That we do not forget
If you have not done so yet, make time to watch “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.” Like most Filipinos, much of what I remember about Gen. Gregorio del Pilar is limited to the postcard that memorializes his martyrdom at Tirad Pass, and monuments like the one in Calumpit which tells me I’m nearing my mother’s hometown.
The enthusiastic turnout on the film’s second week reflects well on director Jerrold Tarog’s remarkable rendering of Del Pilar’s portrait as a hero and as a human being.
Aptly screened after our observance of National Heroes Day and before the anniversary of the declaration of martial law, “Goyo” also revisits a critical question about the role of history. Should history strengthen our sense of patriotism and nationhood by only presenting what is good and beautiful? Or should history help us learn from the past by presenting both what our founding fathers did right, and what they could have done differently?
Coincidentally, this was the crux of the 1986 Historians’ Debate. On the one hand were historians who argued that the time had come to remove the stigma of the Holocaust so that Germany could “normalize” its past. On the other were historians who argued against it, as Auschwitz occupies a unique niche in their history along with their finest moments as a country. It is noteworthy that the philosopher Jürgen Habermas took up the cudgels for the latter’s position. His differentiation between strategic action and communicative action may help explain why he did so.
Revising Auschwitz, or moving on, as it is referred to now in the context of the Marcos past, presents an understanding of history that reduces it to strategic or instrumental action. We engage in strategic action in the realm of economics and politics. We invest money so we can earn interest. In the same manner, we vote for politicians so we can be represented in government. Similarly, corporations and political parties engage in strategic action to achieve their respective economic and political objectives. Put simply, we engage in strategic action, or the world as we know it grinds to a halt.
Alas, history neither belongs to the economic nor the political systems that sustain modern society. This is why preserving the stigma of Auschwitz vis-à-vis the exemplary contributions of Germany to humanity suggests a broader understanding of history—one that flows from communicative action. This is the natural inclination of human beings to come to a better understanding of themselves and of one another by way of culture and language in our everyday world—or the “lifeworld,” as Habermas calls it. Relationships within families, friends and communities thrive when they engage in communicative action through the good times and the bad times.
It is when the rules that apply to the economic and the political systems are extended to the lifeworld that problems arise. This is what Habermas calls the colonization of the lifeworld. When we mistake something that belongs to the lifeworld for something that is unique to the system, he warns us of the price we end up paying: “The growing number of hospital beds occupied by psychiatric patients, the epidemic proportions of behavioral disturbances, alcoholism, the phenomena of addiction per se, the rising suicide and juvenile delinquency rates… the destruction of the urban environment, the industrialization, contamination and sprawling disfiguration of the landscape…” (Habermas, Observations on “The Spiritual Situation of the Age”).
Lorena Barros, the UP scholar who became a revolutionary during the martial law years takes Habermas’ prognosis closer to home. “… I wish the world didn’t revolve so much on money. Sometimes it feels that way. Money, money, money all the time. No move that doesn’t cost a cent. Even my walks around the golf course are paid for—by your blood and sweat. No, nothing’s for free. Nothing. Every sunset is paid for…” (Maita Gomez, “Gentle Warrior” in “Six Young Filipino Martyrs,” ed. Asuncion David Maramba).
For Habermas then, the use of history to achieve political or economic objectives perpetuates the continuing colonization of our lifeworld. Almost a hundred years before Habermas defended the purpose of history to enlighten and to teach, another Filipino revolutionary by the name of Apolinario Mabini clearly grasped what history was for.
Near the end of “Goyo,” reflecting on how our first president failed the vision of Jose Rizal and the aspiration of Andres Bonifacio, Mabini minced no words in his incisive analysis: “The revolution failed because it was badly led; because its leader won his post by reprehensive rather than meritorious acts; because instead of supporting the men most useful to the people, he made them useless out of jealousy… God grant that we do not forget such a terrible lesson, learnt at the cost of untold suffering.”
It was so then. It is so today.
Von Katindoy trained in philosophy at the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary before completing his MA in philosophy at Ateneo de Manila University.
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