(The Philippine Star) Updated October 11, 2008 12:00 AM
In my searches, I found a paper written by Muslim scholar Datu Jamal Ashley Yahya Abbas in 2003 most helpful. In his opinion, the Filipinos’ quest for identity and peace should be pursued together. He believes that “only through a clear and comprehensive understanding of the Christian Filipinos’ quest for identity and the Moros’ desire to reclaim their sovereign identity can there be true peace in the land.
“The entire nation, Muslim or Christian, must clamor to achieve peace in Mindanao. 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,” he urged.
This is easier said than done. As he correctly estimates the damage to the Philippines of the 30-year conflict is so enormous, it stands in the way for the Philippines to become a newly industrialized country. Unless the conflict is settled the whole country suffers.
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I found especially interesting his views on General Emilio Aguinaldo. Writing on the centennial celebrations:
“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. 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.” Abbas blames the Filipino elite (the ilustrados) for reconstructing 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.”
He cites the French journalist Gaston Rouvier who described Aguinaldo as “even to his enemies, (he is) the greatest man of the Malay race.”
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.”
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Such a tribute to Aguinaldo comes as a surprise to me and other Filipinos equally nurtured with different stories. “Filipinos living today have 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.”
That is a tall order but it will have to be done. Abbas cites Serafin Quiason, chair and executive director of the National Historical Institute, who 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.”
“For a nation trying to find its identity, nothing is worse than seeing its greatest sons de-bunked…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,” adds Abbas.