A heritage of smallness

Hello there. For #NickJoaquínWeek (April 29 – May 4), I present to you one of Nick’s best and well-known essays which is a MUST-READ for all Filipinos. It is also one of my favorites. In fact, I’ve memorized each and every word of this essay and can recite it extemporaneously. JOKE. Anyway, I implore that you please please PLEASE read it in full. We’re still in ECQ, so I’m sure you have more than enough time; your smartphones can wait. Reading this will only take you a few minutes and will make you smarter (something that your smartphones cannot do for you). In this essay, Nick plays psychologist to the collective Filipino psyche. He has pried deep into the Filipino’s historical psychology, thus deciphering our psychological history which hopefully would help us pull ourselves out of the decades-old rut that has been suppressing our long-delayed flight to greatness. Again, this excellent essay from our 1976 National Artist for Literature is a must-read for Filipinos who still have a genuine and selfless love of country. PLEASE SHARE AFTER READING!

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Rise's review of Culture and History

“A Heritage of Smallness”, one of Nick Joaquín’s most well-known essays, appears on this book which is still available in major bookstores.

A HERITAGE OF SMALLNESS
Nick Joaquín

Society for the Filipino is a small rowboat: the barangay. Geography for the Filipino is a small locality: the barrio. History for the Filipino is a small vague saying: matandá pá cay mahomanoóng peacetime. Enterprise for the Filipino is a small stall: the sari-sarì. Industry and production for the Filipino are the small immediate searchings of each day: isáng cahig, isáng tucâ. And commerce for the Filipino is the smallest degree of retail: the tiñgî.

What most astonishes foreigners in the Philippines is that this is a country, perhaps the only one in the world, where people buy and sell one stick of cigarette, half a head of garlic, a dab of pomade, part of the contents of a can or bottle, one single egg, one single banana. To foreigners used to buying things by the carton or the dozen or pound and in the large economy sizes, the exquisite transactions of Philippine tingís cannot but seem Lilliputian. So much effort by so many for so little. Like all those children risking neck and limb in the traffic to sell one stick of cigarette at a time. Or those grown-up men hunting the sidewalks all day to sell a puppy or a lantern or a pair of socks. The amount of effort they spend seems out of all proportion to the returns. Such folk are, obviously, not enough. Laboriousness just can never be the equal of labor as skill, labor as audacity, labor as enterprise.

The Filipino who travels abroad gets to thinking that his is the hardest working country in the world. By six or seven in the morning we are already up on our way to work, shops and markets are open; the wheels of industry are already agrind. Abroad, especially in the West, if you go out at seven in the morning you’re in a dead-town. Everybody’s still in bed; everything’s still closed up. Activity doesn’t begin till nine or ten — and ceases promptly at five p.m. By six, the business sections are dead towns again. The entire cities go to sleep on weekends. They have a shorter working day, a shorter working week. Yet they pile up more mileage than we who work all day and all week.

Is the disparity to our disparagement?

We work more but make less. Why? Because we act on such a pygmy scale. Abroad they would think you mad if you went in a store and tried to buy just one stick of cigarette. They don’t operate on the scale. The difference is greater than between having and not having; the difference is in the way of thinking. They are accustomed to thinking dynamically. We have the habit, whatever our individual resources, of thinking poor, of thinking petty.

Is that the explanation for our continuing failure to rise — that we buy small and sell small, that we think small and do small?

Are we not confusing timidity for humility and making a virtue of what may be the worst of our vices? Is not our timorous clinging to smallness the bondage we must break if we are ever to inherit the earth and be free, independent, progressive? The small must ever be prey to the big. Aldous Huxley said that some people are born victims, or “murderers.” He came to the Philippines and thought us the “least original” of people. Is there not a relation between his two terms? Originality requires daring: the daring to destroy the obsolete, to annihilate the petty. It’s cold comfort to think we haven’t developed that kind of “murderer mentality.”

But till we do we had best stop talking about “our heritage of greatness” for the national heritage is —let’s face it— a heritage of smallness.

However far we go back in our history it’s the small we find — the nipa hut, the barangay, the petty kingship, the slight tillage, the tingí trade. All our artifacts are miniatures and so is our folk literature, which is mostly proverbs, or dogmas in miniature. About the one big labor we can point to in our remote past are the rice terraces —and even that grandeur shrinks, on scrutiny, into numberless little separate plots into a series of layers added to previous ones, all this being the accumulation of ages of small routine efforts (like a colony of ant hills) rather than one grand labor following one grand design. We could bring in here the nursery diota about the little drops of water that make the mighty ocean, or the peso that’s not a peso if it lacks a centavo; but creative labor, alas, has sterner standards, a stricter hierarchy of values. Many little efforts, however perfect each in itself, still cannot equal one single epic creation. A galleryful of even the most charming statuettes is bound to look scant beside a Pieta or Moses by Michelangelo; and you could stack up the best short stories you can think of and still not have enough to outweigh a mountain like War and Peace.

The depressing fact in Philippine history is what seems to be our native aversion to the large venture, the big risk, the bold extensive enterprise. The pattern may have been set by the migration. We try to equate the odyssey of the migrating barangays with that of the Pilgrim, Father of America, but a glance of the map suffices to show the differences between the two ventures. One was a voyage across an ocean into an unknown world; the other was a going to and from among neighboring islands. One was a blind leap into space; the other seems, in comparison, a mere crossing of rivers. The nature of the one required organization, a sustained effort, special skills, special tools, the building of large ships. The nature of the other is revealed by its vehicle, the barangay, which is a small rowboat, not a seafaring vessel designed for long distances on the avenues of the ocean.

The migrations were thus self-limited, never moved far from their point of origin, and clung to the heart of a small known world; the islands clustered round the Malay Peninsula. The movement into the Philippines, for instance, was from points as next-door geographically as Borneo and Sumatra. Since the Philippines is at heart of this region, the movement was toward center, or, one may say, from near to still nearer, rather than to farther out. Just off the small brief circuit of these migrations was another world: the vast mysterious continent of Australia; but there was significantly no movement towards this terra incognita. It must have seemed too perilous, too unfriendly of climate, too big, too hard. So, Australia was conquered not by the fold next door, but by strangers from across two oceans and the other side of the world. They were more enterprising, they have been rewarded. But history has punished the laggard by setting up over them a White Australia with doors closed to the crowded Malay world.

The barangays that came to the Philippines were small both in scope and size. A barangay with a hundred households would already be enormous; some barangays had only 30 families, or less. These, however, could have been the seed of a great society if there had not been in that a fatal aversion to synthesis. The barangay settlements already displayed a Philippine characteristic: the tendency to petrify in isolation instead of consolidating, or to split smaller instead of growing. That within the small area of Manila Bay there should be three different kingdoms (Tondo, Manila, and Pasay) may mean that the area was originally settled by three different barangays that remained distinct, never came together, never fused; or it could mean that a single original settlement; as it grew split into three smaller pieces.

Philippine society, as though fearing bigness, ever tends to revert the condition of the barangay of the small enclosed society. We don’t grow like a seed, we split like an amoeba. The moment a town grows big it becomes two towns. The moment a province becomes populous it disintegrates into two or three smaller provinces. The excuse offered for divisions is always the alleged difficulty of administering so huge an entity. But Philippines provinces are microscopic compared to an American state like, say, Texas, where the local government isn’t heard complaining it can’t efficiently handle so vast an area. We, on the other hand, make a confession of character whenever we split up a town or province to avoid having of cope, admitting that, on that scale, we can’t be efficient; we are capable only of the small. The decentralization and barrio-autonomy movement expresses our craving to return to the one unit of society we feel adequate to: the barangay, with its 30 to a hundred families. Anything larger intimidates. We would deliberately limit ourselves to the small performance. This attitude, an immemorial one, explains why we’re finding it so hard to become a nation, and why our pagan forefathers could not even imagine the task. Not E pluribus unum is the impulse in our culture but “Out of many, fragments”. Foreigners had to come and unite our land for us; the labor was far beyond our powers. Great was the King of Sugbú, but he couldn’t even control the tiny isle across his bay. Federation is still not even an idea for the tribes of the North; and the Moro sultanates behave like our political parties: they keep splitting off into particles.

Because we cannot unite for the large effort, even the small effort is increasingly beyond us. There is less to learn in our schools, but even this little is protested by our young as too hard. The falling line on the graph of effort is, alas, a recurring pattern in our history. Our artifacts but repeat a refrain of decline and fall, which wouldn’t be so sad if there had been a summit decline from, but the evidence is that we start small and end small without ever having scaled any peaks. Used only to the small effort, we are not, as a result, capable of the sustained effort and lose momentum fast. We have a term for it: niñgás cogon.

Go to any exhibit of Philippine artifacts and the items that from our “cultural heritage” but confirm three theories about us, which should be stated again.

First: that the Filipino works best on small scale — tiny figurines, small pots, filigree work in gold or silver, decorative arabesques. The deduction here is that we feel adequate to the challenge of the small, but are cowed by the challenge of the big.

Second: that the Filipino chooses to work in soft easy materials — clay, molten metal, tree searching has failed to turn up anything really monumental in hardstone. Even carabao horn, an obvious material for native craftsmen, has not been used to any extent remotely comparable to the use of ivory in the ivory countries. The deduction here is that we feel equal to the materials that yield but evade the challenge of materials that resist.

Third: that having mastered a material, craft or product, we tend to rut in it and don’t move on to a next phase, a larger development, based on what we have learned. In fact, we instantly lay down even what mastery we already posses when confronted by a challenge from outside of something more masterly, instead of being provoked to develop by the threat of competition. Faced by the challenge of Chinese porcelain, the native art of pottery simply declined, though porcelain should have been the next phase for our pottery makers. There was apparently no effort to steal and master the arts of the Chinese. The excuse offered here that we did not have the materials for the techniques for the making of porcelain — unites in glum brotherhood yesterday’s pottery makers and today’s would be industrialists. The native pot got buried by Chinese porcelain as Philippine tobacco is still being buried by the blue seal.

Our cultural history, rather than a cumulative development, seems mostly a series of dead ends. One reason is a fear of moving on to a more complex phase; another reason is a fear of tools. Native pottery, for instance, somehow never got far enough to grasp the principle of the wheel. Neither did native agriculture ever reach the point of discovering the plow for itself, or even the idea of the draft animal, though the carabao was handy. Wheel and plow had to come from outside because we always stopped short of technology, This stoppage at a certain level is the recurring fate of our arts and crafts.

The santo everybody’s collecting now are charming as legacies, depressing as indices, for the art of the santero was a small art, in a not very demanding medium: wood. Having achieved perfection in it, the santero was faced by the challenge of proving he could achieve equal perfection on a larger scale and in more difficult materials: hardstone, marble, bronze. The challenge was not met. Like the pagan potter before him, the santero stuck to his tiny rut, repeating his little perfections over and over. The iron law of life is: Develop or decay. The art of the santero did not advance; so it declined. Instead of moving onto a harder material, it retreated to a material even easier than wool: Plaster–and plaster has wrought the death of relax art.

One could go on and on with this litany.

Philippine movies started 50 years ago and, during the ’30s, reached a certain level of proficiency, where it stopped and has rutted ever since looking more and more primitive as the rest of the cinema world speeds by on the way to new frontiers. We have to be realistic, say local movie producers we’re in this business not to make art but money. But even from the business viewpoint, they’re not “realistic” at all. The true businessman ever seeks to increase his market and therefore ever tries to improve his product. Business dies when it resigns itself, as local movies have done, to a limited market.

After more than half a century of writing in English, Philippine Literature in that medium is still identified with the short story. That small literary form is apparently as much as we feel equal to. But by limiting ourselves less and less capable even of the small thing — as the fate of the pagan potter and the Christian santero should have warned us. It’s no longer as obvious today that the Filipino writer has mastered the short story form.

It’s two decades since the war but what were mere makeshift in postwar days have petrified into institutions like the jeepney, which we all know to be uncomfortable and inadequate, yet cannot get rid of, because the would mean to tackle the problem of modernizing our systems of transportation–a problem we think so huge we hide from it in the comforting smallness of the jeepney. A small solution to a huge problem–do we deceive ourselves into thinking that possible? The jeepney hints that we do, for the jeepney carrier is about as adequate as a spoon to empty a river with.

With the population welling, and land values rising, there should be in our cities, an upward thrust in architecture, but we continue to build small, in our timid two-story fashion. Oh, we have excuses. The land is soft: earthquakes are frequent. But Mexico City, for instance, is on far swampier land and Mexico City is not a two-story town. San Francisco and Tokyo are in worse earthquake belts, but San Francisco and Tokyo reach up for the skies. Isn’t our architecture another expression of our smallness spirit? To build big would pose problems too big for us. The water pressure, for example, would have to be improved–and it’s hard enough to get water on the ground floor flat and frail, our cities indicate our disinclination to make any but the smallest effort possible.

It wouldn’t be so bad if our aversion for bigness and our clinging to the small denoted a preference for quality over bulk; but the little things we take forever to do too often turn out to be worse than the mass-produced article. Our couturiers, for instance, grow even limper of wrist when, after waiting months and months for a pin, a weaver to produce a yard or two of the fabric, they find they have to discard most of the stuff because it’s so sloppily done. Foreigners who think of pushing Philippine fabric in the world market give up in despair after experiencing our inability to deliver in quantity. Our proud apologia is that mass production would ruin the “quality” of our products. But Philippine crafts might be roused from the doldrums if forced to come up to mass-production standards.

It’s easy enough to quote the West against itself, to cite all those Western artists and writers who rail against the cult of bigness and mass production and the “bitch goddess success”; but the arguments against technological progress, like the arguments against nationalism, are possible only to those who have already gone through that stage so successfully they can now afford to revile it. The rest of us can only crave to be big enough to be able to deplore bigness.

For the present all we seen to be able to do is ignore pagan evidence and blame our inability to sustain the big effort of our colonizers: they crushed our will and spirit, our initiative and originality. But colonialism is not uniquely our ordeal but rather a universal experience. Other nations went under the heel of the conqueror but have not spent the rest of their lives whining. What people were more trod under than the Jews? But each have been a thoroughly crushed nation get up and conquered new worlds instead. The Norman conquest of England was followed by a subjugation very similar to our experience, but what issued from that subjugation were the will to empire and the verve of a new language.

If it be true that we were enervated by the loss of our primordial freedom, culture and institutions, then the native tribes that were never under Spain and didn’t lose what we did should be showing a stronger will and spirit, more initiative and originality, a richer culture and greater progress, than the Christian Filipino. Do they? And this favorite apologia of ours gets further blasted when we consider a people who, alongside us, suffered a far greater trampling yet never lost their enterprising spirit. On the contrary, despite centuries of ghettos and programs and repressive measures and racial scorn, the Chinese in the Philippines clambered to the top of economic heap and are still right up there when it comes to the big deal. Shouldn’t they have long come to the conclusion (as we say we did) that there’s no point in hustling and laboring and amassing wealth only to see it wrested away and oneself punished for rising?

An honest reading of our history should rather force us to admit that it was the colonial years that pushed us toward the larger effort. There was actually an advance in freedom, for the unification of the land, the organization of towns and provinces, and the influx of new ideas, started our liberation from the rule of the petty, whether of clan, locality or custom. Are we not vexed at the hinterlander still bound by primordial terrors and taboos? Do we not say we have to set him “free” through education? Freedom, after all is more than a political condition; and the colonial lowlander –especially a person like, say, Rizal– was surely more of a freeman than the unconquered tribesman up in the hills. As wheel and plow set us free from a bondage to nature, so town and province liberated us from the bounds of the barangáy.

The liberation can be seen just by comparing our pagan with our Christian statuary. What was static and stolid in the one becomes, in the other, dynamic motion and expression. It can be read in the rear of architecture. Now, at last, the Filipino attempts the massive — the stone bridge that unites, the irrigation dam that gives increase, the adobe church that identified. If we have a “heritage of greatness it’s in these labors and in three epic acts of the colonial period; first, the defense of the land during two centuries of siege; second, the Propaganda Movement; and the third, the Revolution.

The first, a heroic age that profoundly shaped us, began 1600 with the 50-year war with the Dutch and may be said to have drawn to a close with the British invasion of 1762. The War with the Dutch is the most under-rated event in our history, for it was the Great War in our history. It had to be pointed out that the Philippines, a small colony practically abandoned to itself, yet held at bay for half a century the mightiest naval power in the world at the time, though the Dutch sent armada after armada, year after year, to conquer the colony, or by cutting off the galleons that were its links with America, starve the colony to its knees. We rose so gloriously to the challenge the impetus of spirit sent us spilling down to Borneo and the Moluccas and Indo-China, and it seemed for a moment we might create an empire. But the tremendous effort did create an elite vital to our history: the Creole-Tagalog-Pampango principalia – and ruled it together during these centuries of siege, and which would which was the nation in embryo, which defended the land climax its military career with the war of resistance against the British in the 1660’s. By then, this elite already deeply felt itself a nation that the government it set up in Bacolor actually defined the captive government in Manila as illegitimate. From her flows the heritage that would flower in Malolos, for centuries of heroic effort had bred, in Tagalog and the Pampango, a habit of leadership, a lordliness of spirit. They had proved themselves capable of the great and sustained enterprise, destiny was theirs. An analyst of our history notes that the sun on our flag has eight rays, each of which stands for a Tagalog or Pampango province, and the the Tagalogs and Pampangos at Biak-na-Bato “assumed the representation of the entire country and, therefore, became in fact the Philippines.

From the field of battle this elite would, after the British war, shift to the field of politics, a significant move; and the Propaganda, which began as a Creole campaign against the Peninsulars, would turn into the nationalist movement of Rizal and Del Pilar. This second epic act in our history seemed a further annulment of the timidity. A man like Rizal was a deliberate rebel against the cult of the small; he was so various a magus because he was set on proving that the Filipino could tackle the big thing, the complex job. His novels have epic intentions; his poems sustain the long line and go against Garcia Villa’s more characteristically Philippine dictum that poetry is the small intense line.

With the Revolution, our culture is in dichotomy. This epic of 1896 is indeed a great effort — but by a small minority. The Tagalog and Pampango had taken it upon themselves to protest the grievances of the entire archipelago. Moreover, within the movement was a clash between the two strains in our culture — between the propensity for the small activity and the will to something more ambitious. Bonifacio’s Katipunan was large in number but small in scope; it was a rattling of bolos; and its post fiasco efforts are little more than amok raids in the manner the Filipino is said to excel in. (An observation about us in the last war was that we fight best not as an army, but in small informal guerrilla outfits; not in pitched battle, but in rapid hit-and-run raids.) On the other hand, there was, in Cavite, an army with officers, engineers, trenches, plans of battle and a complex organization — a Revolution unlike all the little uprisings or mere raids of the past because it had risen above tribe and saw itself as the national destiny. This was the highest we have reached in nationalistic effort. But here again, having reached a certain level of achievement, we stopped. The Revolution is, as we say today, “unfinished.”

The trend since the turn of the century, and especially since the war, seems to be back to the tradition of timidity, the heritage of smallness. We seem to be making less and less effort, thinking ever smaller, doing even smaller. The air droops with a feeling of inadequacy. We can’t cope; we don’t respond; we are not rising to challenges. So tiny a land as ours shouldn’t be too hard to connect with transportation – but we get crushed on small jeepneys, get killed on small trains, get drowned in small boats. Larger and more populous cities abroad find it no problem to keep themselves clean – but the simple matter of garbage can create a “crisis” in the small city of Manila. One American remarked that, after seeing Manila’s chaos of traffic, he began to appreciate how his city of Los Angeles handles its far, far greater volume of traffic. Is building a road that won’t break down when it rains no longer within our powers? Is even the building of sidewalks too herculean of task for us?

One writer, as he surveyed the landscape of shortages —no rice, no water, no garbage collectors, no peace, no order—gloomily mumbled that disintegration seems to be creeping upon us and groped for Yeat’s terrifying lines:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold:
Mere anarchy is loosed…

Have our capacities been so diminished by the small efforts we are becoming incapable even to the small things? Our present problems are surely not what might be called colossal or insurmountable — yet we stand helpless before them. As the population swells, those problems will expand and multiply. If they daunt us now, will they crush us then? The prospect is terrifying.

On the Feast of Freedom we may do well to ponder the Parable of the Servants and the Talents. The enterprising servants who increase talents entrusted to them were rewarded by their Lord; but the timid servant who made no effort to double the one talent given to him was deprived of that talent and cast into the outer darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth:

“For to him who has, more shall be given; but from him who has not, even the little he has shall be taken away.”

What you should know about Graciano López Jaena

If one is to read Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere in the original Spanish, he would be surprised how the country’s foremost national hero described the infamous Padre Dámaso:

Sin embargo de que sus cabellos empezaban á encanecer, parecía conservarse bien su robusta naturaleza. Sus correctas facciones, su mirada poco tranquilizadora, sus anchas quijadas y hercúleas formas le daban el aspecto de un patricio romano disfrazado, y, sin quererlo, os acordaréis de uno de aquellos tres monjes de que habla Heine en sus Dioses en el destierro…

(My translation: “But while his hair was beginning to gray, his robust nature seemed to be well preserved. His correct features, his quite reassuring look, his wide jaws and herculean forms, gave him the appearance of a Roman patrician in disguise, and, unwittingly, you will remember one of those three monks that Heine speaks of in his ‘Gods in Exile’…”)

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In case you don’t know how Roman patricians looked like (image: Brewminate).

 

So where did popular culture get the idea that the poor Franciscan was a balding, bloated, pot-bellied friar?

Many history buffs agree that today’s visual image of Padre Dámaso was culled from an (insane) story written by an eighteen-year-old Ilongo by the name of Graciano López Jaena who, early in his career as an aspiring político in Madrid, once declared that he was a Spaniard more than a Filipino (no wonder he was wont to prominently feature his mother’s last name; the Spanish way of writing one’s full name is to end it always with the maternal surname).

López Jaena, whose birth anniversary is commemorated today (birthdate: 18 December 1856) in his hometown of Jaro, Iloílo and elsewhere where he is still highly esteemed, wrote a story titled “Fray Botod” which in his native Hiligaynón literally means a big-bellied friar. This is how he described his story’s “protagonist”:

Baja estatura; cara abogatada en forma de disco cual luna llena. Pómulos atomatados. Gruesos labios y pronunciados; ojos chiquititos, picarescos y gatunos; nariz grande, abermellado,* de alas anchas y desplegadas, por eso olfatea á distancia como un perdiguero. Cabello amaizado, corona tabo** con cerquillo. Frente deprimida y arrugada marcanda ceño sombrío y adusto. Abdomen; sobre todo, su abdomen llama la atención por su mostruoso desarrollo, es más promontorio que abdomen, porque termina en punta cerca ombligo; la región pelviana y la pectoral coinciden en el mismo plano perpendicular determinado una curvatura central de la columna vertebral. Añádase á todo esto, un cuello corto sobre donde descansa aquella original fisonomía y tenéis acabado el retrato de cuerpo entero.

(My translation: “Of short stature with a flattened, disc-shaped face like that of a full moon. Stuck cheekbones. Thick and pronounced lips. Tiny eyes, picaresque and feline. Large nose, reddish,* with wide and unfolded wings: that is why from a distance he sniffs like a gun dog. Rich hair whose tabo-shaped** crown has bangs. Depressed and wrinkled forehead marks a gloomy and grim frown. And the abdomen —his abdomen, above all— attracts attention because of its showy development, it is more promontory than the rest because it ends at a point near the navel. The pelvic and pectoral region coincide in the same perpendicular plane with a central curvature of the spine. Add to all this is a short neck on which that original physiognomy rests, and you will have his full-length portrait.”)

*Abermellado is not even Spanish. It is Galician, a language spoken in northwestern Spain. It is a mystery as to how López Jaena got hold of that word. Perhaps at an early age he was already a Hispanophile?
**Tabo is a filipinismo, meaning that it is a Filipino word that has been incorporated into the Spanish language. A tabo pertains to the ubiquitous water dipper.

Take note, he was only eighteen when he wrote this hilarious caricature of a Spanish friar. He was virtually a kid. And his Spanish, although rich in imagery, cannot even be considered literary gold.

One wonders as to how López Jaena was influenced by anticlericalism at such young an age (he joined Freemasonry at a much later time in his life, when he was already 26), but it can be gleaned that opposition to religious authority was already in ferment during his youth. Many (Hispanophobic!) historians will readily point out that this belligerent attitude toward the “repressive” Spanish friars was the starting point of his heroism. Debatable, of course.

Now going back to his political plans… what do you make of this declaration of his to Rizal, in a letter dated 15 October 1891?

Ciertamente, si quiero ser diputado en España, es para satisfacer ambiciones personales, nada más; no tengo la pretensión de dar por mi investidura de diputado, derechos ni libertades á Filípínas, ella tíene que conquístarlos con su sangre, lo mismo que su independencia.

(My translation: “Certainly, if I want to become a deputy in Spain, it is to satisfy personal ambitions, nothing more. For my investiture as deputy, I do not intend to give rights or liberties to Filipinas. She has to conquer them with her blood, as well as her independence.”)

His colleagues, most prominently José Alejandrino among them, described his lifestyle in Spain as rather Bohemian: he was a strange fellow who loved to give impromptu speeches just for the heck of it (many of the things he said were just figments of his fertile imagination), who would rather spend more time in cafés just to while away time rather than write articles with his fellow propagandistas (they literally had to bribe him with spending money just to write). He, too, was perhaps the original “dugyót” (which means a slovenly person) as he rarely took a bath, who preferred eating sardines with his bare hands, then wiping his oily fingers on his seldomly washed clothes.

Curiously enough, Jaena rhymes with the English word hyena which is a carnivore known for its filthy and mangy behavior as a scavenger. Just a thought. 😂

There’s your hero, the one and only Graciano López Hyena! So aside from greeting him a happy birthday today, you might as well thank him too for fighting for your liberty.***

***An example of a sarcastic remark. Anyway, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Rizal the poet

When you study Rizal as a poet, you will realize his deep love of country.

When you study Rizal as a poet, you will realize the deep impact nature had on his creativity.

When you study Rizal as a poet, you will realize his deep devotion to the Virgin Mary.

When you study Rizal as a poet, you will realize how pedagogic he was as he was romantic.

When you study Rizal as a poet, you will realize that Spain indeed had conquered Mindanáo, that it is not for the Moros.

When you study Rizal as a poet, you will realize that he was both a Nationalist Spaniard and a Patriotic Filipino.

When you study Rizal as a poet, you will realize his high hopes for the youth.

When you study Rizal as a poet, you will realize how exactly he felt whenever he was inspired or heartbroken.

When you study Rizal as a poet, you will realize that his first verse was a verse of love, and that his final one was still that of love.

Dr. José Rizal was not all about his novels. When you look at him as a poet, you will realize that he was one of the greatest WRITERS of the Spanish language, truly one of the all-time Filipino greats.

RIZAL

Antología: Junto Al Pásig, Consejo de Los Dioses, Poemas (published by Linkgua).

Stop studying him as a propagandist. It is high time that you all look at him as the poet that he really was.

Why is Rizal a hero to you?

What’s your favorite Rizal poem? Chances are, you won’t be able to name one save for, of course, the usual stuff they taught us in school: the very last one he wrote. Do you even know how many poems he wrote? Are you even aware how exquisitely beautiful his verses are, and what are the usual themes of his poetry?

(as expected, I hear crickets chirping)

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You see, Rizal was first and foremost a POET, a passionate bard who masterfully versified his profound love for Filipinas. He began his writing career as a poet and ended it as a poet. He is not all about the Noli and the Fili. He is not all about the Propaganda Movement. It is most unfortunate that he can no longer be understood by today’s generation when, at the turn of the 20th century, our forebears were cut off from his culture by a new language —THIS language I’m using right now— imposed by a nation experimenting with imperialism. When Rizal and his contemporaries were already soaring like Cervantes and Clarín, those hapless Filipinos who came after them had to learn anew the ABCs of another culture. So now we read him through bastardized and oftentimes annoying English translations. Unfortunately, we never soared like Shakespeare and Tennyson using the English language.

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There was one, however, who came close: Nick Joaquín. But he was on a league of his own: his first language was Spanish, and many attribute his mastery of English, aside from his being an indefatigable bookworm, to his proficiency of his mother tongue (English and Spanish are cognates). It can even be argued that his translation of Rizal’s valedictory poem was more superior than the original. Perhaps among all Rizal translators, it was only Nick who was able to capture the imagination and depth of the national hero as well as the spirit of the Filipino.

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But since we have been linguistically cut off from that faraway culture, our REAL culture, not all of us can be Nick anymore. Not all of us can be Rizal anymore.

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Why is Rizal a hero to you?

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Rizal is a hero not because of his defiance to authority. He is a hero because of his deep love of country, a burning love that can only be understood by reading his verses (NOT his novels) in the language in which he wrote them. This is something that all patriotic Filipinos should think about every time Rizal Day falls, so that its celebration will not be rendered futile.

Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC)

It is sad to note that the essence of Rizal’s heroism today has degenerated into mere hero worship and opportunistic commercialism. There is nothing wrong in honoring Rizal, but it is best that we thoroughly understand what his heroism really is all about. Understanding him is the best way of honoring his memory.

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Marcelo H. del Pilar, a broken dad till the end…

Today is the birth anniversary of Marcelo H. del Pilar, one of the leaders of the Propaganda Movement.

Below is a brief biographical sketch of the bulaqueño native written by Carmencita H. Acosta from the 1965 book Eminent Filipinos which was published by the National Historical Commission, a precursor of today’s National Historical Commission of the Philippines (recently known as the National Historical Institute).

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My wife Yeyette in front of Marcelo H. del Pilar’s monument in Plaza Plaridel (Remedios Circle), Malate, Manila. This monument used to be in front of nearby Manila Zoo. Fellow Círculo Hispano-Filipino member and my comadre, Gemma Cruz Araneta (a descendant of José Rizal’s sister María) suggested the transfer of this monument to this site while she was the president of the Heritage Conservation Society.  The transfer was done last 2009 under the guidance of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim (this photo was taken on 24 August 2010).

MARCELO H. DEL PILAR
(1850-1896)

“The most intelligent leader, the real soul of the separatists…” — these were the words used by Governor General Ramón Blanco, chief executive of the Philippine colony, in describing Marcelo H. del Pilar. A master polemist in both the Tagalog and Spanish languages, del Pilar was the most feared by the Spanish colonial authorities.

Del Pilar was born in Bulacán, Bulacán on August 30, 1850, the youngest of ten children of Julián H. del Pilar and Blasa Gatmaitán. His father had held thrice the post of gobernadorcillo in their home town. Del Pilar studied at the Colegio de San José in Manila and at the University of Santo Tomás; at the age of thirty he finished the course in law. He devoted more time to writing than in the practice of his profession because in the former he saw a better opportunity to be of service to his oppressed country. His oldest brother, Father Toribio H. del Pilar, a Catholic priest, had been deported along with other Filipino patriots to Guam in 1872 following the Cavite Mutiny.

He founded the Diariong Tagalog in 1882, the first daily published in the Tagalog text, where he publicly denounced Spanish maladministration of the Philippines. His attacks were mostly directed against the friars whom he considered to be mainly responsible for the oppression of the Filipinos.

In 1885, he urged the cabezas de barangay of Malolos to resist the government order giving the friars blanket authority to revise the tax lists. He instigated the gobernadorcillo of Malolos, Manuel Crisóstomo, to denounce in 1887 the town curate who violated government prohibition against the exposure of corpses in the churches. In the same year, he denounced the curate of Binondo for consigning Filipinos to poor seats in the church while assigning the good ones to Spanish half-castes.

On March 1, 1888, the populace of Manila staged a public demonstration against the friars. Led by the lawyer Doroteo Cortés, the demonstrators presented to the civil governor of Manila a manifesto entitled “¡Viva España! ¡Viva la Reina! ¡Viva el Ejército! ¡Fuera los Frailes!“. This document, which had been signed by eight hundred persons, was written by Marcelo H. del Pilar. It enumerated the abuses of the friars, petitioned for the deportation of the archbishop of Manila, the Dominican Pedro Payo, and urged the expulsion of the friars.

It was because of his having written this anti-friar document that del Pilar was forced to exile himself from the Philippines in order to escape arrest and possible execution by the colonial authorities.

“I have come here not to fight the strong but to solicit reforms for my country,” del Pilar declared upon arrival in Barcelona, Spain. La Soberanía Monacal en Filipinas(Friar Supremacy in the Philippines) was among the first pamphlets he wrote in Spain. The others included Sagót ng España sa Hibíc ng Filipinas (Spain’s Answer to the Pleas of the Philippines), Caiigat Cayó (Be Like the Eel) — del Pilar’s defense of Rizal against a friar pamphlet entitled Caiiñgat Cayó denouncing the Noli Me Tangere.

Del Pilar headed the political section of the Asociación Hispano-Filipina founded in Madrid by Filipinos and Spanish sympathizers, the purpose of which was to agitate for reforms from Spain.

In Madrid, del Pilar edited for five years La Solidaridad, the newspaper founded by Graciano López Jaena in 1889 which championed the cause for greater Philippine autonomy. His fiery and convincing editorials earned from him the respect and admiration of his own Spanish enemies. “Plaridel” became well-known as his nom de plume.

In November, 1895, La Solidaridad was forced to close its offices for lack of funds. Del Pilar himself was by then a much emaciated man, suffering from malnutrition and overwork. He was finally convinced that Spain would never grant concessions to the Philippines and that the well-being of his beloved country could be achieved only by means of bloodshed — revolution.

Weakened by tuberculosis and feeling that his days were numbered, he decided to return to the Philippines to rally his countrymen for the libertarian struggle.

But as he was about to leave Barcelona, death overtook him on July 4, 1896.

His passing was deeply mourned by the Filipinos for in him they had their staunchest champion and most fearless defender. His death marked the passing of an era –the era of the Reform Movement– because scarcely two months after his death, the Philippine Revolution was launched.

I am not really a big fan of Marcelo H. del Pilar, especially when I learned that he was a high-ranking Mason. Besides, I believe that what he fought for would not equate to heroism. He was, to put it more bluntly, another American-invented hero. The American government, during their colonization of Filipinas, virtually influenced the Filipino puppet government to recognize “heroes” who fought against Spain.

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But a closer observation on Marcelo’s life will reveal that, like Rizal and other Filipino “heroes” of his generation, he never fought against Spain. They fought against the Church, the sworn enemy of their fraternity (Freemasonry).

What really captivated me about Marcelo is his heartbreaking fatherhood. Since I am a father of five, I can empathize with his sorrowful plight.

A few years ago, when Yeyette and I had only one child (Krystal), and we were still living in a decrepit bodega somewhere in Las Piñas, I happened to stumble upon Fr. Fidel Villaroel’s (eminent historian and former archivist of the University of Santo Tomás) monograph on del Pilar — Marcelo H. del Pilar: His Religious Conversions. It was so timely because during that time, I had just gone through my own religious conversion, having returned to the Catholic fold after a few years of being an atheist and agnostic.

In the said treatise by Fr. Villaroel, I learned of del Pilar’s anguish over being separated from his two daughters, Sofía and Anita. Due to his radical activities as an anti-friar, as can be gleaned in Acosta’s biographical sketch above, del Pilar escaped deportation. He left the country on 28 October 1888, escaping to Hong Kong before moving to Spain. He never saw his little kids and his wife ever again.

Sofía was just nine years old at the time of his escape; Anita, one year and four months. Father Villaroel couldn’t have written this painful separation better:

Month after month, day after day, for eight endless years, the thought of returning to his dear ones was del Pilar’s permanent obsession, dream, hope, and pain. Of all the sufferings he had to go through, this was the only one that made the “warrior” shed tears like a boy, and put his soul in a trance of madness and insanity. His 104 surviving letters to the family attest to this painful situation…

…He felt and expressed nostalgia for home as soon as he arrived in Barcelona in May 1889, when he wrote to his wife: “It will not be long before we see each other again.” “My return” is the topic of every letter. Why then did he not return? Two things stood in the way: money for the fare, and the hope of seeing a bill passed in the Spanish Cortes suppressing summary deportations like the one hanging on del Pilar’s head. “We are now working on that bill.” “Wait for me, I am going, soon I will embrace my little daughters, I dream with the return.” How sweet, how repetitious and monotonous, how long the delay, but how difficult, almost impossible!

Here are some of those heartbreaking letters, translated by Fr. Villaroel into English from the Spanish and Tagálog originals, of Marcelo to his wife (and second cousin) Marciana “Chanay” del Pilar and Sofía:

In 1890: I want to return this year in November (letter of February 4); Day and night I dream about Sofía (February 18), I will return next February or March (December 10).

In 1891: It will not be long before I carry Anita on my shoulders (January 22); Sofía, you will always pray that we will see each other soon (August 31).

In 1892: If it were not for lack of the money I need for the voyage, I would be there already (February 3); I am already too restless (March 2); I feel already too impatient because I am not able to return (April 14); This year will not pass before we see each other (May 11); Be good, Sofía, every night you will pray one Our Father, asking for our early reunion (September 14; it is interesting to note that del Pilar advised her daughter to pray the Our Father despite his being a high-ranking Mason –Pepe–); Don’t worry if, when I return, I will be exiled to another part of the Archipelago (November 9).

In 1893: Who knows if I will close my eyes without seeing Anita (January 18)!; My heart is shattered every time I have news that my wife and daughters are suffering; hence, my anxiety to return and fulfill my duty to care for those bits of my life (May 24); I always dream that I have Anita on my lap and Sofía by her side; that I kiss them by turns and that both tell me: ‘Remain with us, papá, and don’t return to Madrid’. I awake soaked in tears, and at this very moment that I write this, I cannot contain the tears that drop from my eyes (August 3); It is already five years that we don’t see each other (December 21).

In 1894: Tell them (Sofía and Anita) to implore the grace of Our Lord so that their parents may guide them along the right path (February 15); Every day I prepare myself to return there. Thanks that the children are well. Tears begin to fall from my eyes every time I think of their orfandad (bereavement). But I just try to cure my sadness by invoking God, while I pray: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ I am the most unfortunate father because my daughters are the most unfortunate among all daughters… I cannot write more, because tears are flowing from my eyes aplenty (July 18); We shall meet soon (December 5)

I have to admit, reading these letters never fail to move me to tears because I, too, have experienced the same orfandad and the longingness for a father. It is because I have never lived with my dad for a long time since he was always overseas. When we were young, he only stayed with us for a couple of weeks or a few months. And my dad was a very silent man.

His work overseas, of course, was for our own benefit. But the price was depressing: we’ve been detached from each other forever. Whenever he comes home to us, my dad was like a total stranger to me. Especially now that I have my own family and I rarely see him nowadays. No, we are not in bad terms (although I know that he still resents the fact that I married at a very early age). But we are simply not close to each other because of those years of separation and lack of communication. I do not know him, and he doesn’t know me. We do not know each other personally. But I know for a fact that my dad loved us dearly, and that he experienced the same anguish experienced by del Pilar. I’ve read some of dad’s letters to mom, and in those letters he expressed the same desire to come home with us and stay permanently. But nothing like that happened (and now, my parents are no longer together).

The same thing with del Pilar. After all those patriotic talk and nationalistic activities, nothing happened. His sacrifice of being separated from his family was, sadly, all for naught…

When he died a Christian death in Barcelona (yes, he also retracted from Masonry shortly before he passed away), he was buried in the Cementerio del Oeste/Cementerio Nuevo where his remains stayed for the next twenty-four years. Paradoxically, a renowned Christian member of the Filipino magistrate, Justice Daniel Romuáldez, made all the necessary procedures of exhuming the body of del Pilar, one of the highest-ranking Masons of the Propaganda Movement. His remains finally arrived on 3 December 1920. He was welcomed by members of Masonic lodges (perhaps unaware of del Pilar’s conversion, or they simply refused to believe it), government officials, and his family of course.

Sofía by then was already 41; and del Pilar’s little Anita was no longer little — she was already 33.

Anita was very much traumatized by that fateful separation. Bitter up to the end, she still could not accept the fact that her father chose the country, ang bayan, before family. An interesting (and another heartbreaking) anecdote is shared by Anita’s son, Father Vicente Marasigan, S.J., regarding her mother’s wounded emotions:

[My] first flashback recalls April 1942. Radio listeners in Manila had just been stunned by the announcement of the surrender of Corregidor. There was an emotional scene between my father, my mother, and myself. My mother was objecting to something my father wanted to do ‘para sa kabutihan ng bayan’. My mother answered, ‘Lagi na lang bang para sa kabutihan ng bayan?’ [‘Is it always for the good of the country?’] And she choked in fits of hysterical sobbing. All her childhood years have been spent in emotional starvation due to the absence of ‘Lolo’ [Grandfather] Marcelo, far away in Barcelona sacrificing his family para sa kabutihan ng bayan.

“The second flashback is rather dim in memory. I was then two years old, in December 1920. I think I was on board a ship that had just docked at the [Manila] pier, carrying the remains of Lolo Marcelo. All our relatives from Bulacán were present for the festive occasion. Some aunt or grandaunt was telling me how proud and happy I must be. I did not understand what it meant to feel proud, but I knew I was unhappy because I felt that my mother was unhappy. In the presence of that casket of bones, how could she forget the emotional wounds inflicted on her by her father ‘para sa kabutihan ng bayan’ [for the good of the country]?

History is not just about dead dates, historical markers, and bronze statues of heroes. It has its share of eventful dramas and personal heartbreaks. And this is one heartbreak that I will never allow my children to experience.

To all the fathers who read this: cherish each and every moment that you have with your children.

This blogpost was originally published in FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES exactly eight years ago today; reblogged here with minor edits. Later on, this blogpost won me the friendship of del Pilar’s descendants and found out that I’m actually related to them by affinity.