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2 historical events led to birth of modern RP

June 11, 2007 03:54:00
Dr. Pablo S. Trillana III

(Editor’s Note: The author is a former chair of the National Historical Institute and currently Knight Grand Officer of the Knights of Rizal.)

MANILA, Philippines -- Within a week of each other, the nation will commemorate two events of great national significance -- the declaration of independence in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898, and the birth of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal on June 19, 1861.

These seemingly disparate events, in the course of our story as a people, led to a historical conjunction that gave birth to our modern nation. It would be difficult to think of one without the other.

The radical idea of separating from Spain through a revolution is generally laid at the doorstep of the Katipunan. This was the secret society founded on July 7, 1892, the day the decree of Rizal’s exile “to one of the southern islands” was published in the Gaceta de Manila.

In truth, the roots of separatist ideas reached deeper into the past.

On Dec. 12, 1896, in preparing his defense against the charge of rebellion, Rizal acknowledged these roots: “Separatist ideas have existed in the Philippines for many years. In this century alone there occurred many uprisings: Those of Novales, Cuesta, Apolinario, in the Ilocos and Pangasinan, of the regiment of the Pampangos, of Cavite and again that of Pangasinan in 1884.”

Novales was Capt. Andres Novales, a Spanish mestizo who led a revolt in 1823 and declared himself “Emperor of the Philippines.” His armed uprising was foiled and he was executed.

Cuesta was Lt. Jose Cuesta, another Spanish mestizo who, in 1854, rebelled and declared the country’s independence from Spain. He was also captured and then hanged.

Apolinario, on the other hand, was Apolinario de la Cruz, more popularly known as Hermano Pule, a native of Lucban, whose movement called the Cofradia de San Jose attracted thousands of followers in Tayabas, Laguna, Batangas and Cavite. They were suspected of being heretics and subversives and were attacked in 1841 on the slopes of Mt. San Cristobal in Tayabas. Pule was captured, shot and quartered.

Early conquest years

Going back farther, down to the early conquest years, the sons and relatives of Rajah Matanda, Lakandula and Rajah Soliman attempted in 1574 to separate from the Spaniards and regain leadership over their ancient domains.

Thirteen years later, Magat Salamat and Agustin de Legazpi led the so-called “Revolt of the Lakans (1587-88)” to drive away the Spaniards. Both attempts failed.

The uprisings were easily suppressed. They were not based “on the necessity of the whole nation,” a principal reason, according to Rizal, why they failed.

There was yet no clear idea of nation, no national sentiment that could galvanize disparate ethnolinguistic communities into a united yet widespread struggle for independence. Rizal changed all that and gave the idea of independent nationhood moral clarity.

Social order

Rizal’s choice of means were words. When Filipinos were falling for the line that our culture was nonexistent before the arrival of Spain, he found Antonio de Morga’s “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas” (Events in the Philippine Isles), first published in 1609, and annotated it to emphasize the richness and liveliness of our pre-colonial past.

In “Noli Me Tangere” (The Social Cancer), published in 1887, Rizal took the bold step of laying bare the cancerous present by accurately depicting everyday events under the velvet heel of Spanish oppression, leading up to “El Filibusterismo” (The Reign of Greed), which came out in 1891, his call to revolution.

And in “Las Filipinas Dentro de Cien Años” (The Philippines a Century Hence), Rizal lightly parted the veil of the future to give a glimpse of the direction toward which the country was heading.

In these works, Rizal created a climate of opinion that questioned the existing social order. If Spain, after more than 300 years of colonial rule, had nothing more to offer than tears and chains for the indios, it was time for the Filipinos to separate from her by regaining their freedom and establishing their own nation.

Rizal clearly laid out the historical basis for independence in Las Filipinas Dentro de Cien Años: If Spain would not introduce equitable laws and sincere reforms to assimilate Filipinos then he predicted that “the Philippines one day will declare herself inevitably and unmistakably independent.”

Peace or destruction?

It is true that the national hero emphasized education as the foundation upon which the Filipinos could succeed in developing a fledgling nation. He condemned the 1896 revolution of Bonifacio because Rizal believed that conditions were not ripe for its success.

Armed struggle, however, was an option that remained on his mind. On June 19, 1887, his 26th birthday, Rizal wrote to his good friend Ferdinand Blumentritt: “I assure you that I have no desire to take part in conspiracies which seem to me too premature and risky. But if the government drives us to them, that is to say, when no other hope remains to us but to seek our destruction in war, when the Filipinos would prefer to die rather than endure longer their misery, then I will also become a partisan of violent means. The choice of peace or destruction is in the hands of Spain …”

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