Lost in the pages of ‘Renacimiento Filipino’
Last Holy Week, while friends and family were getting a tan at the beach or bruising their knees from kneeling in church, I stayed home to fix my library.
Books are reference material and their owner knows exactly where they are when needed if he reshelves religiously; if not, as what has happened in the past, another person has ideas of order and reshelves haphazardly separating books from others of the same type, theme, or topic. When you scan the shelves, many books are returned upside down or even arranged according to size and color of the cover making retrieval so difficult. I end up running out and buying another copy if it is still in print. After three full days’ work, the library remained as it was when I started because I got distracted by certain titles and ended up scanning or reading whole chunks of it.
Old issues of “Renacimiento Filipino” provided hours and hours of fun for the many engaging photos in its pages. In 1911, for example, the magazine covered the funeral of Teodora Alonso, Jose Rizal’s mother, complete with some gruesome ones first showing her emaciated in her last days, followed by a spread of the old lady in the coffin. Funeraria Quiogue seemed to be a keen advertiser so instead of aspirational society photos we gawk at while waiting for medical appointments, the magazine whose name translates to “Filipino rebirth,” had full pictorial coverage of funerals: industrialist Pedro Pablo Roxas’ in 1912 and painter Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s in 1913 (both died in Europe and their remains were returned to the land of their birth); Miguel Malvar’s in 1911 included a photo of the revolutionary general taken shortly after he expired. Three decades ago I was able to acquire a complete bound set of this magazine that had been returned to the bookseller by the frightened Chinese buyer who saw bad feng shui dripping from its pages.
Not everything in “Renacimiento Filipino” was morbid. There were rare photos of Rizal’s sculptures, the people he knew, and the places he stayed in abroad. There was a lot on the politics of the time, too with photos of the young Manuel Luis Quezon and Sergio Osmeña that we have always known looking like the elder statesmen they came to be. Quezon was easy on the eyes, making me wonder about Filipino voting behavior then and now—do good looks translate into votes?
In 1913, Francis Burton Harrison arrived in Manila wearing a top hat and a black coat rather inappropriate for tropical weather. He was welcomed at Pier 5 by Rafael Palma and made his way to Malacañang in an open carriage with his wife. He served as governor general from 1913 to 1921, and is best remembered for fast-tracking the Filipinization of the government such that it was irreversible. After his term in Manila, Harrison took on an advisory position to presidents: Quezon, Osmeña, Manuel Roxas, and Elpidio Quirino. It is not well known that Harrison was granted Filipino citizenship and that his son Francis Jr., who was born in Manila, was called by his Filipino nickname “Kiko.” Harrison, like Henry VIII, had six wives: the first died in an automobile accident in 1905, then there was a succession of four marriages that ended in divorce, and the last was to a sturdy Basque lady who outlived him.
Harrison died in the United States in 1957 and his remains were returned to the Philippines and interred at Manila North Cemetery. I have yet to dig up the primary sources on Harrison but Michael P. Onorato left many leads in a 1974 monograph, “Origins of the Philippine Republic: Extracts from the Diaries and Records of Francis Burton Harrison.” Since the extracts are engaging, we can only imagine what explosive or libelous
material was left out of the publication.
Harrison is honored by a street in Baguio, a long thoroughfare in Pasay choked by jeepneys whose signs read “F.B. Harrison,” and of course Harrison Plaza that has seen better days. While my library reorganization remains to be completed, I have no regrets regarding the detour through the pages of “Renacimiento Filipino” because it allowed me to connect a face to the familiar name F.B. Harrison.
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