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of the Philippines holds water then, of necessity, the law mandating compulsory study of Rizal’s books and life must be repealed.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.