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RlZAL AND THE

UNDERSIDE OF PHILIPPINE HISTORY

"pon reflection, it seems to me that much of scholarly writ-


ing on the Philippines bears the stamp of a certain famil-
iarity with which the country's traditions and patterns of
development have been treated. I n contrast to those parts of South-
east Asia that have been transformed by the "great traditions" of
Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism and which, as a result,
have had that aura of the exotic and impenetrable about them, the
Philippines has appeared transparent and knowable, a "natural"
consequence of the experience of some four h u n d r e d years of
Spanish and American colonialism. It is difficult, for example, not
to be taken in by the Hispanic features of Philippine pueblo society:
Christianity, the diatonic scale, amor propio, caciques, and so on.
When John Phelan's book, The Hispanization of the Philippines,
appeared in 1959 it made us review drastically the supposed ef-
fects of the Spanish conquest. Filipinos were no longer deemed
1

passive recipients of Spanish cultural stimuli; their responses var-


ied from acceptance to indifference and rejection. Because Phelan
had never set foot on the Philippines nor learned a local language,
however, his reading of Spanish source materials w a s framed by
his familiarity with the history of Latin America. Phelan attempted
to close the gap between Spanish observers and the strange, exotic
natives they wrote about, not by letting the natives speak but by
a s s i m i l a t i n g t h e m to the b o d y of k n o w l e d g e c o n c e r n i n g
Hispanization in the Americas.

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30 RIZAL AND T H E UNDERSIDE OF PHILIPPINE HISTORY

T h e problem is not just that P h e l a n a n d m o s t n o n - F i l i p i n o


scholars before the late 1960s failed to use indigenous source mate-
rials, but that such records bear the unmistakable stamp of S p a n i s h
colonial influence. Furthermore, except for the rare d i a r y or cache
of personal correspondence, such materials are often classified as
devotional or literary and fail to provide accurate d o c u m e n t a t i o n
of the past. This has led to some anxiety among F i l i p i n o s about
whether it is possible to have a truly Filipino history prior to the
mid-nineteenth century. It is true that evidence exists about the
2

islands prior to the conquest, that certain regions s u c h as the hill


c o u n t r y of n o r t h e r n L u z o n a n d the M u s l i m s o u t h e s c a p e d
Hispanization, a n d that violent reactions to c o l o n i a l r u l e w e r e
fairly regular. Such themes, however, have not been able to offset
the familiar view, in educated circles at least, that a golden age w a s
lost i n the wake of the conquest. A long dark past of S p a n i s h r u l e
sets i n until there occurs, i n 1872, a turning point, the initial s i g n of
a shift in consciousness from blind acceptance of S p a i n ' s presence
to an awareness of the causes behind the people's suffering. I n that
year, the public execution of three reformist priests stirred u p so
much public sympathy and outrage that the bonds of subservience
and gratitude toward Spain and the friars were seriously w e a k -
ened. A s the familiar textbook narratives go, from 1872 u n t i l the
revolutions of 1896 and 1898 a nationalist spirit is born a n d reaches
maturity i n the struggle for independence. S u c h is the f r a n k l y e v o -
lutionist view of the Philippine past that serves to instill F i l i p i n o
pride in their nationalist struggle, the first of its k i n d to occur i n the
Southeast A s i a .3

The problem with this view is that it rests on the a s s u m p t i o n


that before the impact of liberal ideas i n the second half of the n i n e -
teenth century, Filipinos lived in a kind of static d r e a m w o r l d s o m e -
what like children initially fascinated a n d eventually e n s l a v e d b y
the cosmology introduced by the colonizers. I n 1890 Jose R i z a l , the
foremost Filipino intellectual and patriot w h i c h the nineteenth c e n -
tury produced, provided in his annotations to a seventeenth-cen-
tury Spanish text scholarly legitimization for the v i e w that, w i t h
Spanish rule, the people "forgot their native alphabet, their songs,
their poetry, their laws, in order to parrot other doctrines that they
RIZAL AND THE UNDERSIDE OF PHILIPPINE HISTORY 31

did not understand." The result of their blind imitation of things


foreign and incomprehensible was that "they lost all confidence in
their past, all faith in their present, and all hope for the future." 4

Rizal had labored for a year in the British Museum to document


the image of a flourishing precolonial civilization, the lost eden,
which he, the offspring of an era of enlightenment, awakened con-
sciousness and self-assertion, felt burdened to put in writing. The
Filipino people had to move forward, and in order to do so had to
be aware of their origin, their history as a colonized people, and the
general progress of mankind to which their future should be
geared. 5

Rizal's construction of a "usable past" in effect privileged the


status of the ilustrados, the liberal-educated elite that viewed itself
as among other things, released from the thought-world of the his-
tory-less, superstitious, manipulated masses, the so-called pobres y
ignorantes. I n the very act of interpretation, then, R i z a l sup-
pressed—unconsciously, perhaps—phenomena that resisted his
ordering mind. These, nevertheless, exist on the fringes of his life
and work, and can be retrieved if we set our minds to it. I n the
1960s and 1970s we wasted much effort by endlessly debating
whether Rizal was a realist or an idealist, whether or not he is de-
serving of the veneration he receives. We continue to probe the
intentions behind his actions, speeches and writings, and attempt
to clarify his contribution to the process of nation-building. Yet,
there is no questioning of his evolutionist premises, particularly
the notion of emergence itself, which belongs to the realm of the
familiar, the "common sense." A s we shall see, this notion is
problematized in the meanings that Rizal's gestures elicited
among the pobres y ignorantes. Rizal became implicated in the
very world which the ilustrados sought to efface. What we shall
seek to uncover in particular is the play of meanings which his
dramatic execution in 1896 set into motion. If this event were sim-
ply a condemned man's attempt to perpetuate his own memory, or
his martyrdom against oppression and obscurantism, then why,
among many other acts of martyrdom and execution, was it singled
out, remembered, commemorated for decades after? What modes of
thought apart from that of the ilustrados informed the event?
32 R l Z A L AND T H E U N D E R S I D E O F PHILIPPINE HISTORY

T H E " F A L L " IN ILUSTRADO CONSCIOUSNESS

H o w w e understand change in the nineteenth century is c o n -


nected to the problem that Phelan raised about the n a t u r e of
Hispanization. Given the incontrovertible fact that the indios w e r e
converted to Christianity, w e need to move beyond established
and familiar views of how their world w a s affected by the n e w
r e l i g i o n . O n one h a n d , p r o f e s s e d l y C a t h o l i c w r i t e r s a n d
Hispanophiles claim that Christianity brought civilized w a y s , s a l -
vation, and unity to the island. O n the other h a n d , nationalists
6

argue passionately that Christianity was a weapon for facilitating


the political and economic subjugation of the native. 7

In either view, the indio is the passive recipient. T h e S p a n i s h


friar, as representative of God on earth, is seen as exerting a p o w e r -
ful moral hold over his native wards. For better or for w o r s e , he
interprets the proper rules of Christian behavior, r e w a r d i n g the
obedient and submissive, and punishing evildoers. Furthermore,
there is an implicit assumption that Christianity's impact c a n be
understood by reference to certain core characteristics, foremost
among them being its otherworldly orientation that encouraged
resignation to the reality lived by the indios: resignation to forced
labor and the head tax, submission to the w h i m s of the maguinoo,
or native chiefs, and later the principales, who were mostly agents
of colonial rule. Those who are unwilling to criticize the religion
itself view its particular expression in the Philippine context as one
of excessive pomp and pageantry, of countless festivals, proces-
sions and rituals that kept the indios in such a state of fascination
that they failed to grasp the reality of colonial exploitation. 8

To whatever pole the argument t e n d s — C h r i s t i a n i t y as the


indios' salvation or Christianity as the root of their a l i e n a t i o n -
there is always room for allowing for or celebrating the t r i u m p h of
liberal ideas in the late nineteenth century. I n the first place, the
notion that Christianity belongs to the realm of the otherworldly as
distinct from the secular and political allows the data on p o p u l a r
disturbances and uprisings, and the rise of the nationalist a n d
separatist movements, to be constructed on a secular scale that
// ,/

rarely touches upon the ideas of the " u n e n l i g h t e n e d " b e c a u s e


R l Z A L AND T H E U N D E R S I D E OF PHILIPPINE H l S T O R Y 33

these appear to belong to the sphere of religion, narrowly defined. 9

Following upon this, Christianity is simply equated w i t h some-


thing primitive and repressive that has to give w a y to more pro-
gressive forms of consciousness. 10

The consequence of these modes of interpretation is obvious


for the history of popular disturbances and revolts. If they occur
during the "preenlightenment" centuries, they are regarded as i n -
stinctive, largely localized reactions to oppressive measures, " n a -
tivistic" attempts to return to a precolonial past, at best primitive
precursors to the revolution. Her horizons narrowed by religion
11

a n d the d i v i d e - a n d - r u l e tactic of the S p a n i a r d s , the i n d i o is


deemed unable to comprehend her situation "rationally": thus she
reacts blindly, in the gut, to mounting irritants impinging upon
her. O n l y with the advent of Rizal and the ilustrados is there sup-
posed to be a clear understanding of the causes of dissatisfaction.
O n l y w i t h the founding of Andres Bonifacio's Katipunan secret
society is there an organization with clear strategies and goals.
W h e n the Katipunan is superseded by Emilio Aguinaldo's republi-
can government, the Filipino people are seen to be finally released
not only from the colonial mother country but also from a dark
past. The history of "failure" ends with the birth of the secular,
progressive, enlightened republic in 1898. 12

With the dominant constructs securely established, it is impos-


sible to regard as anything but a curious sidelight the fact that
President Aguinaldo, very much in the style of the eighteenth-cen-
tury rebel Diego Silang, w a s also seen as the liberator sent by
G o d . O r that Rizal, like Apolinario de la C r u z in 1841, w a s hailed
13

as a Tagalog Christ and king. I n 1898 and 1899 the republic, very
14

m u c h like the old colonial administration, was beset with unrest


led mostly by popes, christs, pastors, and supremos. Such "side-
15

lights" suggest that personalities and events toward the end of the
nineteenth century were repetitions, with variations, of the past.
They draw our attention to the fact that limiting frameworks have
been applied to nineteenth-century Philippine history, and that
excluded or "excess" data abound with w h i c h w e can attempt to
confront the dominant paradigms, and elicit a play of meanings i n
place of closed structures. If Rizal belonged to a series of christs