the awful night, as he sat alone amidst silence unbroken save by the rustling of the black plumes of the death angel at his side, poured from the soul of the martyred Filipino? Search the long and bloody roll of the world’s martyred dead, and where—on what soil, under what sky—did Tyranny ever claim a nobler victim?
“Sir, the future is not without hope for a people which, from the midst of such an environment, has furnished to the world a character so lofty and so pure as that of Jose Rizal.”
Now visibly tired from his memory and oratorical exertions, he rested. Yet, though faintly panting, his seamy face wore more than the suggestion of a smile. He was reliving his years of power and triumph, and he was happy. His next words confirmed what his countenance had already proclaimed.
“The result was a complete triumph for Rizal, the Filipinos and justice,” he said, “and, I think I should add in all candor, myself.”
He stopped to savor the thought with relish.
“The story and poetry of Rizal did something to the House akin to a miracle,” he continued. “Your great patriot made congressmen — as well as senators — forget the Philippine insurrection and remember only your people’s travails. Rizal kindled a light by which, for the first time, Americans had done in 1776. Out of Rizal’s life and labors there was born an American-Philippine kinship that he has endured.” Almost as an after-thought, he added, “In the voting on the bill which followed shortly, American statesmen gave Rizal a sizeable majority: the measure was soon ready for the signature of the President. Theodore Roosevelt for, alas, the gentle McKinley had been assassinated the previous years.
I could not help asking him a question. For even as we were talking the Quezon-Wood quarrel raged in Manila and produced serious repercussions in Washington. “A kinship that has endured, Mr. Congressman?” I inquired rhetorically.
“Don’t ever worry for a moment.” he replied, raising a thin hand in a reassuring gesture. “The basic American policy in the Philippines is embodied in law and honored in practice. It is gradual self-government inevitably leading to independence. Having gathered the momentum of time, there’s no turning it back. Men are mere incidents; America’s policy is a matter of national honor.
“The law of 1902 gave your people their first adequate opportunity to show their political capacity. And your statesmen — Osmeña, Quezon and others — have vindicated your people and justified the faith of those of us who, in 1898-1902, saw in the Filipino with his bolo, not a brute savage, but a man defending his motherland and his freedom. You’ve made good. No American can alter that record — ever.
“And when you’re free at last — and I hope it’ll be before I die — you’ll honor Rizal even more. For he not only awakened the Filipinos and wrote finis to Spanish imperialism but also lighted the way for America.”
The interview was over. Nothing more needed to be said. We shook hands. He sank back in his chair and I turned and left.
By Leon Ma. Guerrero
December 13, 1952—OF all our national heroes, Marcelo H. del Pilar was, perhaps, nearest to the modern Filipino. Modern in his concept of political activity, modern in his belief in organization, modern in his skillful and efficient use of propaganda, he was the prototype of the modern politician, lawyer, newspaperman and civic leader. Del Pilar should surely be ranked on equal terms with Rizal, Bonifacio and Aguinaldo as a leader of the victorious revolution against Spain.
Few Filipinos realize that the Spaniards, who were after all the best judges of their enemies, placed Del Pilar ahead of Rizal and the others. General Ramon Blanco, governor-general of the Philippines at the outbreak of the Revolution, said that Del Pilar was “the most intelligent [of the Filipino politicians], the true soul of the independence movement, very superior to Rizal.”
We do not have to take the judgment of the Spanish Governor-General. Our own historians uphold the proposition that Del Pilar inspired the organization of the Katipunan, if he did not actually found and direct it. Proof of this are the facts that the by-laws of the Katipunan were submitted for approval by Bonifacio to Del Pilar, that Bonifacio used the letter of Del Pilar sanctioning the organization to recruit adherents, and that the Kalayaan, official organ of the Katipunan, carried the name of the absent Del Pilar as editor. Thus was explicit and formal recognition given to the man whose ideas and ideals inspired the revolutionary movement. So intimately was Del Pilar connected with the Katipunan, and so highly was he regarded by its leaders, that Bonifacio reverently copied the letters of Del Pilar to his brother-in-law, Deodato Arellano, considering them as sacred relics and, together with the letters that he himself received, as guides for action.
Marcelo Hilario del Pilar was born on the 30th of August 1850. It is a pity that our people did not see fit to celebrate the centenary of his birth two years ago, but the opportunity has passed forever. His birthplace was the sitio of Cupang in the barrio of San Nicolas, municipality of Bulacan.
The real surname of the family was Hilario. Del Pilar was added only in obedience to the famous decree of Claveria in 1849, the same that added Rizal to the name of the Mercados. It is probable that noble blood ran in Del Pilar’s veins. His mother was a Gatmaytan, and the prefix Gat indicated her descent from the ancient Tagalog aristocracy.
From the beginning he came in conflict with the friars, who were to become his lifelong enemies. He was a fourth-year law student at the University of Santo Tomas when he quarreled with the parish priest of San Miguel, Manila, over some baptismal fees. He seems to have been so deeply affected by this incident that he interrupted his studies for eight years, during which he worked as a government clerk. When he was finally admitted to the bar, he was already 30 years old and married to his cousin, Marciana Hilario del Pilar.
To understand his subsequent career, it is necessary to realize the political situation at the time. The real and effective political power in the Philippines during the close of the Spanish regime was exercised by the religious orders. We had what Del Pilar termed “La Frailocracia” in one of his most renowned works, that is to say, a government by friars.
They had attained this position through a shrewd and masterful strategy. To the Filipinos they denounced the abuses of the civil government, and proclaimed themselves the only protectors of the common people. To the civil government, in turn, they accused the Filipinos of being anti-Spanish and proclaimed themselves the most effective defenders of the Spanish sovereignty.
Thus, playing one against the other, the friars were able to maintain their predominance over both, in much the same way that certain elements in our own time proclaim themselves the only ones who can get American assistance for the common people, and brand their political opponents as anti-American and anti-democratic (the present equivalent of the terms mason, filibustero, and libre-pensador, so useful to the friars.)
Such a strategy of duplicity and deceit could not then, as it cannot now, succeed forever. In the end it was exposed and defeated, as it will again be discredited and repudiated in our own time. But it still worked when Del Pilar, as a young lawyer, returned to his native province and immediately proceeded to oppose it.
His counterstrategy was simple, but it reveals his political talent. He allied himself in every possible way with the Spanish civilian officials, who did not relish any more than he did the soberanía monacal, the monkish regime. Most of us, looking back at the past through the pages of a textbook, have grown to believe that all the Spaniards were bad, that their government was uniformly oppressive, that they knew nothing of constitutions, democratic rights and modern political institutions.
The fact is that Spain itself had undergone a long and ferocious revolution and civil war, and that the Spanish people had proved with their blood their understanding, devotion and right to constitutional government. There were Spanish liberals as well as Spanish reactionaries; the issue in the Philippines, as Del Pilar and Rizal saw it, was whether the liberals or the reactionaries, as represented by the friars and their supporters, would gain the upper hand in the distant colony, and whether or not the Spanish constitution and its bill of rights, and the Spanish system of representative government through the Cortes, would be extended to the Filipinos.
One may appreciate this in a flash from the title of one of Del Pilar’s pamphlets, which was called simply: “Viva España! Viva el Rey! Viva el Ejercito! Fuera los Frailes!” That is to say, “Long live Spain! Long live the King! Long live the Army! Throw the friars out!”
Such was Del Pilar’s political slogan, and he put it into practice by winning to his side liberal Spanish laymen, Filipino local officials, and the officers of the guardia civil. His father had been three times gobernadorcillo of Bulacan, and Del Pilar was used to the ways of provincial politics. He maneuvered to have one of his relatives, Manuel Crisostomo, named gobernadorcillo of Malolos, and, when the latter was relieved on suspicion of subversive activities, to have another relative, Vicente Gatmaytan, appointed in his place. Del Pilar also seems to have exercised great influence on the Spanish governor of the province, Manuel Gomez Florio.
With this organization behind him, Del Pilar took the side of the cabezas de barangay of Malolos in a bitter dispute with the parish priest over the collection of excessive taxes. Subsequently, in another controversy over the control of the civilian authorities in public funerals, he even convinced the Spanish governor to order the arrest of the friar-curate. In 1887 and 1888 he expanded his field of activities and prepared eloquent denunciations and memorials directed to the Governor-General and to the Queen Regent herself.
Obviously, the daring provincial politician could not for long escape the vengeance of the religious orders. At their instigation, a confidential investigation was held. Del Pilar was accused of being “anti-Spanish”—familiar phrase—and the counsel of subversive elements against the friars. The case was taken to Malacañan itself. This time, even his friend, the Spanish governor of Bulacan, was unable to protect him. On the 28th of October 1888, Del Pilar hurriedly took a ship to Spain as the decree for his exile from his native province was about to be signed.
In the Spanish metropolis, he plunged once more into political activity. He intrigued with the principal Spanish politicians, trying to secure promises and concessions. But above all he embarked on the gigantic one-man propaganda campaign which was to become his lifework and his main contribution to the Revolution. He edited La Solidaridad almost single-handedly, but with such rare ability that Rizal contented himself with occasional contributions from abroad.
Unlike Rizal, furthermore, Del Pilar had a modern sense of mass publicity. While the poet-hero wrote his tremendous novels in Spanish, a language that few Filipinos could read, Del Pilar flooded his native country with smuggled pamphlets written in simple Tagalog, a Tagalog that is still a model of lucidity, directness and force.
Del Pilar was no academician or theorist; he was ribald, sometimes coarse, even blasphemous. He wrote parodies of the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Apostles’ Creed, the catechism—all ridiculing his enemy the friar—and as a masterstroke of propaganda, he printed them in the same size and the same format as the pious catechism and novenas distributed by the friars to the faithful in the provinces.
It was modern propaganda; ruthless, unscrupulous, popular and tremendously effective. Yet Del Pilar was, also, a generous enemy. When his hated antagonist in polemics, the simple friar Rodriguez died, Del Pilar paid a heartfelt tribute to his sincerity, charity, love of truth, and honor, pointing out that the good father had received an exceedingly mystical education and was not to blame if he stubbornly idealized the facts of life.
When he learned from his wife that enemies, probably agents of the friars, had burned their house in Bulacan, he wrote to her: “I am not surprised over the burning of our house. Our enemies are capable of worse misdeeds! If the criminal hired for the job is one of our people, I know he was misled by his ignorance of my sincere love for him, for I cannot believe he would otherwise have sunk so low to do me harm. There is not a bit of resentment in my heart.”
How painful it was for this man to live separated from his wife and children! It was not only the penury which he suffered in Madrid; it was most of all the absence of his loved ones that drove him to distraction. His letters to his family reveal all the goodness of that heart, hidden under the truculent and combative visage of the propagandist.
His heart bled when his youngest daughter Anita, hearing that her father needed money in Spain, sent him one peso, which she had hoarded out of the Christmas gifts given to her. Upon receiving the touching present, Del Pilar wrote to his wife: “I can’t seem to forget the peso Anita sent me. I wish you had contrived somehow not to send it so that you could have bought her a pair of shoes instead. My heart bleeds every time I think of the hard life you and our children lead, and so I am very eager to return home to be able to take care of you and our children.”
Why did he not go back? He was not living in Madrid in the style of those of our contemporaries who have access to the favors of the Central Bank. He had no dollars for nightclubs and gifts. Indeed, as he said in one of his letters to his wife: “For my meals I have to approach friends for loans, day after day. To be able to smoke, I have gone to the extreme of picking up cigarette butts in the streets.…” But his friends in Spain, as well as the family council in his native land, urged him to stay, and conscious of his duties to his people, he himself knew he had to stay.
Besides, and this is a revealing episode in his life, he did not want to bring disaster upon his family and native town. It was not without bitterness that he saw the entire population of Calamba dispossessed in the furore over Rizal’s return. He wrote to his wife: “Regarding your advice about not following the example of Rizal…it is indeed very unfortunate! That man not only does not build, but also wrecks what others have built inch by inch by dint of hard labor. Of course, he really does not mean it, but because of his headlong ways, he brings misery to others. If my misfortunes bring blessing to others, I really would not mind them; but if they bring misery and disaster to many, then they are useless indeed!”
It is difficult to believe that these are words of Del Pilar on Rizal. But heroes are also human; they disagree among themselves. Rizal had his own reasons for returning, just as Del Pilar had his own for remaining in Spain. They had, one might say, two different concepts of sacrifice: Both were prepared to make a supreme sacrifice; Rizal was ready to die; Del Pilar was willing to face what was, to him, worse than death: exile.
But in the end, Del Pilar himself was convinced that it was useless to remain in Spain any longer. The time for practical politics had passed. Concessions would no longer be sufficient. He had learned enough from Bonifacio’s messages to know that the hour had struck for armed revolution.
Racked with tuberculosis, his constitution broken by years of hardships and hunger, penniless in a foreign land, Del Pilar dragged himself to Barcelona to wait for a ship back home. He was so wretchedly sick that, like an animal, he had to climb on hands and knees up to the poor garret where he lived.
He grew so much worse that he had to suspend his trip. He was taken to a charity ward. There, on the 4th of July 1896, a few days before the Cry of Balintawak, a few months before the execution of Rizal, and half a century exactly to the day before the proclamation of our independent Republic, Del Pilar died, a pauper, almost deserted, far from his beloved family, consoled only by the last sacraments of his old enemy the Church. There was not even enough money to pay for a grave. His body was buried in the private crypt of the family of a friend, on a hill overlooking the sea that lay between him and home.
Thus died the greatest of the Bulakeños, and one of the greatest of the Filipinos.
How many of us know even now where the remains of Del Pilar are buried?
With characteristic indifference, we let his body rot in a borrowed grave in Barcelona until a passing traveler took initiative, many years later, to bring back the poor bones and ashes. Today he rests in the mausoleum of the Veterans of the Revolution in Manila. He does not even have a grave to call his own. Perhaps he would rather rest there, in a common grave with those who fought for his ideals. Del Pilar was always a believer in unity, cooperation, brotherhood. That was, after all, the name he chose for the newspaper which was his lifework: La Solidaridad.
There are many kinds of heroism. There is the heroism of the martyrs like Rizal, pure and spotless victims offered in atonement for the sins of mankind. There is the heroism of the fighters like Bonifacio, bold and gallant in the vanguard of the struggle.
And there is also the heroism of those who, like Del Pilar, work and make their sacrifices in the sustained devotion of their daily tasks. Theirs is not the spectacular glory of the battlefield or the tragic splendor of the scaffold. But it is nonetheless heroic to starve for an ideal, to be lonely among many enemies, to suffer indifference and ignorance, to die a beggar and lie buried in a borrowed grave. Such was the heroism of Del Pilar.