The Department of Education of the Philippine government prescribes a syllabus for a course on Philippine history in Philippine high schools that is probably the closest we get to an official history of the Philippines.
The narrative of this official history presents a thrice-repeated pattern of freedom lost and freedom regained. The first time the pattern appears is with Spanish colonization followed by the proclamation of Philippine independence 333 years later; the second time, with the American conquest followed by the granting of Philippine independence 48 years later; the third time, with Ferdinand Marcos’s declaration of martial law followed by the first People Power Revolution 14 years later. The Japanese Occupation followed by liberation three years later, which would certainly fit the pattern, is referred to as a delay in the attainment of freedom.
The problem with this narrative is its silence on what should be a primary concern for Filipinos: How did the independent villages in the Philippines, bereft of unity among themselves for centuries even when they belonged to the same ethnic group, develop into the nation the Philippines claims to be today?
The official narrative gives no answer; in fact, I do not know of any attempt to date to answer this question methodically. It is clear, however, from the official narrative that this is not a question expected to vex the ordinary grade school and high school student, because from the way the official narrative is written, the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands were already a nation long before the Spaniards came.
This is the unarticulated assumption of textbooks of Philippine history, and the manner of its communication is simple: the islands that make up the present-day Republic of the Philippines are referred to as “the Philippines” and their inhabitants as “Filipinos” even before the coinage of the name “Felipinas” or the arrival itself of the Spaniards is narrated. The assumption is that the Philippines has always “been there” and Filipinos have always “been around.”
Such a frame of mind, of course, radically affects the narration of Philippine history: the Philippines as territory has always existed, although unnamed, and the native inhabitants of the Philippines have always been a single people with a common culture, although without a central government. All it takes, of course, to reveal the gratuitousness of these assumptions is to review them from the perspective of Tausug, Maguindanao, or Maranao eyes: for these peoples the Philippines and Filipinos had precise beginnings in time.
Surely on this point the Tausug, Maguindanao, and Maranao have got it right, but if this is so, then the official narrative of Philippine history will have to be radically changed.
The concept of the Philippines as territory was originally constructed by a people who did not reside in the islands, and there is no evidence the construct was accepted by native inhabitants until the end of the nineteenth century. So the new narrative will relate how it took three hundred and more years for the concept of the Philippines as territory to be accepted by the peoples who had been residing on the islands for centuries. It will be the narrative of how the multitude of communities dwelling on different islands and speaking different languages came to regard themselves as one community, as one people.
One consequence of this, of course, is that the Cordillera peoples and the Tausugs, Maguindanaos, and Maranaos are not late entrants into the Philippine nation, but rather have arrived just in time to contribute to its formation.
Further consequences would be the more precise way of describing Spanish presence in the Philippines: were they invaders in the same way the Japanese were in 1941? Or the Americans? If there was no nation to invade, then what did the Spaniards invade? And what are we to do about Rizal’s insistence that the inhabitants of the Philippines were never conquered by the Spaniards, but rather that they made peace pacts, treaties, and reciprocal alliances with the Spaniards (see Rizal’s edition of the Morga, xxxiiin1 in the first edition; see also xxxiiin3)?
The Spaniards are frequently described as having been able to rule the Philippines for three centuries because of their policy of divide et impera, but what was there to divide if ethnic groups and indeed villages within the same ethnic group were independent of one another?
On the other hand, the many rebellions against Spain are often presented heroically, without any remark on how most of them were movements away from nationhood, if we understand “nationhood” to mean the unity of different ethnic groups.
If that is so, then should they continue to be presented as the high points of Philippine history they are frequently made out to be? Ironically, it was the two ethnic groups that collaborated most with the Spaniards in the suppression of revolts that were responsible for the Philippine Revolution of 1896; I refer to the Tagalogs and Pampangos.
Even more ironically, the Cordillera peoples and the Muslim communities of Mindanao and Sulu are heroes par excellence in the official narrative of Philippine history precisely because they never accepted Spanish domination.
Together with them, of course, would be the mountain tribes and all the families that preferred to live in the hinterlands, rather than be Spanish vassals, but from this motley crowd you would never have the Philippines. You would have the same villages living independently of one another for centuries.
This particular perspective of nationhood–villages forming towns, towns forming regions, regions forming a nation–casts events and developments in the past in a different light from the official narrative.
The pax hispanica, the prohibition of war between communities that were vassals of Spain, becomes an important condition of friendly relations between villages, but there is nothing said about this in Philippine textbooks. The foundation of towns, each with its own native ruler, takes on singular importance as the first step towards a larger community, considering that Philippine towns were agglomerations of villages, but this is never remarked on in Philippine textbooks.
Horacio de la Costa and Nick Joaquin have written on market days and fiestas, which surely played an important role in bringing people from different villages or towns or even ethnic groups together.
And then there were the citizen armies coming from towns of the same ethnic group raised to fight the Chinese, Dutch, British, and rebellious native communities, through which males from villages who would never have mixed with each other in times past did so under someone from their own ethnic group.
Underlying the pax hispanica and the citizen armies was, of course, the relationship of vassalage between the native Christian communities and the Spanish crown: this is a topic never touched on in Philippine textbooks which anachronistically insist on seeing native Christian communities from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries as colonies in the Bourbon mold.
And yet the relationship of vassal-lord is key to understanding the relationship between Spain and native communities. I would in fact propose that the history of the Filipino people from the invention of the Philippines as territory in 1521 to the end of the nineteenth century should be limited to those ethnic groups that had accepted vassalage under Spain. These were the first Filipinos.
This would not be a form of discrimination against the Cordillera peoples and the Muslim peoples of Mindanao and Sulu, but rather a gesture of respect toward them insofar as they rejected vassalage to the Spanish king.
On the other hand, underlying the foundation of towns, market days, and fiestas was the Christianization of the largest ethnic groups of Luzon and the Visayas, which brings us to a point of gross ignorance that the new narrative I propose wishes to correct.
The villain of Philippine history is the friar, but this is, of course, the friar of Rizal’s time, Fr. Burgos’s time. Talk to any graduate of any Philippine high school and his knowledge of friarly villainy goes back three centuries to the arrival of Legazpi.
The reason is that Philippine high school students study Rizal’s novels in Filipino language class and subsequently project what they were taught about the friars all the way back to the sixteenth century.
My students are astonished when I read them translations of documents of the Synod of Manila of 1582, with their denunciation of abuses by Spanish soldiers and encomenderos and their defense of the right of native inhabitants to rule themselves.
If the protagonist of Philippine history before the twentieth century cannot have been “the Filipino people” because there was no such people yet, then who would the protagonist have been?
Obviously, the protagonist would have been multiple: at the end of the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth, the villages who accepted vassalage; from the second half of the seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth, the various towns that arose from these villages. This is what we call today “local history”; indeed, but local history as prelude to national history.
How tedious, one might complain. But how else could one capture the quintessentially Philippine experience of multiple communities uniting to form larger ones? Nevertheless, I imagine it would be convenient to write the pre-national histories as the histories of ethnic groups, the history of Ilocanos, Tagalogs, Cebuanos, and so on, while keeping in mind that no ethnic group before the end of the nineteenth century was in fact a community.
The ethnic group as community is a phenomenon rather of the twentieth century. Concomitantly, the histories of ethnic groups as gestation period of national history would best be written in terms of “clusters,” e.g., the history of the Tagalogs and the Pampangos, the history of the Pangasinenses and the Ilocanos, the history of the Bicolanos, the Samareños, and the eastern Leyteños, and so on. No ethnic group developed in isolation, and each had a preferred ethnic group with which it interacted.
The twentieth century in the official narrative is divided into two parts: the American period and the period of the Philippine Republic.
The American period is seen as an unwelcome interruption of what the official narrative calls the nationalistic movement beginning with the Propaganda Movement and climaxing in the proclamation of Philippine independence on June 12, 1898.
The period of the Philippine Republic was delayed, so to speak, half a century. This is unbelievable distortion. In the first place, the only ethnic groups behind the Philippine Revolution from the time of its outbreak in August 1896 until the Pact of Biyak na Bato sixteen months later were the Tagalogs and Pampangos. The Ilocanos, Pangasinenses, Bicolanos, and the Visayans, although they did not oppose the Philippine Revolution, did not support it either. (It is difficult to see why we persist in calling it the Philippine Revolution.)
Second, in the same year that Aguinaldo proclaimed independence from Spain, the Republic of Negros, the Federal Republic of the Visayas, and the Republic of Lucbuan were all proclaimed in different parts of the Philippines. It is difficult to see 1898 as the birth year of the Philippine nation.
Third, the Cordillera peoples and Muslim communities in Mindanao and Sulu formed for the first time part of the same polity as the people of Luzon and the Visayas under the Americans, so that this was the first time that all the peoples of the Philippine islands were under the same rule.
Fourth, the present Philippine House of Representatives, the Philippine Senate, and the Philippine bureaucracy all trace their roots to the American period.
Finally, it was under the Americans that ethnic groups in the Philippines first spoke a lingua franca in significant numbers; I refer to English.
Instead of being a pause after the climax, the American period looks like the immediate preparation for the real climax of the twentieth century—the period of the Philippine Republic.
Unfortunately, many understand the Philippine Republic to be equivalent to “the Philippine nation”—a sad deception. In the old curriculum for Philippine History and Government, a subject offered in First Year High School, the distinction is made between state and nation. The one is not the other; similarly, the existence of the Philippine Republic (a state) does not mean that the Philippine nation exists.
Indeed, if we look at the uneven record of the foundation of towns in Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao, there cannot have been a nation at the end of the nineteenth century, not in the Visayas or Mindanao nor arguably in certain parts of Luzon.
But the question of whether the Philippine nation already existed when the Philippine Republic was established would never be asked, because in the official narrative the Philippines was already a nation even before the Spaniards came.
Similarly, in the official narrative the Philippines was already a state even before the Americans came, so there is no sense of newness, no sense of discovery or learning as the present Philippine state takes shape in the first half of the twentieth century.
The focus rather is on the struggle for independence from the Americans. When independence comes in 1946, there is no sense of achievement, but rather the sense of relief, as when something stolen long ago is finally recovered.
And yet the establishment of the Philippine Republic was significant, because the Philippine nation is taking shape today within the framework of the Philippine Republic (and as the nation takes shape, the Republic itself changes shape, as witness the different constitutions we have put together for ourselves since 1935) and the Philippine Republic (the state) is itself an important agent in bringing about the Philippine nation.
In the official history, the Republican period is a mere chronicle of facts, dutifully going through the different presidencies and enumerating their “achievements.”
It does linger on the Marcos Years—specifically, the declaration of martial law, the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, and the People Power Revolution, treating this series of events like the coming of the Spaniards and the Americans as an instance of freedom lost and freedom regained.
There is no discussion of the fact that in this particular instance the “tyrant” was not a foreigner, but a Filipino, and that after the first People Power Revolution there was no change in Philippine society; it merely returned to what it used to be.
The period of the Philippine Republic has yet to be woven into a narrative which must answer the question I posed earlier: How did the independent villages in the Philippines, bereft of unity among themselves for centuries even when they belonged to the same ethnic group, develop into the nation the Philippines claims to be today?
The answer to this question in the twentieth century is difficult to discern because the rhetoric emanating from schools, the government, and mass media would have us all believe that the Philippines is already a nation.
Collaborationism under the Japanese, however, the Muslim separatist groups, and the broad stream of emigrants from the Philippines all remind us that the nation is still in the process of formation.
Occasionally, social scientists remind us that the loyalty of Filipinos to their respective ethnic groups is stronger than their loyalty to the nation. That is only to be expected, because regionalism did not exist before the twentieth century, and we are obviously witnessing a stage in the development toward nationalism.
The twentieth century, however, saw more than the emergence of the Philippine state and the rise of regionalism. It saw the start of at least two more narratives: (a) the rise of modern Philippines with its network of roads, communications, and transportation, tall buildings (today, skyscrapers) of steel and concrete, the full panoply of modern professions manned by Filipinos, and the multi-ethnic city other than Manila, and (b) the birth of movements for social justice and democracy, which are nothing less than the rejection of the traditional native social structure.
These are, of course, unfinished and ongoing narratives, which must be presented as such because it will be the student’s turn to finish them. The second narrative in particular promises to be a saga that will furnish the emerging nation with heroes and martyrs.
(This is a revised version of a paper read at the Ninth International Conference on the Philippines (ICOPHIL) panel, “How Can We Write Philippine History?,” Michigan State University, USA, October 30, 2012)
About the author:
The University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) conferred the highest academic rank of full professor on historian and playwright Dr. Paul Arvisu Dumol during its 21st University Day on August 15, 2016. Dumol is a full-time faculty member of UA&P and teaches courses in Philippine History and Rizal. In 2012, he received the Gawad Rizal from the National Historical Commission for his work in Rizal Studies and in the propagation of Rizal’s ideas. He wrote The Metaphysics of Reading Underlying Dante’s Commedia: The Ingegno and translated into English rare manuscripts that became published as The Manila Synod of 1582: The Draft of its Handbook for Confessors. The classic Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio, described as “the most frequently performed one-act play in Filipino,” was written by Dumol when he was in high school.