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Looking Back

Love in the time of revolution

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The fifth edition of “History of the Filipino People” by Teodoro A. Agoncillo and Milagros C. Guerrero was the last that came with “readings” consisting of primary source material. To keep the price of the textbook low, Agoncillo agreed to delete the readings from succeeding editions. Having gone over many different textbooks on Philippine history, I realize that these try as best as possible to cover the significant events over many centuries that have to be read or covered by students within the limited time of one school year. It is unfortunate that we cannot lower the price of books in the Philippines and improve the quality of books because publishers in the Philippines are not allowed to import cheaper and better paper to protect inferior Philippine-made paper. Now that’s protectionism at its worst.

Philippine books produced abroad are so heavily taxed when they enter the country that it obliterates any savings made. In principle, imported books should not be subject to tax because they contribute to the improvement of the Filipino mind and to the development of the nation, but our Department of Finance needs to be convinced of this.

Anyone who has mailed a package of books to himself from abroad will be charged VAT at the customs section in the post office even if the books are for personal use. In many cases these are used books or remainders bought cheaply in the US but they are charged for VAT based on the book cover price by the wise guys in the post office. If you want to avail yourself of the book tax exemption, you need a piece of paper from the Department of Finance which is a hassle to get.

If better textbooks can be produced in a cheaper way, perhaps authors like Agoncillo could put in the very details that bring history to life and make learning relevant and enjoyable. Over the years I have gathered a lot of anecdotes that make our heroes human again after being fossilized in monuments and classroom history. Then there are other heroes who are not so well known but are mentioned in chatty works, like Jose M. Alejandrino’s “The Price of Freedom,” translated from the original Spanish “La Senda del Sacrificio” and published in 1949.

Alejandrino studied in Belgium and knew Rizal, but I won’t inflict another Rizal column on you today and focus instead on an obscure figure of the Filipino-American War, Flaviano Yengko, whom Alejandrino met in Cavite in 1896. Yengko was a member of Emilio Aguinaldo’s staff who stood out because “he was dressed in an elegant woolen suit, neat and correct.” Alejandrino asked who he was and got this love story:

“He was a young student from Manila whom the revolution had caught in Kabite. General Yengko, in the beginning, did not want to take part in the fight. He had, however, for a rival another young man who had distinguished himself with his serenity and energy in more than one furious battle. The father of the young woman, who must be a patriot, was inclined toward Yengko’s young rival. To make his daughter make up her mind he used to tell her, ‘What can you expect from a dude like him (Yengko) who does not know anything but to dress himself like a woman and is incapable of picking up a gun and fighting like a man for our cause?’ The words of the father reached the ears of Yengko, and inasmuch as he was a man of deep honor, he decided to show that the father was completely wrong in his conception of him. From then on there took place a real contest between the two rivals to perform the most courageous acts. Yengko, in the manner of the brave Paladins which the French poets sung in the war of roses and laces, joined the roughest combats, neatly dressed and even perfumed, receiving unfortunately in one of those battles a mortal wound.

“His heroism was compensated, however, because the father, recognizing the wrong conception he had of General Yengko, permitted his daughter to nurse him and to render sweet the last hours of that hero, but the tender solicitude of his sweetheart failed to save his precious life from death. Yengko died with the satisfaction of a reciprocated love and the glory of having fought for his country and his lady love.”

The story, aside from the tragic end, could have been the germ of the famous pre-war zarzuela “Walang Sugat” about a revolucionario who hears that his sweetheart is to marry someone else due to his long absence and parental pressure for a better match. The revolucionario disrupts the wedding by arriving in the church on a stretcher, his wounds in bandages, and asking that he be allowed to wed before he dies. After some hesitation the bridegroom agrees, so revolucionario and sweetheart are pronounced man and wife. Then, to the surprise of all, he does not expire but stands up because it was all a ruse, he was not mortally wounded, hence the title “Walang Sugat.”

One could also say that Yengko died in style. Appearing in battles perfumed and perfectly dressed, he was like the famous “Boy General” Gregorio del Pilar, a handsome man who also dressed impeccably and brandished a gold-plated pistol. Found in Del Pilar’s pockets after his death in Tirad Pass were love letters, personalized embroidered hankies, and even a lock of hair, souvenirs from all the young ladies he had courted along the way to heroism.

These details are insignificant in the grand sweep of history, but they make history more relevant.

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