A different view of Philippine history
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 1, 2019 - 12:00am

A long period of festivities and holidays is ahead of us in December. Many will be spending time in the many world class resorts that now abound in the Philippines – Boracay, Bohol, El Nido resorts, Busuanga, and the latest craze, Siargao. While I have nothing against partying and bonding time with family especially grandchildren, as I will be doing, this would be a good time to read a few books. There are many genres to read, popular fiction, literary fiction, science fiction, romantic books, graphic novels, biographies and other choices. There is a genre which is really several types of books rolled into one – Filipiniana. These are books written by Filipinos about Filipinos.

Many of these Filipiniana books are not carried in the major bookstore chains. However, one can discover them in the smaller bookstore like Solidaridad, Popular, Old Manila, and Pandayan in the smaller towns where the book store chains are not present. Then there are the neighbourhood book stores like Savage Mind in Naga, Camarines Sur. 

Some of the more fascinating books I have read were published by the National Historical Institute including reprint of old books. One example is  Blockade and Siege of Manila in 1898 by Jose Roca de Togores y Saravia published  by HUESCA: Leandro Printing Press, 1908. 

The most fascinating perspective of the book is that it was written from a Spanish defender’s point of view. In the prologue, Jose Togores writes:

“ I had the honor to be of service to my country in a general mobilization as a volunteer during the blockade and siege of Manila; I was not only a witness to these events, I was actually an actor in these events as well. I was serving the country in the headquarters of Quiapo and in the lines of defense at the Matadero, at the street of Vives and at the street car station between Manila and Malabon.”

There is a historical vignette he writes: “ It was she [ Manila} who was attacked first and surrendered last. The surrender was certainly against the wishes of its defenders. But it was done on orders of higher superiors.... It was an honourable campaign and notwithstanding the utter failure, victory was more political than material in  nature, for the Yankees, a victory that was damaging to the United States, to the Philippines and to Spain. “

Perhaps because of the recent popularity of two movies about two heroes of the Philippine Revolution – there is now a number of books about the Philippine Revolution. There was a time when books on this era were mostly textbooks. But now these books have become more in the genre of creative non-fiction. One very good example is Luzon At War: Contradictions in Philippine Society, 1898-1902 by Milagros Camayon Guerrerro. The book has several original photos and details of life and battles during the revolution.

The most interesting part of the book is the author’s underlying thesis that the Philippine Revolution was actually a war waged by the Philippine elite purely for the benefit of the elite. In the preface, for example, she writes that the Filipino Revolution was simply a transfer of power from the Spaniards to the Filipino “ilustrado” class. She writes further: “The Aguinaldo government was one with the elite in their mistrust of the peasantry who saw agents of the Malolos Republic, principally the military elements as exploitative as the Spaniards of the past colonial regime. The republic’s prejudice against the awakened peasantry can be seen in the labels used against the latter: thieves and cutthroats, bad elements, bandits and fanatics.

The book has interesting insights into the Katipunan. From its inception, the Katipunan’s membership was really made up of the educated and gainfully employed “middle class.” At the Cry of Balintawak, half of those present had positions in the colonial bureaucracy while the rest were printers, office workers, warehouse clerks, book keepers and the like. There were only two “laborers.” Most of the generals – Luna, Tinio, del Pilar – were provincial warlords who raised armies using their own resources. Many of their foot soldiers were tenants in their haciendas or residents of provincial towns under their authority. Guerrero ends by pointing out that this country is still ruled by the elite class whose main interest in governing is to maintain and enlarge their powers.

Another genre which is becoming more popular are books about life in the Philippines during the Second World War. A book that many friends have recommended to me is Rampage. Although I have the book it remains on my list of unread but must read books. I recommend the book OCCUPATION 1942-1945 by Dr. Benito Legarda, Jr. It is about his personal experiences and various vignettes about life during the Japanese Occupation. It is very readable because it consists largely of columns from several publications written by the author. He says much has been written about that period from the Bataan Death March to the Rape of Manila; but, these were written mostly by Americans and for Americans. Yet 85 percent of the troops in Bataan were Filipinos. 

These books should be read by Filipinos especially those who want to have a more holistic view of Philippine history. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on December 7 with Gail Villanueva & December 14 with Rin Chupeco (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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