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How the Revolution was funded

/ 05:04 AM October 04, 2019

When Andres Bonifacio led his men in tearing their cedulas (residence certificates) in August 1896 to signal the beginning of the Philippine Revolution against Spain, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people in that gathering thought the symbolic gesture meant an end to cedula and the fees that came with it. But it became a policy issue of the First Republic, when a return to the cedula or something like it was proposed because the government was hard-pressed for ways to generate revenue in order to sustain the expenses that came with the Philippine-American War.

Why return the cedula, some people asked, when it had grown into a hated reminder of the colonial yoke? One of the little-known aspects of the Philippine Revolution was that aside from revenues generated by the cedula, there was income derived from notarial documents, customs and other Spanish-era taxes carried over, including the former government’s version of “sin taxes” on liquor, opium, cockfighting, gambling and playing cards.

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A revolution is not run on angry words and love of country alone. In our case, hard cash had to be earned from a host of taxes and fees even before the Malolos Republic was born. Before Jim Richardson’s compilation of documents on this period, “The Light of Liberty” (Ateneo Press, 2013), the most useful was that by the Jesuits Pedro de Achutegui and Miguel Bernad, “Aguinaldo and the Revolution of 1896” (Ateneo Press, 1972), which provided an engaging narrative of the first phase of the Revolution through primary source documents. These books, or selections from them, should be in the reading list of current college students who are supposed to learn Philippine history using primary sources. Unfortunately, no adequate textbook is available and I am still compiling my own; a tentative list of documents is available from the Commission on Higher Education website, but both teachers and students have to source these themselves.

Worse, the only formal Philippine history subject in the K-to-12 curriculum is taken in Grade 4 or 5, meaning that by the time I meet these students in freshman college, they have probably forgotten much of the content, leaving me to practically start from scratch. When I return to teaching in January 2020, it will be the last Philippine History as I have known it for the past 20 years of teaching juniors and seniors in Ateneo. Next year, I teach freshmen a course on Philippine History through Primary Sources, which requires that I compile a selection of documents that are not just historical but also engaging and relevant to my students. My methods, and many of my tried-and-tested jokes, will have to be updated, making this an exciting challenge.

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During the Revolution, food was scarce because the fighting disrupted the normal planting and harvesting of crops. Sometimes the enemy hamletted civilians, taking them away from their fields and, in extreme cases, even burning the fields to starve the Filipino forces. In the documents of the period, we come across one dated Dec. 30, 1896, addressed to the heads of nine towns and ordering them to plant seasonal crops like mango, camote, corn and tobacco. Not only were they required to report on compliance, they were also to provide a list of farm owners, the size of cultivated land and quantity of crops.

On the fifth month of the Revolution, feeding the soldiers became an issue, and we see band-aid solutions in a Jan. 9, 1897, document issued to towns that not only imposed a tax on rice harvest, but also advised them that due to scarcity, while they were allowed to use half of their harvest for themselves, they were to keep only a third. The circular also asked the towns to submit a head count of cattle and animals that could be slaughtered for food. In the same month, the government issued a one-peso tax on the slaughter of each head of carabao, cow and horse, and a half-peso tax on every head of pig, with the income to be reported and revenue used to purchase “Baril solit” (home-made guns) and other expenses.

Over the years that I have focused on these details, which critics demean as “useless trivia,” I have shown that textbook history has given us the outcome of the Revolution, but not how it was fought. Textbook history is boring because it does not tell us how people lived through those troubled times. We should not choose between the forest or the trees in our history, but appreciate both to make history live and be relevant to our lives.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: andres bonifacio, Commission on Higher Education, Jim Richardson, Malolos Republic, Philippine history, tearing of cedulas, The Light of Liberty
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