One is often led to believe that the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), formerly known as the National Historical Institute, is responsible for everything “historical” in the country. Not so, it seems, because while it administers the three Rizal shrines (in Fort Santiago, Calamba, and Dapitan), the site of Rizal’s execution (in Bagumbayan, now Rizal Park or Luneta) is administered by the National Parks Development Committee.
Intramuros, while very historical, is under the Intramuros Administration that has in its governing board the tourism secretary as chair and the NHCP chair as a member. Then there are the many World War II shrines that are also historical but are administered by the Department of National Defense, specifically its Military Shrines Division, which maintains or has oversight of the museum and theme park in Corregidor, the shrine on Mount Samat or the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor), Capas, as well as modest museums dedicated to the Armed Forces of the Philippines: the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Someone doing postgraduate work in public administration should look into the way the government assigns cultural and historical responsibilities, to determine if the present arrangement is
effective and efficient.
Many years ago I made a trek up north to Hungduan to formally install a historical marker on a site where the patriot Artemio Ricarte, known as Vibora (Viper), was buried. His was a long and conflicted life: He was involved in the first phase of the Philippine Revolution (1896-1897) under Andres Bonifacio, moved on to its second phase (1898-1899) and the Filipino-American War under Emilio Aguinaldo, and was caught by the enemy and exiled to Guam. He refused to swear allegiance to the Stars and Stripes and lived a life of exile first in Hong Kong and then in Japan. He was brought back to Manila as a relic of the Revolution by the Japanese, and at the end of World War II he died in the company of the retreating Japanese military, far from the reprisal of his own people.
How does one remember such a long and controversial life? One would think it begins with historical markers, but then I found out that the Hungduan site was not where Ricarte was actually buried. The exact spot was farther into the mountains and hard to reach, so the town mayor explained that for purposes of tourism the marker had to be installed in a place accessible to and convenient for potential tourists.
I remembered Ricarte while preparing for my lecture on “Fake News in Philippine History” at the Ayala Museum tomorrow. Ricarte’s burial site was not the only one with a misplaced historical marker in the area. After Hungduan, I visited the Kiangan War Memorial that commemorates the surrender of Japan’s Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita in September 1945. It may be an impressive complex built in 1974 and maintained by the Department of Tourism, but it is not the actual site where Yamashita surrendered. For that one has to travel farther into the town to a small school house with an official historical marker and another that seeks to dilute the bad memory of the war by calling for “peace.”
If we really want to split hairs, one has to gain entry to the Baguio City residence of the US ambassador to the Philippines that served as Yamashita’s residence and, later, as the venue for his surrender to US Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainright and British Gen. Arthur Percival, who had surrendered Singapore to Yamashita. The surrender of all Japanese forces in the Philippines was completed at 12:10 p.m. on Sept. 3, 1945. The end of the war was effected, not in the Kiangan shrine, but in Baguio.
Historical shrines and landmarks can be a merry mix built for history, for the memory of the military, for tourism, or many other reasons. Who builds and maintains the museum determines the historical narrative. Would we call these cited well-intentioned examples “fake news” today? Social media sometimes takes over as the gatekeeper of history. Through constant repetition and wide reach, what is untrue can become true. History is not entirely about dates, names, and places, but
also about learning to be critical to separate the truth from fake news.
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