The Manila Times

The role of Filipino youth in narrative change


Last of 2 parts

THE first recorded student protest in October 1869, where leaflets were scattered around the University of Santo Tomas demanding that professors open the books of the past to see that indios were worthy of respect, was a call to action based on narrative change. Through narratives, people can be agitated to act for a better life.

The idea that young indios were aspiring for freedom shook the Spaniards, and in just two years, they executed the man they thought had inspired these students in their thoughts, Father José Burgos. But on the eve of his execution, he reportedly said these last words: “Get educated... Learn from our older men what they know... See in the museums of other lands what the ancient Filipinos really were. Be a Filipino always, but an educated Filipino.” At that time, most of our recorded history and artifacts were kept and displayed abroad. Now, after more than a century, we are blessed to have not just museums, libraries and archives, but also experts and cultural workers to help us along the way to know our story.

And true enough, the generation that was very young when Father Burgos was executed (the incident was known as The Terror of ‘72) was influenced by those events. And when they got the chance to get to Europe, those of this generation did not only get educated there, but in its libraries and archives, they researched the history of our ancestors. Pedro Paterno wrote “La Antigua Civilizacion Tagalog”; José Rizal copied by hand the British Museum Library’s volume of Antonio de Morga’s “Events in the Philippine Islands” (“Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas”) and annotated it highlighting the culture of our ancestors; and Rizal wrote alongside Marcelo H. del Pilar Mariano Ponce, and Graciano Lopez Jaena historical articles in La Solidaridad. They answered smears against Filipinos using history. Rizal answered accusations about our indolence and pointed out that our ancestors were not lazy and indeed were prosperous and had well-being (kaginhawaan), but our tendency to be lazy happened as a symptom of colonialism. In the essay “The Philippines Within a Century,” Rizal wrote: “With the new men that will spring from her bosom and the remembrance of the past, she will perhaps enter openly the wide road of progress… And free once more, like the bird that leaves his cage, like the flower that returns to the open air, they will discover their good old qualities which they are losing little by little, and again become lovers of peace, gay, lively, smiling, hospitable and fearless.”

The historian Zeus Salazar, who is critical of the elitism of Rizal and the propagandists, even said that this is the true positive legacy of La Propaganda, “the tripartite view of Philippine history,” in which instead of how the Spaniards depicted our history as coming from darkness to light and civilization when they colonized us, the propagandists introduced the narrative of redemption, from light to darkness to light: Before the coming of the Spaniards, we traded and were prosperous, but we were enslaved by their colonialism, and that we are fighting for a better tomorrow. History is creative resistance.

But the language and style that propagandists used would not have reached the people, so it took an Andres Bonifacio, assisted by young people like Emilio Jacinto and Pio Valenzuela, to make these ideas readable in the Tagalog language. They transformed the tripartite view of history as the answer for neophytes to make during Katipunan initiation, and finally, Bonifacio wrote an essay entitled “What the Tagalogs Should Know.” Emilio Jacinto invoked the narrative of Lapulapu’s defense of his sovereignty and the memory of the priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora. As slowly they were able to convince thousands of Filipinos to join their cause in the narrative of “regaining” what we once had: our freedoms and rights and our well-being, a nation was being created, with one spirit and one action towards the Revolution of 1896.

The conquering enemy always bombards us with narratives of how uncivilized we are, how undisciplined, how so unworthy of freedom. We have only to be confronted with young people who draw narratives from history to strengthen us and remind us of our greatness and our freedomloving spirit.

When a pall of gloom descended on us more than half a century ago this week, a young musician, Salvador Jorque, detained at Camp Bagong Diwa, armed with just a memory of Andres Bonifacio’s poem, put it into music, and an anthem of our yearning for freedom was born: “Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila, gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa?”

I end with a martyred young poet’s salvaged masterpiece. In “An Open Letter to Filipino Artists,” Emmanuel Lacaba wrote: “We are tribeless and all tribes are ours. We are homeless and all homes are ours. We are nameless and all names are ours. To the fascists we are the faceless enemy... Awakened, the masses are Messiah.”

And the young will continue shaping the nation.





The Manila Times