Rats to cash
The Manila Times
IREAD in the news about Marikina City’s “rats-to-cash” program. Apparently, this is an old program that was recently restarted by the city government. According to news reports, the program rewards Marikina residents with P200 for every rat they capture. The purpose of the program is to prevent leptospirosis, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a bacterial disease “spread through the urine of infected animals” such as rodents. Bacteria of the genus Leptospira can “get into water or soil and survive there for weeks to months.” The “rats-to-cash” program, according to news reports, began in 2020, and is now seemingly an annual initiative that coincides with the rainy season. Stories like these bring me back to the time when I was a graduate student at the Department of History of UP Diliman. During the second semester of academic year 2000-2001, I registered for the graduate-level course Seminar on the Evolution of American Policies in the Philippines (Course number: Kasaysayan 323) handled by respected historian Dr. Milagros Guerrero. Dr. Guerrero is now retired. She was previously a professor of History at UP Diliman and served as chairperson of the History Department. She was also a former president of the Philippine Historical Association and the Philippine Studies Association. She received the Lifetime Award in the Social Sciences from the National Research Council of the Philippines, an attached agency to the Department of Science and Technology. On a personal note, Guerrero was my thesis adviser at the masters level, although she was quite busy at the time and there were not enough opportunities for me to be sufficiently mentored by her. Guerrero wrote her doctoral dissertation entitled “Luzon at War: Contradictions in Philippine Society, 1898-1902” at the University of Michigan in the United States during the 1970s. This was later published by Anvil Publishing in 2015. In her preface to the 2015 publication of the book, Guerrero narrated her research background, including her previous work as copy editor of The Philippine Insurrection Against the United States, A Compilation of Notes and Introduction, which was published by the Eugenio Lopez Foundation in 1971. This compilation is a five-volume work prepared by Captain John R.M. Taylor of the US 14th Infantry from the documents covering the period roughly from the 1896 revolution to the surrender of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo to the Americans in 1901. Guerrero also spent a lot of time at the US Library of Congress and other repositories to build up her knowledge of the PhilippineAmerican War era and related periods in Philippine history. In one of Guerrero’s class lectures for Kasaysayan 323, she narrated to us some of the reports she came across during her archival research. Public health was a serious concern for the Americans, especially during the war against our heroes. Epidemic diseases were rampant, largely because of the wartime situation. There was a serious cholera epidemic from 1902 to 1904, which claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people. Remember that even though Aguinaldo surrendered in 1901, the war raged on for a few more years. Thus, in order to curb the spread of bacteria and disease, the Americans zeroed in on the rodent problem in Manila. Just like what the city of Marikina is doing now, the Americans offered monetary reward for every rodent that was surrendered to them by the citizenry. To the surprise of the Americans, even after paying for a large number of caught rodents, citizens were still surrendering more on a daily basis. The Americans found out later that the people were raising rats for the purpose of exchanging them for cash. Some people may view this as proof of how dull Filipinos are; that kind of judgment is ignorant and short-sighted, manifesting an elitist and colonial mindset. Remember that this happened in the context of a bloody war between our ancestors and the foreign invaders. As the historian Bonifacio Salamanca observed, the Filipinos were suspicious of the Americans, and had a non-cooperative and unfriendly attitude toward the colonizers, particularly their military government in the archipelago. Tensions ran very high, conflict continued to rage in many parts of the archipelago, and in other places the fighting could resume at a moment’s notice with the slightest provocation. Thus, Filipino reaction to the original rats-to-cash program should be viewed as an act of resistance to foreign invasion, not of stupidity or inanity. Given their situation, ordinary citizens use different ways to resist the colonizers vis-à-vis the armed freedom fighters in the hills and forests. Context is vital in the study of history. Failing to appreciate the proper context of past events creates a situation that is ripe for biases and preconceptions to dominate history and historical interpretation. It opens the door for propaganda and other similar agenda.