Today, June 30, marks the fifteenth time that we celebrate the annual “Día de la Amistad Hispano-Filipina” or Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day. Former Senator Edgardo Angara, a Hispanista, sponsored the bill which later on became known as Republic Act No. 9187 (An Act Declaring June 30 of the Year as Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day) which was approved on 5 February 2003. As stated in section 1 of the said law, the aim of the celebration was to “strengthen the relationship between the Philippines and countries with which it has shared history, values and traditions.” In this case, Spain —the country that, as observed by National Artist Nick Joaquín, gave Filipinos “the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy,”— was a good choice especially since it is that country alone that “did give birth to us — as a nation, as an historical people”.
Continued Joaquín: “This geographical unit of numberless islands called the Philippines — this mystical unit of numberless tongues, bloods and cultures called a Filipino — was begotten of Spain, is a Spanish creation.”
June 30 was chosen since it was a historic event that put that friendship to a test. On that day, then President Emilio Aguinaldo commended the few remaining Spanish soldiers who were holed up for almost a year inside the Iglesia de San Luis Obispo in Baler, Tayabas (now a part of the province of Aurora which used to be a territory of Tayabas) for their loyalty and gallantry in battle. After their defeat, instead of arresting or even executing them, Aguinaldo sent them home. They were accorded safe passage to Manila en route to their return voyage to Spain. To mark this memorable event in our history, Angara thought of a national holiday to give honor to the act of benevolence which has paved the way in bridging better relations between Filipinas and the former mother country.
But I respectfully question the use of the term “friendship” because Filipinas and España were more than friends. They are in fact blood relations by virtue of history, faith, and cultural dissemination of which our country benefited from, not the other way around. Spain never became wealthy at our expense. And throughout Filipino Literature, Spain has been immortalized and personified as our mother. As already shown earlier, no less than Joaquín, the greatest writer and Filipino thinker our country has ever produced, expounded on this subject. “For three and a half centuries we lay within the womb of Spain”, wrote Joaquín.
In his narrative poem Filipinas a España, Manuel Bernabé (1890—1960), a well-known littérateur, academician, Premio Zóbel awardee (he won the prize twice: in 1924 and 1926), and politician from Parañaque (former Mayor Florencio M. Bernabe, Jr. is a descendant of his), described the motherly bond that Spain had with our country:
¡La dulce Hija, postrándose de hinojos,
dice a la Madre, a tiempo que sus ojos
leve cendal de lágrimas empaña:
—Dios ha impuesto el término del plazo,
y ya es la hora de romper el lazo
que nos unió tres siglos, Madre España!
The sweet daughter (“La dulce Hija“) referred to in this poem is Filipinas; the mother is already conspicuously addressed. Although the poem may have started on a sour note (“ya es la hora de romper el lazo que nos unió tres siglos” refers to the Tagálog rebellion of 1896), Bernabé extolled the deep love between mother and child —Spain and Filipinas— through the centuries, and even longed for that love to return: “En el curso del tiempo desenvuelto, / tú, España, volverás. ¿Qué amor no ha vuelto / presa en la red del propio bien perdido?” Bernabé ended his masterpiece by giving eternal praise to Mother Spain: “¡Gloria a la Madre España en Filipinas! / ¡Loor eterno a ti! Tú, no me olvides.”
Jesús Balmori (1887—1948), famous for his poetic jousts with Bernabé and for his prize-winning poems, including a Premio Zóbel in 1926 in which he was tied with his rival, described an even deeper bond between Mother Spain and her daughter Filipinas in his poem Canto A España: “¡Oh, España! ¡Porque en tu alma nos enlazas, / que te troven su amor todas las razas!“
In an effort to rally the campaign for independence from the US imperialists, Rafaél Palma (1874—1939), the fourth President of the University of the Philippines, one of José Rizal’s early biographers, and elder brother of poet José Palma (the one who wrote the immortal poem Filipinas which eventually became the lyrics of our national anthem) wrote an essay that was published in 1900 which underlined the profound influence Spain had in our country in spite of the glaring presence of US troops all over the archipelago. In that essay entitled El Alma De España, Palma went as far as to say that Spain’s blood has been transfused into our veins. We merely took away from her her queenly cape so as to metaphorically use for a merry banquet to celebrate of our freedom:
“Se nos ha trasvasado en las venas la sangre de aquella España decadente que nosotros despojamos aquí con un supremo de esfuerzo de ira, de su ancho manto de reina para tendernos sobre él a disfrutar del anchorozado festín de la libertad.“
Realizing the debt of gratitude that we have towards Spain, the great Fernando Mª Guerrero (1873—1929), “el Príncipe de la poesía lírica filipina” (Prince of Filipino lyric poetry), wrote a laudatory poem entitled A Hispania.
¡Oh, noble Hispania! Este día
es para ti mi canción,
canción que viene de lejos
como eco de antiguo amor,
y olorosa a tradición…
Guerrero’s daughters, themselves accomplished poets, also personified Spain as our mother. Like their illustrious father, Evangelina Guerrero de Zacarías (1904—1949) also wrote a laudatory poem to Spain entitled A España (“veinte naciones bravas, en concierto armonioso, / con los brazos del alma tus playas buscarán”) while her sister Nilda Guerrero de Barranca wrote ¡España, Madre Mía! (“Noble España, madre mía / Desde estos mis patrias lares / brindo a tu santa hidalguía / la oración de mis altares.“).
In A España, Emeterio Barcelón y Barceló-Soriano (1897—1978), another internationally acclaimed poet in the Hispanic world, described Filipinas as a confused daughter who taught that she was enslaved by her own mother. But upon departure, Mother Spain made it known to her daughter Filipinas that she was leaving everything behind for her:
La hija se emancipó; sintióse esclava
de su madre que, al irse, le decía:
“Ahí te dejo entera el alma mía”
Y su habla y religión aquí dejaba.
When it comes to Rizal, our country’s most acclaimed national hero, there is a different take on how our country was referred to. In the first stanza of José Rizal’s famous A La Juventud Filipina, the word patria alluded to is Filipinas, not Spain:
¡Alza tu tersa frente,
juventud filipina, en este día!
tu rica gallardía,
bella esperanza de la patria mía!
It should be noted that during Rizal’s time, the concept of patria meant two things: the patria chica and the patria grande. The patria grande immediately refers to Mother Spain. On the other hand, the patria chica denotes one’s locality: this may refer to the barrio, province, or region of one’s birth. For example: the Basques, the Valencians, the Catalans, etc. all considered their respective provinces/regions as their patria chica. The Mexicans, Peruvians, Filipinos, etc. all considered their respective overseas provinces as their patria chica. But for all of them, there was only one patria grande — Spain.
How then do we know that the patria in this poem referred to Filipinas and not Spain? The answer is in the final line of the fourth stanza:
Ve que en la ardiente zona
do moraron las sombras, el hispano
con pía y sabia mano,
ofrece al hijo de este suelo indiano.
“Suelo indiano“, or native soil, is self explanatory. Nevertheless, the fourth line of the same stanza refer to the Spanish friars, those indomitable warriors of Spain, who were in charge not only of the Filipinos’ spiritual matters but also took care of their education and well-being. The “pía y sabia mano” (pious and learned hand) refer to the Spanish friars. And to those with an ear for history, it is easy to catch Rizal’s allusion to the escuelas pías, our country’s first public schools (it is not true that the US introduced public schooling to our shores). One such escuela pía, located within the walled city of Intramuros, even became the forerunner of the Ateneo Municipal, the hero’s alma mater which is now known as the Ateneo de Manila University.
While Rizal’s patria in this poem may point solely to his patria chica, i.e., Filipinas, it should be noted that his patria grande was not left out. In the final stanza of A La Juventud Filipina, Rizal used a common nickname for Spain, particularly its monarchy, during those days — Potente which means powerful. Here Spain was described as sincerely desiring the happiness and comfort of Filipinas:
¡Día, día felice,
Filipinas gentil, para tu suelo!
Al Potente bendice,
que con amante anhelo
la ventura te envía y el consuelo.
And in his homage to Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo for having won international recognition for their paintings, Rizal called Spain point blank as our mother:
“Si la madre enseña al hijo su idioma para comprender sus alegrías, sus necesidades o dolores, España, como madre, enseña también a Filipinas…”
Even our bards in Tagálog were aware of Spain’s status as our mother country, as evidenced by poet Hermenegildo Flores’s Ang Hibic ng Filipinas sa Inang España (Filipinas’ Lament to Mother Spain). In this poem, Filipinas was speaking as an oppressed daughter, complaining and appealing to Mother Spain to get rid of those whom the poet, being a propagandista, believed were the cause of his patria chica’s deprivations: the friars.
I could go on and on with several other Filipino greats who all paid their respects to Mother Spain in spite of the Tagálog rebellion of 1896. But the point is this: whatever the results of that rebellion, we have to get rid of this warped view that Spain, or España, was merely a former colonizer, and that España is now just a friend. We were never colonized. Before the Spaniards arrived, there was no Filipinas yet. It was they who made us into becoming the three-stars-and-a-sun-loving people that we are today (Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo wouldn’t have been united if not for the Spanish advent). Between España and Filipinas lies a much more deeper bond than international relations, something that is beyond friendship. As has been clearly sung by our time-honored artists (“the antenna of the race”, said Ezra Pound), España is our Mother, not just a friend. Ella es sangre de nuestra sangre y carne de nuestra carne.