Last year we celebrated the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of Jose Rizal. Next year it will be another birth sesquicentennial, this time for Andres Bonifacio and Mariano Ponce. In 2014 it will be Isabelo de los Reyes’ turn. All these revolutionaries were about the same age, joining the revolt against Spain in their late 20s.
There was one notable exception—Emilio Jacinto, born Dec. 15, 1875. He studied at Letran, then moved to the University of Santo Tomas for law but did not complete the course, joining the underground Katipunan at the age of 19.
Jacinto is sometimes called the brains of the Katipunan but very little has been written about him. We also have only a handful of materials written by him. Jacinto’s most famous work is a “Kartilya” for the Katipunan, which took off from the Spanish cartilla, a school primer. The Kartilya is a kind of code for ethical conduct for the revolutionary organization. It talks about noble deeds and true piety, as well as defending the oppressed and fighting the oppressor. There’s even a line on treating women as partners and helpmates, although earlier in it, Jacinto talks about how in the thorny path of life, men lead, and women and children follow.
A website of Katipunan materials compiled by Jim Richardson (http://kasaysayan-kkk.info) includes some of Jacinto’s works, mainly patriotic writings with much of the fiery fervor of Bonifacio’s “Pagibig sa Tinubuang Lupa.” Jacinto has his own “Sa Bayang Tinubuan.” An article written in 1896 pays homage to Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, lamenting that 24 years after their execution, the country remains divided, lacking in solidarity and unity. One can see youthful idealism and anger in the way he lashes out, no words minced, at the “masangsang na aso” (foul-smelling dogs) of an oppressive Church, who keep the people’s minds “clouded (naulapan).”
The website has three letters from Bonifacio to Jacinto, with updates from the battlefield, on the needs of the revolutionaries, and of strategizing. One letter, dated April 24, 1897, has an angry Bonifacio describing the treachery of the Magdalo faction at the Tejeros Convention. Three days after the letter was written, Bonifacio was arrested by Aguinaldo’s men, hastily tried and executed.
Bonifacio’s letters open with greetings to Jacinto as “minamahal na kapatid (my beloved brother)” and end with “tanggapin ang mahigpit na yakap” (loose translation: accept my warm embrace). Jacinto allied himself with Bonifacio’s Magdiwang faction of the Katipunan and refused to join Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government. On April 16, 1899, Jacinto died in Laguna from malaria, dysentery and possibly complications from battle wounds. He was 23.
Among the Katipunan leaders, Jacinto is probably the least well-known. We have no photographs of him and instead know him from an artist’s rendition for the old P20 bill but withdrawn from the bills printed after 1969.
In the 1970s, young Filipinos as young as, if not younger than, Jacinto joined the underground to fight the Marcos dictatorship, some leaving their university studies like he did. But even during those turbulent years, Jacinto never quite figured in the pantheon of revered Filipino heroes.
I hope we do not have to wait until Jacinto’s sesquicentennial, which won’t be until 2025, to bring him back to public consciousness. Inquirer columnist Randy David offers a charming exception to our amnesia vis-à-vis Jacinto: Two years ago he wrote about this youthful nationalist, and ended his column with the information that a granddaughter of his is named Jacinta.
Let’s leave Jacinto (and Jacinta) for now and move to another young man put up as an exemplar, a model for youth. This is Pedro Calungsod, whose canonization a few weeks ago has led to all kinds of articles and speeches exhorting the young to imitate him. He has been presented as a very young catechist, bringing Christianity to the Marianas and dying there a martyr in 1672, butchered by barbaric heathen. He is usually depicted holding a copy of “Doctrina Cristiana,” the first printed catechism in the Philippines.
Fr. Daniel Pilario, a Vincentian priest, has an incisive article urging that we listen to more voices to understand what Calungsod’s sainthood could mean. He goes back to an article by the Jesuit historian John Schumacher, published in 2000, suggesting that Calungsod might have been older (Pilario even suggests early 20s), and that rather than being a catechist trained at an early age by the religious, he might have been one of many Visayan seafarers searching for work and somehow ending up on a ship with missionaries headed by a Jesuit, Diego Luis de San Vitores. In some 20 years of missionary work in the Marianas, 38 priests and lay people—not necessarily catechists—were killed.
Pilario draws on historical records to remind us that the missionary team in the Marianas was courting trouble. The natives accused the catechists and priests of abducting babies for baptism, of entering houses where skulls of ancestors were kept, and of violating many other traditions. Pilario observes that there are lessons to be learned on the need for evangelization efforts to become more culturally sensitive and respectful.
I’m not surprised that we’ve seen so much exaggeration, if not outright fabrication of “facts,” to idealize a saint or hero, or to appropriate them for particular causes. Pilario notes how Calungsod was even used for a conference on “true love and chastity” targeting young people.
I wrote some weeks back on the politics behind canonizations and got e-mail from readers who were quite strong in their comments about Calungsod as just another native used by colonial rulers. Pilario offers an alternative, proposing that understanding Calungsod in the proper historical context will not “take him away from the youth.” Calungsod can very well be more relevant if portrayed for what he was—a young man looking for work and ending up in unexpected circumstances as part of a missionary team. But he remained dedicated to his work and to his companions and so very well deserves, like his companions in the Marianas, and like many Filipino migrant workers today, to be called a saint, a hero.
I’ve wondered, too, about what went on in Jacinto’s mind, coming to a decision to leave law studies. What drove him to write as he did of love of country, of remembering past heroes and martyrs? How did he process the Magdiwang-Magdalo conflict?
Jacinto’s seemingly sexist references to women as followers of men remind us, too, that our heroes, and saints, are products of their time, but selfless commitment endures across history, taking many forms, offering many new questions and challenges for our times.
Father Danny, who I have never met, kindly gave me permission to give the link to the article, which appears in two parts on his Facebook site (danny.pilario). He emphasizes that the article is a work in progress, an important reminder to those of us who write, in popular media, academic journals or religious works, about saints and heroes, to keep searching, to keep listening to many voices.
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