Saturday, December 25, 2010

When Rizal left

"Nothing new here, and we do not see much of each other; you can imagine how aloof we have become, each one going to wherever the wind blows him. Since you left, big groups of "Chinese" [Filipino expats were then called "Chinos"] no longer congregate...; it seems that a strong hurricane of egoism has shattered the harmonious relations that were evident among our countrymen. Today, there are no more tertulias like we had before when friends would meet in whatever place to share and exchange impressions, if at all, there are a few groups...that are the source of unjust rumors; others hurl complaints at one another; as a result, good relations are dampened...The (Filipino) colony needs something that can remedy the situation; in that context, I can assure you that your absence caused the malady."(original in Spanish, loose translation is mine)

That was a letter to Jose Rizal from Ceferino de Leon written in Madrid on 2 March 1886. A native of San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan, Mr. de Leon was the scion of a prosperous family who could afford to send him to Manila to study and later to Spain to read law at the Universidad de Madrid. He had already heard of Jose Rizal before meeting him personally in Madrid.

After receiving his diploma, Mr. de Leon returned to the Philippines to practice law. Like many other ilustrados, he joined the Revolution and was appointed representative of Benguet in the Malolos Congress. His daughter Trinidad married Manuel Roxas who became President of the Philippines, when Independence (declared on 12 June 1898) was finally restored to us after the Second World War.

Unwittingly, the de Leon letter reveals an irrefragable aspect of Rizal's character that has not been studied thoroughly. Rizal is often portrayed as a "stand alone" hero, aloof but elegant in that black winter coat, brooding, writing seditious novels, studying and reading in the dead of night, charming women with his erudite conversation, making memorable extemporaneous speeches , healing the sick, teaching etc. Apparently, he was a sagacious and patient consensus and coalition builder who ably united the multifarious Filipino community in Madrid.

Rizal's primordial objective was to transform Filipinos through education and love of country, that is why he left voluminous records of his ideas, historical annotations, analysis of colonial society and insights into our future. But, on top of all that, he also had a talent for organizing people to strive for a common goal and together build a nation. That was why he returned to the Philippines and founded La Liga Filipina; from writing, he moved on to organizing a socioeconomic movement.a brotherhood. No wonder he had to be eliminated!

Source: Rizal Ante Sus Contemporaneos, (National Historical Institute, 1961)

Rizal and Consuelo

Who was Consuelo and why didn't any of our chatty historians link her to Rizal? After all, he used to be a guest at her fathe's residence in Madrid with other Filipino expats who enjoyed the charming company of such a refined Spanish senorita.

Consuelo wrote this revealing entry in her diary: "They say that he is attracted to someone too tall for him and has done everything to get over it but to no avail. I listen to him with pleasure as he speaks so well. I'm afraid he might think I am leading him on, which is true, but I happen to like his conservation. I let myself get carried away and when he leaves, I feel sad; [but] when he is back, I do exactly the same thing" (Spanish original, loose translation is mine)

Consuelo Ortiga y Perez was the daughter of Don Pablo Ortiga y Rey who was once Alcalde de Manila and later appointed president of the Consejo de Filipinas in Madrid. I suspect that the "someone too tall" for Jose Rizal was Consuelo herself and since they were always seen so engrossed in each other (his conversation must have been enthralling) Rizal's friends probably teased him about his seemingly fatal attraction for Consuelo's Spanish eyes.

Perhaps Rizal was infatuated and flattered because Consuelo was such a good listener and coquettish at that. In 1883, he wrote a poem entitled " A C." that was for Consuelo Ortiga. Although Rizal captured the fair senorita's mind with elegant prose and impassioned poetry, they were not destined for each other. It was Eduardo Lete, his batchmate at the Ateneo who eventually won Consuelo's heart.

Source: Rizal Ante Sus Contemporaneos, (National Historical Institute, 1961)

Antonio Luna read Rizal

Antonio Luna, who became the commanding general of the First Philippine Republic's Armed Forces, read the NOLI ME TANGERE and its sequel EL FILIBUSTERISMO, seditious novels by his friend and compatriot, Jose P. Rizal. He must have been so inspired after he read the NOLI that in a review he wrote for "La Solidaridad" A. Luna described it as bearing the "seal of truth" and vividly exposing the humiliating conditions of colonial society, cleverly concealed by layers of "beautiful lies".

Luna said Rizal's novels garnered praises and were deeply appreciated for having lifted the "veil of inexplicable mysteries" while awakening and stimulating the minds and sentiments of the youth to take up the challenge found in the FILI. I suppose Luna was alluding to Fr. Florentino's poignant words in the final chapter.

He described Rizal as being in a class all his own, but because he had become highly controversial, "he is often judged severely by those who want to diminish his worth." On the other hand, Rizal " is smothered with the incense of adulation, surrounded by a tempestuous whirlwind of irrational and mindless enthusiasm" which Luna hoped would not be like artificial fireworks, dazzling but all too brief.

Luna wrote that before Rizal came into the scene other patriots had advocated Filipino civilization and championed progressive ideas like the three martyred priest Burgos, Gomez and Zamora, (unlamented,Luna mourned ) liberal-minded lawyers like Antonio Regidor and of course, the paladins of the Propaganda Movement, Marcelo del Pilar and Lopez Jaena. They all symbolized a transformation that will inevitably lead the Philippines to progress. However, it was Jose Rizal who defined more concretely the ideas of those noble precursors by giving them flesh and substance, life, energy and dynamism through the characters he created--Elias, Capitan Tiago, Tasio, Ibarra and Maria Clara, and other personages of the NOLI and FILI. As a result, the revolutionary ideas espoused by all Filipino patriots became more widespread.

Significantly, the disciplinarian Antonio Luna also commented that the youth of the 1884 generation were "cowardly and hypocritical, who behaved as if it were a crime to love the country" until Rizal, an extraordinary man, indicated how it should be done. (What could Luna have said about today's youth?)

Clandestinely shipped and smuggled into the Philippines, the NOLI and FILI were read and discussed in secret among circles of friends, in factories and workshops, even convents and classrooms, in cities as well as in isolated corners of the countryside. As expected, those caught with the books were apprehended by colonial authorities , but such vicious persecution only served to strengthen a just cause .

Source: article by Taga-Ilog, Antonio Luna's pseudonym, "La Solidaridad", October 1891.
(original in Spanish, loose translation is mine)

Rizal, a century hence

A century and a half actually, by next year Jose Rizal would have turned a hundred and fifty. Monthly meetings are being held by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines which dutifully invites all historical associations, civic groups, the Knights of Rizal, and descendants of the hero. I have been receiving frantic email messages from friends in the academe, here and abroad, asking if something is being done for a meaningful celebration.
In my opinion, we should forget oratorical and essay writing contests for the simple reason that we hardly know what Rizal is all about. We have not bothered to fully decode the messages Rizal embedded in the voluminous writings he left behind.
For starters, I am going to reread Rizal's biographies , the serious scholarly ones by Craig, Coates, Palma, Guerrero, etc, to extract the development of the hero's political thoughts, instead of a mere chronology of his life and loves, which I did in college. Then, I will go directly to the source , perhaps it should be the other way around or maybe I should do both simultaneously.
I had the temerity to propose to the venerable Knights of Rizal a photographic documentation of all Rizal monuments starting from the very first one erected in Daet, Camarines Norte in 1899. They should get together with local government for the restoration and maintenance of the monuments under the guidance of the National Historical Commission. Your proposals are most welcome.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A galleon visits Manila

The galleon trade enhanced Manila's importance as a trading center in Southeast Asia from 1565 to 1815 during which a total of 108 galleons plied the trans-Pacific route between Manila and Mexico. During those two and a half centuries, 30 galleons were reported shipwrecked, 10 in the treacherous currents of San Bernardino Straits, and four were captured by British pirates like Francis Drake (later honored with knighthood.)

An incredible range of products from Asia and the Americas were traded for Mexican silver which became the standard of exchange-- silk and cotton, porcelain ware, ivory carved religious images, coveted spices, sturdy metal grills to filigree jewelry, rice, tea, mangoes, exotic flowering plants, gold dust, wax, cordage, textiles from Manila, Ilocos (for galleon sails), embroidery from Lubang and Cebu (in lieu of Belian lace), carpets, furniture, tapestries, lacquer, etc, the bills of lading were mind-boggling. (Legarda, Benito, 1999)

So, when the galleon "Andalucia" dropped anchor at Pier 13 last Wednesday (October 6), I was disconcerted at how small it looked. How could they have tucked into the hull all the items in the above-mentioned inventory? Leaving Manila in July, the "habagat" season, the galleons would arrive in Acapulco in December, greeted by" ferias" and festivities during which merchants competed for the goods that would be distributed to other Spanish colonies and on mules across Mexico to the port of Vera Cruz and on to Europe.

The "Andalucia" is supposed to be a faithful replica of the Nao de Manila; I asked the captain who explained that the "Andalucia" is a medium-sized galleon with only 35 crew members but centuries ago, even these were manned by 225 sailors and officers. The Fundacion Nao Victoria based in Seville, Spain, also owns galleons with heavier tonnage and they sail around the world where they are welcomed by throngs of curious people; it took them 18 weeks to get to Manila from Seville.

Below the deck is the artillery room where I counted 10 cannons and spotted a keg of Tio Pepe jerez (sherry) tied securely to a post. I could not stand straight in the Admiral's room without bumping my head, but of course, people then were shorter. It was delightful to take the breeze on a kind of upper deck, in the olden days, the area was strictly for officers only. The weather cooperated, it did not rain for two days so the welcome cocktails hosted by the Spanish ambassador and the "sunset cocktails" of the Mayor of Manila the day after, were very well attended. During the day, there were long lines of people waiting for their turn to board and get a feel of the galleon, some were jokingly looking for slaves, others for Johnny Depp.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay came and so did Senator Loren Legarda. Mayor Lim invited the principals and heads of public and private schools in Manila and most of them trooped to Pier 13 for a blast from the past, while sipping cocktails and practicing their Spanish aboard the "Andalucia", the galleon that came to Manila.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What American teachers needed

"Socially, attractive, possessing diplomacy , executive ability, tact, persistence, patience, hopefulness, and of course, teaching ability"--those were the qualities required of American teachers who came here aboard the "Thomas" in August 1901. Needless to say, none of them knew they were expected to be such paragons.

In her informative article "American Teachers and the Filipinos (1904) ," Helen P. Beattie listed all the above-mentioned virtues. She stressed the importance of "social gifts" because she found Filipinos to be "eminently social people" and if the American teacher wanted to be invited to "...their dinners, balls, dramas..."Thomasites had to refine their social skills.

On the other hand, Ms. Beattie cautioned American teachers about "surrendering" the ideals they had long cherished. Was she alluding to encounters with local government officials? She believed and was probably right that the Thomasites, "...can accomplish but little in construction, repair and furnishing of school buildings" without the aid of these local leaders. However, it would be wrong for them to assume an air of superiority and act as if "things not American are hopelessly bad."

In Mrs. Beattie's opinion, tact and diplomacy were indispensable qualities in dealing with Filipinos ," for a prouder , more sensitive people than these never lived." That was very true then but now we have all but lost it. (Source:"Bulletin of the American Historical Collection, July -September, 1984).

Distorted vision

In his time, Jose Rizal was obsessed with the type of education available to the majority of Filipinos. His voluminous correspondence to family and friends, his articles for "La Solidaridad and his novels ( Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo) all reflect his deep concern for the problems of education in the Philippines.

When Rizal was enrolled at the Universidad Central de Madrid (1882-1885) , he felt so invigorated by the liberal ideas of his mentors (Miguel Morayta and Francisco Pi y Margall) that he began to plan a colegio moderno where young Filipinos would be encouraged to think and analyze instead of learn obscurantist ideas by rote and memorization. Importantly, the colegio moderno would instill a sense of nationhood (sentimiento nacional) in future generations.

With nation-building foremost in his mind, Rizal was convinced that the key to material progress was scientific knowledge which served as a solid base for agriculture, industry, and commerce. History was of vital importance and it included the study of different religions and cultures. Curiously, hygiene was also one of the subjects, among several others.

To Jose Rizal, quality education was an indispensable requirement for personal transformation without which there could be no real social change or national redemption. Rizal came to that conclusion in the 19th century, sadly enough, after more than a hundred years, in the 21st century, we realize that our educational system has distorted Rizal's noble vision. It does not transform us for the better, much less awaken in each of us a sense of nationhood.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Midnight benchmarks

According to a front page story in one of the local dailies, a 7.3 per cent growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) was registered in the first quarter of this year, compared to the moribund 0.5 percent of the same period in 2009. Amazing indeed, but suspicious nonetheless, even if election-related expenses were taken into account. The cynic in me feels that such glaringly optimistic and flattering reports about astounding last-minute economic growth can have only one purpose-- to erode our confidence in the in-coming government of president-apparent Noynoy Aquino.

Acting Secretary Augusto Santos of the National economic and Development authority (NEDA) said he expects the 7.3 percent GDP growth to be sustained in the second quarter. Why not? After all, the Arroyo administration will officially end on the last day of the second quarter. NEDA director for national policy, Dennis arroyo, was pleasantly shocked because traditionally, first quarter growth is never ever that high. However, warning signals were emitted by the above-mentioned agency.

The El Nino and La Nina are tops on the national worry-list followed by Greece's debt crisis which might have adverse effects on our lucrative industry, the exportation of overseas workers. Then follow the endemic lack of competitiveness, inadequate infrastructure (specially for tourism), low tax collection and the high cost of energy. Agriculture shockingly posted zero growth.

I caught bits of a radio report that said something about six million jobs being generated by the still present dispensation; whether these were created here in the country or found abroad by Filipinos, it was not explained. Does that include the 1.73 million jobs generated by the incredible 7.3 percent GDP first quarter growth? Only the NEDA can tell.

Analysts of Goldman Sachs ( of all people!) have been lavish with unsolicited opinions; they said the Philippines is poised for economic recovery (as if we ever admitted a crisis) and will sustain its high GDP, at least through the second quarter of 2010. Why is the Arroyo administration setting such insurmountable benchmarks, and at midnight?

A hundred laws

Although short-lived, the Congress of the First Philippine Republic passed more than a hundred decrees and laws to address the imperatives of the young nation. Aside from those establishing the branches of government and appointing department secretaries and directors, schools were founded in October 1898 lie the Universidad Literaria, its Faculty of Law, and the Instituto Burgos.

It may interest you to know, that it was Congress that proclaimed General Emilio Aguinaldo president, after which a congressional commission formally made it known to him. President Aguinaldo took his oath of office before Congress, delivered a patriotic speech, then the Philippine Army swore allegiance to the Republic and to the Constitution.

From the more than a hundred laws and decrees passed by the Malolos Congress and President Aguinaldo, you can tell that nation-building was the primordial concern of our forefathers, that they were doing their honorable best and that obviously they were ready for self-government. Significantly, as early as 21 June 1898, a decree gave tenants the lands they tilled; another issued on the the 29th punished cattle-rustling, and on 15 July town presidents were instructed to administer church property.

There were laws that aimed to protect future generations. Cock-fighting, cards, and other forms of gambling were forbidden to the young who were encouraged to engage in sports like swimming, boxing, and athletics. But curiously, a decree prescribed how young people could marry without parental consent.

Tax laws were passed to generate government revenue; a Permanent Commission of Justice was established, the Departments of Finance and Public Welfare were reorganized. By January 1899, due to the impending war with America, there were decrees of great urgency that ordered the production of food, creation of "Juntas de Defensa" to assure territorial security, strengthened army discipline, placed civil officials under military authorities, and forbade merchant vessels flying the American flag from entering ports controlled by the Republic.

There was an ominous decree dated 7 May 1899 after a Cabinet crisis, accepting the resignation of the brilliant loyal Apolinario Mabini while flamboyant Padro Paterno took charge and formed a new Cabinet. The rest, as they say, is history.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nagging Noynoy

I wonder if President Corazon Aquino ever nagged her only son about smoking, a thoughtless, harmful and expensive vice. If she did, she must have given up for he evidently never took heed. At fifty, he is no cold turkey and seems hopelessly addicted to nicotine.

Be that as it may, let us not badger the president-apparent about his chain-smoking because there are graver matters, more life-threatening, about which we should ceaselessly nag him, until he succumbs to our collective clamoring.

No, he should not make the prosecution of newly-elected Congresswoman Gloria M. arroyo a doggedly personal quest; that could turn out to be such a waste of time and energy. There are special courts and credible committees that can handle investigations and vastly improve what his late and lamented mother tried to do during her own presidency.

I most definitely plan to nag Noynoy about three things, for the meantime--food (in)security, the screaming cost of energy and slow death by debt strangulation. There are other nag-points like education , but, in my unsolicited opinion, those three are the most crucial to national survival.

Like malignant tumors, these socio-economic cancers have metastasized and curing them will inevitably cause the president- apparent a lot of tension and stress. So, let him be! Don't nag him yet about the vice he can no longer keep a secret; we can do that later.


Flagging means to lose energy, to become feeble, less active and to decline. (The Penguin English Dictionary, 2001). Pardon the pun but the campaign to promote the Flag Law seems to be flagging. Every year, during the week ending on May 28, the National Historical Commission (NHC, formerly NHI) energetically musters the population to celebrate Flag Day. Absolutely everyone has to be involved--local government units, the Boys and Girls Scouts, departments and agencies, particularly National Defense and Education.

Last year, the NHC sent a rather phlegmatic lecturer to the Manila City Hall where student representatives of various public schools were gathered at the ceremonial hall eager to learn about the history of the Philippine flag, how to fold the flag and the Flag Law (Republic Act 8491) that sanctions disrespectful acts and misuse of our national standard.

Not content with that single lecture, the Manila Historical and Heritage Commission took an extra step by distributing to the city's 896 barangays enormous colored posters illustrating the do's and don't's contained in the Flag Law. The informative, sturdy and glossy posters were distributed through the Manila Barangay Bureau, in May 2009.

A couple of weeks ago, while making an ocular inspection of an archaeological site along Pedro Gil Street in Santa Ana, some residents of the place urged me to take down the flag in front of a tiny barangay office located on the traffic island cum park. The flag was faded, grimy and tattered at the edges. To display ( either deliberately or negligently) the Philippine flag in that pitiful state is definitely against the Flag Law.

And where was the barangay chairman? Didn't he read that Flag Law poster distributed last year? He was nowhere to be found; neither did he answer his cell phone. Two men clambered up the post, took the flag down as respectfully as they could, and handed it to me. It shall be properly cremated, during Flag Day ceremonies ( twilight of 28 May) with 300 other tattered flags gathered from all over the city by Manila's Reservist Corps.

It might interest the reader to know that out of the 896 posters only one remains. The rest, according to reports ( of the Manila Tourism and Cultural Affairs bureau), became collateral damage of typhoon "Ondoy". Be that as it may, we should not lose heart, our interest in promoting respect for the Philippine flag should never wane.

The Met opens

Softly, very softly, the Metropolitan Theatre opened on 29 April at five o'clock in the afternoon. For those who do not know or have forgotten, it is near the Liwasang Bonifacio (formerly Plaza Lawton) and the Post Office and a stone's throw away from the City Hall of Manila.

Three agencies are involved in the restoration of the Met-- the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the GSIS and the City Government of Manila. Precisely because it was soft, the opening was not be a glittering social event, like it was when then First Lady Imelda Marcos re-inaugurated the theatre in the 1970's.

Champagne did not flow; there were no canpes from Via Mare; no blare of trumpets from the Maniila Symphony, the Met's in-house orchestra; instead, the much-awarded Manila City Band was there to welcome guests with festive melodies.

The lavish ballroom with fabled chandeliers will remain closed until phase 5 of the restoration work is completed. The two Amorsolo murals are kept in the GSIS museum. However, the guests admired the intricate Art Deco grill work at the lobby as well as the graceful statues by Francesco Monti, the muses of music and song.

Realistic and doable were the priorities of work phases 1 to 4. The enormous roof had to be repaired and meticulously sealed, then the unscrambling, debundling, reconnecting of old light and water connections which took forever; the partial rehabilitation of the proscenium, the more thorough refitting of the stage and its appurtenant equipment and dressing rooms; the recurrent, baffling inundation of the orchestra pit was finally solved.

There were no rows of red velvet cushioned chairs, the Marcos vintage ones had disappeared, cannibalized perhaps like the unique costume collection. But, the guests were comfortable enough. There was passing cooling, no air- conditioning. The Manila Historical and Heritage Commission distributed souvenir fans with the picture of the Metropolitan Theatre.

The show affirmed its metamorphosis into a real people's theatre. It consisted of excerpts of councilor Lou Veloso's "Senakulo", a song from "Baler, the musical" , Asia's Queen of song, Pilita Corrales, brought the house down with an emotive rendition of "A Million Thanks". Significantly, the same singer-actor who played the Filipino revolutionary in "Baler" also portrayed Jesus Christ in the "Senakulo" reminding the audience that our anti-colonial struggle for Independence was, at one time, expressed through the passion of Christ. "Pasyon at Rebolusyon" is the favorite thesis of Filipino historian, Rey Ileto.

Mayor Alfredo S. Lim and Vice-Mayor Francisco Domagoso arrived dramatically, in open carriages which they rode during a city-wide motorcade--they were campaigning. Enthusiastic about the Met opening, they stayed until the end so did Gloria Romero, German Moreno, Cecile G. Alvarez and other notables. There were more than eight hundred students from the public schools of Manila, teachers and principals, barangay folk and their officials , a smattering of foreigners who had read about the soft opening on line and people who just walked in to marvel. It was standing room only!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rags to riches

Since the time of the late and eternally lamented President Ramon Magsaysay, candidates have been weaving maudlin "rags to riches" stories about themselves. I think it was in the 1950s that very humble origins became the cutting edge in any electoral campaign. Being poor was equated with honesty and compassion for the indigent, the "common tao". That was the winning platform of "Magsaysay, my guy" who, as it turned out was not that poor.

Since then, the political landscape has deteriorated dramatically. Just because someone was poor once upon a time doesn't mean he or she is saintly pristine and not rotten to the core. Neither does it automatically follow that those who were never ever poor are callously indifferent to the plight of the underprivileged or clueless as to the structural causes of poverty.

Perhaps, those who capitalize on mawkish "rags to riches" tales believe they can inspire and uplift the poor whose votes they aim to capture. It it is indeed their purpose to project themselves as avatars and exemplary citizens, they should first take the sage advice of erstwhile NEDA director, Winnie Monsd-- explain to us, with quivering details , how you got rich.

Strikingly, none of the fanciful infomercials and jingles brag about a candidate's intellectual prowess and cultural pursuits. As if it were a crime against the poor, no one admits to reading serious books and periodicals or to spending a few hours at the National Museum. Don't any of the candidates believe that a good education, a solid cultural background, breeding and sophistication are things worth advertising?

For all you know, the poor are tired of your pandering and are nauseated by the hypocrisy of those soupy "rags to riches" tales.

Faith restored

Against blatant lies, against shameless back-stabbing against insidious sabotage, against contemptuous disloyalty, against profligate and nauseating vote-buying, against the severe dictates of organized pressure groups, against all unthinkable cruel odds, Alfredo S. Lim won another term as Mayor of Manila.

That restored my faith in human nature and more importantly in the Filipino. How could a mayor like Alfredo S. Lim lose? He is so indisputably focused on addressing the basic needs of Manilenos. He judiciously disburses taxpayers' money on free hospitals, doctors, medicines, health centers, and a fully equipped "Health on Wheels" trailer that serves depressed communities. He gives much-needed "womb to tomb" care.

Life has taught MayorLim to uphold education as the greatest equalizer, so he makes sure there are institutions where education is given free to deserving students. He also inculcates an awareness of history and culture, pride of country in the young. I have not even touched on the rule of law and livelihood.

Evidently, during the May 2010 elections, Manilenos rallied behind their sitting mayor and together we overcame all those insurmountable odds mentioned in the first paragraph. Moreover, with a young charismatic and respectful vice-mayor, Francisco Domagoso, by his side, the most malevolent political foe is now biting dust.

Indeed, God never sleeps and there is hope for the Filipino voters.