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Loose strands of Philippine history

/ 12:22 AM December 23, 2016

Among the engaging items in the rich Filipiniana collection of the library of the Augustinian friars in Valladolid, Spain, are 69 bound volumes of clippings labeled “La Prensa de Madrid” (The Madrid Press) and consisting of articles, notices, editorials and news on the Philippines painstakingly collected by Fr. Eduardo Navarro, OSA, for the period 1894-1899. These were culled from various Madrid newspapers of the time (La Epoca, El Imparcial, El Nacional and El Heraldo de Madrid), as well as some papers from Manila (La Oceania, El Comercio, El Español, and Diario de Manila).

This focused collection will save a scholar many hours of going through microfilm or digitized copies of the newspapers one by one to extract all the items relevant to the Philippines. The Navarro collection is arranged chronologically and with a notation that separates the morning from the afternoon newspapers.

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From the Navarro collection, a five-volume selection was made by the Augustinians Isacio Rodriguez Rodriguez and Jesus Alvarez Fernandez for the period August 1896 (the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution against Spain) to August 1898 (shortly after the June 12 declaration of Philippine independence from Spain in Kawit and the surrender of Spanish Manila and the Philippines to the United States, thereby robbing the Filipinos of their hard-won freedom).

The Rodriguez-Alvarez volumes, now out of print, were published in Madrid in 1998 by the Agencia Española de Cooperacion Internacional as a contribution to the 1998 centennial celebration of Philippine independence. While these volumes are useful to the scholar who has access to them, it is only a dip in a wide pond because only news from two newspapers published in the Spanish capital (El Heraldo de Madrid) and the capital of the Philippines (Diario de Manila) were chosen. The diligent scholar will still have to make a pilgrimage to Valladolid to consult the 69 volumes of clippings and supplement these with the main newspaper library (or Hermeroteca) in Madrid.

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While a lot of Philippine material has been uploaded online by the Spanish Biblioteca Nacional, the Hermeroteca, and a digital Cervantes library, there is still so much awaiting Filipino researchers in Spain. It is unfortunate that because of a misguided nationalism that struck out Spanish from the Philippine college curriculum during Corazon Aquino’s term, a whole generation of Filipinos have been separated from their past because of language.

The Rodriguez-Alvarez volumes may be available in university and college libraries in the Philippines, but they remain unopened even by interested readers who cannot read the original Spanish. If a translation were considered, it would have cost much in time and money, and the volumes would not have made it out in 1998.

The entries for December 1896—120 years ago—read like a time capsule. News from an official telegram dated Dec. 21, 1896, talks about encounters between the Guardia Civil and Filipino revolutionaries in Calatagan, Batangas, or how 1,000 revolutionaries entered San Ildefonso, Bulacan, on Dec. 20 and burned the tribunal and convent in town. There is news of rebel attacks in Las Piñas and Laguna, and of 13 people arrested by the police or Filipino soldiers in the Spanish forces who were charged with desertion.

There is a list of the Spanish Squadron and the commanders of the various ships and steamers, like the cruisers (Reina Cristina, Castilla, Velasco, Don Juan de Austria, Don Antonio de Ulloa, Elcano, General Lezo, Marques del Duero), the gunboats (Quiros, Villalobos, Manileño, Mariveles, Mindoro, Panay, Albay, Calamianes, Leyte, Arayat, Bulusan, Callao, Pampanga, Paragua, Samar), the transports (Manila, Cebu, General Alava, Argos), etc. Sounds very impressive, but in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, the US Asiatic Squadron with armored ships under George Dewey were superior to the wooden Spanish fleet described as “floating antiques” that were all sunk.

Taken individually, these news may seem trivial against the backdrop of the Filipino struggle for freedom, but these are loose strands that, woven together, complete the yet unfinished tapestry that is Philippine history.

 Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: collection, History, library, Looking Back, opinion, Philippines, Spanish
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