One Hundred Years of Denial

Filipinos waited 300 years before they wielded their bolos in 1896, then waited another 90 years to revolt against a dictatorship in 1986, and are still waiting now, 111 years later.

By Rosalinda N. Olsen
Contributed to Bulatlat

After more than 300 years of oppression from the Spanish colonial masters, the Filipinos launched the “Philippine Revolution”. That was in 1896. Ten years short of a hundred years later, in February 1986, the Filipinos again rose in revolt, not against foreign oppression but against 20 years of the dictatorial Marcos regime. In 1896, their cry was for freedom. In 1986, their cry was for democracy. In both instances, their cry was denied.

What did these two attempts at revolution have in common? These two shining moments in Philippine history show two things: 1) Filipinos have a very long and slow-burning fuse; 2) When Filipinos can no longer say “Puwede na; puwede pa,” they will confront a superior military power by sheer numbers and courage born out of will power and desperation; and, 3) both were aborted revolutions.

Let’s take a quick look at those two historical spectacles.

Against all objections that revolution is untimely, Andres Bonifacio and his Katipunan decided that it is infinitely better to die fighting than be killed like a chicken destined for the soup pot. Not only were they being closely watched by the Spanish authorities, their family and relatives were being arrested and even killed on the barest suspicion of having a connection to filibusteros. All they had were bolos (machetes), spears, daggers, and pana (native bow and arrow) in addition to a pitifully small store of rifles and handguns.

Santiago Alvarez wrote in this memoirs (published under the title The Katipunan and the Revolution) about how Bonifacio thought of acquiring firearms. When asked by the leader of a volunteer group about where they can get the firearms needed, Bonifacio smiled and said, “Kung nasaan ang lusong, naroon ang halô” (where the mortar is, there lies the pestle), using a Tagalog proverb to say that their weapons shall be those captured from the enemy. And, indeed, that was how the Katipunan increased their store of firearms. How this was done is described in the memoirs of Artemio Ricarte in his book Himagsikan ng mga Pilipino Laban sa Kastila where he narrated an encounter between the guardia civil and the Katipunan “Apoy” (Santiago Alvarez) at Noveleta, Cavite:

… ang mga katipunan namang nagkukubli sa silong, ay nagsilabas at dinaluhong ang mga sibil na natatalatag sa harap ng tribunal, at sa pamamagitan ng yapos at pagsunggab sa mga paa, ay naagawan sila ng mga sandata nang di man nagtagal.” (The Katipuneros rushed from their hiding below the building and charged the civil guards lined up in front of the municipal hall, and by means of an embrace that pinned the arms and by grabbing at the feet, disarmed them within a short time.)

EDSA revolution

Ninety years later, Filipinos faced fellow Filipinos in a battle of nerves as the whole world watched what would later be dubbed “the EDSA revolution”. People who came to EDSA brought no weapon of any kind, unless one could call the rosary a weapon. Nobody brought food or drinks for what could very well be a long siege; but, typically, some people brought flowers in a garland that they offered to the soldiers who stood by the APCs and tanks. The call for the return of democracy was so strong that people came by all means of transportation – by boat, kayak or canoe – or they simply walked to EDSA. Truckloads of people congregated at EDSA, among them my teenage daughter whom I taught was safely doing schoolwork in her dormitory at UP Los Baños. It was only when she came home, bright-eyed with joyful hope at about 5 in the morning when I found out she was at EDSA. She was bubbling with excitement as she described “EDSA” and then dumped into my hands a small packet of home-baked cookies that were distributed by housewives who did exactly what Katipunan wives did – make food for the warriors. Her joyful hope lasted only several hours. When she woke up that same afternoon, she watched in disbelief as the trapos, who were disenfranchised by the Marcos regime, came crawling out of the woodwork and into the television stations. In tones of ineffable sadness, she said, “They were using us only as cannon fodder.”

Now let us fast-forward to the present. Who have been smitten by the election campaign fever? The candidates, naturally; but not the ordinary Pinoy and many of the not-so-ordinary-Pinoys like a friend who wrote me a week ago that the trapos are again flashing their “mala-colgate smile”. Recently, Antonio Abaya wrote of an “idiot nation” and reactions to his article spoke of “idiot voters”. During the last presidential election campaign, a journalist, who occasionally posted his views in a Filipino e-group, wrote that Filipinos are forced to choose between the lesser evil, that time, between Gloria Arroyo and Da King (the late Fernando Poe, jr). In other words, Filipino voters must choose the least rotten among the candidates. There is something so terribly wrong somewhere when the terms “idiot nation” and “idiot voters” are used within the same context of choosing the lesser evil from among candidates for the top government post. So, let us go back to 1896 and then to 1986 to see how this idiocy came about.

When Emilio Aguinaldo and his Magdalo supporters won political ascendancy through the meeting at Tejeros in April 1897, they demolished the groundwork laid by the anak pawis for an independent nation ruled through the three Katipunan principles of liberty, equality, and brotherhood. Aguinaldo’s victory in Tejeros signaled the future transfer of power from the colonial master to the local oligarchy. Instead of liberty, Aguinaldo as president of his “republic” gave the people a new set of masters under the same socio-economic structure. In place of equality, the Filipinos were given a dubious equity in the share of the country’s resources and in the exercise of governance that was limited only to electing their new masters. The concept of brotherhood was made redundant under a patriarchal rule where the majority of the population became merely the poor relations of their “brothers” who held all the wealth and power in their jealous hands.

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