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How ‘unequivocal’ was Rizal’s condemnation of the revolution in Manila? What he repudiated was very specific, a conflict in which people were dying in the belief that Bonifacio had Rizal’s support, an uprising which Rizal held, rightly as it turned out, was premature, information that had been kept secret from the revolutionaries by Bonifacio.
Correctly, the Spanish advocate at his trial, deduced that Rizal was not anti-revolution or anti-separatist, ie., independent at that his opposition was a matter of time and opportunity, not substance.
Rizal certainly favoured independence, as much is implicit in his published writings and speeches and explicit in his private correspondence – if somewhat cautiously – and private conversations – ‘who launches a revolution will have me at his side’ he told his fellow ‘bedspacer’ in Europe, Jose Alejandrino.
Revolution was an optional route to independence, but not necessarily the only option. Rizal’s focus was on liberty, a condition in which Filipinos could achieve their full potential as individuals, as a society and as a nation. This could only be achieved through individual dignity and the respect for the dignity of others.
He was well aware that the greatest threat to liberty was not the Spanish but the Filipinos themselves. There was no point in independence if today’s slaves were to become tomorrow’s tyrants. Revolution and independence were therefore useless unless the endpoint was Filipino liberty – not merely removing the Spanish but preventing, too, future tyranny by Filipinos.
The Manila revolution merely sought to replace Spaniards with Filipinos. No underpinning of political philosophy as such was formalized until mid-1898. It was not unequivocally a revolution for the masses.
Constantino’s dichotomy between owning or disowning the revolution or owning or disowning Rizal as the National hero cannot be resolved in Constantino’s terms. It requires objective study and understanding of the objectives of Bonifacio’s revolution and of Rizal , the application of an instrument which Constantino himself confesses he denies to his Filipino readers – objectivity. To quote Constantino out of context: “This is a disservice to the event, to the man, and to ourselves.”
Freedom, to Constantino, is the absence of Spanish rulers and the presence of Filipino rulers regardless of the quality of their leadership. To Rizal, freedom was the presence of a Filipino liberty which promoted the interests and potential of all Filipinos. Constantino was fully aware of this, he was a well-read man, so was Rizal the real target of Veneration Without Understanding?
“(Considering Rizal as a nationalist leader) … has dangerous implications because it can be used to exculpate those who actively betrayed the Revolution and may serve to diminish the ardor of those who today may be called upon to support another great nationalist undertaking to complete the anti-colonial movement” wrote Constantino. Rizal, then, must be removed from his pedestal not because of his worth as an individual but as an atomic particle in a class which Constantino hold betrayed the 1896 revolution and the Katipunan, because he represents a class which Constantino considered a threat to the anti-colonialist movement of the 1960s.
Rizal must be toppled because Constantino wanted to topple his class among whom, by extrapolation, was Ferdinand Marcos, a lawyer, whose star was on the rise as Contantino wrote his famous article. It has been said that the problem with dictators isn’t that they don’t love their country but that they love it too much. Marcos, odious dictator though he became, was a nationalist and cunningly played US interests against Russian and Chinese interests. It is far too simplistic to see Marcos as merely a super-cacaique who sought to preserve power and extract wealth. He loved his country, identified himself with it and saw an attack on himself as an attack on his country and considered his own leadership as the only one that could defend and protect it.
Out of that nationalism came the very tyranny that Rizal feared, a fear that led to his repudiation of Bonifacio.
To Be Continued
The End of Veneration – Rizal and Constantino – Part 6
“Either the Revolution was wrong, yet we cannot disown it, or Rizal was wrong, yet we cannot disown him either.” Says Constantino. These are worrying, challenging questions for a patriotic, nationalistic Filipino, even one who is not a Marxist. But are they the right questions?
Let us remind ourselves: We have the Spanish, not Bonifacio, to thank for launching the revolution. Bonifacio proved an incompetent commander, was driven out of Manila and failed again at Indang in Cavite. Aguinaldo, the bête noir of Constantino, as well as other members of the elite, took and held territory with some success. None, however, showed inspired military leadership. The revolutionaries had Manila invested in late 1896 yet did not push their advantage and throw out the Spaniards. That lack of decisiveness allowed time for the Spanish to receive reinforcements (No veterans, most of them were raw, untrained recruits). While the revolution did not collapse in its entirety it lost sufficient ground that, along with the depredations by the Filipinos forces against the common tao under the pretext of revolution, morale fell sufficiently for the situation to become unwinnable for either side.
We cannot disown this history. We must accept it. To simply blame the elite may be convenient, but it is an excuse and far too simplistic. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the book of the British: The Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War was suicidal, courageous, magnificent, and the result of incompetent leadership. Said a French general, “It’s magnificence, but is it war?”.
In the early part of World War 2 British forces in Europe were thoroughly clobbered by the Nazis and forced to withdraw across the English Channel (The French call it La Manche, unwilling to accept that the English actually had a channel) through the small French town of Dunkirk. Those forces had to be rescued by a fleet of ships and tiny private yachts, some little more than exaggerated rowboats, which set off across the channel to bring them back. Dunkirk was a failure yet the term ‘the Dunkirk spirit’, the unwillingness to give up even when the odds are against you, still survives.
The Philippine Revolution was the Filipino Charge of the Light Brigade, its Dunkirk. It is not only victories that define national character, so do defeats.
Even if we accept the concept of a revolution of the masses, was it a revolution for the masses? There is nothing in Bonifacio’s or the Katipunan’s political philosophy that suggested anything other than a change of personalities, certainly there is nothing to suggest that system ic change in ownership of the economy or access to power. Indeed, the elections at Tejeros, supervised by Bonifacio, suggest that the revolution would merely extrapolate local municipal politics to a national scale. Since for most ordinary Filipinos the interface with the power structure was these same principales, they could expect little real change.
Constantino’s/Agoncillo’s concept demands that we think of the revolution as a single monolithic movement. But was it? Although the Katipunan philosophy offered little to the common tao there were others who underpinned ‘their’ revolution with something more substantive. The Pensacola brothers in Zambales, for instance fought under the motto ‘It is time for the rich to be poor and the poor to be rich’, a clear and distinct demand for systemic economic and political change and equitable distribution of resources for the benefit of the masses. No such philosophy tainted the revolution in Cavite and Manila or the lips of Bonifacio or Aguinaldo.
So whose revolution is ‘our’ revolution, the ‘revolution of the masses? Bonifacio’s or that of the Pensacolas? Which revolution did Rizal actually repudiate?
To be continued
Contantino presents us first with a list of national heroes: Washington, Lenin, Bolivar, Sun Yat Sen, Mao and Ho Chi Minh. All led successful revolutions. What Constantino fails to do is to present us with a list of national heroes who led failed revolutions. During the glorified tax-dodge that is the American War of Independence, Washington withdrew to Valley Forge on a losing streak but, thanks in no small part to French financial and materiel support and direct intervention, recovered to win independence from the British. The Philippine revolution has no comparable tale to tell and no successful revolutionary leader to become the national hero because that revolution failed, thus there can be no Philippine revolutionary national hero to complete the pantheon presented by Constantino for comparison.
A national hero has a variety of functions, one of which is to be the archetype of the people’s aspirations. Few people aspire to be a failure, which may be one good reason why Filipinos chose Rizal as the person they most wanted to be.
Next, Constantino seeks to show that Rizal was pro-Spanish, anti-liberty, anti-revolution and anti-independence using a calibrated scale from “he placed him against Bonifacio” to “vehement condemnation of the mass movement” to “…our Revolution”.
Let’s explore this a little. Rizal was in Dapitan when he was approached by Pio Valenzuela to support a revolution planned by a man he did not know, Bonifacio, and whose personal qualities and integrity he could not judge. There are various accounts of this meeting but the sum of them, including those presented in Rizal’s trial, is that Rizal did not reject or repudiate revolution or his involvement in it outright. He asked about money and arms, to be told there was little of either. Rizal was clearly aware of the danger presented by the elite and the need to get their support – otherwise where would the money and arms come from? He feared, too, that their money and influence could crush the revolution and said as much. He was told that this man, whom he did not know, without arms or money, had not recruited such support. It was on those grounds that Rizal refused to back Bonifacio, not because he was proposing a revolution but because Bonifacio and the Katipunan simply hadn’t got their act together.
Rizal’s refusal had no effect on subsequent events because Bonifacio ensured that it was kept a secret, although he continued to invoke Rizal’s name as the password for entrance into Katipunan lodges, which were held under the gaze of photographs of Rizal. The latter’s misgivings proved correct: learning of Bonifacio’s plans the Spanish authorities seized the initiative, which Bonifacio was not able to recover. Bonifacio was roundly beaten and went into hiding in Cavite. There, the Bonifacio revolution died and was in its death throes even before his ignominious execution at Maragondon.
Bonifacio remained a largely forgotten, minor figure in Philippine history until resurrected under American tutelage with a memorial in 1917 and a brass plaque in Malacanang two decades later which put his name not only alongside Rizal, but that of William McKinley. Unlike Rizal, it took an American puppet government to revive interest in Bonifacio.
Be that as it may, Rizal’s hesitation to support the Bonifacio revolution was well founded and by the time he was arrested the Luneta was already a sea of courageous patriot’s blood being shed in his name in response to a leaders then in hiding. It is against that background that his manifesto to the Filipino people should be read. The manifesto was not made public at the time because it repudiated neither revolution per se nor independence and the fear was that releasing it would cause an upsurge in revolutionary activity.
Constantino’s condemnation of Rizal lumps his refusal to join Bonifacio with an implicit condemnation of ALL those fighting for the country’s freedom. Is this true? Rizal’s unnamed poem which we know today as Mi Ultima Adios is not merely a love song to his country, it is a stirring call to arms to shed blood for it.
Now let’s take a brief look at the ‘mass movement’. Constantino borrows Teodore Agoncillo’s concept of a revolution of the masses and blames its failure on the turncoatism of the elite. It is treated as axiomatic yet the historical record suggests otherwise. Many of the much maligned elite fought it out to the end, even through the Philippine-American War, Vicente Lukban being just one example. Like Agoncillo, Constantino avoids the very pertinent question: If it was a movement of the masses, how could the betrayal by a handful of the elite cause it to collapse?
There is, in fact, little evidence that the revolution was a revolution of the masses more than, say, a revolution of the elite, merely calling it such doesn’t make it so. Indeed, especially during the Philippine-American War period there is plentiful evidence that the masses were disillusioned with the revolutionary leadership and rather tired of being robbed, tortured, raped and murdered by revolutionary commanders and their men. Hundreds of such reports, by Filipinos, are spread throughout the largely unexplored volumes of the Philippine Revolutionary Records. Constantino was aware of these reports because he edited the 1973 publication, by the Lopez Foundation, of JRM Taylor’s The Philippine Insurrection Against The United States, which includes a selection of about 1,500 PRR documents out of a total of some 600,000.
The captures of Aguinaldo and Lukban and the surrenders of Trias and Macabulos were followed by the end of effective resistance to American rule. Resistance did continue but it was disorganized, disunited and sporadic. Often, Filipinos suffered more than the enemy: During the Pulahanes period in Samar, more Filipinos were killed by the Pulahanes than by the Americans during the Samar campaign, the ‘Hemp War’, of early summer 1901 to April 1902. Indeed, the very same townmen who, in 1901, had successfully attacked and defeated an American garrison at Balangiga, the worse single disaster for American forces during the 1899-1902 war, were driven to capture not only a leading pulahane but one who was one of their own kinsman.
Historical data simply does not support Constantino’s concept of a revolution of the masses. Rizal’s Golden Age of great Filipino cannon-makers, writers of great bodies of Filipino literature and Filipino builders of 2,000 tonne ships occupy the same reality-space as Constantino’s revolutionary masses.
To be continued
The End of Veneration – Rizal and Constantino – Part 4
To understand Constantino, his intent and his methodology one must explore the framework into which he fitted his historical data. In the preface to his collection of articles, Dissent and Counter-Consciousness, he writes “…although these essays were not written as parts of a book, they nevertheless follow a consistent pattern of discussing present society from the vantage point of the past and past society in the light of present reality. Such a method of discussion could not but project ideas on the modes and dimensions of social change”.
Compare this to the preface to Rizal’s annotated De Morga: “In the Noli I began to sketch the present state of our native land. The effect that my attempt produced pointed out to me, before proceeding to unfold the other successive pictures before your eyes, the necessity of first making known to you the past in order that you may be able to judge better the present and to measure the road traversed during three centuries… If the book succeeds in awakening your consciousness of our past, already effaced from your memory, and to rectify what has been falsified and slandered… we shall be able to study the future”.
Constantino’s philosophy for dealing with historical data is further clarified in a second book, published in 1975, “The Philippines – A Past Revisited”. The book is a primary reference work for Filipino students but few have their own copies, most relying on handouts of specific photocopied pages. Few history teachers bring attention to, or discuss, the book’s introduction with their students, possibly because to do so would bring into question the value of Constantino’s writings as historical source material.
Significantly, Constantino admits that ‘a Past Revisited’ is not a People’s History of the Philippines and challenges Filipino historians to write one. As of this date, more than 30 years later, not a single committed scholar has taken up his challenge, even though ‘committed scholarship’, or committed ‘scholarship’, now represents the status quo. One can imagine four reasons why no-one has taken up Constantino’ challenge – intellectual cowardice, a dearth of new and original thinking, reluctance to research original sources, or fear that Constatino’s assertions, based on those of Agoncillo, will not stand up to close scrutiny.
It should be noted that Blumentritt’s critique of Rizal’s De Morga, and reviews of Constantino, echo each other – neither said anything original about the effects of imperialism that hadn’t been well-covered elsewhere.
In Rizal’s day there were few Filipino scholars of history, by Constantino’s there were many. Constantino dismisses those historians who sought to be balanced and objective, to do so, in his view, was a symptom of colonial mentality: “the work of these scholars was till undertaken primarily in the interests of ‘objectivity’ and for this reason did not fall within the framework of an essentially liberating scholarship.” What Constantino tells us, then, is that objectivity cannot be liberating. To misquote the motto of a major Philippine daily newspaper, he tells us ‘The truth cannot make you free’.
Of particular note is his comment: “when intellectual decolonisation shall have been accomplished, a historical account can be produced which will present a fuller, more balanced picture of reality”. For Constantino, then, Filipinos are not ready for an objective study of their own history, rather as the Americans considered Filipinos ill-prepared for independence. Further, this note is an implicit admission that his book does not represent reality.
He complains: “we habitually analyze Philippine society in the light of colonial myths and foreign concepts and values…” Indeed, Constantino himself does so. His analysis is based not on Filipino concepts and values but on those of a 19th century German economist, Karl Marx. Since Marx and Rizal both studied at the British Museum it may be that some mystical osmosis transferred Filipino concepts and values from Rizal to Marx but somehow that seems a dubious proposition.
Moreover, Constantino depends upon an American concept of Rizal as merely a reformer. So when Constantino complains that ‘we (Filipinos) habitually analyze Philippine society in the light of … foreign values and concepts’ one cannot disagree with him. One may, therefore question whether Constantino truly wrote history from a Filipino viewpoint, as Rizal undoubtedly had done, but that would be to miss the point: Like Rizal, Constantino was writing polemic, not history, and Veneration Without Understanding is polemic intended to persuade Filipinos to ‘think properly’.
Let us look at how Constantino constructed his arguments and assembled his data.
This is not a Jose Rizal Blog, it’s just an ecletic mix of views and experiences of someone who lives in the Philippines. The current focus on Constantino’s Veneration Without Understanding is a bit of an anomaly but it is time for a re-evaluation.
That said, I owe the ghost of Mr. Jose Rizal an apology. In my book, Hang The Dogs, with a tongue in cheek, I described Rizal as ‘practicing medicine without a licence.” It is one of the few factual erros in those nearly 500 pages. In fact Rizal was a licentiate, which was paid for by Llorente, who became Governor of Samar under the American regime and who, in fact, got Josephine Bracken and Rizal together. So, Rizal WAS licensed to practice medicine, he just had not been awarded a Doctorate. So he wasn’t a Doctor, he was a doctor. In his lifetime, Rizal was not a Doctor but was licensed to practise medicine. This is of course, a different issue from putting in the P, for Protacio, an error almost as common as the wrong beat of the national anthem (Watch the Manny Pacquia fights for an example of how NOT to sing the national anthem – it’s a march not a kudiman!). So Rizal was a Mr. not a Dr.
Morga writes that Governor De Vera established a foundry to make artillery “under the hands of an old indio called Pandapira, a native of Pampanga. He and his sons served in this line of work until their deaths many years later”. Rizal clarifies the reference to Pandapira, or Panday Pira: “an indio who already knew how to found cannons even before the arrival of the Spanish”.
Neither De Morga nor anyone else refers to Pandapira as a cannon maker. Indeed, De Vera, the governor who actually hired him, proves that he was not. De Vera wrote to the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico to plead “I cannot find anyone who knows how to found cannons, because those provided are by Indios who do not know how to make large cannon. I request your excellency to send from New Spain founders and officers to manufacture cannons”.
So when Rizal comments upon De Morga’ statement about a later governor, Perez-Dasmarinas, that he “established a foundry for artillery in Manila where, owing to the lack of experts or master founders, few large piece were made” that “This demonstrates that, when the indio Pandapira died, there were no Spaniards who knew how to do what he did, nor were his children as skilled as their fathers”, he is, frankly, talking out of his bowler.
Let’s talk about boats. De Morga describes Filipino vessels big enough to carry 100 rowers outboard and 30 soldiers on an upper deck. Alcina describes such vessels in the Visayas and expends several chapters describing how to build one, a precise of which, along with an artist’s rendition can be found in the works of William Henry Scott.
Rizal mourns that such vessels had disappeared by his day but goes on to make the astonishing assertion that “The country that at one time, with primitive means, built ships of around 2,000 tons (Has to buy ships from Hong Kong)”. For the non-nautical, 2,000 tons here refers to displacement, the weight of water displaced by the hull of the vessel, not the weight of the ship.
Nowhere in the historical or archaeological record is there a trace of pre-Hispanic Filipino vessels of such size outside Rizal’s commentary and imagination.
As for Filipino warships carrying 100 rowers and 30 soldiers, the only reason we know how to build one today is because the technology was recorded in detail by an admiring Spanish friar.
A similar situation surrounds Rizal’s assumption that there was a significant written literature which was destroyed by the Spanish. Literacy was, according to De Morga and others, widespread.
That pre-Hispanic Filipinos had a written language is certainly true. Even if one disregards the 900 AD Laguna Copper Plate as a probable import, because its markings are in no known Filipino script and it has never been translated, something similar was presented to the Chinese court by the ruler of Butuan in 1011 AD as did later trade missions which also presented the Emperor of All Under The Sky with a long narrow scroll written on bamboo.
Spanish writers comment upon the literacy of the Filipino and Spanish friars and missionaries have preserved both the languages themselves and the scripts in which they were written while, at the same time, Spanish script replaced them.
No pre-Hispanic documents have survived, noit even a fragment. The documents from which, for instance, the Code of Kalantiaw are drawn are demonstrably fraudulent although they still find a place in the curricula of Philippine law schools. The Maragtas, while not actually a fraud is a collection of folklore, the author of which states that no pre-Hispanic documents were used in its preparation, which is still misrepresented again, in Philippine law schools.
Notably, there is only one account, of the burning of a single book, of anything that might be taken as pre-Hispanic Filipino literature. What happened to the rest of it?
Did the Spanish destroy it? Outside Iloilo and Cebu the Spanish hold generally extended little more than 15 kilometres inland or more than 300 metres elevation until the mid 19th century. Friar and missionaries extended that coverage, of course, but even so, there were only a few hundred of them, insufficient to eradicate an entire written literature in every part of the archipelago including the non-Christianised and Muslim domains.
In fact, the earliest Spanish records state explicitly that the Filipinos had no literature as such. All, including those Rizal himself consulted, echo independently the observation of the late 16th century Boxer Codex: “They have neither books nor histories nor do they write anything of any length but only letters and reminders to one another.”
So, no literature existed for the Spanish to destroy.
Obviously, then, Rizal’s commentaries on the De Morga must be treated with circumspection. They must be viewed for what they actually were – committed scholarship, not revelations of historical fact. Rizal created a mythical ‘golden age’ with the implicit message “We don’t need the Spanish”. The intended question in the reader’s mind is ‘If we don’t need the Spanish and cannot be their brothers, what do we do with them?” To which there is but one answer: revolution.
The committed scholar first creates his framework then seeks out data to fit that framework in order to inspire the reader to take a course of action. Data which does not fit the framework is either ignored or tyre-ironed into place with exaggeration and imagination until the data says what the scholar wants it to say. It is a form of deliberate confirmation bias.
Just as Rizal created a Filipino Golden Age of cannon-makers and ship-builders with a great literature, Constantino used the same methodology to promote a similar disputable ‘Golden Age’ of a revolt of the masses and a cowardly reformist man of clay called Jose Rizal.
For Rizal, to dispute his data and analysis was an unpatriotic, anti-Filipino act. When Isabelo De Los Reyes, a contemporary researcher in Philippine history questioned some of Rizal’s assertions and citing the Spanish Fr. Rada, Rizal wrote: “… had we no positive proof of de los Reyes patriotism, we would believe that by giving so much credit to Fr. Rada, he had intended to denigrate his own people”. To question Rizal was unpatriotic, pro-Spanish and anti-Filipino. Similarly, to question Constantino is to be regarded as anti-Filipino, anti-masses and pro-imperialism. Committed scholarship admits of no middle way, it says in effect: ‘If you’re not with us, you are against us. If you question us, you are the enemy’. Thus George W. Bush, Jose Rizal and Renato Constantino meet on common ground.
If Constantino’s thesis that Rizal is unworthy of being the national hero of the Philippines holds water then, of necessity, the law mandating compulsory study of Rizal’s books and life must be repealed. Such an act may well catapault Constantino himself into the position vacated by Rizal, supported by generations of students who have been forced to suffer some of the most turgid teaching the nation’s educational system has to offer.
One might suspect, with justification, that the popularity of Constantino’s Veneration Without Understanding has less to do with what he actually says than the opportunity to inflict a sort of surrogate revenge on all those teacher’s who inflicted what Ambeth Ocampo says was known as Putang Ina 101.
Constantino was a Marxist and his writings are inevitably based upon his political viewpoint. This does not automatically invalidate Marxist historians such as Benedict Anderson – named only because he’s one of my personal favourites – have made original, challenging contributions to our understanding of historical processes and how those processes led from then to now. If we are going to treat Constantino as a historian, which, strictly speaking he was not (Nor am I), we must judge him not by his political viewpoint but by his choice of data, his methodology for examining that data, and whether or not his conclusions hold water.
If we are going to treat Constantino only as a polemicist then none of these restrictions apply. We need only concern ourselves with how well he presented his case and how his views were perceived and accepted. That he was a polemicist, and a very influential one, is inarguable.
I would, and will, argue that the proper place for Constantino’s writings, including Veneration Without Understanding is in the study of political science, not the study of history. Their place in history is as documents showing Constantino’s thinking in the mid late 20th century, not those of Rizal at the end of the 19th.
Constantino was not the first Filipino to use, and abuse, history for political purposes in this manner. That credit almost certainly belongs to Jose Rizal. I would say that same of Jose Rizal, in particular his annotated edition of Antonio De Morga’s Sucessos de las Islas Felipinas as of Constantino: They wrote history as polemic, not history so it is not surprising that one echoes the other.
Says Rizal: “If this book succeeds in awakening your consciousness of your past, already effaced from your memory, and to rectify what has been falsified and slandered, then I have not worked in vain, and with this as a basis, however small it may be, we shall be able to study the future”. Consciousness of the past is consciousness of what it is to be a Filipino, to validate the national identity. Re-construction of the lost Filipino past would led to the construction of a Filipino future, which is precisely Constantino’s intent the next century.
Was that to be a Filipino future under a Spanish sovereignty reformed and enlightened by respect for Filipinos as an equal? Or as an independent nation? More than a hint is apparent in Rizal’s response to Blumentritt’s original prologue to the book. Although that document itself is presently lost we do know that it contained a reference to fraternity between Spaniards and Filipinos which Rizal struck out, explaining “If the Spanish do not want us as brothers, neither are we eager for their affection… Fraternity, like alms from the Spaniards we do not seek… You only have the best of intentions, you want to see the whole world embraced by means of love and reason but I doubt if the Spanish wish the same”.
This letter is immensely revealing. Rizal rejects outright the notion of fraternity with Spain and the affection of the Spanish, a condition that would be a necessary part of continued existence under Spanish rule in a condition of parity. Independence is the implicit condition he is referring to. He rejects, too, the notion that ‘love and reason’ as a solution to what could be termed ‘The Spanish problem’. If not love and reason, what then? If one cannot appeal to love and reason, then only revolution is left on the table as an option.
It also shows us that while Rizal and Blumentritt were cordial, the former did not slavishly accept the counsel of the latter so when, in another letter, Blumentritt opposes violent revolution it is unwise to assume that Rizal acquiesced in his views.
In his footnotes to De Morga Rizal intends to show that the Philippines not only owed nothing to the Spanish, in particular the friars, there was no ‘utang na loob’, but that there was a flourishing culture, technology and literature which was stunted by their arrival and that the modern Filipino of the 19th century was well behind his pre-Hispanic forebears. With pride in their past as an anchor the Filipino could then carve for himself a future of his own choosing.
Rizal was not above exaggeration and invention to achieve the aim of fitting his data into his pre-conceived framework and makes claims for which, often, there is not just little or no evidence but such evidence as exists runs counter to his assertions.
Three examples serve to make the point: That Filipinos were capable of making large cannon before the arrival of the Spanish, a skill lost under the Spanish regime, that Filipinos had a large and flourishing trade served by vessels of up to 2,000 tons before the coming of the Spanish, and that Spanish friars destroyed a large and flourishing body of pre-Hispanic literature. None of these claims hold water.
Renato Constantino’s writings remain among the most influential body of work in Philippine historiography. This has remained the case even though an increasing number of professional historians have, quietly, come to the conclusion that those works have relatively little value for modern historical studies, other than as historical artifacts themselves, that they have contributed to an undue concentration on one small part of the country’s history at the expense – literally in the case of such an underfunded area of scholarship – of research along paths less traveled that may provide a firmer underpinning to national identity and nationhood.
What is especially worrying is the self-censorship by the Philippine scholarly history community. Constantino’s faults are discussed almost behind closed doors, much as Filipinos would hesitate to discuss Ferdinand Marcos or Spanish era Filipinos speak out about Spanish rule. Constantino has acquired the status of a secular religion with his article denouncing Jose Rizal, Veneration Without Understanding, representing one of its holy scriptures, to be questioned at risk of treatment of which the medieval Catholic Inquisition would be proud. It is fair to question whether such an environment is conducive or inimical to the development of a nationalist history.
This, it should be said, is not the fault of Constantino but of followers who cite him and use his writings as a primary source while censoring Constantino’s own words regarding his methodology and purpose. That purpose is made clear in his introduction to The Philippines: A Past Revisited: Filipinos are not ready for objective data about their own history, that must be suppressed until they have reached a level of nationalism, only then would they be ready to read the truth about their own history. Precisely the same argument was used by American officials to justify the colonization of the archipelago and withholding Philippine Independence – Filipinos weren’t ready for it.
I would submit that while myth plays an important role in creating and maintaining national identity, deliberate falsification does not. A nation’s myths reflect those values it regards as unique to itself and which separate its identity from other nations. Nazi-era Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union, Khmer Rouge Cambodia and modern North Korea are examples of the sort of dysfunctional ‘nationhood’ produced by such falsification.
Be that as it may, it is important to bear in mind that Constantino’s self-admitted intent was not to reveal historical truth but to create an activist mindset among his middle-class readership.
Constantino had a purpose that was markedly similar to that of Jose Rizal. This is hardly surprising. Both lived at a time of enormous economic and political change. Both lived under regimes in which outright criticism, or support for the overthrow of the status quo, led to imprisonment, torture and, often death. Both perceived a possibly fictional ‘Golden Age’ in the past – Rizal’s pre-hispanic Filipino and Constantino’s revolutionary masses of the Philippine war of independence. Both sought to exorcise cultural demons, the influence of the friars in Rizal’s case and the influence of the Americans in Constantino’s.
While, as will be demonstrated with particular regard to Rizal, both believed in the need for revolution neither writer explicitly and unequivocally called for violent revolution against the reigning oppressors in their writings. Both men were products of their time and place and express the zeistgeist of their environment.
Neither man lived to see the realization of their separate visions of nationalism and liberty and their ghosts are likely themselves to be ghosts before those visions become concrete.
To get back to the muttons. The power of Veneration Without Understanding owes much to the Philippine school system which often projects Rizal as a flawless, almost Christlike figure rather than the human being he was. Brought up with such hagiographic pedagogy, students are ill prepared to view Veneration critically, a piece which appears to overthrow all their preconceived notions, presented by politicized professors to whom they must acquiesce or face poor grades for dissent. It undoubtedly comes as a shock.
It is now almost 30 year since the first publication of Veneration Without Understanding and almost a decade since the death of its author. Perhaps it is time to break the conspiracy of silence and ask the impertinent pertinent question: Does Veneration Without Understanding stand up to scrutiny?
Eating fish and chips is like an orgasm but without the huffy, sweating although you should still wash your hands afterwards because, like safe sex, it’s best experienced with the fingers. If there is a Heaven you can be sure it has a fish and chip shop with an endless supply of cod, hake, rock salmon, fish cakes, pickled eggs and wallies.
For the uninitiated some explanations are necessary. ‘Fish’ in this case must be enclosed in a light, crisp, airy batter, preferably a beer batter. If it’s breaded, it ain’t fish and chips.
Nobody knows for sure when or why this method of cooking fish was invented although it bears some similarity to Japanese tempura. It is most likely that it began as a way of cooking fish quickly in a way that sealed in the juices and kept the flesh tender and moist.
However it developed fish and chips became a cheap staple weekend treat for generations of Britons until north sea fish, especially cod, began to run out and prices went through the roof.
Cod, hake and rock salmon were the fish of choice. Rock salmon has nothing to do with salmon, of course, it was a name adopted to make dogfish, a kind of shark, more acceptable in the marketplace. Most of the flavour of any flesh, including pork and beef by the way, resides in the animal’s body-fat and north sea fish, living in cold waters requiring fat deposits, are particularly well-flavoured.
This presents something of a challenge when living in the tropics because most tropical species have less fat than their northern counterparts and thus less flavour.
No, you can’t use tuna. The fish must be white fleshed, from salt water (So Tilapia, or Egyptian carp, isn’t suitable) and firm enough to undergo deep frying without falling apart, so I wouldn’t recommend Dorado. Taniguie works well for me.
So it’s down to the talipapa or the local market to rustle up some taniguie fillets. For true English speakers remember that Filipinos copy the American dialect’s French snootiness and pronounce fillet as ‘fill-ay’, just as they pronounce ‘herb’ as ‘erb’. It’s an American affectation which has its origins in Daniel Webster’s desire to separate American English from real English by misspelling the words and using non-English pronunciation, basically to get up the nose of the Brits.
This is an issue to which true Filipino nationalists should attend: since Filipino languages pronounce words as they are written, Filipinos should rightly pronounce the final ‘t’ in ‘fillet’ and the ‘h’ in herbs.
Now, wish and pat dry the fish, put some flour on a plate and dredge the fillets (fill-ets, remember) so they’re well covered and leave them be while we chat about the batter. If you don’t flour the fish, the batter will fall off when you’re cooking.
Batter is critical. If it ain’t right, it ain’t right. When it’s right, the batter is puffed and crispy with a creamy layer between it and the fish. Making it is a bit of an art. It’ a good idea to make the batter while the chips are undergoing their preliminary cooking. Some people like to leave the batter for an hour before cooking but frankly I haven’t noticed much difference.
A cup of all-purpose flour is probably enough for two fillets. Some folk advise adding bicarbonate of soda or baking soda to the flour but I tried it without because my sari-sari store doesn’t stock it and it worked fine. You could, of course use self-raising flour which already has the soda.
Put the flour, a bit of salt and a dash of pepper in a bowl and mix. Now open a bottle of beer, San Miguel does nicely, and drink some. This is to ensure that the beer hasn’t gone off. Mix a little of the beer into the flour, then a little more, make sure it’s well-mixed and without lumps. What you’re looking for is a texture like double cream. If you want to get arty-farty, dip a tablespoon into the mix and turn it bowl down, the batter should cover the surface easily.
Drink a little beer to make sure it hasn’t gone off, or make up your own excuse. For those wary of alcohol, this will evaporate during cooking.
Now for the chips. Chips are not Frito-Lays. They are NOT that crispy, thin, slice of potato invented by a pissed off chef at Silver Springs, Colorado. These are called crisps in real English. I have, indeed, ordered fish and chips and got breaded fish and a side of crisps. Wrong mistake, as they say in these parts.
Nor, it should be emphasized, are chips the same as French fries. French fries are, in fact, a Belgian invention, often eaten at roadside stalls with mustard, but Americans aren’t awful good at geography. A couple of years ago a US politician, distraught at France’s determined disobedience to American instruction, announced that French fries should henceforth be called Freedom Fries, sending the rest of the world into guffaws of ridicule. Had he recommended calling them Belgian Fries he’d have improved the average American’s knowledge of geography, corrected a historical error and pissed off the French all in one blow.
A French/Belgian fry is thin and long, more of a garnish than a food item. The British chip is chunkier.
So, peel your potato (waxy textured spuds are better), and slice around a quarter inch thick or a little more but NOT less. Put the slice on its side and cut in four strips. That will be about the right size. Wash them to remove the surface starch and pat dry.
Put enough oil in the pan or wok to deep fry. If you’re using the usual gas stove, turn the heat about half way. When the oil is hot enough – test it by carefully dipping a piece of raw dry chip, if it sizzles the oil is hot enough. Put in the chips and let cook until they’re done through but NOT browned. Remove the chips and let drain.
Turn the heat to full. Drink a little beer to make sure it hasn’t gone off. When the oil is at full heat, carefully dip a floured fillet in the batter, holding it as little as possible, and slide into the oil. Wait a moment for the batter to set then dip another piece of fillet and so on. Don’t crowd the pan. Carefully turn the fillets, treat them lightly, once and cook until the batter is golden all over. When the batter is light golden, the fish inside is cooked.
Remove the fish and put them on greaseproof paper. That’s the posh way – I put them on newspaper, which absorbs excess oil nicely.
Put in the chips, cooking them at high heat until they, too, are golden brown. Let the chips drain, out them on greaseproof paper or newspapers to absorb excess oil, then serve with the fish.
If you want to be posh, you can garnish with lemon slices BUT, and here’s the awkward bit – the vinegar is critical. Yes, vinegar. To be fish and chips they must be served with malt vinegar, not mayonnaise, tartar sauce or anything else. To truly hit the spot the only malt vinegar to use is Sarsons. It’s hard to find in the Philippines but it can be found, even if you have to sell your grandmother into servitude you’ll find it a fair exchange.