A faded inscription at the Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery

While Filipinos troop to the provinces to visit their beloved dead on All Saints’ Day, many still believe that the proper date of visiting them is on the following day, on All Souls Day. As the name connotes, All Saints’ Day is reserved for the Saints; All Souls Day should be consigned to our dearly departed.

In a video interview, however, Fr. Jojo Zerrudo (parish priest at the Most Holy Redeemer Church in Quezon City and current Catechetical Director and Exorcist of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cubáo) explains that during the Spanish times, Filipinos attended Mass in the morning of All Saints’ Day to honor the Holiest Souls of the Church. Only after lunch do they go to the cemetery to visit their beloved dead to offer candles, flowers, and prayers. There they stay for an overnight vigil , until All Souls Day.

Throughout the decades, the number of those who have been interred in cemeteries have significantly grown. Public cemeteries seemed no longer big enough to accommodate “newcomers”, prompting families to excavate old coffins and combine recently deceased loved ones with the bones or ashes of those who went ahead of them. Some enterprising businessmen see this plight as an opportunity to earn more money by establishing private cemeteries for those who can afford spacious and stylish graves.

PEPE ALAS

My wife walking towards the chapel. Below it is the underground cemetery.

Perhaps one cemetery in Filipinas that will not get overcrowded with corpses is the underground cemetery of Nagcarlán, La Laguna because it has been converted into a national historical landmark and museum on 1 August 1973 by former President Ferdinand Marcos (its official today is the Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery Historical Landmark). It is the first and only one of its kind in the country as it was built in an arabesque style that, according to critics, is something very unique, aside from the fact that its crypt is 15 feet below the ground. The small chapel above it is used for funeral rites and is enclosed in a garden that stands above a hill and attached to the interior walls of the cemetery. The interiors of the chapel and crypt are adorned with elaborately designed white and blue tiles which look very similar to those at the nearby town church (Iglesia de San Bartolomé Apóstol), leading to the belief that there is an underground tunnel connecting both church and cemetery. The crypt contains more or less 36 niches and tombstones (whose inscriptions are Spanish, Tagalog, and some in English).

PEPE ALAS

Me at the crypt below the ground. Notice the white and blue tiles on the floor, said to be very expensive during the time of the cemetery’s construction. If memory serves right, they’re called Mazurka tiles.

While many stories have been written about this underground cemetery through the years, there’s one peculiar part of it that many people have failed to notice. Two flights down from the chapel is the small crypt —the actual underground cemetery— where it is perpetually dank and dark. On a wall right above the stairs is a faded Spanish inscription dedicated to the faithful departed…

PEPE ALAS

Ve espíritu mortal, lleno de vida
hoy visitaste felizmente este refugio.
Pero después que tu te vayas,
Recuerda que aquí tienes un lugar
de descanso preparado para tí.

(Translation:
Go forth, Mortal man, full of life
Today you visit happily this shelter,
But after you have gone out,
Remember, you have a resting place here,
Prepared for you.)

The inscription is in danger of disappearing forever if not restored by experts. Although flash photography is prohibited to protect the old markings and paint on the walls and tombstones, it is not enough to conserve what needed to be conserved as the place is not safe from humidity.

The crypt of this underground cemetery is historic because it was a secret meeting place for the Katipuneros in the 1890s. It was here where the historic Pact of Biac-na-Bató was planned by Pedro Paterno and General Severino Taiño in 1897.

Since its construction in 1845 by Fr. Vicente Velloc, the same Franciscan friar who supervised the town church’s reconstruction and restoration on that same year (that should explain the similar tiles),  Nagcarlán’s underground cemetery has been used as a public cemetery until 1981. It has since become a tourist spot.

The forested municipality of Nagcarlán is approximately two hours away from Metro Manila, from Alabang, Muntinlupà City by car (or 99 kilometers south of Manila via the City of San Pablo, La Laguna). The historic site of the municipality is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Admission is free.

PEPE ALAS

And no, it is not haunted.

All photos in this blogpost were taken on 17 April 2012.
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Where have our heroes taken us?

All writers seek fame, or at the very least, a certain level of attention from a niche audience. Those who deny this are downright liars. For what writer wouldn’t wish for his works to be read? That’s the purpose of writing something in the first place, in order for it to be read.

I might never become a well-known writer anymore for various reasons (or excuses): I’m a full-time, night shift employee; I have a severe case of complex regional pain syndrome, thus debilitating my thought processes, and; I procrastinate too much. My circumstances at home are not what one might consider as conducive for a writer, let alone researching. Then there’s this cute little thing called the Internet taking much of my time. But why shouldn’t I use it? After a stressful night’s work and a horrible commute to and from the office, I’m left with less energy to even lift a book. I’d rather watch Momoland’s mind-boggling choreography just to relax my mood (yes, I am a frustrated dancer, no kidding), or check for updates regarding the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or look for some annoying celebrity to bash on Twitter.

Having been exposed to too much Internet usage through the years, I also noticed that my attention span has gotten short. While researchers are still divided on the issue, I can tell from experience and self-observation that it has really contributed to my reading and writing woes. There were times that whenever I read a book, I couldn’t finish a page without doing something else on the side. And while browsing through pages, my mind compels me to look for links to click whenever I encounter unfamiliar words or terms, or to even scroll down further to hasten my reading, looking for just the juicy parts. It’s gotten that bad.

You might say that at least, I can still blog. Well, yeah, but not as prolific and as capable as I used to when I was still blogging in ALAS FILIPINAS or FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES. So if the skies have dimmed my chances of becoming a writer, what more of becoming a well-known historian? At any rate, whether or not my above-mentioned reasons (excuses!) hamper my researching and writing, I still find it impossible for me to become recognized as a historian, no matter how hard my wife tries to market me as a “young historian” (what the hey, I’m nearing forty, and there are many other historians younger than me who are now rivaling the great Ambeth Ocampo in terms of prominence).

I don’t want to sound like I’m self-pitying or anything like that, but it’s true. I cannot become a recognized historian for three major reasons. Number one, I’m not a good public speaker. Number two, I do not belong to the academe (I’m not a history teacher, just a corporate slave). And lastly, my views on Filipino History are raging against the flow. Like mad, I should add.

If you notice, many popular historians today deliver speeches and give out lectures, seminars, and interviews (that’s why I call them celebrity historians, haha). While I may have done the same a few times in the past, I didn’t sound as good nor as convincing as them. As I always say, I’m more of a scribbler than a talker. Whenever I receive invites to do speaking engagements, there is always hesitancy from my part. It’s either I find it hard to say no, or my excited wife successfully prods me to accept them. Then there’s the second part: I am not a history professor. Many people online have mistaken me for one, and I find it very flattering, of course. But I am a mere slave to my corporate boss, always cowering down whenever I receive bad grades at work (and I always do, maybe because my heart and mind are somewhere else — treading the cobbled streets of 19th-century Intramuros, haha 😔).

But even if I could talk like a mesmerizing statesman and teach history in a famed university, I still find it highly unlikely that I’d become a well-known and respected historian. As I have mentioned earlier, I go against the flow. I’m not saying that many other historians before me didn’t. Many of them up to now still disagree with each other. But my views regarding popularly accepted history are so unpopular that the National Historical Commission of the Philippines might as well send me to jail. 😂

I don’t consider Andrés Bonifacio and his KKK cohorts as heroes; I brand them as terrorists. I don’t consider Ninoy Aquino, Jr. as a martyr; I brand him as a traitorous opportunist. I don’t consider Juan Luna as a patriot; I consider him only as the greatest painter in our country’s history; I don’t consider Marcelo H. del Pilar as the “Father of True Filipino Masonry”; I’d rather call him as a True Filipino Penitent. I don’t consider the Silang couple of Ilocos as heroes; to my eyes, they were traitors. I don’t consider Lapu-Lapu as the “first Filipino hero”; I brand him as a delicious fish served in Magallanes Square Hotel.

Poor Pedro Paterno has been painted as a villain to the point that we have become convinced to ignore his contributions to scholarship and literature which I believe are still important (El Problema Político de Filipinas; Nínay [the first Filipino novel]; La Antigua Civilización Tagala; etc.).

I refer to my country as Filipinas whether in English or in Spanish; Philippines and Pilipinas are aberrations created by misled/twisted nationalists schooled in an English-only educational system (that’s why I use “Filipino History” instead of “Philippine History”). Unlike many Filipinos, I do not disrespect my national identity by calling myself as Pinoy or even Pilipino. I abhor Taglish. I still use the original orthography whenever I write in Tagálog. And the only national language that I still recognize —as recognized by most national heroes that we enshrine today— is the Spanish language.

I do not and cannot accept that the three centuries of Spanish colonization were generally oppressive and cruel in light of clear documentation to the contrary. I couldn’t for the life of me even call it “colonization”. The polo y servicios were boon, not bane. And the uprising that occurred during the late 1890s was not a revolution but a rebellion.

Today, we again celebrate National Heroes Day to remember the heroism of our forefathers who fought against foreign oppression. But what foreign oppression comes to mind whenever we are called to remember the sacrifices of our patriots? In the introduction to the first book that I wrote (the biography of World War II hero Abelardo “Captain Remo” Remoquillo), I took the opportunity to rant about this.

Perhaps due to either rote memorization or desensitization, or both, Filipino students have somehow become accustomed to the idea that all of our National Heroes existed in the same era. This is understandable because whenever we speak of our country’s past, it would almost always be about our three centuries under the Spanish Empire. But then, there’s always this sinking feeling that most of our heroes existed only during the Spanish Occupation. For instance, the bulk of our National Heroes comes from that bygone era: José Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Emilio Aguinaldo, etc. Only to an interested few will the realization sink in that some of those heroes who we thought were from the Spanish era were in fact more active during our country’s war against the United States of América than they were against the Spaniards. These were Apolinario Mabini, Antonio Luna, and Miguel Malvar to name a few.

But when it comes to the three-year Japanese regime, we could hardly remember names. There’s Josefa Llanes Escoda, José Abad Santos, and Vicente Lim, but they ring a bell only because their faces and names are plastered in one thousand-peso notes. Outside of currency, do we even know what kind of heroism did they display during those fearsome years under the Land of the Rising Sun?

All this doesn’t mean that I refuse to accept historical facts. Of course I do. I simply refuse to accept opinions. Facts and opinions are different from each other. I accept hard data presented by historical research, but not opinions formed by them, especially opinions formed by an English-only education with an agenda that has little to zero understanding of our country’s Spanish past. Take the Katipunan rebellion of 1896, for instance. When government forces discovered the existence of the Katipunan in late 1896, what happened next were bloodshed and the senseless killing and torture of innocent Spanish friars and other individuals who went against the rebels’ 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. While it is a fact that there were Katipunero recruits from all over the country, the truth was that there was no national sentiment that supported the Katipunan rebellion against Spain. Civil society was against it.

It should be noted in the preceding paragraph that the Katipunan was discovered by government authorities. Keep in mind that it was an underground organization. Simply put, the Katipunan was an ILLEGAL ASSOCIATION no matter how hard a Pantayong Pananaw zealot will try to picture it with dainty colors of patriotism and love of country. Such zealots might argue that the Katipunan 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 patriots and martyrs of (their fantasy land called) Bangsamoro. Should we consider them heroes too?

Mimicking the Katipunan’s belligerence towards lawful society, Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV and his Magdalo group did the same thing twice in the past against the administration of former 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 rebelled against the Arroyo government to fight corruption and injustice, didn’t they?

The New People’s Army has been waging a “revolution” for decades. If they win, Bonifacio will surely displace Rizal as our country’s leading national hero. That’s why most of the time, I’m tempted to believe in that cynical saying that history is written by the victors.

One man’s hero is another man’s villain, so the saying goes (hello, Apo Marcos!). So after reading this, I entreat you, dear reader, to reflect the significance of today’s celebration. It’s a holiday, anyway. Ualáng pasoc, cayá maraming horas para mag-isíp-isíp. Having said that…

Why are we so obsessed with national heroes? It seems to me that we are the only country in the world with a surfeit of patriots. And we keep on looking for more. Our government has enshrined such heroes as models that we should look up to and emulate. And yet we are still one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Where have our heroes taken us? Or better yet: what has our idolatry for these heroes done for our country?

Oh, and one more thing: Rizal retracted and there’s really NOTHING you can do about it.