detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Wednesday, June 01, 2005

: . Book of the Month

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A Question of Heroes
by Nick Joaquin
Pasig City: Anvil Publishing Inc., 2005
Softcover, 237 pages
Php 595.00 US $29.75
ISBN 9712715450

Order: Philippines, Abroad

Jose Burgos
How "Filipino" Was Burgos?

Marcelo H. Del Pilar
Whence Came The Propaganda?

Graciano Lopez Jaena
What Signified The Expatriates?

Jose Rizal
Anatomy of the Anti-Hero
Why Was The Rizal Hero A Creole?

Andres Bonifacio
The Eve of St. Bartholomew
Why Fell The Supremo?

Emilio Aguinaldo
Our Second Greatest Anti-Hero
Where Did Aguinaldo Fail?

Apolinario Mabini
Mabini The Mystery
How Sublime The Paralytic?

Antonio Luna
Would Luna Have Been A Strong Man?

Gregorio Del Pilar
Was The Hero of Tirad A Hatchetman?

Artemio Ricarte
When Stopped The Revolution?










Why Fell the Supremo?

Ilustrado means, literally, illuminated, and implies, as in medieval Europe, an esoteric group (for example, the illuminati) lifted above the mass of the people by a special intelligence. Even in our day of mass culture, illuminati exist: we have kept the legend of the mad scientist, who is our equivalent of the mad saint. Nevertheless, we can no longer comprehend a time when anybody who had gone beyond book lore and folklore was regarded as more than just a wise man, was deemed to be reading the world in the light of a supernatural illumination, and was feared as a sorcerer. The early philosopher-scientists of medieval Europe – Roger Bacon, Petrus Peregrinus, Albert Magnus – were popularly believed to be magicians and to have had traffic with the Devil; they were seers and sorcerers who could read the secrets of the earth and divine the future, and they gave rise to the Faust legend.

This tradition of the sage as seer haunts our use of the term ilustrado, for the ilustrado arose among us when the Philippines was emerging from its own Middle Ages. Rizal was a prophet not only in his own family, who saw him as a dreamer of dreams foretelling the future. To [end of page 87] the common folk his skill in the sciences indicated possession of magical powers; and this view of Rizal as magus survives in the cult of that strange sect in Laguna which worships him as a kind of supernatural being: the god of Mount Makiling. A similar mysterious light envelops, in popular mythology, the figures of Burgos, Mabini, Aglipay and Aguinaldo. Ilocano peasants used to say of Bishop Aglipay that he had only to put his hands to his head to make his white hair turn black; and there’s a legend in Kawit that the General tamed the cafre that haunted the Kawit seashore and put it to guarding the bridge beside his house.

The Filipino ilustrado, who represented the highest reach of the rising bourgeoisie of the 19th century , may thus be said to have worn the conic cap of the sorcerer; and the Revolution can be told as the tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Of the various embroiderings of that tale, one version has the sorcerer laying out the ingredients for a mighty experiment and then going to sleep until the propitious time for his brew, having bidden his apprentice to keep the caldron boiling; but while he slept the apprentice decided to brew the ingredients himself, tossed them all into the caldron, and began stirring the mixture, whereupon there was a terrific explosion; and the sorcerer awoke to find his cave on fire, and rushed to the caldron, to save what he could of his brew, but in vain, because the time for it had not yet come.

Of the many comments made on the Revolution, that is the one that is never dared made: that it was premature, that it was untimely, that the hour for it , as the ilustrados had been saying all along, had not yet struck. Even from just the practical point of view, the Revolution was inopportune because it cost the lives of the very men who could have made a true Filipino nation work: Rizal, and a whole host of the most brilliant minds of the country, as well as Bonifacio, the sorcerer’s apprentice, himself.

It must be granted that Bonifacio could well have seen the time as propitious, with Cuba in revolt and the home government in Spain in the confused coils of a regency and on the brink of war; but Rizal, who had a cooler eye, cast it not across the sea at Spain but across the street at his own countrymen and judged them not yet ready to revolt. History has vindicated him. Being premature, the Revolution proved abortive. We boast that ours was the first revolution in Asia; we fail to add that the other revolutions, though they came later, were more successful, presumably because the time was ripe for them. The Americans didn’t really interrupt our revolution; it had already flopped before Dewey steamed into Manila Bay; and but for Dewey, Aguinaldo and his colleagues might have spent the rest of their lives [end of page 87] in exile, frittering away the time in one vain conspiracy after another, or being used, as Ricarte was used, by some power that coveted the Philippines. That explosion in the sorcerer’s cave delayed instead of hastening the sorcerer’s work; for the Filipino ilustrado had a revolution in progress that got stymied by Bonifacio’s explosion.

The fashionable view of the Revolution today is that it was a proletarian uprising that the bourgeois “captured.” At first it was said that the capture was effected at the Malolos Congress, some two years after the Revolution started. The date has apparently been advanced, since it’s now being said that the capture was made at the Tejeros Convention, six months after Balintawak. We may expect some future theorist to advance the date still further and declare that the capture was accomplished right in Balintawak. All this sounds like an egghead effort to make Marxist boots out of Philippine bakya.

What’s evident is that, soon after the Revolution started, there was a power struggle in Cavite between Manileños and Caviteños. The question to ask is: Who captured which? Was it the Caviteños who, driven from their province by the Spanish forces, fled to Manila and there tried to take over the successful revolution of the Manileños? Or was it the Manileños who fled to Cavite and there tried to capture the successful revolution of the Caviteños? And the geography of the struggle is answer enough.

What becomes clearer all the time is that were two distinct but simultaneous revolutions in 1896. Both had the same impetus, the Katipunan, but that was the only link between them, and it was dissolved within six months. The first revolt, the Manileños’, actually lasted only a week, the last week of August 1896. It ended, to all intents and purposes, with the failure to seize the powder house in San Juan, and the failure to enter Manila, or at least put it under siege. The second revolt, the Caviteños’, lasted about five years from the last week of August, 1896, to Aguinaldo’s capture in Palanan in 1901. When we speak of the “Unfinished Revolution,” we should ask: Which one? The one Bonifacio failed to finish, or the one the Americans at first backed and then tracked down to the wilds of Palanan?

But from a larger view there was only one revolution in 1896 – and it was not Bonifacio’s, though he tried to ride it. (He got thrown off almost at once.) This larger view compels us to see the entire period from the Propaganda Movement to the Philippine-American War as a single event: the Revolution of the Ilustrados.

Those much-maligned folk are now pictured as timorous, self-seeking and too finicky to be anything but ineffectual angels. But they were the [end of page 89] angel (to use the word in its show business sense) of the Revolution, because they provided it with its capital of ideas and ideals. It’s not true that they were anti-revolution, or would have preferred a gradual evolution into nationhood; but it’s true that they wanted a revolution that didn’t require the firing of a single shot – and the idea is not as preposterous as it sounds, since history has shown it’s possible. We have only to look over our shoulder at Australia, which revolted against the mother country and became a nation without waging war. The Filipino ilustrados were propounding in the 1800’s what Gandhi would preach half a century later in a purer form. They themselves conducted their revolution mostly on paper; and who will say that their paper war was timorous, self-seeking, finicky and ineffective?

We now say that Rizal’s novels created the conscience of a race. The writings of Burgos, Del Pilar and Lopez Jaena so inflamed the national temper a revolution of some sort became inevitable. If the Katipunan could speak of restoring a prehispanic paradise, it was because of research done by the ilustrados and propagated by them to revive national pride. Bonifacio, their ardent student and apprentice, followed their words so closely it’s even said he took the idea of storming the powder house in San Juan and then advancing down Sta. Mesa into Manila from El Filibusterismo, where Simoun had a similar plan of entering Manila by way of Sta. Mesa.

Using only their pens, the ilustrados created a situation that made it impossible for the old order to continue in the Philippines; sooner or later, it must fall. Even when they advocated full incorporation into the Spanish state, they did so knowing that this, too, would sooner or later result in separatism and full nationhood; for the Philippines as a Spanish province would enjoy a more autonomous government, more liberties, more access to progressive ideas, more opportunities for education; and these things would in turn so elevate and unite and strengthen the people they must finally break away and stand on their own. It was only a matter of time. The Propaganda had opened the eyes of the people, was educating them, would push them to assert the right to self-determination.

The Sorcerer had assembled all the ingredients, was just waiting for the ripe time to set the brew a-boiling. Then the Apprentice blew up the cave with his explosion. The Katipunan Revolution in Manila was that powerful but brief explosion. In the Cavite Revolution, the Sorcerer is back at work, is trying to save what he can of his brew, and almost succeeding. But into the picture now enters another sorcerer, a foreign one of more potent magic, to wrest away the wand of the Ilustrado, who can no longer finish his work, having become just [end of page 89] a creature of the foreign sorcerer. So, our hope lies with the Apprentice, who went back to serving his apprenticeship, but is on the way to becoming a magus himself.

That is why, in spite of that bungled explosion, we honor Bonifacio and look forward to, not back at, him, because he is, for us, the masses that are now, in the words of a contemporary ilustrado, serving out their apprenticeship. The first explosion was premature and abortive, and we call it the “Unfinished Revolution.” The next explosion should be more illuminating... (to be continued)

Joaquin, Nick. “Why Fell the Supremo?” A Question of Heroes. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing Inc., 2005 [1977]. 86-108. Read the full chapter here.

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