A close encounter with a Dick

Senator Dick Gordon has become relevant again these past few days. Not because of the Blue Ribbon Committee which he chairs but because he has revived yet again his deep-seated mania of adding a ninth ray to the sun in the Filipino flag. You may read Ambeth Ocampo’s latest column about this matter for more details.

After hearing all this latest news about Gordon’s ninth-ray obsession, I was reminded of a Facebook post which I wrote two years ago. It was about my first and only encounter with him during the 2013 La Laguna Festival. I’m sharing it now on this blog (with slight edits)…

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One balmy evening a few years ago, I was inattentively listening to Dick Gordon delivering a candid speech to a huge and festive crowd at the capitol grounds of Santa Cruz in La Laguna Province. I couldn’t remember exactly what he was talking about. What I do remember is that his presence there was irrelevant. Anyway, I was concerned with something else — my stomach was rumbling. I was having a bout of sudden diarrhea, and I hate doing the deed in some public restroom. But I couldn’t help it anymore.

I was at the left side of the stage by the stairs, my eyes surreptitiously scouring the huge grounds for a portalet, but saw none. I suddenly remember that there’s a restroom at the nearby DECS building (I wonder now if the old balete tree is still there). So off I went.

As I was slowly trudging the steps on my way to that building, Dick was already talking about rampant corruption in Filipino culture. Pointing the microphone to the audience, he asked who was to blame for all this corruption that we have in our society.

After a few seconds of playing with the crowd, he answered his own question. What he said was something unholy to my ears.

My diarrhea suddenly forgot that it had to embarrass me.

I had to look at him onstage. With a sick smile on his face, Dick was pointing his accusing finger towards our country’s Spanish past. I don’t remember his exact words, but he either said “Kastilà” or “Spaniards”. Whatever. What he said made my blood boil, especially since, after doing some reassessment of Filipino History through the years, I’ve discovered the reverse. But here comes this politician to a supposedly fun event, corrupting the minds of Lagunenses for whatever goddamned purpose he may had without even using pertinent data or sources.

But then again, why should he even cite sources? He attended a provincial fiesta anyway. It’s not a class lecture or any of that sort. But that’s EXACTLY the point! Why should he even talk about Filipino History —TWISTED Filipino History to be precise— during such an event? His speech was supposedly to animate the crowd, to greet them a happy fiesta, to make himself look cool even if he really wasn’t.

I stopped dead on my tracks, hesitated for a few moments, then went back to the stairs. I had to confront this buffoon. It’s now or never.

After several boring minutes of grandstanding, the hosts finally took the mic away from him. Dick Boredom was then on his way out, but it took him quite some time to get off the stage because so many people were greeting him, shaking his hands, patting him on the back, doing selfies and stuff. His personal goons couldn’t do much to steer away the crowd who wanted a piece of the Dick. He was a rock star that night.

But not to me. He was just another rock. An insignificant pebble. A troglodyte, actually (note: Jessica Zafra doesn’t own that word). He had to be given a Stone Cold Stunner if only to wake him up from his hispanophobic delights. But of course, I couldn’t do that. The diarrhea was at it again, especially when I saw his face getting closer to me.

I saw people near me shaking his hand. It gave me an idea. When the Dick was already standing right in front of me, still with a big smile plastered all over his face, I grabbed his empty right hand which was still looking for another hand to shake it. Since the music onstage was blurting out loud, almost as loud as the irritating sounds from within my bowels, I inched my face close to his ear:

“Get your facts straight, sir. The Spaniards did not teach us corruption. It was the Americans. Thank you”.

The plan was to immediately bolt for the DECS restroom. But he did not let go of my hand. He gripped it hard before I could leave, then tugged it towards him. Angrily, he whispered back: “It’s not the Americans, it’s the Spaniards!”

From the corner of my eye, I noticed that a goon or two of his noticed that their boss was getting upset. Before any untoward commotion happened, I shook off my hand from his grip in order to free myself. I didn’t say a word anymore, just a smirk on my face. I left him scowling towards me as I was walking away towards the old balete tree.

That was simply my purpose — to ruin his rock star night for disrespecting our forefathers who worked hard in order for us to have towns and provinces and Cross and cuisine and roads and bridges and cattle and agriculture and industry and arts and “palabra de honor” and culture and history and name for our country that we still use and apply to our daily lives. Somehow, I succeeded.

And yes, I did scream “success!” when I got out of the DECS building. 🤣

But seriously, Dick, is hispanophobia a standard in all of your speeches? With a surname such as yours, I think I understand why.

To end this blogpost, let me leave you with the opening sentence taken from that Ocampo article I mentioned earlier. Because I find that opening as a perfect ending…

“Dick Gordon is so often starved for attention that the public is well-advised to ignore his antics.”

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Ople on the Spanish language

Having been founded in 1922, the Premio Zóbel is considered as the country’s oldest literary award open to all Filipino writers in the Spanish language. Among those who had won the prestigious prize were poet Manuel Bernabé (1924), diplomat León Mª Guerrero III (1963), and renaissance man Guillermo Gómez Rivera (1975). But in the late 1960s to the early 1970s, it was put to a halt because the number of participants dwindled. In 1974, the Zóbel de Ayala clan changed the rules of the contest so that anyone in Filipinas who promoted the preservation of the Spanish language could become an awardee. Nineteen years later, in 1993, Senator Blas Ople, a non-Spanish speaker, became a consequence of that 1974 decision.

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“80 Años del Premio Zóbel”, a compendium of Premio Zóbel’s history, was published in 2000. The book’s author, Lourdes Castrillo Brillantes, was herself an awardee in 1998.

This is not to say that the choosing of the then neophyte senator was nothing short of a scandalous matter among Filipino writers in the Spanish language. He received the award “por sus relevantes méritos en pro de la cultura hispano-filipina” (for his relevant merits in favor of the Spanish language). One such merit was the following essay that he wrote in his column “Windows” which used to appear in Panorama magazine (a supplement of Manila Bulletin’s Sunday issue). The essay was published on 30 August 1992, a year before he was awarded a Premio Zóbel medal.

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Blas Ople (1927–2003).

Our Spanish past lingers in Iloílo with subtle charm
Blas Ople

Having sat down from the rigors of an obligatory speech on current issues, I thought I would sip my coffee in peace, mentally braced for an evening of pleasant boredom.

This was Iloílo City, and the Lions clubs from all over Panay and some from Negros Occidental had filled the vast hall of the Hotel del Río by the river, for the 42nd anniversary of the Iloílo City Host Lions Club. Then magically, the grace and charm of our Spanish past rose before our eyes.

Dancers in full Spanish costumes, platoon-size formations, materialized on the floor. They called on a vast repertory, not just one, two, or three, but many numbers, turning an otherwise banal dinner into a bewitching hour redolent of history. It was only in Iloílo, I thought, that simple housewives, many of them now grandmothers, could be formed into flamenco dancers of such charm, on demand (I was told later they rehearsed for a month for this show).

I gathered that Iloílo and nearby Bacólod are just about the last places where sizable remnants of an elderly Spanish-speaking generation may be found, though this, too, is slowly fading away. But the rhythms of Spain will probably long outlive the Castilian speech in these parts, judging from the authentic passion of those movements we watched that night.

Compared with these, the rigodón de honor danced by the elite in Tagálog cities and towns has to be judged a pale initiation.

Few Filipinos are of course shedding a tear on the waning of our Spanish past, except as this has been subsumed in native speech and customs. The memories of those early centuries still rankle.

This is the revenge of Rizal and del Pilar, whose works have molded, through generations, our impressions of the era of Spain in the Philippines. But when recently, all the countries of the Iberian world met in México, as though eager to repossess their common heritage from their Spanish past, I felt a certain pain to realize that the Philippines alone was not present, for the reason that we have disinvited ourselves.

I should reveal this now. In the Constitutional Commission of 1986, I fought until the end to have Spanish retained in the new Constitution as an official language, together with Filipino and English. I wanted at least an explicit recognition of Spanish as such a language until the wealth of historical material in our archives, most of this in Spanish, can be fully translated into English or Filipino.

But the real reason was that I wanted to preserve our last formal links with the Iberian world, which includes most of the countries in Latin Américas with a population of about 400 million. I remember Claro M. Recto’s sentimental journey to Spain, which was aborted by a heart attack in Rome. If we lost that final strand of solidarity with the Spanish-speaking world, we, too, would never get to Spain.

It was as though both sides had agreed on a policy of mutual forgetfulness.

The “radicals” in the Con-Com strongly advised me not to press the provision on Spanish, because this would have the effect of reopening other controversial issues in the draft charter. It could delay the framing of the Constitution beyond an acceptable deadline.

My worst fears have been realized. We have expelled ourselves from the Iberian community of nations. The rift is final, and will never be healed.

But I felt the charms of our Spanish past will linger longest in places like Iloílo, and during that enchanted evening, I was glad for the opportunity to savor them. We may have left the Iberian world of our free choice, but the hold of Spain will never really cease in the Filipino heart.

To those who are unfamiliar with the issue, it was former President Corazón Aquino’s Constitutional Commission of 1986 (the one mentioned by Senator Ople in his column) that decided the fate of the Spanish language in Filipinas. It should be remembered that Spanish had been our country’s official language beginning 24 June 1571. It may had been unceremoniously booted out from the 1973 Constitution by pro-Tagálog politicians during the 1971 Philippine Constitutional Convention under Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency, but the former strongman, realizing its worth, issued Presidential Decree No. 155 two months after the 1973 Constitution was ratified. Believe it or not, this forgotten Marcos decree recognized Spanish (alongside the English language) as one of Filipinas’s official languages. It thus absolves his 1973 Constitution of any culpability when one wishes to point an accusing finger at the “killer” of the Spanish language in our country.

All index fingers will of course lead to the present constitution, the progenitor of the Constitutional Commission of 1986. No wonder Ople was devastated: he was its member, he fought for the Spanish language’s preservation in the present constitution, yet he was blocked by those radicals from doing so (they were probably those whom Hispanistas and non-Tagálogs today derisively call as “Tagalistas“). That is why, out of disillusionment (or anger?), he wrote that painful statement that we Filipinos have expelled ourselves from the Spanish-speaking community of nations.

But that was 1992. It’s 2018 now, and attitudes toward the Spanish language and our country’s past under Spain for that matter have drastically changed. The enlightened Filipino youth of today will surely disagree with the late Senator’s statement that the rift done by the present constitution’s non-inclusion of Spanish was final, and that it will never be healed. Already, we have several groups in social media, particularly in Facebook, that advocate the return of the Spanish language to Filipino mainstream society such as the SPANISH language should be back in the PHILIPPINES!Oficialización del Español en Filipinas (this one has more than eleven thousand members!), and Defensores de la Lengua Española en Filipinas. Outside of Facebook are blogs that extol the virtues and blessings of our country’s Spanish past: we can cite With One’s PastHecho Ayer, and the Hispanic Indio just to name a few. Then there is Jemuel Pilápil who organized the Sociedad Hispano-Filipina together with other Hispanists to safeguard and promote the language, thus inspiring me to label him as the new Isagani (watch out for his group’s website to be launched very soon!). The presence of Instituto Cervantes de Manila with its monthly cultural events is a great boost in the efforts to “reintroduce” the Spanish language and culture to our country. Not too long ago, renowned Spanish-speaking Filipinos launched a documentary citing the importance of the Spanish language as part of our national identity and heritage. Even our country’s premiere historian today, Ambeth Ocampo, already revealed himself as far removed from the usual anti-Spain mold of historians by producing very impartial write-ups about our country’s Hispanic past. Says Ocampo in one of his writings:

The concept of Filipino began not with pre-Hispanic indios but with Spain. Individuals known as Filipinos cannot be traced beyond 1521 when Magellan sailed into the Philippine archipelago. Filipino was mainly a geographic term to begin with, and the notion of Filipinas, a place, a nation, cannot be pushed beyond the first Spanish settlement established by Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565.

I could go on and on, but the point is clear: the rift done by Tita Cory’s flawed constitution is not final. Ople’s fight for the Spanish language’s rightful place in the Filipino cosmos didn’t go for naught. We are healing!

New findings on the first Mass in Filipinas

For many years, including the time when Filipinas was still under Mother Spain, Filipinos have been taught that the first Mass in our country happened in Limasaua, Leyte (now Limasawa, Southern Leyte). As a backgrounder: Portuguese explorer Fernando de Magallanes (popularly known by his Anglicized name Ferdinand Magellan) ordered a Mass to be celebrated on the small island of Limasawa on 31 March 1521. It was officiated by Fr. Pedro de Valderrama, OSA, the only priest of the Magallanes expedition. This event marked the birth of Christianity in Filipinas.

However, just a few years ago, a group of people started to contest this widely accepted historical record, saying that the first Mass really occurred in Butúan, Agusan (del Norte).

Vicente Calibo de Jesús, a media and communications practitioner, is one of the most vocal proponents of the cause to recognize Butúan as the site of our country’s first Mass. He has launched numerous petitions online to have his claim recognized. On his Facebook account, he has cited documents and even geomorphological arguments to back up his claim. Sometime during the last decade, when the country’s foremost historian Ambeth Ocampo was still in charge over the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (then known as the National Historical Institute), a committee headed by economist and historian Benito Legarda, Jr. was organized to re-examine the matter. However, in one public forum, Calibo de Jesús failed to attend.

“Since Mr. De Jesús refused to participate in the forum, why does he now contest the outcome?” Ocampo said.

After much deliberation, the NHCP/NHI then issued a resolution on 15 June 2009 affirming that the first Mass was indeed celebrated in Limasawa, Southern Leyte on 31 March 1521.

Ocampo retired from public service two years later but continued publishing history books and articles as well as giving popular lectures. The local Catholic Church quietly accepted the findings. Calibo de Jesús, on the other hand, continued his online attacks. But the controversy was almost forgotten.

Fast forward to last week, on the 5th of August. Jun P. Alvizo, a proponent of the Filipinas Quincentenario project, posted on his Facebook account digitized photos (see below) that were taken from the pages of the Anales Eclesiásticos de Philipinas1574-1602, asserting that Calibo de Jesús could be right after all.

Butúan’s assertion as the true site of the first Mass in the Philippines is not a fabricated claim or one without a substantive evidence. The truth on this episode, of the first circumnavigation of the world, has long been muddled by many historians when Limasawa in Leyte was proclaimed as the real site of the first Mass in our islands that was officiated by Father Pedro de Valderrama on 31 March 1521 (an Easter Sunday). Adding dubiety, the many investigations on this matter, conducted by panels constituted by the National HIstorical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), resolved in favor of Limasawa, obliterating the very truth where the first Mass in the Philippines was really celebrated.

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According to Alviza, these documents were obtained by the Filipinas Quincentenario from the Archives of the Archdiocese of Manila, and that even the late Jaime Cardinal Sin was knowledgeable about them.

Aside from these new findings, there were, in fact, old books dating back to the Spanish times that either questioned or contradicted the already accepted location of the first Mass in Filipinas. These are the “Episodios Históricos de Filipinas” by Felipe María de Govantes (Manila: Imprenta de Valdezco, 1881, pp. 21-22) and the “Boletín de la Real Sociedad Geográfica” (Madrid: Real Sociedad Geográfica, 1897, vol. 39, pp. 135-136) to name a few. There was even one book, the “Historia de Mindanao y Joló” (Madrid: Viuda de M. Minuesa de los Ríos, 1897, pp. 661), in which the author, Francisco Combés, specifically mentioned that it was precisely in Butúan and in no other place where the first Mass in Filipinas was celebrated.

Allí fué precisamente, y no en otro punto, donde se celebró la primera misa, dicha en tierra, del Archipiélago Filipino.

It is unclear, though, as to how Combés et al. were cognizant of the exact site since all their books were published three centuries after the event. However, there could be one clincher: Antonio Pigafetta himself, the lone Italian chronicler of the Magallanes expedition who was also witness to the first Mass. In his account of the expedition titled “Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo” (Report on the First Voyage Around the World) published in 1536, Pigafetta actually mentioned Butúan four times. The account of the Mass is found in chapter two of his book.

Be that as it may, with the discovery of these old church records, could those “iconoclasts” have finally won their fight for historical accuracy, that the first Mass was indeed held at Butúan and not Limasawa? Or will this prompt the NHCP to organize another investigation?

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.

PEPE ALAS

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.