Willie Revillamé as historian

This blogpost will surely raise some eyebrows especially among my historian friends and readers, but I have to admit that I’m a closet fan of Willie Revillamé as both TV host-comedian and philanthropist since his MTB and Wowowee days in ABS-CBN. His way with the masa (Filipino commoners) always strikes a chord in the right keys, and it’s really entertaining. I don’t want to sound like an apologist for his brand of humor (there was many a time when it got him into trouble), but it really works as he speaks the language of the streets. Through his current TV show Wowowin (actually a continuation of his gift-giving days in Wowowee and its later replacements), we get to see how such people comport and communicate among themselves on live TV. More importantly, we get to see the true face of the Filipino masses struggling every day just to survive this cruel, capitalistic world as they relate to him their true-to-life stories.

Willie’s fame, however, took a bit of a backslide when Wowowee was given the ax more than a decade ago following a highly publicized falling-out with ABS-CBN management. The show underwent a couple of iterations later on in rival stations TV5 and GMA, but all of them never got to equal the popularity of the original.

Recently, however, observers (including myself) noticed a spike in Wowowin’s TV ratings and digital media interest because of Herlene Nicole Budol, one of the show’s newest co-hosts whose claim to fame was when her videos as a Wowowin contestant became viral in both Facebook and YouTube in just a few days. That alone earned her a spot in Willie’s show early last month. Nicknamed “Hipon” (local slang for a girl with an attractive body and… well, just that 😂), the slim but statuesque 20-year-old Herlene captivated the hearts of audiences because of her bubbly, non-showbiz behavior.

Despite her sexy figure, pretty face (yes, she is pretty even if she herself doesn’t believe so), and street-smarts personality (she hails from a squatter’s area somewhere in Añgono, Rizal), there is a tinge of innocence in her that fans find so adorable. Countless TV viewers and netizens have been captivated with the show mainly because of her.

Herlene got me hooked with the show in the same manner that I got hooked with the AlDub Phenomenon a few years ago. But since I don’t watch TV anymore, I just rely on the show’s digital media team to upload highlights from each episode. I am not ashamed to say that I watch her videos almost every day as she relieves me of stress.

Yesterday’s episode really sparked my interest because in one of the show’s segments, Willie from out of the blue discussed my favorite topic: Filipino History!

Never mind if he mentioned some inaccuracies — for one, he said that EDSA’s original name was Highway 54 when in fact it used to be called Avenida 19 de Junio, named after José Rizal’s date of birth. What’s important here is that he is trying to spark interest among the masses to learn (or relearn) Filipino History, and not just to go to his show to win cash. And did anyone notice here how he acknowledged that the King of Spain during the arrival of Fernando de Magallanes to our shores was not King Felipe II but his father, Emperor Carlos V? That alone is already admirable because it’s a common misconception among millions of Filipinos that King Felipe II was the Spanish monarch when Magallanes arrived here. Strangely enough, Willie got it right. That piece of information coming from someone who is not a bookish person and is also one of the masses is something praiseworthy indeed.

And yes, there was no Hispanophobia from his brief recounting of history.

¡Mabuhay ca, Profesor Wil!

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Debunking historical hatred

I came across this ugly Facebook discussion last year.

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The clueless but hateful FB user in this screenshot besmirched our country’s Spanish past, a wondrous period in our country’s history that I have sworn to defend since I was a teenager. So here is my response to his accusations (which, in fact, is what millions of Filipinos also have in their equally clueless minds):

1) “polo y servicios” —> This actually benefited the natives more than the Spanish authorities. Aside from churches, the purpose was for public works such as roads and bridges that were meant for the natives themselves. Many of these are even still being used today. Unknown fact: those who were recruited to render polo y servicios were given a daily wage.
2) “land-grabbing” —> The Spaniards were the ones who brought here the concept of land titles in the first place. Pre-Filipino natives didn’t really own land. Most, if not all, didn’t have a permanent settlement. They moved from place to place, from forest to forest, especially when the land didn’t wield much for them anymore.
3) “demonization of local languages” —> On the contrary, the friars studied the local languages and even wrote grammar books to preserve them. There were even prayer books in the native languages.
4) “creating classes between them and us (peninsulares, insulares, indios)” —> These were for taxation purposes. Such classification still exists today: those who have higher salaries are taxed the most compared to those who earn lesser, such as the ordinary rank and file. Essentially, nothing really different then as now.
5) “guardia civil” —> They were the PNP of those days, a peace-keeping force against “tulisanes” (bandits) and other lawbreakers. Note: members of the guardias civiles were indios, not Spaniards.

Lastly, don’t treat José Rizal’s novels as if they’re history books. They aren’t. They’re fiction, written by a very young Freemason who was a huge fan of French satire.

Suggestion: if you really want to argue about Filipino History, learn Spanish and read original Spanish texts. Don’t rely on textbook history. 🙂

Did the Spaniards treat our native languages as garbage?

Last year, my friend and fellow historian José María Bonifacio Escoda (author of best-selling book Warsaw of Asia: The Rape of Manila) became viral after a Facebook post of his was deemed supposedly as anti-LGBT. He was bashed left and right because of this. But I didn’t know anything about it until last night when another friend posted an online article regarding the controversy on her FB timeline. Browsing through the article and comments, I encountered this:

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And yet he writes in Taglish. Makes you wonder who, really, is treating Tagálog like garbage.

Now this is a brash claim. The Spanish friars preserved our native languages by studying them intently and then writing grammar books about them (“Gramática de la Lengua Tagala”, “Arte de la Lengua Iloca”, “Vocabulario de la lengua Bisaya”, etc.). In fact, the real reason why we are still talking about the Baybayin today is because the Spaniards preserved it for posterity. They were the ones who first wrote about our indigenous syllabary. Furthermore, our local epics such as “Biag ni Lam-ang”, “Ibalón”, and “Hinilawod” were handed down from generation to generation only through oral tradition. But to preserve them in print, the Spanish friars wrote them down using the Spanish-alphabet-inspired Abecedario Filipino.

It was our Spanish conquerors who took all the time and trouble in preserving our native languages. It was not even for their sake. If it is true that they treated our languages as garbage, they would not have done all the scholarly investigation to preserve and conserve them, and even publish precious books about them which we now consider as prized items.

Anyway, going back to this brash claim, never in my over two decades of studying our country’s history, culture, and languages, have I encountered any book, historical document, or any other pertinent scholarly article stating that the Spanish conquistadors treated our language (but which language? we have over 170) as garbage, nor did they enforce the teaching of the Spanish language just to control us. The real reason why the Spanish language was taught to us is to inculcate easily in us Spanish culture and religion. The teaching of Spanish was clearly stated in the Law of the Indies (“Leyes de las Indias“) which governed our country, way before republican constitutions entered the scene. The sad fact remains that that law wasn’t even followed properly because of lack of teachers and because many friars refused to do so (a topic fit for another blogpost).

Hispanophobia and historical ignorance are still alive and well in Filipinas. Sadly.

Twisting the Spanish conquest

In his Inquirer column today, lawyer Joel Butuyan wrote:

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Actually, a friend of mine (Rommel López of the Knights of Columbus) alerted me to this doltishness of a declaration, prompting me to tap a deceased non-lawyer, in fact a high school dropout, to teach this “well-learned” columnist-lawyer a lesson in history. So in my Facebook account, I shared the following:

Joel Butuyan (seasoned INC lawyer) vs Nick Joaquín (Catholic high school dropout). Take your pick.

BUTUYAN: The Spanish conquest obliterated almost everything that is Asian in our people, except the color of our skin.

JOAQUÍN: This is recognized even by those who deny it, as when they assert that 1521 marked a deviation from what might have been our true history; or when they fume that we were Christianized at the cost of our “Asian” soul; or when they argue that if the Philippines had only been completely converted to Islam by the 16th century, not all the arms of the West could have turned us into “Filipinos”. Now that is absolutely true; and the argument can be extended with the observation that only, by the 16th century, the Philippines were already Buddhist, or Taoist, or Hindu, or Confucian, or Shintoist, the West would have conquered us in vain, because, being already formed by the media of the great civilizations of the East, we would be in little danger of deviating from that Asian form. What a different kind of Christian, for instance, we might have been if we had been evangelized, not by Spaniards, but by the Nestorian Christians of Asia; and what a truly “Asian” art we might have had if our first teachers in painting had been the Japanese and not the Europeans. But the office of the historian is not to relate what might have happened but to inquire why it did not — and in this case the answer is one we have been so shyly refusing to face as fact, though it stares us in the face, that it may be for the best to have it stated bluntly at last:
If it be true indeed that we were Westernized at the cost of our Asian soul, then the blame must fall, not on the West, but on Asia…
…We say we were Christianized to our cultural disaster. Do we ever ask why we were not Buddhicized, or Taoicized, or Hinduicized, or Confucianized, or Shintocized, or Islamicized, to our cultural salvation? The reason cannot have been doctrinal timidity, for the great East Asian religions produced missionaries every bit as aggressive as any Paul of Tarsus.

The foregoing rebuttal is from the late National Artist’s famous essay “Culture and History”.

By the way, the lawyer boasted that history is one of his leisure indulgences, and that writing about olden times gives him a welcome break from the toxic chore of writing about law and politics. He also boasted that one of his prized possessions as an amateur history buff is the 55-volume “Blair and Robertson”, a most sought-after compendium among students of history.

In comparison, when Nick was alive, he never declared the same: he didn’t tell anyone that history was one of his “leisure indulgences”. Neither did he boast of all the history books that he had read just to show how profound his thinking was when it comes to knowledge of history. He simply let his knowledge (with a logic to die for) do the talking. 😉

So now we have a lesson not just in history but also a lesson in humility. So yes, dear reader, take your pick.

Facebook outage: a perfect time to reflect

How soon is soon?

Facebook (together with its subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp) has been experiencing technical problems for the past several hours. Nobody knows for sure the exact reason for the outage, but it’s been trending on Twitter worldwide (makes me wonder if rival Blue Bird is enjoying the moment).

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While Facebook has experienced several outages in the past, this downtime, I think, is the worst. I first noticed it a few minutes past midnight (Manila time) because of the Twitter trends. I tried logging in, but couldn’t. Now it’s almost lunchtime as of this writing, but there’s no news yet on when things would go back to normal. And there’s no specific update from Facebook; the site only says that they “will be back soon”. It’s a wild guess if they’re doing some sort of maintenance, or if their site has really been compromised. To my observation, this is the longest outage in the history of the world’s most famous social networking service company.

I am particularly concerned with the countless photos and videos I’ve uploaded there through the years. If things go out of hand (hopefully not), then those images are gone for good. Too bad I haven’t kept any back up. But I’m sure I’m not the only one. Photo albums are fast becoming obsolete. Even CDs for that matter. All photos that are shot and videos that are recorded are immediately uploaded and shared to various online platforms, with Facebook and YouTube in the lead. In today’s digital reality, where everything has to be higher, further, faster (with apologies to Carol Danvers), what’s the need for photo albums and CDs?

And then there’s instant messaging, particularly Facebook Messenger. Not too long ago, emails have rivaled snail mail. Today, Facebook Messenger and other similar messaging apps provided the death blow to conventional postal delivery. While some post offices still exist, they are there mainly because of the actions of heritage activist groups who fight not only for the conservation of built heritage but also for love of nostalgia.

Online platforms, or the Internet for that matter, have become a boon for many. It has made life easier, comfortable, and even entertaining. It has connected people and businesses in a way that has never been imagined a century ago. We might even say that it has become an integral part of our daily lives to the point that we can no longer live without Internet connection (I could just imagine how stressed out many people are today because of this #FacebookDown problem). But while all this can be considered a blessing, it has become a curse to some. Including myself.

I guess I have to confess this now: I’ve been suffering from Internet addiction disorder for several months already. No psychiatrist has confirmed this to me, but I’ve been doing some research on my own. The symptoms are there: lack of sleep (on top of years of working the night shift), complex regional pain syndrome, and compulsive Internet use to the point that I could no longer enjoy a book like I used to. I couldn’t even finish reading online articles. Halfway through an article, I click on another link. Upon going home, I’d rather watch an online video rather than read or write. My attention span has become short. There is always the impulse to go online.

I do understand that there is still an inconsistent definition of the said disorder mainly because many people today really had to be online due to various legitimate reasons: business, communication exchange, etc. But I am my own mind and body. I know when there’s something wrong with me or not.

I know what’s wrong with me, but I have yet to find a cure for it. So far, the only thing I could think of is a ten-letter word that begins with a D and ends with an E, something Filipinos are notorious for having the lack of it.

Today’s Facebook outage is a good time to reflect on how we use and abuse our Internet connectivity. May we all experience an outage of Internet impulsiveness within ourselves from time to time.

Remembering Stan Lee and his “Soapbox”

The Punisher is my favorite character from Stan Lee’s astonishing Marvel Comics universe. I remember those days when I scrimped on my allowance, saving every coin to buy copies of various Punisher titles that used to come out per month.

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Those were the 90s, a time when physical simplicity and digital complexity were at the crossroads. During those happy days, when sociability was not yet confined to an android, Stan Lee maintained a column in each Marvel comic book. Titled “Stan’s Soapbox”, he gave us fans a glimpse of the ins and outs of Marvel Comics’ exciting plans for the future as well as other happenings in connection to Marvel’s creative crew that had a cult following of their own (the tandem of Chuck Dixon and John Romita Jr. was my favorite). At a time when social media was still a fevered dream, Stan Lee and his happy caboodle were our go-to-guys regarding all sorts of geekery. But from time to time, Stan Lee used his column as a platform to air his views about almost anything, some of which were controversial, nevertheless just.

Even through print, he engaged fans as if he was your friendly neighborhood grandfather that you could tell your problems to. Whenever I read him, I tried to imagine the kind of voice that he might had; years later, when he started appearing in cameos for various Marvel films, I was astonished to find out that the way I had imagined his voice would be came out quite accurately! And his grandfatherly voice as well as his gentle features perfectly fit the way he wrote: jolly and lively. There was many a time when I looked forward to his soapbox with as much excitement as I had towards the pulse-pounding storylines contained in The Punisher titles. His column also introduced me to the wider Marvel Universe, beyond the blood and bullets of The Punisher.

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Marvel trading card released in 1990 by Impel Marketing, Inc. This particular card was my first introduction to who Stan Lee was.

And do I really have to describe his language, his style of writing? The adjectives preceding some of Marvel’s iconic titles (AMAZING Spider-Man, UNCANNY X-Men, INCREDIBLE Hulk) may well be regarded as apposite laurels to his astounding talent and infinite well of imagination. His column, even though meant simply to inform readers about the goings-on in Marvel’s “House of Ideas”, is written in beautifully sculpted language. It is always an exalting experience for me whenever I read it. For a non-native English speaker, it was a challenge skimming through Stan Lee’s vast array of colorful vocabulary. It was simply impossible not to have a dictionary at hand when tackling his soapbox. But it was to my advantage: little did I know that it was to be my “training ground” as I was able to ace my English composition and grammar lessons at school.

Photograb from Anthony Oliveira.

Whenever Stan Lee wrote, he soared not like his caped heroes but like Shakespeare and Byron exposed to (red alert: Marvel jargon up ahead!) Terrigen Mists.

If you opine that my English is noteworthy, don’t. I am not an exceptional scribbler; whatever worth that I have as a writer, I simply got from years of reading Stan Lee. And yes, he was a major factor as to why I have come to love reading and writing. The best part of this all is that Stan Lee and Marvel Comics inadvertently led me to the world of English Literature.

Photograb from The Geeksverse.

I am so devastated at his passing. I’ve always thought he’d reach up to a hundred. He will be dearly missed.

Excelsior to infinity and beyond! ‘Nuff said…

Foundation date of Lucena City: when was it, really?

Although I’ve known about it for sometime, it was only two years ago when I started to seriously explore the Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES) or the Spanish Archives website, an online project of Spain’s Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports whose aim is to disseminate the former empire’s historical documentation heritage in which our country is a part of. I randomly searched for digitized archival documents of various towns, especially those that have become a part of my life. And since I was born in Lucena, it is no longer a question for me to explore PARES in search of anything interesting that might come up from my place of birth.

Surprisingly, there was (I used surprisingly here because there are still many towns whose archival history has not yet been uploaded on the website). With the right key words, I stumbled upon a 65-page bundle of documents titled Sobre erección en pueblo civil independiente de su matriz Tayabas en el nombre de “Lucena” which roughly translates to the history of how today’s Lucena City was established as an independent civil town from its mother town Tayabas.

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As a former member of the Quezon Province Heritage Council (QPHC), I thought it best to notify the other members regarding the find. This I did by uploading the digitized documents to my Facebook wall, then tagging the other members whom I personally know so that they would be able to access them. They did acknowledge the find, but it was lukewarm. Back then, it appeared that the digitized documents were of no importance to them. This all happened in late 2016.

But a few months later, or early in 2017, Vladimir Nieto, another member of the QPHC who is also president of the Konseho ng Herencia ng Lucena (KHL) or Lucena Heritage Council, discovered those documents that I uploaded through mutual friends. We started communicating. Little did I know that there was some controversy going on regarding the foundation date of my place of birth.

Lucena City has been celebrating its foundation date every August 20th. The observance is glaringly incorrect because that date serves as Lucena’s cityhood (it became one in 1961). Others contend that the city’s true foundation date is 1 June 1882 without any strong basis. But through some old books, KHL already had an idea that the city’s true foundation date is 3 November 1879. The only problem is that they still had to find the archival documents to prove their claim.

After months of online communication with the KHL, the latter decided to hold a modest program on 3 November 2017, on the exact same date when Lucena was founded as a town. I was invited to deliver a speech at Pacific Mall to explain the importance of these digitized documents that I discovered from PARES. During my speech (attended by students, educators, heritage advocates, local media, and government officials of Lucena), I reminded everyone that, although a modest affair, that day was a historic one because we were commemorating for the first time the city’s true foundation date. And we have the documents to prove it. The only question that still remains is this: when will the city government of Lucena accept and recognize this historical fact?

This is the second time that this serendipity game happened between me and Filipino History. The first time was in 2012 when I was commissioned to research and write on the history of La Laguna Province. The discovery of the date was somehow accidental while I was nonchalantly browsing through my collection of rare Filipiniana, hoping to find early events that might have any mention of the province. I wasn’t even looking for the province’s foundation date. But I stumbled upon it (sadly, the project has since been aborted).

Going back to Lucena’s foundation date. The documents that I have uploaded on Facebook were just 15 pages. But those were incomplete. As mentioned earlier, the digitized bundle comprises 65 pages. I was supposed to translate everything from Spanish to English to present our case to the Provincial Government of Tayabas (renamed Quezon in 1946, a move that I resent) and even promised to blog about it the soonest. Unfortunately, my health was already failing during that time, ultimately leading to tuberculosis and pneumonia a month later. After being released from the hospital, I spent the next couple of months regaining my health back. It’s just now that I’m slowly getting the hang of it, and given a small luxury of time to write about this event. I cannot let it pass right now especially since today is the anniversary of Lucena’s foundation.

Yes, I do confirm that the correct foundation date for Lucena City is 3 November 1879, not 1 June 1882, and certainly not 20 August 1961. It’s high time that the Provincial Government of Tayabas correct this. So without further ado, I present for the first time —and with profuse thanks to PARES’s gracious efforts— the complete digitized documents establishing the facts behind the creation of the town of Lucena as a separate and independent town. Click here to view them.

¡Feliz fiesta a mi ciudad de nacimiento! 😇 ¡A Dios sea toda la gloria y la honra!