Today in Filipino History: The Battle of Tirad Pass

TODAY IN FILIPINO HISTORY — 2 December 1899: The Battle of Tirad Pass took place, almost wiping out all the troops under General Gregorio del Pilar who himself perished in the said battle. Eight out of sixty Filipinos survived the ordeal while only two out of more than three hundred US WASP invaders were killed in the lopsided battle.

GREGORIO DEL PILAR

One of General Goyo’s men saw him killed instantly by a sniper’s bullet — but that was due to his carelessness!

“If the ancient Greeks had their valiant King Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae, Filipinos have their General Gregorio del Pilar and the Battle of Tirad Pass,” wrote historian Jesús C. Guzon in the book “Eminent Filipinos” published by the National Historical Commission (now the National Historical Commission of the Philippines) in 1965. But with regard to his comparison of King Leonidas to the boy general, National Artist for Literature and historian extraordinaire Nick Joaquín wrote the following in his controversial “A Question of Heroes“:

“The wrong thing to do about Tirad Pass is invoke Leonidas and Thermopylae, because we would be invoking to our hurt another people fatally flawed with the inability to unite and organize. Besides, the parallel with Leonidas, king of the Spartans, is neither exact nor flattering: it was not Aguinaldo who fell at Tirad. Moreover, the annals of war show that in mountain warfare, especially in actions on a mountain pass, the advantage is with the defender, not the invader, and victory must be expected from the defender.”

Nick went on by citing several other historic mountain battles that happened in other parts of the globe. And he showed that in all those mountain battles, it was the defenders who always won. There was this particular case, for instance, that happened in World War II when the British took two years to dislodge the Japanese army from the mountains of Burma.

“But Tirad Pass was taken in six hours.

“There were, you will say, only 60 men to defend it. Precisely. And that was the stupidity. Our improvidence always forces us in the end to improvise, when it’s too late even to improvise. We will not plan ahead, we will just muddle through, and then at the last hour we send men to die for our blunders, our lack of foresight. If there were any justice, it’s Aguinaldo, it’s Mabini, who should have perished on Tirad. But so that Aguinaldo can flee in futile flight, 60 men are sent to pay with their lives for the monstrous botch he has made of the Revolution. And now we read Tirad as a symbol of heroism, not stupidity.

“A few more Tirads and we’ll be the most heroic people in extinction.”

PASO DE TIRAD

Tirad Pass: Thermopylae it is not.

And according to the diary of Telésforo Carrasco, a Spaniard enlisted in President Emilio Aguinaldo’s runaway army, the boy general, who in stories was said to have died heroically and fighting to the last bullet, died due to his own carelessness:

“At dawn we saw the enemy climbing the slope and moments later the firing began in the first entrenchment, which was under Lieutenant Braulio. At around nine in the morning two Igorots climbed to the peak and told the general that the Americans had suffered losses at the first entrenchment and could not advance. Heartened by the news, the general decided that we were to descend in his company and take part in the combat.

“This we did and an hour later found ourselves where nine soldiers were defending the left flank of the mountain in the second entrenchment. Hardly had we got there when we saw the Americans climbing up, only fifteen meters away, whereupon the soldiers started firing again.

“The general could not see the enemy because of the cogon grass and he ordered a halt to the firing. At that moment I was handling him a carbine and warning him that the Americans were directing their fire at him and that he should crouch down because his life was in danger — and that moment he was hit by a bullet in the neck that caused instant death.”

But this stupidity described by Nick was just the tip of the iceberg. He went on to say that Goyo del Pilar was actually one of Aguinaldo’s high-ranking hatchetmen. Murdered under General Goyo’s helm were the allies of the fallen General Antonio Luna such as the Bernal Brothers (Manuel and José). And some of Luna’s staff were harassed, tortured, and ordered arrested.

I wonder most of the time what the word heroism really means in this country. Marami tayong mga bayani na hindí namán dapat tinítiñgalà. What should be the attributes of a true national hero? But to be fair, while it can be said that Goyo del Pilar started out as villainous —if the hatchetman tag was indeed true—, we might as well still regard him as a hero for standing his ground against the US WASP invaders, even if the circumstances surrounding his death and his army’s loss were limned with “stupidity” (to borrow Nick’s description).

As an ardent observer of Filipino History, there is one shocking fact that I have learned: countless villains in this country are regarded as heroes, and the integrity of the true heroes of the nation is perpetually besmirched. This will not stop until we have freed ourselves from the fetters of neocolonialism and the blind Hispanophobic rage that we have against our glorious past.

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What makes a hero?

Many years ago, while rummaging through costly books in one popular bookstore, I found for the first time Dr. Onofre Córpuz’s famous work, “The Roots of the Filipino Nation”. I didn’t have money then, so I just leafed through the pages. On page 223 (of volume II), I found a commentary of his about the “Kataas-taasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng̃ mg̃á Anak ng̃ Bayan“, popularly known as the Katipunan. On that page, Córpuz wrote that this time-honored “revolutionary group” was “the first active embodiment of the Christian Filipino nation”.

During that time, I had just reconverted to the Catholic Church (after a couple of years toying around with godlessness and other “isms”). My zeal back then towards the faith of my forefathers was freshly strong, and so I immediately sensed —with much chagrin— that there was something disturbingly wrong with Dr. Córpuz’s assertion. I asked myself, how could someone like him, a giant in the academe, had written something as incomprehensible as the Katipunan embodying a Christian nation when that group was an offshoot of Freemasonry? As many Dan-Brown-educated kids should know by now, Freemasonry is the ancient enemy of the Church. As a Christian student of history, I was deeply intrigued toward the extent of the late Dr. Córpuz’s knowledge about the role of Freemasonry during those tumultuous final years of our country’s history under Spain. But was Dr. Córpuz really unaware of the Katipunan’s Masonic roots as well as its motives? I find it hard to believe that. Or did he leave that fact out conveniently because he was a Freemason himself, or perhaps its sympathizer? But if he was, wouldn’t it still be ridiculous for a Mason like him to say that a violent group who tortured and chopped off the heads of friars just because they were Spaniards embodied the Christian Filipino nation?

To those who are still unaware, Freemasonry has been condemned numerous times by the Catholic Church. To my knowledge, there had been at least 24 papal pronouncements regarding this matter (perhaps the most famous was Pope Leo XIII’s papal encyclical  “Humanum Genus” which was released in 1884). As one of the best academicians our country ever had, it strikes me as odd as to why Dr. Córpuz had failed to emphasize the Masonic origins of the Katipunan in that controversial conclusion of his. A little research will show that the Katipunan’s third and final Supremo, Andrés Bonifacio (you read that right: he wasn’t the first), joined the Logia Taliba (No. 165) and from there imbibed his radical and anti-friar ideas. Bonifacio also joined Rizal’s Liga Filipina in 1892. The group was in fact a Masonic lodge in the making (or was it already?). These organizations, not to mention their members, were hardly Christian at all, if we are to view them from Catholic lenses.

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After the failure of the Liga Filipina and the arrest and deportation of Rizal to Dapitan, the campaign for peaceful reforms had hit the glass ceiling. Thus, an agitated and disenchanted Marcelo H. del Pilar, himself a high-ranking Mason and a rabid propagandista who had been on self-exile in Spain for years, wrote to his brother-in-law Deodato Arellano and urged the latter to form a much more radical and violent group to finally end Spain’s reign in Filipinas. Arellano thus gathered other members of the beleaguered Liga to form the Katipunan (yes, it was Arellano, and not Bonifacio, who founded the Katipunan as instigated by del Pilar).

When government forces discovered the existence of the Katipunan in late 1896, what happened next was bloodshed and the senseless killing and torture of innocent Spanish friars and other individuals who went against the Katipuneros’ way. Did ordinary civilians welcome the “revolution” participated in mostly by Tagálogs? No they didn’t. For most Filipinos living far from where the action was, life went on. There was no national sentiment that supported the Katipunan rebellion against Spain (see “One Woman’s Liberating: The Life and Career of Estefanía Aldaba-Lim” by Nick Joaquín).

It should be noted in the preceding paragraph that the Katipunan was discovered by accident. Keep in mind that it was an underground organization. Simply put, the Katipunan was an ILLEGAL ASSOCIATION no matter how hard one tries to paint it with dainty colors of patriotism and love of country. One might say that it had lofty ideals of freedom and nationhood, thus excusing it from illegalities. But so does the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf who try to picture themselves as the martyrs of their delusional Bangsamoro. Should we consider them heroes too?

Mimicking the Katipunan’s belligerence towards lawful society, Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV and his Samahang Magdalo did the same thing twice in the past against the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Should we, therefore, erect monuments to Trillanes as well and consider his rebellious friends as the new Katipuneros? After all, they fought corruption and injustice, didn’t they?

Seeing now that the Katipunan was a bastard child of Freemasonry, the ancient enemy of the Christian religion, how in the world did Dr. Córpuz come up with the idea that the Katipunan was the first active embodiment of the Christian Filipino nation? The Katipuneros made incisions on their arms to sign membership papers using their own blood. They swore loyalty to the Katipunan in front of a human skull. They swore to kill even members of their families for the sake of the Katipunan’s secrecy. Where is Christianity in all that?

This is not to say that Bonifacio was an evil man; only God can judge whether he was or not in spite of the many friars he had shamed and ordered tortured and killed, and churches burned and desecrated. Going beyond the rebellion, we will never know much about his character for he was not as chronicled as Rizal. For all we know, Bonifacio could have been a virtuous man. But that is not the point. Whatever personal distinction he may have had was not the reason why we now have several monuments for him, nor was it the reason why we commemorate his birthday every November 30th.

On 16 February 1921, the Philippine Legislature, under the auspices of US Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison, enacted Act No. 2946 making November 30 of each year a legal holiday to commemorate the birth of Bonifacio. The holiday has since been known as Bonifacio Day, ultimately making the Katipunan a Filipino national hero.

But in view of the foregoing Masonic events surrounding Bonifacio and the Katipunan, especially from the lens of a Christian observer, should a Catholic still consider him a hero?

It is, of course, difficult to accept that Bonifacio should be removed from our pantheon of heroes. After all, we’ve been hearing about him even before we started going to school (I still remember clearly how my dear paternal grandmother —may she rest in peace— was teaching me how to recite that “Andrés Bonifacio / hatapang hatáo” mock poem when I was around three years old so that it would evoke in her a hearty laugh!). But isn’t it about time that we all start to think on our own instead of relying on years of spoon-fed artificial food? You will say, of course, that the Katipunan was formed as a reaction towards Spanish tyranny. But what tyranny to be exact? I’ve been hearing about this tyranny all my life yet no one could still point out accurately what exactly it was all about. What’s always been taught to us are hazy and hasty generalizations. Is there tyranny in the towns that Spain created for us? Was Spain tyrannical when it shipped to our country countless items (tomato, calendar, piano, wheat, books, polo, pantalón, chico, bougainvillea, violin, watermelon, guava, printing press, etc.) and concepts (chivalry, palabra de honor, philosophy, law, land ownership, Western art, age/birthday, Christianity, etc) that have made us what we are today — as Filipinos? We adore old mementos from our past (bahay na bató, traditions, etc.) and decry their dwindling number and alarming disappearance. But such mementos were from the hated Spanish period. So why bother saving and conserving them if they all come from such a tyrannical era?

We all miss our grandfathers who used to bring us to Church on Sundays and carry us on their shoulders so that we’d be able to see saints’ processions from right above a thick crowd; we all miss our grandmothers who never tire praying the rosary day and night. All these are vestiges from that tyrannical period. Why bother missing them at all?

Spain virtually created this country. We wouldn’t be having Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo today if not for Spain. What kind of tyranny is that? Numerous tribes (the politically correct will tell me it should be called ethnolinguistic instead) such as the Tagálogs, the Visayans, the Bicolanos, etc. were united under one language (Spanish), under one government, under one faith (Roman Catholicism) so as to keep us one, so that we will no longer be at war against each other. We were given schools (escuelas pías, Universidad de Santo Tomás, etc.). Pray, tell, where is the tyranny in that?

This is not to say that all Spanish officials and even friars during the Empire days were all good and just. No, of course not. But that is not the point. The point here is what untold promises did Freemasonry inspire upon Rizal and del Pilar to rebel, and for Bonifacio and his band of Katipuneros to rise against civil society. “For the sake of freedom”, is the usual answer. But what freedom did violence bring? No wonder the late Fidel Castro was both hated and loved by his people. The support for and against him is heavily polarized to this day.

We have had so much distrust towards our government. From Ferdinand Marcos all the way to President Rodrigo Duterte. Shouldn’t we all follow the Katipuneros of old and organize stealth groups to undermine the present government, all for the sake of freedom?

If I will use the hashtag #NotAHero, it would be appropriate to attach it to that Masonically misled man from Tondo whose birthday we methodically commemorate today, because instead of thinking something that would have truly helped and uplifted the lives of the unfortunate Filipino masses of his time —by establishing something such as the Kadiwa Public Market, for instance— Bonifacio brought instead bloodshed which led not only to his own death but also to the downfall of what Spain had strongly forged for more than three centuries.

And if I may add: no, he was not our country’s first president. Don’t even start with me.

So what makes a hero? ¿Mag-rebelde ca lang, bayani ca na caagád? At capág nasa poder ca at nilabanan mo ang isáng rebelión, ¿masamá ca ná?

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Sa loób ng Maynilà (Intramuros)

“In October, a breath of the north stirs Manila, blowing summer’s dust and doves from the tile roofs, freshening the moss of old walls, as the city festoons itself with arches and paper lanterns for its great votive feast to the Virgin. Women hurrying into their finery upstairs, bewhiskered men tapping impatient canes downstairs, children teeming in the doorways, coachmen holding eager ponies in the gay streets, glance up anxiously, fearing the wind’s chill: would it rain this year? (But the eyes that, long ago, had gazed up anxiously, invoking the Virgin, had feared a grimmer rain—of fire and metal; for pirate craft crowded the horizon.) The bells begin to peal again and sound like silver coins showering in the fine air; at the rumor of drums and trumpets as bands march smartly down the cobblestones, a pang of childhood happiness smites every heart. October in Manila! But the emotion, so special to one’s childhood, seems no longer purely one’s own; seems to have traveled ahead, deep into time, since one first felt its pang; growing ever more poignant, more complex—a child’s rhyme swelling epical; a clan treasure one bequeaths at the very moment of inheritance, having added one’s gem to it. And time creates unexpected destinations, history raises figs from thistles: yesterday’s pirates become today’s roast pork and paper lanterns, a tapping of impatient canes, a clamor of trumpets…”

–NICK JOAQUÍN, (Guardia de Honor)–

¡Manila de mis amores!

Exactly 10 years ago today, my wife and I did an unconventional visita iglesia within the historic walls of Intramuros, “the original Manila”. Unconventional because more than half of those churches are gone, and the visita iglesia was done in October. Seven were the original churches of the Walled City. But only two are left; one just got reconstructed but will serve only as an ecclesiastical museum.

I revisited those churches again last October 20, a Sunday. Of course I’m a frequent visitor to Intramuros but during those ten years that my wife and I did that rather odd visita iglesia, I didn’t have time to revisit the old sites of those long-gone churches. There were several changes already: new street signs with information cards, cleaners streets, more tourists, etc. Unlike a decade before, the weather that Sunday was hot, as if it was summer (climate change?). I brought along with me again my copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s highly informative Intramuros (published in 1988), edited by the late great National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquín.

Nick was a true-blooded Manileño born and bred. He had witnessed so much about the final living years of Spanish Intramuros. In fact, it was part of his childhood and growing up years. Most of Nick’s works are a fine testament of how the Filipinos, particularly the Manileños within and without the Walled City, lived and breathed their every day Intramuros lives. And if I only had my way, I will revive everything that used to be in the original capital city. Because that’s simply the way it should be. Period. No amount of restoration will bring back Intramuros’ old glory as long as squatters are allowed to live within the Walled City, as long as Dick Gordon’s shameful and hispanophobic Light and Sound Museum continues to exist, and as long as the four of the original seven churches aren’t brought back by the Intramuros Administration, the local Catholic Church, and the national government in general. In the words of Nick, “Intramuros was a collective high altar formed by its churches.”

“And from childhood no amount of familiarity could dull for me the mysterious wondrousness of Intramuros as the very vitals, the hid heart, the secret soul of my city. Every going into it was a penetration — and in there, for a Manileño, it was always like coming home. He was back to his original, essential, eternal island. He was back to roots. Sa loob ng Maynila.”

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Entering the original Manila through Puerta Victoria.

Seven were the churches of Intramuros. Let’s re-enact the itinerary. Entering through Victoria Gate and going up Solana, you reached San Francisco, which was a double church, for beside the main one (its creamy pillared façade rose five stories high) was the V.O.T., the chapel of the Franciscan third order, where was venerated a crowned St. Louis robed in ermine.

1. THE SAN FRANCISCO CHURCH AND CONVENT & CHAPEL OF THE FRANCISCAN VENERABLE THIRD ORDER

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Iglesia de San Francisco de Asís y Capilla de la Venerable Orden Tercera (source: The Urban Roamer).

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St. Rita’s Chapel inside the Mapúa University now stands on the very site where the Chapel of the Franciscan Venerable Third Order used to be.

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Mapúa University (formerly known as Mapúa Institute of Technology) now occupies the site of the Chapel of the Franciscan Venerable Third Order and the San Francisco Church and Convent.

At the end of Solana was Santo Domingo, magnificently gothic and rose-colored, with a side portal opening out to the Plaza de Santo Tomás.

2. SANTO DOMINGO CHURCH AND CONVENT

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Iglesia de Santo Domingo de Guzmán (source: Nostalgia Filipinas).

 

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The Bank of the Philippine Islands now occupies the former site of Santo Domingo Church. The new church is now in Quezon City.

Crossing this plaza and passing the university, you came upon the Cathedral, which had wide porches instead of a patio, iron-grille balustrades and, just inside the entrance, a small bronze statue of a seated St. Peter whose toes had been worn smooth by the kisses of the faithful.

3. MINOR BASILICA OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION (THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL OF MANILA)

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Basílica Menor y Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción (source: Salvador Pérez).

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The Manila Cathedral is actually a Roman Catholic Minor Basilica, the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Manila. As such, it is the mother of all Filipino churches. The throne of the Archbishop of Manila is inside this centuries-old holy edifice.

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The cathedral’s tympanum has a Latin inscription dedicated to the Virgin Mary: “Tibi cordi tuo immaculato concredimus nos ac consecramus“. It means “We consecrate to your immaculate heart and entrust to you for safekeeping”.

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Past the Cathedral, a left turn at Calle Arzobispo brought you to San Ignacio, wedged between the Ateneo and the episcopal palace; very high iron grilling enclosing the narrow court that formed a portico to this red-brick church, also known as Jesuitas.

4. SAN IGNACIO CHURCH

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Iglesia de San Ignacio de Loyola (source: Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon).

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The recently reconstructed Church of San Ignacio de Loyola is now an ecclesiastical museum known as Museo de Intramuros. The last time I was here (2013, with my family), this church was still in ruins, but preparations for the construction were already taking place.

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The reconstructed church / museum now houses ecclesiastical masterpieces such as paintings and images as well as other church antiquaries from across the archipelago.

At the end of Arzobispo was San Agustín, with its double convent: the main monastery beside the church and the separate business quarters (or procuration) adjoining the Ateneo.

5. SAN AGUSTÍN CHURCH AND CONVENT

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Iglesia de San Agustín de Hipona (source: John Tewell).

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San Agustín Church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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This church is a very popular wedding venue.

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San Agustín de Hipona.

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Majestic!

Going down Calle General Luna and turning left at Calle Escuela, you found yourself at the Recollects’ Iglesia de San Nicolás, least visible of the Intramuros shrines, and with a cobbled patio in front and along one side.

6. SAN NICOLÁS DE TOLENTINO CHURCH AND CONVENT

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Iglesia de San Nicolás de Tolentino (source: Nostalgia Filipinas).

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Manila Bulletin now stands on the ground where the San Nicolás de Tolentino Church and Convent once reigned supreme.

Turning right on Recoletos and doubling back on General Luna, you reached Lourdes Church, or Capuchinos, youngest of the Walled City’s temples. with a painting of the Virgin on its façade.

7. LOURDES CHURCH AND CONVENT

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Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes (source: Apostles Filipino Catholic Community).

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Silahis Arts and Crafts and the Ilustrado Restaurant, both located in Amanecer Compoun, now occupy the former site of the Lourdes Church and Convent. The new church is now in Quezon City.

“What alone survives of the old churches, San Agustín, looks extremely lonely without the busy company it had enjoyed for ages sa loob ng Maynila. And San Agustín has practically given up the public celebration of its old fiestas. St. Rita is no longer borne in procession on a float of Maytime roses; and the Virgin of Consolation no longer rides her silver carroza through the streets of Intramuros on the second Sunday of September — a cult commemorated in Fernando Zóbel’s Carroza. To repeat, Intramuros was the conjunto, of all its traditional temples; without its other colleagues, even the Cathedral and San Agustín are merely crown jewels without a crown. “Maybe a revival of piety (using the term in its Latin sense) will in the future inspire the return to Intramuros of all its former churches, chapels, convents and beaterios. Only then will Intramuros be really “restored” — when again it has a San Francisco with its Tuesdays of St. Anthony; a Santa Clara with its unseen choir of vestals; a Lourdes with its Saturday girl crowds; a Santa Isabel with its shrine of the Santo Cristo; a Recoletos with its Friday pilgrims and December feria de Santa Lucía; a San Ignacio with its fashionable confessionals; an Ateneo and a Santo Tomás back on original ground; a Santa Catalina and Beaterio and Santa Rosa come home again; a San Agustín resuming its public ceremonials; a Cathedral restoring the votive function of St. Andrew the Apostle as patron of the Noble and Ever Loyal; and a Santo Domingo again celebrating La Naval de Manila in old Manila. “Only then will Manileños again have a high altar round which they can gather as a coherent community — sa loob ng Maynila.”
–NICK JOAQUÍN–

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Want to ace English? Then learn Spanish

I found this textual meme in the Facebook group Oficialización del Español en Filipinas (Officialization of the Spanish Language in Filipinas). It compares the various inflections of the English verb do to that of its Spanish counterpart hacer. As you can see, the verb forms in English are not as numerously expressive compared to their Spanish versions.
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This is just one example why learning English is a piece of cake among native Spanish speakers. Picture this…
José Rizal, a native Spanish speaker, taught himself English. And he aced it.
Manuel L. Quezon, a native Spanish speaker, learned English in only about three weeks. He learned it on a steamship while traveling to the United States for the first time.
Claro M. Recto, a native Spanish speaker, mastered English in only three months.
The first Filipino short-story in the English language was written by a native Spanish speaker, Paz Márquez de Benítez of Lucena, Tayabas (where I was also born). That story, “Dead Stars”, was composed during the early years of US occupation. And when you read her story, its masterful language will make you stop and think how today’s Filipino fiction in English pales in comparison to hers. And to think that we’ve been learning English for more than a century while the English of Benítez’s era was still quite young.
José García Villa, our first National Artist in Literature who is also considered as one of the finest (if not indeed the finest) our country has ever produced when it comes to poetry, was another native Spanish speaker. He was highly acclaimed by critics not just here but also those in the United States.
And of course, there’s the one and only Nick Joaquín, the greatest Filipino writer in the English language, hands down. And, you guessed it, he was also a native Spanish speaker. A fact not known to many.
Why is this so? Because Spanish and English are both cognates. They have so many words that are similar or even identical. In layman’s terms, Spanish and English are “cousins”.
It is no wonder why our grandparents and great grandparents who received good education during the US occupation of our country spoke and wrote better English than us. And that is also why most of our literary greats in the English language (Joaquín, Villa, N.V.M. González, Trinidad Tarrosa, Paz M. Latorena, etc.) usually come from that epoch when Spanish was still the language.
Had we allowed the teaching of the Spanish language to continue in our curriculum, and had our government supported its usage, we would all be writing and speaking English much better than our North Américan invaders.

From excited foreword to grateful afterthought

A couple of years back, I excitedly announced in my now defunct Spanish blog that I was chosen to write for a coffee table book about the history of La Laguna Province. After almost two years of sleepless nights writing and doing field research, promoting it on social media, incurring trouble at the office because of several absences and tardiness, and capped by a press release on my accidental discovery of the province’s foundation date as well as defending it from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ “board of academic censors”, nothing came out of the said project. The publisher and I had a falling out while the provincial governor who was supposed to fund the project was  unceremoniously booted out from politics. That book was supposed to be my big break to become a well-known writer-historian. But it seems that bad luck is an unwanted twin of mine. Whenever my dreams are within arm’s reach, they start slipping right from my hands and crash down to the floor like fine chandelier.

When publication was nearing, I had my mentor, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, write the book’s foreword. I couldn’t think of nor imagine anyone else to write one for me. He is, after all, the epitome of an authentic Renaissance Man: a journalist, historian, poet, playwright, fictionist, linguist, folklorist, cartoonist, recording artist, and Spanish language teacher as well as instructor of Spanish dances (considered as the only “maestro de flamenco” of Filipinas). Few people may know this, but he is also a polyglot: aside from his mastery of Spanish, Hiligaynón, Quinaráy-a, English, and Tagálog, he also has a working knowledge of Chabacano Zamboangueño, Cavitén (Chabacano Caviteño), French, Hokkien, Cebuano, and Portuguese. In spite of his personal problems and health issues, he still manages to continue the difficult fight for the recognition of our true national identity. A great man like Don Guimò only comes once every one hundred years. That is why I call him as the GREATEST FILIPINO alive today.

La imagen puede contener: Pepe Alas y Guillermo Gómez Rivera, personas sonriendo, selfie

Unfortunately, my coffee table book will no longer see the light of day. So I thought of just publishing here Don Guimo’s foreword for that book. I am not a decorated writer nor historian, but his words for me are worth all the medals of the world.

     Having known José Mario “Pepe” Alas since his college student days at Adamson University, we never expected him to be capable of writing a history book with such serene impartiality and with the taught discipline of a seasoned historian. And more so the complex history of La Laguna, a province that means so much to the development of this country. We always thought that only a Nick Joaquín would be able to do that considering the uniqueness and the vastness of the latter’s accumulated knowledge and profound understanding of Philippine history, the Spanish language, the Filipino national identity, and the Filipino culture that encompasses all these intellectual disciplines.

     But Pepe has somehow been able to acquire the necessary conocimientos which is more than knowledge, to grasp and reproduce what is Filipino. He did take for granted, as is the case of many Filipino college students, his Spanish language subjects at Adamson University, but after he graduated and was faced with the challenges of survival, he accepted the casual job of a typist and was given the assignment to type a whole book in Spanish on the history of the Primera República de Filipinas, a thick compilation of documents, with their respective comments, by Spanish language academician, novelist, historian, and professor, Antonio M. Abad from Barili, Cebú.

     Although we know that this is not the only book in Spanish that he was forced to read, because he had to type it, Pepe must have had read some other books in Spanish on what is Filipino aside from those available in English. To our surprise, Pepe could speak to us in Spanish about Philippine History after going through this old Abad book and the other books, works, and literary pieces in this language that were found in our library.

    As an old teacher of the Spanish language, we know that the student, to acquire this language, needs to master four basic skills: the skill to read it, the skill to understand it, the skill to write in it, and, later, the final skill to speak it. And Pepe Alas from Parañaque City had sufficiently mastered the four enumerated skills. To top it all, he also mastered to a high degree the literary, historical, and cultural content of Spanish in the Philippines which, as a culmination, has formed his firm conviction as a Filipino, free from the current maladies of a colonial mentality vis-à-vis the present colonial master lording it over our country.  In short, Pepe is no longer a stranger in his own country which is expectedly miseducated, therefore ignorant of its true culture and true history. Pepe has freed himself from these maladies and anomalies of the mind and soul, and, because of this newfound freedom of his mind and his soul, he now loves his country in a much deeper way than most other Filipinos of his generation ever did or do.

     As he advanced in the field of employment, he settled in San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna, with his wife and children and immediately identified himself as a native born lagunense interested in the history and prosperity of his adoptive province. From there, he realized that he had a new world to know and write about which is La Laguna. His research on the history of his adoptive province led him to discover the real founding date of La Laguna. He went through all the old and pertinent Spanish documents with great ease and discovered that La Laguna started as a Spanish encomienda under conquistador Martín de Goití in the sixteenth century.

     What is funny, if not something to be highly indignant about, is that the government office that supposedly works on the history of this country flatly denied and rejected this discovery because of an old U.S. WASP induced prejudice against the Spanish encomienda. Some employees in that government office on history had this prejudice against the encomienda because of the falsities taught to them in their history classes by an Americanized history teacher that never learned to see through the 1900 American sectarian propaganda against what is Spanish and Filipino in these islands. These de-Filipinized elements wrongly labeled an encomienda as a system of slavery and oppression when it is in the encomienda that our native Indio forefathers learned not only the predominant religion of Filipinos today but also learned a more advanced system of agriculture, a sophisticated cuisine, basic arts and trade, and all that a people needed to later form a pueblo and a municipio as we know them today.

     But the La Laguna Provincial Board, being open minded, quickly saw that this Alas discovery was logical and, therefore, correct. It eventually approved and recognized the date of the founding of La Laguna as a Spanish encomienda to be also the beginning of the legal entity that is this province today. An Inquirer article called Pepe an achiever who, as a young historian, discovered what others blindly ignored for so long. Kudos to the provincial governor and the La Laguna Provincial Board!

     Reading Pepe’s general history of La Laguna is a pleasure. The language is easy and all that is historical data are neatly interwoven to give an accurate picture of how La Laguna developed and how its people progressed through the years in spite of the vicissitudes that would disturb such advances. Credit is given to whosoever deserves it. As an historian, Pepe will never say, like Teodoro A. Agoncillo says on his “History of the Filipino People”, that it is “difficult, if not impossible, to define what a Filipino is”.  Pepe gives us the sensation that he exactly knows what is Filipino and that it is neither difficult nor impossible to define what it is. Because of his mastery of Spanish, Pepe Alas agrees with Teodoro M. Kálaw’s definition of what is Filipino, a definition that is, evidently, not “politically correct” nowadays, but which is accurate anyway you put it. Wrote Kálaw, and we quote him in his own language to avoid any mistranslation:

“Cuando se discute la capacidad de una raza para la autosuficiencia, todos los elementos y factores que intervinieron en su cultura, todas las generaciones anteriores, se someten a prueba. Y entrelazadas en esa exégesis está la obra de España y la obra de Filipinas indígena, dos civilizaciones que han venido uniéndose en una misma civilización que llamamos filipina sobre este suelo por casi cuatro siglos para luego constituir una vibrante nacionalidad, la que dio espíritu a la revolución y a la primera República de Filipinas.”

     La Laguna is, indeed, one of the oldest provinces of the Philippines because many of its original families have branched out to other places in this country. As a mere example and modesty aside—, this writer’s family, on both the paternal and maternal sides, traces its roots to La Laguna. Gómez comes from a 17th-century Spanish alférez from Pagsanján, Francisco Gómez, who married a Tagala named María Dimaculañgan, while Rivera traces its roots to nearby Pila. Upon a recent visit to the parish church of Pagsanján, this writer saw, from a list of donors, individuals that carried both surnames: Gómez and Rivera. There is always that inclination to come to Pagsanján and upon viewing the old and majestic arch at the beginning of what was Pagsanján’s Calle Real, a sensation of having been there becomes overpowering.  And then, there is the now almost abandoned Gómez mansion near the river while it is also at the rear of the old Church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the advocation of the Virgin Mary that merited the Pontifical titles of “Emperatriz de las Américas, Reina de México, y Patrona de Filipinas”. Aside from the famous Pagsanján Falls, the arch, the old bahay na bató houses, and the parish church are also tourist attractions.

     The attraction of La Laguna in general is great, and tourism is not a new phenomenon for Pagsanján. There is this bilingual sing-song of long ago that attests to what we say:

Muy bienvenidos
Sean ustedes
A nuestro pueblo
De Pagsanján.
Aquí tenemos
La maravilla
De veinte saltos
En un bancal.
Sobresaltante
Pero seguro
Es el paseo
En un raudal;
Porque las bancas
Son de arbol duro
Y los banqueros
De mucha sal.

–o–

Maganda nawâ
Ang ‘yong pagdayo
Dito sa amin
Sa Pagsanján;
Magarang arco,
Magandang bahay
Gawá sa tabla
At sa bató.
Ñgunit ang tunay
Na pañghalina
Ng bayan natin
Ay ang talón
Casama’ng daloy
Ng mananañgcang
Sanáy sa tulin
At sa tinô.

     La Laguna, as a center of Filipino culture, as expressed in song, dance, ritual, poetry, cuisine, and hospitality, is bound to advance. More so with the new crop of leaders it presently has to steer this vision onward.

La imagen puede contener: texto

 

Twisting the Spanish conquest

In his Inquirer column today, lawyer Joel Butuyan wrote:

La imagen puede contener: una persona, sonriendo, texto

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.

Joaquín’s translation of Rizal’s “Mi Último Adiós

A few years ago, Señor Gómez and I were discussing the last poem that Rizal wrote, as well as its several translations. When we got to the part about Nick Joaquín’s translation, I could never forget his words: Joaquín’s English version of “Mi Último Adiós” is one instance wherein the translation is far more superior compared  to the original. I never gave it much thought until then. So off I went to review both poems later on. I also compared Joaquín’s version to other well-known English translations (Charles Derbyshire, Encarnación Alzona, etc.). I could say that Joaquín’s has more depth and mystery. But since I’m not exactly a fully bloomed poet in Spanish, it’s hard to tell if I could agree on Señor Gómez’s observation.

People who read this now will argue that it’s really just a matter of opinion. However, it should be noted that Señor Gómez is a poet in four languages: Spanish, English, Tagálog, and Hiligaynón. Furthermore, it is no secret that he tends to be more leaning towards the Spanish language compared to English. Nevertheless, a website dedicated to José Rizal and his works seems to agree with him: “In many translated Rizal works, one writer stands out: Nick Joaquín”.

Without further ado, here is Joaquín’s English rendering of Mi Último Adiós…

Image result for Nick Joaquin jose rizal's valedictory poem

Joaquín’s translation of “Mi Último Adiós” is included in this book.

JOSÉ RIZAL’S VALEDICTORY POEM

Land that I love: farewell: O land the sun loves:
Pearl of the sea of the Orient: Eden lost to your brood!
Gaily go I to present you this hapless hopeless life:
Were it more brilliant: had it more freshness, more bloom:
Still for you would I give it: would give it for your good!

In barricades embattled, fighting in delirium,
Others give you their lives without doubts, without gloom.
The site nought matters: cypress, laurel or lily:
Gibbet or open field: combat or cruel martyrdom
Are equal if demanded by country and home.

I am to die when I see the heavens go vivid,
announcing the day at last behind the dead night.
If you need colorcolor to stain that dawn with,
Let spill my blood: scatter it in good hour:
And drench in its gold one beam of the newborn light.

My dream when a lad, when scarcely adolescent:
My dreams when a young man, now with vigor inflamed:
Were to behold you one day: Jewel of eastern waters:
Griefless the dusky eyes: lofty the upright brow:
Unclouded, unfurrowed, unblemished and unashamed!

Enchantment of my life: my ardent avid obsession:
To your health! Cries the soul, so soon to take the last leap:
To your health! O lovely: how lovely: to fall that you may rise!
To perish that you may live! To die beneath your skies!
And upon your enchanted ground the eternities to sleep!

Should you find some day somewhere on my gravemound, fluttering
Among tall grasses, a flower of simple fame:
Caress it with your lips and you kiss my soul:
I shall feel on my face across the cold tombstone:
Of your tenderness, the breath; of your breath, the flame.

Suffer the moon to keep watch, tranquil and suave, over me:
Suffer the dawn its flying lights to release:
Suffer the wind to lament in murmurous and grave manner:
And should a bird drift down and alight on my cross,
Suffer the bird to intone its canticle of peace.

Suffer the rains to dissolve in the fiery sunlight
And purified reascending heavenward bear my cause:
Suffer a friend to grieve I perished so soon:
And on fine evenings, when prays in my memory,
Pray alsoO my land!that in God I repose.

Pray for all who have fallen befriended by not fate:
For all who braved the bearing of torments all bearing past:
To our poor mothers piteously breathing in bitterness:
For widows and orphans: for those in tortured captivity
And yourself: pray to behold your redemption at last.

And when in dark night shrouded obscurely the graveyard lies
And only, only the dead keep vigil the night through:
Keep holy the place: keep holy the mystery.
Strains, perhaps, you will hearof zither, or of psalter:
It is IO land I love!it is I, singing to you!

And when my grave is wholly unremembered
And unlocated (no cross upon it, no stone there plain):
Let the site be wracked by the plow and cracked by the spade
And let my ashes, before they vanish to nothing,
As dust be formed a part of your carpet again.

Nothing then will it matter to place me in oblivion!
Across your air, your space, your valleys shall pass my wraith!
A pure chord, strong and resonant, shall I be in your ears:
Fragrance, light and color: whispers, lyric and sigh:
Constantly repeating the essence of my faith!

Land that I idolized: prime sorrow among my sorrows:
Beloved Filipinas, hear me the farewell word:
I bequeath you everythingmy family, my affections:
I go where no slaves arenor butchers: nor oppressors:
Where faith cannot kill: where God’s the sovereign lord!

Farewell, my parents, my brothersfragments of my soul:
Friends of old and playmates in childhood’s vanished house:
Offer thanks that I rest from the restless day!
Farewell, sweet foreignermy darling, my delight!
Creatures I love, farewell! To die is to repose.