Rebecca Añonuevo, who was my graduate student at De La Salle University, invited me recently to speak before her students at the Navotas Polytechnic College where she is now President. Navotas Mayor John Reynald Tiangco said the town supports the school and tuition is free.
I've never refused an invitation to speak before this country's youth for, I think, as an old writer, I have so much to tell them and at the same time learn from them. This is the youth that will make our future.
I am witness to the coming and going of three generations and I have taken note of the differences between these generations and also mine. There have been many significant changes, even in terms of population growth alone, and its physical challenges.
When I was in college, the population of the Philippines was only around twenty million. We are more than a hundred million today. The solutions to the agrarian problem that were propounded in the 1950s are no longer feasible today. There was so much forest land then that could be opened to land-hungry farmers. Such land is no longer available, yet we still have to produce more food for our own people.
The job requirements in my youth were often basic. Today, to get a good job, applicants must know a lot of technology. There were few Filipinos working abroad then too. Today, only jobs abroad seem more profitable and attractive to today's college graduates.
I'm taking cognizance of these changes because it is important for us not only to adapt to them but also to recognize the reasons for our abject poverty -- what we are all very aware of but don’t seem to care about. That in a region that has quickly modernized, we are the ones who have been left behind
We may have many of the trappings of progress, but certain verities that hamper the process of modernization still remain -- the barnacled attitudes, the landlord mentality of our elite, and not just physical poverty but the poverty of spirit in our people. It is such a tattered cliché, but three generations have passed and not one of them has actually been energized by a nationalism with social goals.
How then can we convince our very young to be Filipinos and, as such, to change themselves and this country as well? All of them are now nurtured by social media. Information is now readily available on almost any topic, much of it through the Internet. How should all this information be processed so that the young people will be more concerned with how their roots in this country should grow, and recognize that there is always something bigger than themselves?
So we come to the basic problem of nationhood. Why we are such a divided people. Why we can think only of our families and our clans. It is important that we do, but we must be able to connect our familial interest to the broader interest of nation.
Nationalism, although it has been debased in the West, is still a great and necessary unifying element in so many of the young countries, particularly those that have just achieved freedom from colonization. While, in many instances, this colonialism gives us an identity and also a purpose for being, it is necessary for us to destroy its vestiges because many of the elites in this country have acquired the motivation of the old colonialist, which is to exploit their own people. Indeed, Rizal was correct in saying that the slaves of today harboring memories of this slavery will become the tyrants of tomorrow.
I tell my young audiences to revive in themselves the old and solid virtues on which my generation was weaned -- good manners and right conduct. There is so much profanity in social media today, and civic discourse is muddied and debased. If the President and those who follow him blindly want to drown in their own cesspool of vulgarity, let them. But we must not accept as fact their rationalization that vulgarity is what the masa understand. That is an absolute lie! Go to any farming or fishing village, listen to the masa talk. It can be earthy but it is never profane or debasing.
I remind my young audiences how our history is tarnished with so many betrayals, our leaders betraying their followers, followers betraying their leaders, and Filipinos betraying themselves willfully, consciously. We see this happen in every election, when the people elect a candidate because he comes from the same tribe, or is a movie personality, or has an easy and memorable name, with no regard for the candidate’s honesty and their concept of public service. For which reason some of our highest officials are actually rapists and murderers, thieves and plunderers. As I said before, only a corrupt society supports corrupt leaders.
It is important for our young people to know our troubled history to recognize the role of betrayal in shaping it, and that betrayal weakens the nationalist impulse. It is our knowledge of history that will educate us. It will at the same time teach us that we are often our own worst enemy, and that to have a viable future, we ourselves must undergo profound spiritual cleansing to see and understand the very core of our problems. Only then can we develop in us as a free people the capacity for critical thinking so that on every occasion that we are challenged we know which path to take.
I tell the young people that I hope with their vast knowledge of what we are, we will also develop within our deepest being a sense of purpose, a creed in life that will make life itself more meaningful. The truth is, this most precious gift from God has no meaning and it is up to us to give it meaning so that we will be different from the hogs that only live to feed on the trough.
First published in The Philippine Star, April 13, 2019
I am sorry I missed Repertory Philippines’ musical, Miong, which is based on the life of Emilio Aguinaldo. It was one more effort to refurbish Aguinaldo’s name. Whatever his failings, Aguinaldo’s exalted position in our history is secure. But like all men, our heroes have flaws that are diminished or banished altogether in their shining hour.
I met the old soldier in the 1950s when I was in my twenties and writing for the old Manila Times Sunday Magazine. I was also working on my novel, Po-on, which is set in 1872, the year the three Filipino priests, Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora, were executed by the Spaniards for their so-called participation in the Cavite mutiny of that year. Some Filipino historians mark this year as the genesis of a conscious Filipino nationalism.
Emilio Aguinaldo was in his eighties then. His eyes were watery. He had a very gentle manner and was soft-spoken. I wanted to ask him several sensitive questions about General Luna and Andres Bonifacio, and the Pact of Biak-Na-Bato. He intimidated me. Here I was, a fledgling writer, and this venerable historical figure always addressed me in very polite Tagalog.
BUT I DID GET A LOT OF INFORMATION when he started reminiscing about the Malolos Republic and the flight of the defeated Filipino army and government from its last sanctuary in Tarlac, through Bayambang in Pangasinan, then all the way to Tirad Pass across the Cordilleras, the Cagayan Valley, and the Sierra Madre, to Palanan on the Pacific coast. I was going to ask him about the death of Bonifacio. But I think he had anticipated my question because he said, “In a revolution, there must be only one leader.”
I've read Mabini's scathing criticism of Aguinaldo and how eventually Mabini was eased out of the Malolos government at the influence of the Federalistas -- Paterno, the Legardas, the Aranetas, the Buencaminos. They were in Malolos in the daytime but at American-occupied Manila at nighttime, negotiating with the Americans to make the Philippines a member of the American Union.
Mabini, Antonio Luna, Bishop Aglipay -- they all knew that the young Republic, with its ill-equipped army, was no match for the Americans who were better armed and supplied. Bishop Aglipay and General Luna went North to reconnoiter the escape route of Aguinaldo and his ragtag army. Their purpose was to mount a guerrilla war against the Americans from bases in the Cordilleras, where they could get support from the Ilocos region and Cagayan Valley.
There are three routes to the Cagayan Valley from the Central Plain of Luzon; the first is Sta. Fe Trail, now Dalton Pass, which is wide enough to permit bull carts, water buffalos, and horses. The Villa Verde trail across the Caraballo range in Pangasinan can only be crossed on foot. Then there is Bessang Pass from Taguddin, Ilocos Sur, and finally Tirad Pass from Candon, Ilocos Sur. If you are in Candon, on a clear day you can recognize Mt. Tirad. Tirad in Ilocano means pointed.
The Americans, however, were well-informed on the movements of the Malolos government. They landed a force in San Fabian, La Union, which then marched across Pangasinan and Nueva Ecija, and sealed the Sta. Fe Trail. Aguinaldo had no other way except Tirad. The Americans had a cavalry, only a few hours behind a fleeing Aguinaldo and his troops. Aguinaldo had already crossed Tirad when Del Pilar turned back to delay the Americans who were closing in. The rest is history.
WHAT WE MUST REMEMBER always is that, in the end, we are our own worst enemy. After that grueling flight across two mountain ranges, Aguinaldo reached Palanan on the Pacific coast only to be betrayed by the Macabebes and captured by the Americans.
In recalling the retreat of Aguinaldo to Palanan, I'm reminded of another classic retreat in ancient history, that of Xenophon, the Greek student of Socrates who went to Persia with ten thousand Greek mercenaries at the bidding of Cyrus, the younger brother of the Persian king who wanted to usurp the throne. Cyrus was killed and the Greeks were demoralized, until Xenophon spoke to them, then led them back across great distances, hostile tribes, from desert to sea, and finally Greece.
Aguinaldo's retreat is not equivalent to that of Xenophon and the Greek mercenary army, but it is one heroic story of how Filipinos endure and surmount adversity. An aide of General Aguinaldo, Colonel Villa, the father of the poet Jose Garcia Villa, describes that epic flight in his journal. He notes that the big towns in Central Pangasinan were still surrounded by jungle, that some of the people in their escape route were hostile.
The flaws of our heroes are described in that great book, "A Question of Heroes," by Nick Joaquin. Character is fate. Aguinaldo was an opportunist, Gregorio del Pilar was a womanizer, and Rizal was a narcissist. But all had their shining hour, which anointed them with greatness -- Rizal calmly standing before the Spanish firing squad that December morning, Aguinaldo hoisting the flag of Asia's first Republic in Kawit, Cavite, on, and Gregorio del Pilar in the Battle of Tirad Pass, heroically trying to stop the flood.
These flawed Filipinos shaped our history, acting out their faults and transcending them in concert with their concept of nation. We must remember so we can compare them with our leaders today and those who are now campaigning to be elected into public office in May. Did these leaders a hundred years ago plunder this nation?
The flaws of Duterte are so blatant to all of us. But he may yet have his shining moment when he mounts that jet ski and, defying the Chinese Navy, he plants the Philippine flag on our Panatag Shoal.
First published in The Philippine Star, March 30, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/03/30/1905676/our-flawed-heroes-and-their-shining-hour