current events, History

Independence Day?

Today is the so-called Independence Day of the Republic of the Philippines. While the Philippine government is throwing another party extravaganza to celebrate Independence Day, it would be much better to analyze what happened during those times 114 years ago. Despite the heroic efforts of the Filipino patriots in 1898, the independence that they proclaimed was short-lived.

First, no other country recognized such independence. But even worse is that many Filipinos (or indios) at that time also did not recognize the Republic. Some were already in cahoots with the Americans in planning to topple the new-born republic.

Second, in that republic, the Moros of Mindanao played no role in it. At that time, the Moros applauded the Indios’ victories in Luzon while in Mindanao, the Moros everywhere sent the Spaniards packing. The Moros, led by the datus of the Rajahnate of Buayan, attacked the Spaniards wherever they could find them and threw them out of Mindanao.

Unfortunately for both the patriots of Luzon and the warriors of Mindanao, the Americans were waiting in the shadows.


More than a hundred years ago, the Americans egged Aquinaldo and the Katipunan to fight the Spaniards. They promised them weapons and materiel. Then, the Americans betrayed them.

Today, the Americans are again egging the Philippine government to fight another country, China. Again, the Americans promised more aid. Will history repeat itself?

Because of the occasion, I am re-posting here Part 1 of an academic paper I wrote on the Filipinos’ Quest for Identity in 2003.


“Humans have no nature, only history” 

                — Robin Collingwood



“Faceless for centuries, the Filipino has worn a succession of masks imposed on him by alien intruders. No one really knows the depths of his confusion and bewilderment; no one can truly measure the intensity of his hurt and shame. A moving shadow, he drifts aimlessly. Feeling unworthy of his own true self, he embraces other people’s values and claims them as his own.” Thus spake Marcos.   (Marcos, Ferdinand E., Five Years of the New Society, Manila: 1978)

Ferdinand Marcos certainly knew the Filipino psyche.  For some twenty years, he ruled the country, turning the “showcase democracy in Asia” into his private kingdom. Arguably, it was his sickness, more than anything else, which caused his ouster. To insist that in 1986 the Filipino rose from slumber and found the wherewithal to dispose of tyrants would be mere wishful thinking. The political triumphs of Marcos cronies, lackeys, wife, children and other relatives in the post-EDSA period speak volumes.

To say that after the Marcos dictatorship, the Filipino had finally found his True Self and unshackled himself to enjoy Freedom would be (again) wishful thinking.  The ordinary Filipino of today is just as powerless, confused, bewildered and oppressed as their ancestors during the Spanish colonial times, the American imperial period and the Japanese occupation.

The response of the Filipino, which was institutionalised by his government, is to run – run to another country. And so the Philippines is now known as the Land of Domestic Helpers and Overseas Contract Workers. As OCW’s or OFW’s (F for Foreign, a measly attempt at euphemism), these ordinary, hardworking Filipinos buoyed up the country’s balance of payments by infusing the much-needed dollar remittances into the economy. In gratitude, the demagogues who run the government call them “Bayani ng Bayan” or the country’s heroes. If truth be said, they are more like the modern-day equivalent of slaves. It’s another case of the rulers patronizing the ruled.

How much money could compensate for the “intensity of their hurt and shame”? They go abroad as workers, not considered equals by the citizens of their host countries. They are forced to work in different climes, with people of different cultures. They are generally discriminated upon. Engineers work as technicians, lawyers as clerks, and physicians as nurses. And worse, they are separated by thousands of miles from their loved ones. And to add insult to injury, these Filipinos are even ridiculed. In a National Lampoon issue, US Senator Daniel Inouye was supposed to have said about the Filipinos:

“They are a harmless, nondescript people and nation, with no particular offensive qualities and no reason to bother anybody; they never cause concern in any way at all. What I want to know is how the fuck did they manage it? What genius? (Cited in Asian-American News, April 16-30, 1982)

The fact that the Filipinos in the US took these statements simply as a joke, with nary a protest, is quite telling. Being harmless and nondescript may have its advantage – like being the preferred foreign workers of the world’s richer countries. But in the long run, what would that make of the Filipino people?  What sort of legacy does that make to future generations of Filipinos?

In the film AMISTAD, the historical character John Quincy Adams declared: We are who we were.” Perhaps in order to understand and remedy the Filipino’s lack of identity, one has to go back to the roots – re-investigate the Filipino history.


The on-going Mindanao conflict is now on its fourth (now fifth) decade. This has cost tens of thousands of lives lost, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children displaced, and millions of dollars worth of property damaged. The potential revenues from natural resource development, tourism and general socio-economic development that is sacrificed because of this war is staggering. The damage that this 40-year conflict has inflicted spells the difference between Philippines as a developing economy and Philippines as a newly industrialized country. And with no hope for settlement in sight, the development of the country as a whole will have to remain slow.

The war in Mindanao keeps military spending high – with the Defense department getting the biggest share in the national budget, keeps tourists away, discourages local and foreign investment especially in Muslim Mindanao and retards the building of infrastructures necessary in economic development.

How long can this continue? The Martial Law powers of Mr. Marcos could not stop the MNLF. On the contrary, it was he who sued for peace that culminated in the Tripoli Agreement. The “all-out war” of Mr. Estrada against the MILF has left the MILF as strong as ever. The “mailed fist policy” of Ms. Arroyo, reinforced with American advisers, against the Abu Sayyaf and MILF has not made a dent in both organizations.

The July 27, 2003 putsch is a clear indication of the gravity of the Mindanao conflict. And the Moros were not even involved.

The leaders of that military putsch declared three primary reasons for their mutiny. First, they claimed that the military, specifically the Defense chief Gen. Angelo Reyes was responsible for the bombing in Davao. Second, they claimed that the military is actually selling ammunition to the MILF. Third, they denounced the massive graft and corruption in the military. In an interview with media people, Lt. Trillanes, the putschists’ spokesman said that they wanted to end war in Mindanao because they could not find any reason (walng kabuluhan for it. He also asked the interviewer (Karen Davila), Do you want a terrorist for a President?

Ever since the EDSA event, military officers have been saying that they do not want war in Mindanao.[1]  The leaders of the July 2003 coup attempt are just the latest military people who questioned the government’s war in Mindanao. But if the country could not afford the powder keg that is Mindanao to fully explode, then why do the majority of Christian Filipinos support military aggression in Mindanao as evidenced by the increase in popularity rating of Mr. Estrada during his “all-out war” such that Ms. Arroyo is also following Erap’s “tough guy” stance to buoy up her ratings?  The answer lies in History.

This paper will attempt to show that the Filipinos quest for Identity and Peace should be pursued together for only a clear and comprehensive understanding of the Christian Filipinos’ quest for Identity and the Moros’ desire to reclaim their sovereign Identity separate from the rest of the Filipinos can there be true peace in the land. And only a thorough understanding of history by all parties can bring about the needed change.[2]

To achieve peace in Mindanao, there must be a clamor by the population. For that to happen, the average Filipino must understand the real circumstances surrounding the issue. They must understand the motivations behind every group. And to understand the real issues, one must go back to history.

Philippine historiography is not exactly in a good state. Skeptics have categorized historians as those who lie, those who are mistaken and those who do not know.  (Gilderhus1996) It is quite unfortunate that much of Philippine history was written by those in the first two categories. With regards to the Moros, Spanish historians (writing about Moro history) belonged to the first category; American historians belonged to the first and second; and Filipino historians belonged to all categories…


History is “the act of selecting, analyzing and writing about the past. It is something that is done, that is constructed.” (Davidson and Lytle 1982) Historical documents from the coming of the Spaniards up to the end of their regime in the Philippines in 1898 were all about them (the Spaniards) and their activities in the Islands. Thus, the so-called Philippine history during that period is actually history of the Spanish and not of the Filipinos.

QUEST FOR IDENTITY –Who and what is a Filipino?

Spanish Colonial Period

Throughout the Spanish rule in the Philippines, the term Filipino was reserved for pureblood Spaniards, differentiated only as peninsulares (those born in the Spanish Peninsula) and insulares (those born in the Islands). The Christianized natives were never called Filipinos. They were referred to as indios or naturales. Even the mestizos (half-breeds) were not called Filipinos.

In the latter part of the 19th century, Governor-General Clavecilla ordered all indios (except Manila’s local nobility, i.e., descendants of Rajah Suleiman and Lakandula) to adopt Spanish names in pain of punishment if they refused to do so. Thus, present-day Filipinos bear Spanish names. Having a Spanish name does not make one a Spaniard.

When the Aguinaldo government appropriated the term Filipino for the indios, the identification with the Spanish masters became complete. In one semantic stroke, the history of the Philippines became the history of the indios (the present-day Christian Filipinos) and not of the Spaniards (the original Filipinos).

This is a grave malady. By appropriating the name Filipino, the present-day Filipinos think that the Filipinos referred to in history indicate them and not the Spaniards. This makes them identify with the Spanish, forgetting that under Spain, their forefathers were virtual slaves – mandated to do forced labor and were considered eternal minors.

Leon Ma. Guerrero, one of the elites who constructed the “imaginary nation” called Filipino nation, had a hard time translating Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere. In the novel, Rizal used the word Filipino to mean Spaniards in the Philippines which was incomprehensible to most readers in the 1950s who were brought up to believe that the term Filipino meant them, i.e. Christianized natives. Benedict Anderson (1994) wrote :

“…young Filipinos would at once see, in any straight translation from the Spanish, that they do not exist within the novel’s pages. Filipinasof course appear, but they are exactly what today’s Filipinas are not: ‘pure-blood’ Spanish Creoles.”

Guerrero, in his attempt to fit the Noli into the elites’ “nation-state project”, effectively revised history. The Filipinos in Guerrero’s translation considered both Spain and Philippines as homes, worshipped European-looking deities, spoke foreign languages, alluded to Greco-Roman classical mythology and fell in love with Caucasian ladies. References to colonial abuse were rendered bland and ineffective. And since the modern-day Filipinos believe that they (or their forefathers) were the ones referred to in the book, it is but natural for them to imbibe the thoughts and beliefs of the Noli’s characters. In effect, Guerrero re-wrote the Noli. Jose Rizal must have turned in his grave when the translation was published and made required reading for Filipino students.

And so the confusion of the modern-day Filipinos’ identity continues.

The American Era

Much of the “official” Philippine history is a construct of the indigenous elites of Luzon who came into political and economic leadership during the American Occupation.

The biggest casualties (in terms of what I call “historical character assassination”) in this period were General Emilio Aguinaldo and his fellow Katipuneros.

Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo
Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo

There was a great fuss about the Centennial celebrations in 1998. It was supposed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of Independence by Emilio Aguinaldo and his Katipunan. Yet Aguinaldo, who became a cause celebre in Europe during his time for daring to fight the American power, had such a bad press in his own country. He died in old age almost in disgrace.[3] Yet Rizal wrote only two novels and Bonifacio’s Manila revolt lasted for only about a week or so. It was Aguinaldo’s army who subdued the Spaniards while the Americans looked on. It was Aguinaldo who proclaimed the Philippine Republic, whose centennial was celebrated with pomp and ceremony. And it was Aguinaldo who led the fight against two-thirds of one of the world’s strongest army at that time.

Perhaps Voltaire, in his call for accurate history, was correct when he stated that history has become “a pack of tricks we play on the dead.” The Shakespeare line, “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred in their bones”, could very well be applied to Emilio Aguinaldo and many of his co-Katipuneros.

The “Aguinaldo symptom” is just one of the many symptoms of the Filipinos’ historical malady. This historical “dis-ease” must be diagnosed, articulated and cured. Otherwise the Filipino can never know its true Self, its historical heritage. It (the Filipino identity) can never be at ease with itself.

The Filipino elite (the ilustrados) re-constructed Philippine history, with the aid of the Americans, during and after the American colonization. The Americans and their new wards (Quezon et al.) needed to demonize Aguinaldo and the Katipunan. Although the Americans declared the Philippine-American war as “officially” finished in 1902, some Katipuneros continued the fight led by such men as Mariano Sakay and Miguel Malvar. Gen. Artemio Ricarte chose exile in Japan over an ignominious surrender to America.

In 1899, the French journalist Gaston Rouvier described Aguinaldo as “even to his enemies, (he is) the greatest man of the Malay race.” Recounting the Filipino victory over Spain during the so-called Spanish-American war, Rouvier wrote:

As soon as the naval victory of Dewey in Cavite was achieved… (Aguinaldo) left for the Philippines…The MacCulloch transported them. On May 19, hardly disembarked, Aguinaldo rekindled the embers of revolt across the Luzon provinces, thanks to his untiring work and a kind of magnetic influence which he exercised on his followers.  He roused a rebel leader in every district. For the capture of all Spanish garrisons and outposts, he devised a campaign plan. He was Bonaparte, if his admirers were to be believed. Bonaparte, indeed, by the strange fascination that he elicited from his people. He obtained extraordinary results. In two days, his messengers covered 150 kilometres. In 36 hours, his soldiers travelled 70 to 80 kilometres. Thus, he was able to take the Spanish garrisons by surprise; he was able to take hold of arms and treasures. From May 1898 to January 1899, he led the struggle against Spain without let-up. He captured 15,000 Spanish soldiers and forced 2,000 to 3,000 others to leave Camarines, Tayabas, Batangas and Laguna for Mindoro, Panay and Cebu. – At present he still detains 6,000 Spanish soldier-prisoners in the northern provinces.

Aguinaldo as the greatest of the Malay race? A veritable Bonaparte? This would come as a surprise to many Filipinos living today who had been brought up to think of Aguinaldo as an elitist leader who sold out the masses, who killed the father of the Revolution, Andres Bonifacio, and the greatest Filipino general, Antonio Luna. Somebody, preferably a historian, should explain the discrepancy.

It seems strange that American and Filipino historians give scant attention to European eyewitness accounts of the Philippine-American war. Perhaps it was due to the fact that European journalists had been writing that only Filipinos could defeat Filipinos in that war. It is another blow to the Filipino identity.

In an interview with French journalist Henri Turot in 1899, Florentino Torres, a Filipino lawyer articulated the ideas of the ilustrados:

“There is in Aguinaldo a most serious cause for concern. You must know that the insurrectionary movement is not only nationalist; it is above all socialist and revolutionary. The people did not want the Spanish exploiters anymore; they do not like the Americans any better, who have fooled them and dream of enslaving them. I’ll say more; they no longer want any masters of any kind. So much so that they being victorious over the Americans, they would take advantage of this victory to the limit: we would then have a kind of socialist republic…

A number of young men who studied in Europe brought back the socialist doctrine with them. Do we have to cite Luna, who frequented the socialist clubs in Spain for a long time; Sandiko, who was a propagandist in America; Paterno, a poet, a fanatic?…

And what is more frightening still is that those who surround Aguinaldo want to imitate the great French revolution and are inspired by its spirit. The day after the proclamation of the Philippine Republic, the newspaper in support of the president published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. You may be sure that they want to follow the examples of 1789 and 1793 right to the end…

Since we prefer to live under American domination rather than be ruined and stripped by a socialist republic, since we have the instinct of self-preservation which is not really surprising, we wish for no more than an honorable modus vivendi from the representatives of the United States.”[4]

The above quotation gives the underlying cause of the Aguinaldo symptom.  The dominant elite  — the ilustrado, abandoned the revolutionary cause and stabbed Aguinaldo in the back, as it were. And so Aguinaldo and his fellow revolutionaries had to be discredited.

Accounts by French journalists about the War in the Philippines clearly emphasized that the US wanted to conquer the Philippines from the very start. But, as Serafin Quiason, chair and Executive Director of the National Historical Institute, wrote in his preface to the volume The War In The Philippines: As Reported by Two French Journalists in 1899,

“ its story disappeared from the Filipino consciousness for two generations, thanks to the history books authored first by American teachers and then by Filipinos steeped in the colonial atmosphere of the educational system.”

It would indeed be difficult to have an identity if one is fed with historical notions constructed and re-constructed by others with vested interests – the Spanish, the Americans, the elites, etc. British historian Robin Collingwood says, “Humans have no nature, only history.” What does that make of the Filipino?…

The Post-WWII Republic

Perhaps to remedy the situation, some historians reacted to the grand narratives of Spanish, American and colonial-minded Filipino historians by re-visiting Philippine history. However, such re-visits to the past merely created other grand narratives, although this time, they were based on Marxist theories. These grand constructions shaped historical research according to their image, which may even be incongruent with historical knowledge. Such re-visits to the Philippine past resulted in a Philippine revolution in the image of Communist revolutions, with Andres Bonifacio, the so-called Great Plebeian, becoming a veritable Mao Ze Dong, steeped in the tenets of Marx and Lenin. The image of Rizal became that of a bourgeois who loved the arts, sports and women while Aguinaldo was nothing but a petit bourgeois stooge of the Philippine elite and the killer of Bonifacio.

The lives and thoughts of the Filipino heroes were trivialized and reduced to baseless generalizations. For a nation trying to find its identity, nothing is worse than seeing its greatest sons de-bunked.

Another impediment to historical research is the assumption of postcolonial discourses that may have nothing to do with the Philippines’ actual past. George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University points out that

“Colonialism and colonize, in other words, have become codewords for any relation involving exploitation. Although authors who use them thus acquire certain rhetorical advantages typical of using politically correct and politically fashionable terms, they also create serious problems as well. In particular, as Sara Suleri and Chandra Talpade Mohanty point out, such rhetorical and metaphorical uses of terms involved with colonization unfortunately (1) turn away from the specific historical realities of colonialism and post colonialism, and (2) thereby falsely imply that we know all there is to know about these realities, particularly (3) that all colonialism and colonization was pretty much the same.”

The above statements are quite true in Philippine post-colonial discourses. Philippine writers seem to believe that the colonial experience of the Filipinos was the same as those of the Arabs, the Indians or the Muslim Malays. But how could one explain why the others have maintained their sense of Identity while the Christianized Indios / Filipinos had lost it, if the colonial experience was the same for everyone?

[1] In a TV program DEBATE, Renato de Villa, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Defence Secretary and presidential candidate asked. “Kaya ba natin kung sumabog ang Mindanao?” (Can we handle it if Mindanao explodes?) It was a rhetorical question that silenced the other guests in the show, including those who applauded Mr. Estrada’s “all-out war”?

[2] Everybody claims to desire Peace. However, reality shows otherwise. The no-peace no-war situation in Mindanao has its advantages for most of the parties concerned. The top brass of the Armed Forces of the Philippines need the Mindanao conflict in order to get a bigger share of the budget pie. The top leadership of the MNLF and MILF may prefer the status quo rather than risk an all-out war which can have unforeseeable consequences, especially regarding their leadership. The new Moro leaders created by the Manila government since the Marcos era have a big stake in the continuation of the status quo. The carpetbaggers from Luzon, Visayas and even the Chinese do not want a peace agreement which might question their vast acquisitions in Mindanao. Malaysia certainly prefers the status quo. A complete victory by any party (Moros or Philippine government) or real peace between the parties endangers the Malaysian government’s hold on Sabah. And the no-peace no-war situation in Mindanao fits in with the Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) doctrine that has guided US foreign policy since its adoption by the Reagan administration. The LIC doctrine sees the real war as not between America and Russia but between “America’s LIC warriors and the revolutionary combatants of the Third World” (Klare and Kornbluh 1988). And after the 9/11 affair, the West has a more concrete enemy: Terrorism (read: Islam).

[3] During my elementary school years, I remember asking my elders why Aguinaldo was not as great as Rizal or even Bonifacio. One answer that I often got was because Aguinaldo did not die fighting. In my freshman year in college, the history teacher asked the students to think of a question for a debate. Many students responded with the proposition to resolve who was the better hero, Rizal or Bonifacio. When I interjected and proposed Aguinaldo’s name, the class fell silent.

[4] Turot, Henri, The War in the Philippines  from The War in the Philippines: As Reported By Two French Journalists in 1899, translated by E. Aguilar Cruz,  National Historical Institute, Manila:1994, pp. 53-54

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