In search of local histories
On a recent trip to Mindanao, I attended the Philippine Sociological Society conference in Central Mindanao University, Maramag, Bukidnon, where one of the many interesting presentations concerned the role of the town of Lubuagan, Kalinga, in the Philippine-American war.
Drawing from the accounts of local residents, Jeffrey Ligero of UP Los Baños recounted a little-known episode in Emilio Aguinaldo’s flight to Palanan: his 72-day encampment in Lubuagan alongside 100 of his men. Despite their limited resources, the local Ykalingas fed and housed the men, kept the revolutionaries’ presence a secret, and even organized a feast for Ka Miong’s birthday — showing hospitality and heroism in the process.
From Bukidnon, I continued to Iligan City to visit MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology. In conversations with locals like Septrin Calamba, a sociologist, and Dr. Armando Isla Jr., an ENT specialist, I learned about the history of Iligan — the rise and fall of the steel mill, the devastation of Typhoon “Pablo,” and the impact of the Marawi crisis.
Their accounts remind me of the many stories that we only fully learn about when we actually visit the place itself. Most of us have already forgotten about the Zamboanga siege in 2013, but for people like local broadcaster Ronald Lledo, the fear of living through those three harrowing weeks was as if they were only yesterday.
As for Ligero’s presentation, it reminds me of many stories most of us never hear. Growing up in Los Baños, I learned about World War II in class without learning about the wartime events that took place in my own hometown — from the fateful raid in February 1945 to the hanging of Yamashita a year later. I learned about Rizal without learning that he actually climbed Mt. Makiling. I would never have known about them, because they were neither part of the curriculum nor parcel of our local consciousness.
What other (hi)stories do we not learn about?
Surely, some people are still around to remember World War II as it happened in their own hometowns. Surely, some still bear the recollections of their parents and grandparents who lived to witness revolt and revolution, fires and floods, and the many lives and loves that struggled through them. Do they realize the value of their memories? And do we value existing works that have actually documented them?
Alas, our educational system has never fully embraced the “local.” Scholars from various disciplines are doing their best, but few among them have the opportunity to do field research for a topic that receives little funding or attention.
Still fewer manage to have their findings translated into local curricula or mainstream knowledge.
At a time when the humanities and social sciences continue to be sidelined in favor of STEM subjects, can we expect things to change? Can our students be taught to see their communities as sources of knowledge? And beyond the individual efforts of some dedicated teachers, can we pursue a more inclusive education that celebrates local diversity?
Local histories can liberate us from the grand historical narratives that engender feelings of exclusion, which populists then use to further divide our nation. As Nick Joaquin once pointed out, our narratives of nationhood come largely from a “historic minority” — a predicament that we must seek to amend.
Local histories can also serve as testaments to past injustices that their perpetrators — or their descendants — would rather have us forget. Had there been a proper and popularized history of the “drug war” in Davao, perhaps there would never have been one in the Philippines. Had there been local histories of Marcos’ martial law taught in our public schools, perhaps fewer would dare speak of it is a golden age.
Local histories, moreover, can foster a deeper appreciation of our country’s greatness. Perhaps our youth will be encouraged to contribute more to their communities if they realize how much their forebears sacrificed for them. And perhaps they will take more pride in their hometowns if they know of the heroisms within.
By pursuing and promoting local histories, we can help do justice to an archipelago inhabited by so many but represented by so few.
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