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Pinoy Kasi
September’s heroes

By Michael Tan
First Posted 00:52:00 09/21/2007

Filed Under: history, People

Every day we?re bombarded with news about scams and scoundrels, which makes me wonder if perhaps we might end up glorifying these forms of low life. September is particularly problematic as we remember Ferdinand Marcos (whose birthday was on the 11th) and martial law (declared on Sept. 23 but commemorated on Sept. 21 because of Marcos? belief in magical numbers).

Now the Constantino Foundation, set up by the family for the late nationalist historian Renato Constantino, is offering a new take on September through a project called ?Reclaiming Public Space, Recapturing Memory.? Today, the foundation is turning over murals produced by the art group TutoK to the Makati and San Juan city governments, both with nationalist themes and with the intent of reminding the public about two often forgotten Filipino heroes. One mural, ?Biyaheng Kasarinlan,? will be installed at Ospital ng Makati at 10:30 this morning, and ?Daluyong? will be unveiled at 1:30 this afternoon at the San Juan City Hall.

Red Constantino sent me a rough study of the murals and a description which tells me the murals are going to be quite educational in an innovative way. Here?s a hint: The road to independence in Makati?s mural will include an electric jeep and Macario Sakay commandeering a horse. The San Juan mural will have Lean Alejandro in conspiratorial whispers with Emilio Jacinto.

Most readers would recognize Emilio Jacinto?s name, but Lean Alejandro and Macario Sakay are not as well known, which is why the Constantino Foundation is pushing for public space to bring forth the unsung heroes of our times.

Rebel barber

Lean Alejandro is, to some extent, still remembered, having been a very visible youth activist during the martial law era, with the University of the Philippines as his base. He was assassinated in 1987, barely a year after the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown, by still unknown gunmen, although it?s widely believed he was wiped out by Right-wing forces who were worried about the return of democracy to the Philippines. Lean was only 27.

I wanted to write more about Macario Sakay, who jumped into public awareness all too briefly a few years back with the movie ?Sakay,? but has since receded from our minds. I was shocked at how little there was in the mass media about his 100th death anniversary last week, Sakay having been executed by the Americans on Sept. 13, 1907.

On the other hand, the silence about Sakay isn?t surprising, given the way history is written by the victors. I did find two articles on the Internet that offer intriguing glimpses into Sakay?s life, showing him to be truly a hero for our times. (Do a Google search on ?Sakay? combined with author ?Paul Flores? and ?Sakay? combined with ?Joseph Scalice.?)

We know he was born in 1870 in Tondo, Manila, but we don?t have an exact birthday. Sakay was his mother?s surname, which suggests he was born out of wedlock. He worked as a tailor, a barber and an actor in the ?comedia? and ?moro-moro.? He joined the Katipunan and belonged to the faction of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto, organizing cells in what is Rizal province today.

After the Americans occupied the Philippines, Sakay moved briefly into legal politics as secretary of the Nacionalista Party, but the Americans passed an Anti-Sedition Law that effectively banned such political parties. Sakay went underground again, was captured in June 1902 but was released a month later under an amnesty. Not surprisingly, he returned to guerrilla war, fighting not just the Americans but also Filipinos who he felt had been bought.

Together with other guerrillas, Sakay established the Republika ng Katagalugan. His use of ?Tagalog? continued a tradition started by Andres Bonifacio, who preferred the term to ?Filipinas? and ?Filipino? used by Emilio Aguinaldo and his elite republican forces. Sakay, as president of the Republika ng Katagalugan, issued a proclamation in May 1902 declaring that the country, including ?Jolo, Mindanao, Kabisayaan, Kailokohan,? would be called ?Kapuluang Katagalugan? -- Tagalog Archipelago.

Sakay remained in the hills, with support from the local population, and was able to expand their operations to Cavite and Batangas. Sadly, with the help of Filipinos, the Americans were able to trick Sakay to come down from the hills with a promise that he and his soldiers would be granted amnesty and given a chance to work, through an assembly, toward independence. Sakay enjoyed freedom for 13 days, before he was arrested, tried and executed, under the Brigandage Act, a law that ostensibly was against banditry but targeted more political acts.

It is not surprising that Sakay appeals to artists. This barber-turned-rebel was a nonconformist in many ways. Yes, as he was depicted in the movie, Sakay did grow his hair long, as did his followers, which was considered quite odd in his time. The documents of the Republika ng Katagalugan were also quite direct in their criticism of the Filipino elite and the lack of unity because of their desire for ?silver and wealth.?


The Tagalog Republic was also clear with its egalitarian views, envisioning a society where no one would be considered better than the other by virtue of skin color, wealth or education. I think the Tagalog version is even more eloquent: ?Sino mang tagalog tungkol anak dito sa Kapuluang Katagalugan, ay walang itatangi sino man tungkol sa dugo gayon din sa kulay ng balat ng isa?t isa; maputi, maitim, mayaman, dukha, marunong at mangmang lahat ay magkakapantay na walang higit at kulang....?

Sakay called for unity in a very Tagalog way -- ?magkaisa ang loob? -- an inner unity of the self, and yet transcending one?s selfish and sectarian interests.

Sakay?s story resonates today for a nation that claims political independence and yet is titillated when America?s president calls out to our president, ?Hey Gloria.? We remain a people divided, our minds and bodies hostaged by dreams of leaving the country. Reading about the Brigandage Act reminded me of our current Antiterrorism Law.

Sakay resonates even beyond our borders. I smiled while reading that Sakay?s arms and ammunition often came from the Americans, courtesy of the colonizers? ?muchachos? [servants]. It?s not surprising that the Americans today, in Iraq, face a similar problem, their arms finding their way to Iraqi ?terrorists.?

Today we have buildings and highways named after American colonial officials. The Marcos name has been appended on the national highway and on a state university, and many more major streets are named after him and a bevy of politicians that Sakay would call traitors. There is not a single street in the country, as far as I know, that is named after Sakay. A mural in Makati is a good start at reclaiming public spaces for heroes of our times.

More Inquirer columns

Previous columns:
Joys of language? 09/19/07
Beyond the frats ? 09/12/07
Light in the dark - 09/07/07
Evangelical Catholics - 09/05/07
?Bayaning doktor? - 8/31/07

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