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.