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Necky Sairah L.

Yatan History 3- BB March 18, 2020


In 1890 Jose Rizal, the foremost Filipino intellectual and patriot which

the 19th Century produced, provided in his annotations to a 17th-Century

Spanish text scholarly legitimization for the view that, with Spanish rule the

people “forgot their native alphabet, their songs, their poetry, their laws, in

order to parrot other doctrines that they 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.” Rizal labored for a year in the British Museum to document the

image of a flourishing pre-colonial civilization, the Lost Eden, which he, the

offspring of an era of rationality, awakened consciousness and self-

assertion, felt burdened to put in writing. The Filipino people had to move

forward, and in order to do so have to be aware of their origins, their

history as colonized people, and the general progress of mankind to which

their future should be geared.

Rizal’s construction of a “usable past,” to use a currently popular

term, in effect privileged the status of the ilustrados, the liberal-educated

elite which viewed itself as, among other things, released from the though-

world of the history-less, superstitious, manipulated masses, the pobres y

ignorantes. In the very act of interpretation, then, Rizal had to ignore or

suppress – unconsciously, perhaps – phenomena which resisted his

ordering mind. These existed on the fringes of his life and work but have

not been studied seriously. Instead, we endlessly debate whether he was a

realist or an idealist, whether he was deserving of the veneration he

receives. There is a probing of the intentions behind his actions, speeches

and writings, an attempt to clarify his contribution to the process of action-

building, and so forth. But there is no questioning of his evolutionist

premises, particularly the notion of emergence itself which belongs to the

realm of the familiar, and the “common sense.” As 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 simply a condemned man’s attempt to perpetuate his

own memory, or his martyrdom is 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?


Given the apparent fact that the indios were converted to Christianity,

we need to move beyond established and familiar views of how their world

was affected by the new religion. On one hand, professedly Catholic writers

and Hispanophiles claim that Christianity brought civilized ways, salvation

and unity to the islands. On the other hand, nationalists argue passionately

that Christianity was a weapon to facilitate the political and economic

subjugation of the natives. In either view, the indio is the passive recipient.

The Spanish friar, as representative of God on earth, is seen as exerting a

powerful moral hold over the indios. For better or for worse, he interprets

the proper rules of Christian behavior, rewarding the obedient and

submissive, and punishing evil-doers. Furthermore, there is an implicit

assumption that Christianity’s impact can be understood by reference to

certain core characteristics, foremost among them being its otherworldly

orientation which encouraged resignation to the reality lived by the indios:

resignation to forced labor and the head tax, to the rule of the maguinoo or

native chiefs and the later 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, processions and rituals that kept the

indios in such a state of fascination that they failed to grasp the reality of

colonial exploitation.

To whatever pole the argument tends – Christianity as the indios’

salvation or Christianity as the root of their alienation – there is always

room for allowing for or celebrating the triumph of liberal ideas in the late

19th century. In the first place, the notion tahat Christianity belongs to the

realm of the otherworldly as distinct from the secular and political allows

the data on popular disturbances and revolts. If they occur during the “pre-

enlightenment” centuries, such phenomena are regarded as instinctive,

largely localized reactions to oppressive measures, “nativistic” attempts to

return to a pre-colonial past, at best primitive precursors to the revolution.

Only with the founding of Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan secret society is

there an organization with clear strategies and goals. When the Katipunan

is superseded by Emilio Aguinaldo’s Republican government, the Filipino

people are finally released not only from the colonial mother country but

from a dark past. The history of “failure” ends with the birth of the secular,

progressive enlightened Republic.

The reappearance, the persistence over time, of figures bearing the

mark of Christianity could eb interpreted as a sign of the total Filipino

subjugation by Spain. It could signify the break, the loss and enslavement

resulting from the Conquest. Rizal lamented the fact that Philippine

traditions were no longer authentic because their origins were either

forgotten or patently foreign. To him, the forgetting of origins marked the

onset of darkness:

The lack of a continuous, uninterrupted history of Filipino

consciousness lay behind the ilustrado nostalgia for lost origins. Rizal’s

efforts to reconstruct the history of a flourishing, pre-Spanish civilization

that entered upon the decline can be viewed as an attempt to reconstitute

the unity of Philippine history, to bring under the sway of the ilustrado mind

the discontinuities and differences that characterized colonial society. The

ilustrados were very much in tune with 19th century conceptions of history.

Their activity was geared to the late 19th century European search for a

total history, in which all the differences of a society might be reduced to a

single form, to the organization of a world-view, to the establishment of the

system of values, to a coherent type of civilization.” Ironically, the demand

for order and coherence led to critique not only of the Spaniards but of the

ilustrados’ ancestors who, admitted Rizal, lost their heritage because they

“hastened to abandon what was theirs to take up what was new.”

Ignorance and naivete are the familiar explanations for what appears to

have been the absence of fixed boundaries in the conceptual world of the

early Filipinos.
One fact that renders the notion of a “Fall” problematic, however, was

the survival of the indigenous languages. For example, the whole crop of

foreign story lines in Tagalog literature, which on the one hand suggest a

certain loss of authenticity, upon closer examination turn out to be masks

that conceal age-old preoccupations. We shall see later on that the failure

of such terms as “soul” and ‘self’ to encompass the meanings of loob (lit.,

“inside”) releases the Tagalog Passion of Christ (Pasyon) from the control of

the Church. The translation of alien story-lines and concepts into Tagalog

not only resulted in their domestication, their assimilation into things

already known, but gave rise to various plays of meaning.


Morga’s Sucesos De las Islas Filipinas and Rizal’s annotated version

was published almost three centuries apart, Morga at the 16th century

and Rizal at the 19th century. Morga’s book was written in

Spanish, and in my opinion reflected his bias over the Spanish

superiority, Rizal decided to annotate Morga’s work with the desire of

purging his fellow Indios of ignorance about the Spanish colonization of the

island and its pre-colonial past. In fact, Rizal wrote, “To foretell the destiny

of a nation, it is necessary to open the books that tell of her past…” in the

first pages of his annotated version.

Moving on to another classification, Rizal made

some annotations depicting the comparative context between

Philippines and European countries regarding the culture and tradition

being practiced by the natives. Morga mentioned that the privileges of

a principalship were also enjoyed by the women of noble birth on a par with

the men. Rizal made an annotation in respect to that saying

“In this regard, the Filipinos acted very much in conformity with

natural laws, being ahead of Europeans, whose women lose their

nobility when they marry plebians and among whom

descent is along the male line which offers the least guarantee. This

proves beside the high consideration that the women in these islands

had enjoyed since antiquity.”

Rizal, through his annotations, illustrated the pre-conquest past as

a civilized society with knowledgeable inhabitants who possessed, valued,

and practiced rich traditions in a place with abundant resources. Rizal

showed that pre-conquest filipinos were civilized and not as ignorant as

the conquerors believed them to be by debunking false information

regarding their practices that falsely painted them as barbaric. For

example, when Morga talked about the natives' hygienic practices, he

wrote that the natives bathed in rivers and streams, with no concern for

their health, because they believed this to be a remedy to be healthy.

However, in Rizal’s annotation 21, he wrote that they were “very careful”

in choosing when to not take baths, including when they had herpes or

were menstruating.

While Morga talked about certain things only in passing, Rizal would

elaborate on them in his annotations and show that there is a

corresponding tradition or custom. For instance, when Morga was talking

about the large vessel banca, Rizal mentioned that the natives would sing

songs about their gods in the boat, revealing to us a pre-colonial religious

custom. Other customs, such as the painting of the skin of the Visayans,

clothes such as the potong, dowry in marriages, and the class system,

were also elaborated on by Rizal in his annotations. Rizal was showing

that these pre-conquest identities or character of the filipinos were lost,

corrupted or discontinued with the coming of the Spaniards. This

sentiment was expressed in annotation 95 wherein Rizal, on the subject

of the writing system the pre-conquest filipinos had, criticized the Spanish

government for putting the responsibility of educating the filipinos in the

hands of the friars who spread ignorance instead of knowledge.

Rizal also viewed some of the customs and the system that existed

in the pre-conquest past as comparable to or even more advanced than

their European counterparts. For instance, when Rizal compared written

laws to the customs that the natives followed, Rizal wrote in annotation

110 that “...a custom has more force than a written or printed law…”

implying that the pre-conquest customs that the natives followed were a

much more effective and powerful device to attain peace. Rizal’s higher

regard for the pre-conquest customs and beliefs of the filipinos in the past

can also be noted when he compared the divorce law of the French and

the English to the one followed by the natives, as well as in annotation

138 when he talked about the high moral sensibility the Europeans lack

which ancient filipinos had, concerning what is considered an offense to

another person.

It can be inferred that Rizal’s annotation of Morga is not without

motive; Rizal's footnotes can generally be classified as either those which

are objective grammar and historical corrections, or those with Rizal’s

own subtle political sentiments aimed at rebutting the Spanish colonialist

notion that they saved the Islands from barbarity and destruction. As one

reads Rizal’s remarks, it invokes the reader to compare the state of the

islands before the arrival of the Spanish with the islands that Morga wrote

about in his work. Even though Rizal purposely chose Morga for his

objectivity, it can be noticed that the Sucesos still celebrates Spanish

achievement in the islands. For instance, Morga writes about a province

located north of Manila that is abound by colonial canals which is well-

populated by natives and is bountiful. Rizal comments in annotation 80 (p

266) that the aforementioned province of Pampanga has declined in

population due to the ship-building and timber industry that the Spanish

set up there. Similarly in annotations 79 (p 265) and 85 (p 267), Rizal

writes that the populations of Corregidor and Mindoro diminished when

the Spanish built a lighthouse and mines in those places respectively.

Although most of Rizal’s annotations and views were correct, especially

regarding the origin of certain practices and words like the significance of

Visayan tattoos and the system of slavery that was followed, there are

still some views that are arguable. For example, while there existed a

system of writing or written literature, it cannot be said to be as

developed as Rizal believed; oral literature, such as chanting or singing,

was the most prevalent form of pre-conquest literature that originated

from Borneo as seen in Scott (1994). Though not entirely as Rizal

depicted, the apparent erosion of pre-conquest written literature under

Spanish rule served his agenda of showing the detrimental effects of the

conquest on native literature.

To conclude, Rizal offered his countrymen a more accurate depiction

of his home islands than Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos, one 20th century

references would validate. Rizal's annotations were far from neutral

commentary on an earlier historical account, or mere factual corrections

of Morga's claims—they were clearly motivated by his political agenda of

advancing reforms for the Filipinos under Spanish rule. By attempting to

reveal the rich pre-colonial society tampered by centuries of colonial rule,

Rizal hoped to spark in his countrymen a true awareness of the past

towards a national ambition for the future.