With a whimper and a few loud protests, the Republic of the Philippines was buried some days ago. Why seemingly so little feelings? One could see one reason in the fact that the nation was an elite project from the beginning, which never managed to get real buy-in. Certainly the “first Filipino” (link) Luis Rodriguez Varela was an elite, a Spaniard born in the Philippines touched by ideas of the early 19th century. The other colonies of Spain were breaking free as an indirect effect of Napoleon shaking up Europe: Mexico (link) from 1808-1821 while General Bolivar (link) was freeing large parts of South America from 1807-1830, finally leaving Spain with only Cuba and Puerto Rico in the New World (link). In the Pacific (link) there were the Philippines, the Marianas including Guam, the Carolines, and Palau. A Filipino soldier to the Carolines (link) is mentioned in Rizal’s Fili.
The first elites
The ilustrados (link) of the late 19th century evolved out of a number of factors, including new money earned in plantations. Tobacco, sugar and abaca were major cash crops introduced from the late 18th century onwards. Spain was in political turmoil from 1833-1876 (link) with a conflict between Liberals and Absolutists. The liberal Governor-General of the Philippines from 1869-1871, Carlos Maria de la Torre (link) was a result of the “Glorious Revolution” in Spain, treated Filipinos (of all races) in a way not known before, but was soon replaced by someone who was his opposite. But the world was growing smaller then. Steamships started (link). Manila opened to international trade in 1834, provincial ports by 1855 (link) and the Suez canal opened in 1869, so there was a critical mass of Filipino students in Madrid by 1888, when La Solidaridad was organized (link).
Meanwhile, Cuba fought for independence thrice (link): 1868-1878, 1879-1880 and 1895-1898. What Filipino ilustrados wanted was relatively tame. Varela had wanted representation in the Spanish Cortes – possibly an idea born out of what the French had given their former colonies during their Revolution – while ilustrados probably wanted a kind of autonomy, at most. Those in Spain fought for being treated as equals. Antonio Luna was known for his challenging a Spanish journalist a number of times. Jose Rizal, who studied in the far more modern Germany of the late 19th century, was probably treated a lot more equally by German scientists of the day (link) than by Spaniards who were far behind up-and-coming 19th century Germany. Did Rizal also read Wilhelm von Humboldt, who considered Tagalog one of the most advanced Austronesian languages (link)?
An aborted Revolution
Did the freer air of progressive Europe outside Spain give the Luna brothers and Rizal the strong confidence they exuded? Probably Spain only really became a modern country after Franco’s time. Parallel to that, Manila was changing as well. A lot of Filipinos got jobs in the foreign companies that were coming to the city at that time. Andres Bonifacio (link), a warehouse clerk at Fressel and Company, a German firm in Manila, was to become a member of La Liga Filipina (link) formed by Rizal in 1892 before his exile to Dapitan. One can only speculate about how Bonifacio’s biography made him what he was. His being an orphaned son of the principalia, the native elite, forced to take care of his siblings from the age of 14 onwards. Unable to continue studying, he remained a voracious reader. One day after Rizal’s exile to Dapitan, he helped found the Katipunan (link).
Rizal returning, heading for Cuba, then brought back to be executed in late 1896. The Katipunan accidentally discovered and forced to act, the Revolution, the chaos within its leadership, the infamous Tejeros convention where a certain Daniel Tirona managed to provoke Bonifacio at his probably most sensitive point, his lack of formal education, the execution of Bonifacio and his brother, Aguinaldo taking over power, the pact of Biak-na-Bato (link) in late 1897, which gave Aguinaldo amnesty and money in return for self-exile to Hong Kong. Aguinaldo returning on an American ship on May 12, 1898. The Spanish-American War had begun in 1896 and was to end in Spain ceding territories to the USA. Aguinaldo still had declared Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898 “under the Protection of the Mighty and Humane North American Nation” (link).
In America’s Image
Aguinaldo’s resistance was pretty much futile in the end, and after his surrender the remaining groups of Christian Filipino revolutionaries like Sakay and Ola were treated as bandits while the US forces afterwards concentrated on gaining control of the Muslim areas of Mindanao, which never had been fully controlled by the Spaniards, even if they had made some headway in the late 19th century. The Filipino elites were given some self-government with a Philippine Assembly in 1907, the University of the Philippines was established in 1908, the Philippine Senate in 1916. Mindanao was turned over to the Insular Government of the Philippine Islands in 1920. Manuel Quezon, Aguinaldo’s former aide-de-camp, was Senate President from 1916-1935 and became President of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935. Douglas McArthur organized the Armed Forces by 1941.
The architecture of the Philippine state was established by then. Tagalog had also effectively been declared to be the language that was to be the basis of a future national language called Filipino. The area around Manila Bay definitely was a central area in the development of the archipelago. Many civilizations and great cities grow in mouths of rivers and natural harbors – Manila has both, and is ideally positioned for trade with the Southeast Asia and Japan, Korea, China. The complex grammar of Tagalog which Humboldt already mentioned shows that a certain level was there. Bahasa, used in somewhat different forms in Malaysia and Indonesia, is by contrast quite simple. There was a lot of resistance to Tagalog in the Visayas, but finally Visayan languages, Bikol and Tagalog are all Central Philippine languages, closely related. Ilocano and Pampangan, not quite.
Defining True Filipinos
While the Americans pragmatically defined everybody who was a Spanish subject on Philippine territory on a certain date in 1902 as Filipino, the Commonwealth had a ius sanguinis definition of nationality. Chinese migration, which had existed since Spanish times and had led to many Filipinos of mixed Chinese origin, had stopped during American times due to the Chinese exclusion act (link). After World War 2 and Independence, Chinese were to migrate to the Philippines again, but it was only in 1975 that there was mass naturalization (link) coupled with Filipinization of Chinese schools in the country. Bonifacio’s Katagalugan defined the Philippines as Katagalugan (link), not Filipinas. The Katipunan also had tried to get help from Meiji-era Japan (link) and the highly anti-American revolutionary Artemio Ricarte (link) lived in Japan and returned in 1942.
While Spanish rule had not taught Spanish to most Filipinos, the American system was to be more thorough in teaching English. Even if Filipino elites clung to Spanish and even used it from time to time after the war, such as in the probably misquoted speech by Jose Avelino (link). The trial of young Ferdinand Marcos for the murder of Julio Nalundasan shows the world of the 1930s, where Spanish seems to have still been in common usage within elites (link). Marcos abolishing Spanish as an official language in the 1973 Constitution and mass naturalizing Chinese immigrants in 1975 was probably symptomatic of the shift in concentration of wealth. Nowadays, one can only find the Ayalas and Razons as Spanish mestizos among the richest families – the rest are of Chinese origin. Anecdotes I heard say that many Spanish mestizos left after the war, not only Isabel Preysler (link).
Migrants, OFWs, datus
I quote from memory a figure of about one million Filipinos having migrated to the United States from 1965-1985, after Kennedy opened the country to non-European migrants – a pull factor – and during the Marcos dictatorship – a push factor. These were products of the American colonial education system which was still pretty much intact in the 1950s and 1960s. Filipinos who went to the still excellent public schools of then learned a better English than the majority speak today. Most of them did not return. In 1975, the POEA was founded to manage overseas migration. The Philippines continued to rely on that source of revenue even after the dictatorship was toppled in 1986, in fact the number of OFWs or overseas foreign workers grew. Nowadays, an estimated 10% of Filipinos are working abroad, not counting those of Filipino origin but with other citizenships.
At home, Ferdinand Marcos re-established the barangay (link), which apparently was just a term invented by Spanish colonialism, its hereditary office of cabeza de barangay an imitation of what the Spanish knew of hereditary nobility. That instrument of micro-management for the poor and rural areas was another fatal continuity after 1986. It seems that the barrio of American times was more democratic, and the idea of bayan (in Tagalog) or banwa (in Bisayan and Bikol) more native. What I have seen so far of Lumad leaders from Mindanao is a far cry from the petty despots that many barangay captains are. Marcos according to Adrian Cristobal (link) saw the Philippines as a “society of tribes” and himself as the “great tribal chief”. This fixed idea of how the Philippines was, is and is supposed to be probably shaped a tradition inherited by the likes of Binay and Duterte.
A nation died?
Yet the past years were not only negative. Massive migration formed a certain consciousness among those who were excluded from the institutions of the Republic (schools like UP or Ateneo, the AFP, government offices, political offices, newspapers and publications) by causing groups that did not meet that much before to meet – and usually speak the Filipino of the media and the street with one another. The Filipino media including movies created common narratives within the archipelago. Common folk idols like Manny Pacquiao. An emotional and visual people is highly media-driven. Would February 1986 have happened if no one had had a videorecorder on the plane that brought back Ninoy on August 21, 1983? Would EDSA 2 have happened without the televised impeachment trial of Erap and text messaging to mobilize the crowd? Going back, would Rizal have been that popular without his many “selfies”? And of course Dutertism without Facebook is unthinkable. Bayan indeed means both village and country. The townspeople cheer and cringe to every event. Magsaysay ruled dancing the mambo. Quezon and Marcos exuded power from behind the mike. Yet finally, real threats have often united Filipinos. The Japanese occupation was one such occasion. But this time, the challenges are greater and Filipino improvisation and resilience may not suffice. Not just China, but also climate change, environmental deterioration and overpopulation. Let’s see.
Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 24 Nov. 2018