¿Bakwit ba?

As one of our city‘s consultants for historical and cultural matters, yours truly was invited last month to a meeting of top city hall officials who were preparing various activities for the month-long Buwan ng Wika (language month) which is celebrated every whole month of August. This year’s theme is “Filipino: Wikang Mapagbago” or Filipino: a language that changes (or causes change).

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Image: DepEd LP’s.

One of the activities that was being prepared was an essay writing contest for city hall employees. Me and my partner Tita Linda Sietereales (the Tagálog translator for my first book “Captain Remo: The Young Hero“) concocted several possible topics related to the language month’s theme as well as formulated the criteria for judging. We then passed it on to the department concerned for review and approval. I came up with three to four topics which Tita Linda then polished, she being an expert writer in Tagálog (she and her famous novelist friend Lualhati Bautista were colleagues in Liwayway magazine many years ago).

While I was conjuring up possible topics for the essay writing contest, the theme for the language month kept playing on my mind. Wikang Mapagbago. A language that causes change. Suddenly, the first word that popped into my head was a novel one which I heard only recently from TV reporters and broadcasters who have been reporting about the Battle of Marawi for the past three months.

I am talking about “bakwit“, a Tagalized form for an evacuee.

Since the terrorist attack on Marawi (or should I say Dansalán) in Lanáo del Sur Province, thousands of residents have evacuated to various parts of Mindanáo and beyond. Reporters speaking in Tagálog keep on referring to them as bakwit instead of evacuees. Perhaps these reporters refuse to use Taglish and found it appropriate to just Tagalize an English word that is often used in times of crisis. Much like the word “suspek” which was derived from “suspect” or a person who is suspected to be guilty of a crime or offense.

However, journalist Asunción David Maramba insisted that bakwit is not new. It is actually an old word that has been used since the end of World War II. In fact, he even used the word in a column that he wrote way back in 1991. This simply shows that the word has been with us all along for years, thus its usage as a Tagálog word should no longer be frowned upon. Besides, words like bakwit, suspek, and the like do not sound English anymore; apologists for Taglish (yes, there are such people) will say that they have become as Filipino as adobo.

Nevertheless, is the usage of such words correct? Are these neologisms even allowed by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) or the Commission on the Filipino Language? It seems like it as this official regulating body of the Filipino language (based on Tagálog, if I may add) hailed last year a new Tagálog word called “fotobam” which is but a new English word form derived from photobomb. However, it can also be argued that while such neologisms can be deemed correct, they are not readily embraced by many who are still conscious and sensitive about deliberate language changes, evolution, and degradation. Many years ago, former Senator Francisco “Kit” Tátad found time to comment about this language phenomenon, nay, problem in his political book “A Nation on Fire: The Unmaking of Joseph Ejército Estrada and the Remaking of Democracy in the Philippines“. In it, he wrote that:

Filipino itself has not grown. On the contrary, it has been bastardized. The result is Taglish — an awkward and artless combination of street Filipino (which is Tagálog-based) and street English, unworthy to sit in the company of other national languages.

The good senator, himself a litterateur during his younger years before he dabbled in politics, had good reason for saying this as such (although consciously he may not have had it in mind). It is because Tagálog is a phonetic language, while English isn’t. For starters, a simple explanation would be this: Tagálog is written as it is pronounced, and vice versa. Cung anó ang sulat ay siyá rin ang bigcás, at cung anó ang bigcás ay siyá rin ang sulat. The same cannot be said for English.

So, mix them up together —a phonetic and unphonetic language— and what do you get? A linguistic abomination called Taglish.

As mentioned, Taglish apologists would be quick to defend this by saying that such a linguistic phenomenon is natural. They have a term for it: code-switching. But there is a flaw. Code-switching occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties. But one has to note why a speaker has to do so. In our case, we were colonized by the United States for almost half a century, and have been neocolonized by them afterwards. This only goes to show that this code-switching called Taglish is a by-product of colonialism and/or neocolonialism. I might not have any problems with code-switching had the U.S. WASP neocolonialist invaders themselves also speak Taglish (or Engalog for that matter) in their own turf. But they don’t. And they won’t.

One might question Tagálog’s purity (or impurity) even without having been invaded by the U.S. After all, there are more than five thousand Spanish root words in Tagálog. And we haven’t even tackled all the other indigenous languages —all of which are phonetic like Tagálog— that were also influenced by the Spanish tongue. In this regard, isn’t this Spanish-influenced Tagálog that we have been using for centuries also a form of code-switching? Not at all. First of all, Tagálog, which is phonetic, is a perfect match for Spanish for the simple reason that the latter is also phonetic. Both, therefore, are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that reveals a beautiful picture upon completion. This is one of the reasons why in the introduction to my defunct Spanish-language blog, I wrote that the meeting between España and Filipinas in 1521 (then later on in 1565) was “una fuerza mayor increíble, una obra milagrosa de Dios.” It seems both nations, at least linguistically, were really destined to meet to fulfill some quirk of history that is beyond human understanding.* Secondly, Spanish words have been entrenched into our linguistic psyche more than English words ever did. That is why Spanish words such as aparador, barrio, Dios, pantalón, and thousands more sound very native to us compared to Taglish or English words. Finally, there is this sub-branch of linguistics called phonaesthetics which deal with the aspects of art and beauty in a language. Chabacano, said to be derided during its early years, cannot be considered as a mere pidgin or another form of code-switching. It is a Spanish-based creole language, another product of our country’s “phonetic identity” which has the blessings of phonaesthetics. Chabacano has produced its own body of literature that is respected and valued through the years. Taglish doesn’t (with the very rare exception of some of Bautista’s socio-political novels). What passes off today as Taglish literature is derided as gayspeak, if not salitáng canto (street language). And it will remain so for good.

Humorously, one should find it odd how some English nouns become Tagálog verbs in Marawi (“ina-armalite“, “sina-sniper“, etc.).

So what now with bakwit? If it is so phonaesthetically inappropriate for a Filipino to use it as a substitute for evacuee, then what should be the linguistically acceptable alternative? This is the rule: if no Tagálog equivalent is readily available, do not invent new ones (remember those awful words “hatinig” and “salipawpaw” of the 1940s?) nor Tagalize unphonetic words. Simply use that word’s Spanish counterpart. For bakwit, see below:

evacuado if the evacuee is male (evacuados for plural)
evacuada if the evacuee is female (evacuadas for plural)

If we aspire for a language that changes, we have to make sure that it changes for the better. And it changes not just for its own sake but for the betterment of the people that uses it. After all, a language is used not merely as a tool for communication but also as a means to elevate a people’s intellect. Language should evolve naturally, not deliberately. We are a phonetic-speaking people. As such, words derived from an unphonetic language (bakwit, suspek, most especially last year’s fotobam, etc.) will never effect any positive change that will augment our intellect.

*It should be noted that before 1521, our country was not yet formed as a state. It was only during the so-called Spanish colonization period beginning on 24 June 1571 that our country began to exist as a political entity. I simply wrote the above in such a way so as to prevent further confusion.

Racial classification during the Spanish times

Mestizo is probably one of the most abused words in our country today because many use it without really knowing what it really means. The word is often used to refer to white-skinned Filipinos. The likes of 80s actor Ian Veneración, who is currently enjoying a career comeback, is a perfect example of what a mestizo is in the eyes of Filipinos. On the other hand, Bea Alonzo, his leading lady in a popular soap opera in ABS-CBN, is the perfect model for a mestiza, the mestizo’s feminine counterpart. Filipinos also tend to relate mestizos to having Spanish blood. But little does anybody know that mestizo and mestiza technically mean more than just skin color. They have something to do with racial mixture, and it’s not necessarily just Spanish blood.

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Ian Veneración and Bea Alonzo are the stereotypes of a mestizo and a mestiza, respectively (photo: Bandera).

During the Spanish times, our country’s population was classified according to the following racial structure (in alphabetical order):

1. CHINO CRISTIANO — Christianized full-blooded Chinese. Example: Co Yu Hwan (許玉寰), the ancestor of President Benigno Simeón “Noynoy” Aquino III and the rest of the Cojuangco clan. He changed his name to José when he was baptized.

2. ESPAÑOL INSULAR — Full-blooded Spaniard born in Filipinas. Also known as “Filipino”. Best example is Luis Rodríguez Varela of Tondo Manila, the first man to use the term FILIPINO. He even called himself “El Conde Filipino“.

3. ESPAÑOL PENINSULAR — Full-blooded Spaniard born in Spain. Example: Governor General Ramón Blanco and Miguel Morayta.

4. INDIO — Full-blooded native (Austronesian). Examples: Cali Pulaco (popularly known as “Lapu-Lapu”) and Apolinario Mabini.

5. MESTIZO ESPAÑOL — Half Spaniard, half native. Also known as “criollo”. Example: Fr. Pedro Peláez, one of the first priests who supported secularization (he died when the Manila Cathedral collapsed upon him during the devastating earthquake of 1863).

6. MESTIZO SANGLEY — Half Chinese, half native. Example: Saint Lorenzo Ruiz.

7. MESTIZO TERCIADO — Part Chinese, part native, part Spanish. Also known as “tornatrás”. Best examples are Dr. José Rizal and Fr. José Burgos.

8. NEGRITO — Aeta.

As can be gleaned above, there are actually three types of mestizos, and one of them, the mestizo sangley, doesn’t even have Spanish blood.

The reader should be cautioned that this racial classification system had no disciminatory undertones whatsoever. This was used for taxation purposes only. When I first blogged about this three years ago, I made the mistake of using the title Racial caste system during the Spanish times. Upon seeing the word “caste”, a Spanish blogger angrily castigated me and even went so far as to call me a racist. He thought that I was making similarities to the caste system in India which was the one that was truly discriminatory and endogamous.

Despite the racial classification, racism in Filipinas was almost non-existent during the Spanish times. John Bowring, then Governor of Hong Kong who visited our country, was impressed with the lack of racial barriers:

Generally speaking, I have seen at the same table Spaniard, mestizo and Indian—priest, civilian and soldier. No doubt a common religion forms a common bond ; but to him who has observed the alienations  and repulsions of caste in many parts of the Eastern world—caste, the great social curse—the blending and free intercourse of man with man in the Philippines is a contrast worth admiring.

Whatever discrimination that existed during the Spanish times had little or nothing to do with race but with social status. In Spanish, this is called clacismo, or rich vs poor. So ingrained was clacismo to the Filipino psyche that it has become the usual plot in many memorable films, whether they be romance, action, or comedy. The poor-boy-falls-in-love-with-rich-girl and vice versa has been a tried and tested formula. Its most recent reincarnation was on TV and even became a global phenomenon: AlDub.

Today, racial classification among Filipinos is already difficult to determine as the world is fast becoming populous, cosmopolitan, and multinational. Unlike during the Spanish times, when people were still few, Filipinos have intermarried not only with Europeans but with virtually all races all over the world. New intermarriages have produced new breeds. We now have Fil-Australians, Fil-Nigerians, Fil-Colombians, Fil-Nepalese, etc. Alonzo, therefore, cannot be typecast as a mestiza because she has British blood. I’m just not sure about Veneración, but I heard that he does have ample Spanish blood to be called a mestizo. However, he’s already generations away from the time the above classification was set, and his Spanish forebears who had lived closest to his time must have had intermarried with varied other races, as with many other Filipinos who also look as “mestizo” as him, in which case the term mestizo should already be rendered obsolete.

Tapatan sa Aristocrat: “Will we ever get the Balangiga bells back?” (video)

I fumbled, stuttered, and groped for words in my first ever press conference, and my wife was less happy about my posture on camera. But I had a ready excuse: I’m more of a writer than a talker, haha. Besides, sharing a table with known political personalities to discuss a historical-turned-national issue is no easy feat for a recluse like me. It was intimidating. In fact, when my wife, myself, and our baby girl arrived at the venue (The Aristocrat Restaurant, Malate) on the eve of History Month, I felt like Peter Parker who visited Germany for the first time in the opening scenes of “Spider-Man: Homecoming“: I was awestruck but tried my best to conceal it.

Actually, when I received an FB message from Rommel López (netizens know him as the guy who made famous last year a kind-hearted taxi driver) inviting me to appear on the said program as one of the resource persons, I was then busy with my EverWing commitments, so I half-mindedly said yes. Had he caught me in a different circumstance, I would have given the invite second thoughts, haha. 😂

I may have appeared on TV in the past, but Tapatan sa The Aristocrat is different: it’s the only weekly press conference to regularly feature our country’s top movers, from former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to Vice President Leni Robredo.

For the July 31st episode, the guests were former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yásay, Jr., Atty. Rómulo Macalintal (Robredo’s lawyer), and myself — just a regular guy who happens to write about Filipino History online.

The topic for that week was brought about by President Rodrigo Duterte’s emphatic statement against the United States government during this year’s SONA to have the Balangiga bells returned to our country.

That is why I say today: give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage. Isaúli namán ninyó. Masaquít ’yun sa amin.

—President Rodrigo Duterte—

It should be remembered that after turning Sámar into a “howling wilderness” in 1901, the US invaders took with them the bells of Balangiga as war trophies. Two of the bells are now on display at the F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming while the other one is in the possession of the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea. There have been several attempts in the past to have the bells returned to our country, but to no avail. President Duterte mentioning those bells in his SONA marks the first time that a national leader explicitly asked for their return.

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Discussing the possibilities of the Balangiga Bells being returned to our country. From left to right: Host Melo Acuna, Atty. Rómulo Macalintal, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yásay, Jr., myself, and co-host Sky Ortigas (photo: Yeyette Alas).

It is regrettable that I do not talk the way I write. Since I’m such a wuss when it comes to oral discussions, I may have not clearly expressed my sentiments during the press conference. So here they are…

Talk is cheap. If President Duterte really wants the bells of Balangiga to be returned, then he should make a formal written request to the parties concerned, and he should assiduously and perseveringly follow this up and never give up on it until they have come back to where they truly belong: in the belfry of the Church of San Lorenzo Mártir in Balangiga, Sámar. In simple words, the president should act on it. But weeks after his strong statements about the matter, has anything positive come to light?

Secondly, in case the bells of Balangiga have been returned, how will they be conserved? I should share now that my family has visited several heritage churches and have even climbed their belfries. We have seen for ourselves the poor state of their bells. While it can be argued that church bells are the responsibility of parish churches, it should be noted that they are no mere church items. As the president himself has said, they are part of our national heritage. They should be given due importance. But how could our government even talk about giving them importance when the place where those bells were cast (Casa Súnico in San Nicolás, Manila) could not even be conserved and protected?

More importantly, the issue of diplomacy should not be ignored. It is well-known how anti-US our president is. This problem, of course, will come to play especially now that he has reoponed old wounds. But what had happened in Balangiga was a tragedy, a tragedy not only for the natives there but also to the US troops who were massacred. Not all of them were bad guys. Captain Thomas W. Connell, leader of Company C of the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment, was even a staunch Catholic who attended Mass at the San Lorenzo Mártir Church every day. He also imposed several restrictions on his troops that would prevent abuses against the natives (Connell was one of those who had the misfortune of being killed by Filipinos on 28 September 1901). What I’m trying to say here is that we should not treat history as merely black and white. All the players in this tragedy were humans, each had their own stories to tell. That is why it is difficult not to empathize with some US veterans and descendants of Company C who are still reluctant in returning the bells to us. To them, the troops sent to Balangiga were benign and tolerant, and that it was the natives who made the first move at violence. But then again, those troops had no business being there. Other than that, US policy is still strongly felt in our shores, even with President Duterte around. That is why it is impossible to say that what had happened in Balangiga is history. How can we say that it was all in the past when the aggressor is still within our midst? That is why diplomacy is needed (even if “artificial”), something our president is not that good at, especially towards the United States.

Lastly, as I have said earlier, there have been attempts in the past to have those bells returned. Former presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo both worked quietly to have them taken back, but nothing happened. So if those bells are not returned within Duterte’s presidency, the only president to have strongly asked for their return, I doubt that they ever will be.

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La visita del ARM Cuauhtémoc conmemora el Galeón de Manila

Hace unos días recibí una llamada de larga distancia de un argentino. Resulta que es uno de los lectores de mi bitácora desaparecida Alas Filipinas, y me llamó sólo para informarme que un buque mexicano está a punto de visitar Filipinas y se quedará aquí durante los primeros días de agosto. El bondadoso argentino dio el nombre del buque — es mexicano nativo y es un poco difícil de pronunciar. Incluso le pedí que me lo deletreara.

El nombre del buque es ARM Cuauhtémoc, un buque escuela que lleva el nombre del último emperador azteca.

Apodado como el “Embajador y Caballero de los Mares”, ARM Cuauhtémoc arribó el viernes al Puerto de Manila (South Harbor) para una visita de buena voluntad y actualmente está anclado en el muelle número 15. Marca su primer viaje a Manila ya que rinde homenaje al histórico Galeón de Manila, el nombre de las naves comerciales españoles que realizaban viajes de ida y vuelta una o dos veces al año a través del Océano Pacífico desde el puerto de Acapulco, Nueva España (hoy México) hasta Manila en Filipinas. Este primer comercio global existía por casi 250 años y ha producido cambios culturales que ayudaron a dar forma a la identidad nacional filipina.

La visita del ARM Cuauhtémoc también conmemora dos eventos significativos este año: su 35° aniversario (el buque fue asignado el 29 de julio de 1982) así como el centenario de la promulgación de la constitución mexicana.

ARM Cuauhtémoc permanecerá en nuestro país hasta el lunes y zarpará el dia siguiente. Todo el mundo está invitado a venir a bordo mientras que el buque todavía está atracado en nuestra bahía más famosa:

El día de hoy (6 de agosto): 10:00-20:00
Mañana (7 de agosto):         10:00-20:00

La visita de este buque es un gesto de bienvenida, un símbolo de nuestro rico pasado histórico con México, hermana de Filipinas. Hijas de Madre España.

The Battle of Alapán

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Premiere of Alen de la Cruz’s “Bago Ang Kalayaan” at the Imus Sports Complex (photo: MAYOR Emmanuel MALIKSI Facebook page.)

The only thing that warmed up the air-conditioned stadium that windy evening of July 7 in Imus was the cordial smiles of its smartly dressed crowd. Frocked in Filipiniana attire, the guests were huddled to their seats by courteous ushers who themselves were dressed to the nines. Near the entrance, a four-piece orchestra filled the already festive air with classic Filipino favorites. Beside them were dioramas and artistic sketches of the Katipunan, the seditious group that ignited our country’s eventual breakup with Spain in 1898.

All corners of the stadium were covered with black drapes to keep the entire stadium as dark as possible. At the farthest end of the stadium, the focal point of the seated audience was a wide screen. The entire Imus Sports Complex was virtually converted into a gigantic movie theater as a culmination of the city’s week-long cityhood anniversary. They were all anticipating their local government’s “labor of love” — the premiere of a docudrama recounting Imus’s celebrated Battle of Alapán.

“Today, I just want to say that this project has been a long-awaited dream of yours truly,” City Mayor Emmanuel Maliksi beamed proudly during the brief press conference preceding the film showing. The young city magistrate has been planning for this for a long time. The fifth cityhood celebration of his beloved city was the perfect event to turn that dream into reality.

Before independence

Ask anyone where our flag was first unfurled and waved, and he will give you an immediate answer: in Kawit (Cauit), Cavite. That is the standard reply.

Unless the person you ask is an Imuseño.

To the natives of Imus, what is common knowledge to us is for them fable. Imus is not called the “Flag Capital of the Philippines” for nothing, for it was there where our national flag was first unfurled and waved. Mayor Manny’s film project sought to fight the fable. And to non-Imuseño visitors who attended the film showing, the press conference gave light as to why the city bears the flag capital tag. It was there, particularly in Barrio Alapán, where the flag was first waved, but as a war ensign.

Imus in revolutionary history was a foretelling of the climax that was the Declaration of Independence. The docudrama, titled “Bago ang Kalayaan: Imuseño sa Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas“, sought to retell the importance of Imus and its place in Filipino History. Produced by the City Government of Imus and Infinidad Entertainment, the docudrama, helmed by fledgling director Alen de la Cruz, paid tribute to the city’s local heroes (José Tagle, Licerio Topacio, Hipólito Saquilayan, etc.) who participated in the rebellion against Spain as well as to introduce the Battle of Alapán to a much wider audience.

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Image: City Government of Imus.

It is not widely known that, two weeks before Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration of independence from Spain on 12 June 1898 in Cauit, the Filipino flag was first waved, in fact had its baptism of fire, in Imus. It was first used rather fortuitously in a grassy field just outside the población. This site was part of the sylvan barrio of Alapán. Historian Alfredo Saulo described Alapán as forested, but the name itself, an old Tagálog word which means a place where cows feed on grass, aptly describes how the barrio looked like at the time of the battle: it was then grazing grounds for cattle.

As the story goes, the flag, freshly arrived from Hong Kong, was in the hands of Aguinaldo’s revolutionary army when it clashed with Spanish troops stationed at Imus on 28 May 1898. The battle lasted from late morning to mid-afternoon. Armed only with bamboo cannons and Mauser rifles, the Filipino troops engaged the Spanish army in a close-range fight. The flag was used as a war ensign, thus earning its literal baptism of fire even before it was unfurled in Cauit. After an intense five-hour battle, close to 300 Spanish soldiers surrendered and were taken as prisoners of war to Cavite Nuevo (now Cavite City).

But is this claim accurate? Was the flag really unfurled or even used as a war ensign during the Battle of Alapán?

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The first Filipino flag is conserved by the Emilio Aguinaldo Foundation in Baguio, Benguet (photo: Philippine Daily Inquirer).

Wave of contention

No less than our country’s eminent historian, Ambeth Ocampo, acknowledges this as fact. “It was first used in the Battle of Alapán in May 1898,” wrote Ocampo about the flag in his Philippine Daily Inquirer column “Looking Back“. Even before that, former President Diosdado Macapagal in 1965 issued Proclamation No. 374 where it is stated that “our flag was first raised and received its baptism of fire and victory in the battle of Alapán, Imus, Cavite, on May 28, 1898”. That proclamation has since declared May 28 to be our country’s Flag Day.

In 2008, the city government of Imus celebrated its very first Wagayway Festival (Flag-Waving Festival) to commemorate the first time that the Filipino flag was unfurled during the Battle of Alapán.

The problem is that this was contested by Augusto V. de Viana, former chief history researcher at the National Historical Institute, now the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. “One of the historical errors being perpetuated in history textbooks and commemorative rites is the place where the Philippine flag was first displayed,” wrote de Viana in an article for the Manila Times many years ago. “One signboard in Cavite claims that the national standard was first raised in Alapán, Imus, Cavite, on May 28, 1898.”

De Viana said that in Exhibit No. 71, Vol. 1 of the Philippine Insurgent Records, Aguinaldo himself revealed that the first unfurling and waving of the flag happened in Cavite Nuevo. Aguinaldo said that right after the battle, as the prisoners were being brought to Cavite Nuevo, they were met by an “immense multitude, with cheers of delirious joy and great hurrahs”. This prompted him to unfurl the flag for the first time, to reciprocate the euphoria of victory. He made no mention that he did the same during the Battle of Alapán. Even the old historical marker at the site of the battle is also clear on this — the flag was first unfurled in Cavite Nuevo:

However, in Saulo’s biography of the first president, he cited John R. M. Taylor’s The Philippine Insurrection against the United States (Pásay City: Eugenio López Foundation, 1971) as his source that indeed the flag was a major participant in the battle:

The flag that Aguinaldo personally brought home from Hong Kong lent color to the Battle of Alapán, a forested barrio of Kawit (sic), on May 28. It was unfurled to commemorate the victory of the Filipino forces over 270 officers and men of the Spanish Marine Corps in a five-hour firefight.

In writing the above, Saulo used Vol. 3, Exhibit 2 (pp. 7-8) of Taylor’s Philippine Insurrection as his source. But he failed to make it clear where exactly the flag was unfurled, even if just to fend off criticisms of vagueness. Further research is needed to compare the contents of Exhibit No. 71, Vol. 1 of the Philippine Insurgent Records against Vol. 3, Exhibit 2 of Taylor’s Philippine Insurrection.

Until then, this leaves us with which flag fable should be unfurled and fought, to be finally forgotten.

Culture complex

The belief that the Filipino flag was first raised in Imus has been enshrined in the hearts and minds of the Imuseño for years, so much that it has become an inseparable part of the local identity. The entire floor of the city plaza, for instance, is painted with a huge symbol of the waving flag which can be perceived perfectly from the air. At the exact site where the battle of Alapán had been waged stands a 90-foot pole where one of the largest Filipino flags is waving mightily against the rural breeze. Citywide festivities compel Imuseños to display flags in front of their homes.

So fervent is this Imuseño zeal towards the national emblem that, minutes before Bago Ang Kalayaan was to be shown, everybody immediately stood up when the national flag appeared on the screen. With their right hands upon their breasts, they patiently waited for the national anthem to blurt out from the speakers. About a minute later, everybody was chuckling back to their seats. It turned out that what was being shown at that moment was just a short video for the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines.

Pretending to be from Imus, I joked aloud to my wife: “This is how we Imuseños show our love and respect for the flag!” That the mere sight of it compels Imuseños to stand in salute.

Most, if not all, municipalities and cities in our country bear distinct nicknames that reflect their unique identities and histories. Usually, such nicknames are rooted on a particular place’s prominent environmental features (Puerto Princesa: The Eco-Tourism Capital of the Philippines), economic renown (Macati: The Financial Capital of the Philippines), cottage industry (San Pedro Tunasan: Sampaguita Capital of the Philippines), successful tourism branding (Bacolod: The City of Smiles), and so on and so forth. It appears that the  so-called search for national identity has permeated each and every unit of local government. Each city, every municipality, even barrios and sitios, wanted to showcase its own uniqueness, not for the sheer desire of becoming famous but simply to let the world know that it exists, that it has an exceptional story to tell, that it is not just another place that one passes by or mentions dispassionately. Because a dispassionate reception from outsiders makes its people all the more passionate —to the point of zealousness— to burst out from the flames of existence itself, that it is its own being, as if distinct from the very country that cradles it.

Is this zeal, borne out of that national identity crisis, a curse or a blessing to our local government units?

One man’s hero is another man’s villain

De la Cruz’s docudrama itself is reflective of that zeal. Imus, clamoring for its own identity, that it is as historic as Cauit and Manila and Malolos, showcases its local heroes who participated in and contributed to the flowering of the uprising against Spain. The Battle of Alapán is its climax; its denouement, that the raising of the flag in Cauit was all but anti-climactic. But even before all the action had unfolded in de la Cruz’s dramatic structure, the documentary’s exposition itself was “anti-expository” in the sense that it made a simplistic approach to what had caused the Katipunan revolt.

At the start of the story, we see actors portraying Spanish soldiers and Filipino peasants, the former physically mistreating the latter. This clearly sets the tone of the whole narrative: the waving (no pun intended) of the leyenda negra. To a non-historian viewer, this brings him back to classroom and textbook fodder that has proselytized the execrable black legend for decades. The expository didn’t expose anything new that would have raised the standard of quality historical documentaries. Although Bago Ang Kalayaan introduces something generally novel, that of the first unfurling of the flag, it would have been developed further had the story strayed away from emotional appeals and have instead given much justice to the Katipunan’s raison d’être: that its predecessors —from Luis Rodríguez Varela and his Hijos del País all the way to Marcelo del Pilar’s propaganda movement— have lost all hope on the reforms that they were trying to push. After all, the Katipunan, for all its faults and good intentions, was born out of a lingering disappointment on Spanish political policies over the islands. To show that a Spanish soldier beating up a Filipino peasant in a docudrama was too simplistic a cause for the Katipunan’s founding and is far from being political (not that such a thing ever happened, but if it ever did, it would had been isolated at best and would still not had been a major cause for revolt). While the polo y servicios and the bandala —both of which were not entirely malevolent— were mentioned, they were not enough to justify the dispiriting opening scenes of Bago Ang Kalayaan. Indeed, there is much to be unraveled about the Katipunan, how and why it came to be. But since de la Cruz is no historian, we only have her film’s scriptwriter to blame.

During the Spanish times, we have to consider the fact —and I am speaking from a legal standpoint— that the Katipunan, the wheel upon which Aguinaldo’s revolution against Spain (and later on, against Uncle Sam) rode on, was a criminal organization. It doesn’t matter if they are considered as heroes and patriots today, and whether or not their motives were noble. But if we are to deal with historical events, we have to keep our minds in tune to the semantics of the age in which those events had occurred, and not how present society would have received them. If we consider the Katipunan purely as heroes and the Spanish colonial government purely as villains, what keeps us from saying that the Islamic extremists in Mindanáo are not heroes? Aren’t they fighting for their Bangsamoro that we Christians “stole” from them?

Love of country should not stand on a pedestal of hatred built from a loathing of an oft-misunderstood past.

What I think of “Pinoy purists”

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Filipinos???

Those who have a deep-seated hatred of their Spanish past should stop calling themselves Filipino (not excluding its two twisted derivatives: Pilipino and Pinoy) because, historically and culturally, the term implies that one is a subject of the King of Spain (Felipe II de España). After 1565, our archipelago’s various ethnolinguistic groups, each with its own distinct culture, creed, and form of governance, were gradually homogenized, a process that took three arduous centuries. In due time, these varied peoples eventually became “Felipenos” or those who saw King Felipe II as their rightful sovereign, in the same vein that the vassals of King Carlos XI of Sweden (1655–1697) were called “Carolinos“, the vassals of King Fernando VII of Spain (1784–1833) were called “Fernandinos“, and so on and so forth.

In other words, a “Felipeno”, which later on became Filipino (because most of the natives here originally only had “a“, “i“, and “u” in their vowel sounds), means a person who pays tribute (taxes) to the King of Spain.

Therefore, due to a severe dimness of historical observation, I suggest that these ungrateful “puristas” who foolishly think that culture is static should simply call themselves “Taong Bundok“, “Taas Noo Tumbong Ko“, or anything similar to that to further emphasize their native pride that is free of cultural dissemination… which is a natural anthropological phenomenon in the first place.

🤣 Mabuhay ang Pinoy? 😆

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Filipinos!!!

América y los Estados Unidos de América: entérense de la diferencia

Image: Funpicc.

América es el segundo continente más grande del mundo. Pero debido a su gran tamaño y sus características geográficas, este continente se divide tradicionalmente en América del Norte (Canadá, los Estados Unidos de América, y México), América Central (Belice, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, y Panamá), las Antillas (Antigua y Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Granada, Dominica, Haití, Jamaica, República Dominicana, San Cristóbal y Nieves, San Vicente y las Granadinas, y Santa Lucía, e incluye también el estado libre asociado de Puerto Rico), y América del Sur (Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, el Perú, Surinam, Trinidad y Tobago, Uruguay, y Venezuela).

Por otro lado, los Estados Unidos de América (EE.UU.) es una república federal constitucional compuesta por cincuenta estados y un distrito federal que se ubica en el centro de América del Norte.

El gentilicio para los ciudadanos de este continente, desde el océano Glacial Ártico por el norte hasta el Cabo de Hornos por el sur, se llama “americano”. Pero hoy en día, ¿por qué se limita estrictamente este gentilicio sólo para la gente de los EE.UU.? Aquí en Filipinas, cuando se menciona la palabra “americano”, los filipinos piensan de inmediato del pueblo de los EE.UU. Estoy seguro que es lo mismo caso en muchos otros países. En realidad, no se debe olvidar que América es el nombre de todo el continente — y todos los que lo habitan son americanos.

Salvo la gente de los EE.UU., todos los americanos del norte hasta al sur, a pesar de ser americanos, tienen su identidad propia, con su propia cultura única. Por ejemplo, un americano de México se llama mexicano. Un americano de Bolivia se llama boliviano. Un americano que vive en Honduras se llama hondureño. Un americano también en Cuba se llama cubano. Hasta los canadienses son americanos. Etc, etc, etc…

Pero el ciudadano de EE.UU., un país que está conformado por varios estados, unos de los cuales fueron robados de México, ¿cuál es su propia identidad además de ser americano? ¿Cómo los llamamos?

Nada.

¿Y si “estadounidense”? Es algo artificial, usado con menor frecuencia. Es preferible pero el problema es los EE.UU. ya es crisol de muchas poblaciones: asiáticos, europeos, latinos, etc. Los blancos, el estereotipo de “americano” en la mente de mucha gente, forman parte de una minoría.

Sin embargo, esta minoría tiene la audacia de apropiarse para sí mismo el gentilicio “americano”. Y estos blancos ejercen tanto poder no sólo en los EE.UU. sino en muchas partes del mundo.

¿Quiénes son estos blancos en particular?

Se llaman WASP, el acrónimo en inglés de “blanco, anglosajón, y protestante” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Ellos son los que detentan el poder neocolonial en el gobierno de Filipinas así como en muchos países en todo el mundo. Ellos son nuestros verdaderos enemigos.

Tenemos que poner un alto a esta simpleza “americana”.

Originalmente publicado en Alas Filipinas.

US colonization according to Carmen Guerrero Nákpil

In commemoration of the Filipino-American Friendship Day which falls today, I share to you this video clip of writer Carmen Guerrero Nákpil, sister of nationalist León Mª Guerrero III and mother of intellectual beauty queen Gemma Cruz Araneta. The video was uploaded by Andrew Pearson, probably the same person who co-produced the 1989 documentary The U.S. and the Philippines: In Our Image which was based from Stanley Karnow’s book In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines. This video clip must have been culled from that documentary (I have not seen it yet).

Born in 1922, Doña Chitang lived through the remaining 24 years of US colonization. She was already a young adult during Uncle Sam’s final decade in our country and became a mother during World War II. Therefore, she knew what she was talking about in this interview. She is blunt and unapologetic towards US colonization.

“Americans were just, uh, did such a good job of selling themselves to Filipinos that, that now Filipinos think of the American period as the ‘Golden Age’ of their entire history”, she said matter-of-factly. “Nobody asked them to come in 1898. Nobody asked América to come over and, uh, take over our country”. Take note that there is no hint of anger in her voice throughout the interview. Her thoughts about US colonialism were not beholden to emotional bias as what we usually hear from anti-US activists today. Hers was simply an academic observation, a case of calling a spade a spade.

Pearson also wrote a rather unfair description for the interviewee: “There’s an apparent contradiction between her view that the Philippines would have been better off without the US, and her remark that independence was given too soon. But that’s what makes people interesting”, he wrote.

But there is no contradiction. While Doña Chitang did say that our country would have been better off without US intervention, she made it clear that the independence that was granted to us 71 years ago today was premature for the simple fact that we were let go only a year after the devastating war. Our country, particularly Manila, the seat of our country’s power, was totally devastated. And worse, the Filipinos were “subsequently exploited for economic, political, and military reasons”, thus making 4 July 1946 a sham date.

Without further adieu, here’s the interview:

Unfortunately, Pearson disabled commenting for this video of his. From sham to shame.

By the way, has the US even apologized for the countless Filipinos they have slaughtered when they invaded us in 1898, including the brutal pacification campaign that followed?

Happy Filipino-American Friendship Day? Not.

 

Even established historians make mistakes

That Batangueño historian I alluded to in a previous blogpost used to be my FB friend. We parted ways when I criticized his favorite historian, a fellow Batangueño of his, for failing to define what a Filipino is, something that really gets into my nerves. For if one can chronicle the history of his people, how is it that he could not even define their national identiy?

I was expecting a scholarly response to elicit debate not so much as to show him that I know more than him but to obtain his perspective. Because that is how knowledge is developed: a synthesis of logical elements from both sides of the fence will emerge to form a new thesis (logicians call this the dialectical method). For all we know, his favorite historian’s difficulty in defining what a Filipino is could be the answer to our country’s problems. But to my surprise and disappointment, he went on a diatribe, prompting me to unfriend him. When he found out that I removed him from my friends’ list, he sent me an enraged private message filled with personal attacks. My golly, I thought. And to think that this guy prides himself as a scholar.

There is nothing wrong with idolizing one’s favorite person, especially if that person has a profound influence on his career. We all have our own idols. But I have observed that many historians today treat their mentors as if they’re demigods who are free from fault. However, once their demigods have been proven to be false idols, they still cling to them steadfastly. That should not be the case. The people we idolize, no matter how accomplished they are, are humans too. We praise their achievements and calumny their follies.

Not too long ago, as I was rereading Gregorio F. Zaide’s José Rizal: Life, Works, and Writings of a Genius, Writer, Scientist, and National Hero (Centennial Edition), I spotted a glaring error. In citing an entry from Rizal’s journal during the national hero’s trip to the United States in 1888, Zaide concluded that the waterfall the hero was referring to was Pagsanján Falls when it was clear on the entry that the waterfall in question was located in Los Baños. Below is Rizal’s journal entry, translated by Encarnación Alzona from the original Spanish, which was cited —and “corrected”— by Zaide (emphasis mine):

Saturday, May 12. A good Wagner Car — we were proceeding in a fine day… and we shall soon see Niagara Falls… It is not so beautiful nor so fine as the falls at Los Baños (sic Pagsanján — Z.); but much bigger, more imposing…

As we can see here, Zaide corrected what seemed to be an error from Rizal’s part when in fact Rizal was being precise. What made Zaide conclude that the unnamed waterfall in Los Baños was Pagsanján is beyond me. Rizal clearly indicated in his diary that it was in Los Baños. He did not even mention Pagsanján at all. Being a Pagsanjeño, Zaide was probably unfamiliar that Los Baños has a waterfall that was popular during Rizal’s time. Me and my family have even visited it twice.

I am referring to the slender cascades of Dampalít.

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While Rizal may have not named Dampalít in that journal entry of his, one should take into account that it was the nearest waterfall to his hometown of Calambâ. For sure, he must have had visited it a lot of times. And while he did not mention it by name during his US trip, he did mention it in his second novel, El Filibusterismo:

Así es como S.E…. ordenó la inmediata vuelta a Los Baños… Los baños en el Dampalít (Daán pa liít)… ofrecían más atractivos…

In Soledad Lacson-Locsín‘s English translation of the said novel, she offers an explanatory note:

Dampalít: A spring, which with the water coming from seven falls or talón in the locality, formed a river bed with crystal-clear water, to which many went to bathe.

Rizal had a penchant of inserting places that he had visited in his novels. In addition, it should be noted that during Rizal’s time, Pagsanján Falls was almost unknown. The most famous waterfall back then was Botocan Falls in Majayjay, and it was even cited by no less than Juan Álvarez Guerra and John Foreman, personages that Filipino historians should know very well. If Rizal had indeed been to Pagsanján Falls, there is no doubt that he would have written about the experience considering that the arduous trip towards the falls and shooting the rapids afterwards were an exhilarating experience.

This Zaide error may be a minor one, but the message I’m trying to convey is this: even established historians make mistakes.

When I discovered the long-lost foundation date of La Laguna Province in 2012, I was met with both praise and criticism. The criticism was due largely in part to my credentials: I have no formal training in historical research. Humorously, a group of local historians from Batangas —obviously the type of people who have nothing to do with La Laguna’s history— were the most vocal online. I told them that I am open to peer review. If established historians can make mistakes, so can ordinary people like me. Finally, I challenged my detractors that if they really think that the foundation date of my adoptive home province was erroneous, all they had to do was to write a formal antithesis to refute it. All in the spirit of scholarly debate. Should they succeed, then so be it. Congratulations. But so far —and it has been almost five years— none has dared to do so.

Even if a historian has all the primary sources at his disposal, or no matter how many TV appearances he has done, his findings or declarations are all deemed useless if he lacks the necessary reasoning or even field experience to justify them. And then of course there is also the issue of carelessness, as already demonstrated by this blogpost. In the end, it appears that the final arbiter of historical conclusions is logic, not primary sources alone.