The first Filipino
ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - February 20, 2010 - 12:00am

On February 18, 1823 Luis Rodriguez Varela, the Conde Filipino, with a group of Creoles who called themselves Sons of the Nation were deported for opposing the peninsulars and working for sweeping change in the then-colony. Inspired by the Spanish 1812 Constitution Varela’s prose and verse incited several native uprisings. He was an ideological and literary precursor to reformists such as Father Burgos and Jose Rizal. Varela and the Sons of the Nation were among the very first in a line of Filipinos who began work for economic, political and social reforms in the Philippines.

Luis Rodriguez Varela was actually the first man to name himself a Filipino, in a nationalist sense, in the late 18th century and in print no less. He was a Creole, born in the Philippines, and studied in France during the Age of Enlightenment. He applied the lessons he learned during that era to the problems of the Philippines. In 1795 he was declared by the Palace a count, he chose the title El Conde Filipino. As with many of the great nationalists, he left a legacy in writing advocating sweeping social change in the colony.

Among his works published were the Philippine Parnasus and the Historic Proclamation. It was the Proclamation that inevitably led to his exile. In his time, he called for equal rights for all residents of the islands (even if they were not Spanish by birth); improving the education system and even free primary education, deemphasizing foreign influence in business and promoting local economic development, representation in the Spanish Cortes, more participation in government, and secularization of parishes. One of his most famous articles was: “…a crime against a native should be more severely punished than a crime committed against a fellow Spaniard.”

El Conde Filipino and others of the time like Jose Javier de Torres, Manuel Zumalde and later on Pedro Pelaez brought to the Islands concepts of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution; concepts that were sweeping across Europe. Just a few years prior, the American colonies had just successfully revolted against the British on similar grounds of representation and freedom. Of Varela, Nick Joaquin would write: “In Luis Rodriguez Varela…there is much linkage to the later propagandists that he it is who can be most truly be called the precursor of Philippine nationalism…”

Three days and 64 years after the exile, came the publication of the novel that gave a new voice to the plight of the Filipinos and became the impetus to Revolution. February 21, 1887 saw the publication of Noli Me Tangere by the then 25 year old Jose Rizal. Rizal was always aware of the men who came before him. El Filibusterismo was dedicated to the memory of Gomburza.

February, for being the shortest month of the calendar year, is one of the most eventful in Philippine history. It is a month of historical instances of expressions of what could be considered Philippine nationalism: From the expulsion of El Conde Filipino and the Sons of the Nation, to the martyrdom of Gom-Bur-Za, to the publication of Noli Me Tangere, and to the 1986 EDSA Revolution. It is a good time to reflect on nationalism and to consider what needs to be done to finally achieve the vision so many have had for the Philippines.

AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT CONSTITUTION VARELA EL CONDE FILIPINO EL FILIBUSTERISMO ENLIGHTENMENT AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION FATHER BURGOS AND JOSE RIZAL HISTORIC PROCLAMATION IN LUIS RODRIGUEZ VARELA JOSE JAVIER JOSE RIZAL NOLI ME TANGERE
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