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