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Opinion

Collaboration and Artemio Ricarte

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose - The Philippine Star

As the 2022 election year approaches, many old questions will be revived, among them the collaboration of our leaders with our colonizers, all the way down through history, including the Philippine-American War. In living memory – Aquino, Recto, Laurel – Filipinos who collaborated with the Japanese were stigmatized, but their collaboration was politically resolved when they were elected to high government positions. I bring to mind two prominent Ilokanos who helped the Japanese – Mariano Marcos and General Artemio Ricarte.

Mariano Marcos, the father of president Ferdinand Marcos, was executed by the guerillas in Caba, La Union in 1945. President Marcos revised history when he named all those schools in the Ilokos after his father.

General Artemio Ricarte has a monument in Batac, Ilocos Norte, where he was born. He was a collaborator, yes, but he was also a patriot. His story is worth retelling. His family name wasn’t Ricarte – it was Dudon, the Ilokano term for grasshopper. Like most wealthy Ilokanos, he went to school in Manila and became a teacher. He was one of the first members of the Katipunan and in that fateful meeting in Tejeros, he was with Bonifacio. After Bonifacio’s death, he joined Aguinaldo to continue the revolution against Spain.

That revolution faltered, ended with the Pact of Biak-na-Bato with Aguinaldo accepting money from the Spaniards then, as agreed, went into exile in Hong Kong. It was at this opportune time that – the United States, in pursuit of Manifest Destiny and imperial ambition – Admiral George Dewey steamed into Manila and sank the Spanish fleet. The Americans then inveigled Aguinaldo to return and resume his revolution. The Americans, however, had occupied Manila; it was inevitable – the Philippine-American War began.

The ragtag revolutionary Army was vanquished, and Aguinaldo was captured. The Filipino leaders who refused to pledge allegiance to the United States – Apolinario Mabini and General Ricarte – were exiled to Guam. A couple of years later, both were returned to Manila; frail of health, Mabini took the allegiance, but Ricarte did not; he went to Hong Kong where he continued organizing opposition to the United States. He then returned surreptitiously to the Philippines. His whereabouts were discovered – he had to flee to China; from there he sought refuge in Japan. His first job was in a ceramics factory until the mayor of Tokyo, who knew him, gave him a job teaching Spanish to Japanese immigrating to South America.

The Japan Foundation gave me a grant to go to Japan to research how he lived. I first heard of General Ricarte during the Occupation; his return to the Philippines was published in the Tribune, the Roces paper that was taken over by the Japanese. From the little that I knew, I had considered him a tragic hero. It must be noted here that some of the 1896 revolutionaries had looked towards Japan for assistance. The Japanese even sent officers to train the fledgling revolutionary Army but had to leave because they couldn’t communicate.

Ricarte’s wife, Agueda, opened a restaurant in Yokohama. In front, the Philippine flag which Ricarte raised every morning. He wrote a history of the Revolution. He wanted our country’s name changed to Luzvimin. He lived frugally. When the ships from and to Manila docked, he eagerly welcomed the Filipinos who visited. In 1935, he was invited to visit Manila to attend the inauguration of the Commonwealth; he sent his wife instead.

When Japan went to war against the United States in December 1941, the Japanese recognized General Ricarte’s importance; they moved him to a hotel, gave him a Japanese sword and “shogun” title and, in April 1942, he flew in from Formosa to help in the Pacification campaign. He went around the country delivering speeches. He was already too old to be of great help to the Japanese. Where he could, he helped Filipinos who got into trouble with the Japanese. He also helped organize the KALIBAPI – a quasi-military organization to fight the guerillas.

During the Liberation, he and his family fled to Baguio and from there, they joined General Yamashita in his retreat to the Cordilleras. That was where he died, in Funduang, Ifugao, of old age and complications. I was able to interview a Japanese civilian who was with him on his death bed. His aide, Colonel Konochiro Ota, wrote about Ricarte, the trials and travail he lived through.

In the end, Ricarte couldn’t go back to his hometown – he feared the guerrillas. I can only speculate that had he done so the month that he arrived, the people in his hometown would have welcomed him. He was fully aware of the Japanese brutality during the Occupation – but by then, he was simply too embedded with them. Unlike the other collaborators, however, Ricarte did not abuse the power the Japanese gave him.

All through history and the many wars with which history is dented, it is customary for the victors to recruit collaborators, usually from the elites of the defeated people; with these, they have less problems in maintaining order; it is also easier for them to identify the resources they can exploit in which their collaborators profit. They are careful, however, to limit and oversee the power they give their collaborators for if they get too strong, they might aspire to take over power themselves. This is evident with the military officers whom Marcos coddled in the beginning. As evidence of decay grew, they organized the conspiracy that brought about the EDSA I revolution.

The collaborators’ justification for their complicity is that, if the regime is harsh, without them it could be worse. Collaborators, some of them, can be very sincere. This is how Ricarte was, and this was also true of some of the academics – my friends – who collaborated with the Marcoses. As I used to taunt them – what did they ever reward you with? Nothing!

As I said, collaboration with the Japanese as a political issue was resolved when the leaders who danced with them were elected to high government positions. As a moral issue, however, it continues to rile the national conscience to this very day. This brings us to the problems of political opportunism and civic decay which confront us today. Those of us who survived the Marcos dictatorship – who opposed Marcos particularly – know that a clear dividing line was drawn between those who collaborated and profited but are not ostracized or punished, and those who suffered.

This, then, is a clear message to everyone that ethics, justice and freedom do not matter at all, that if a future dictatorship comes, we may just as well surrender our values and live like animals. Since time began, men of whatever creed or race have tried to build societies where they can live in peace. This is particularly true with us; whatever our blatant shortcomings and hypocrisies, we continue to have in our vocabulary, words like justice, freedom, democracy, elections. These should not be empty abstractions. We must make them real now, and most of all, next year.

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