Gen. Miguel Malvar: Lost in translation
The editor who arranged a chat (not an interview) with former president Benigno Aquino III last year was anxious over our meeting, assuming, wrongly of course, that I was tarred by having served under the Arroyo administration. We did not talk politics and bonded immediately instead over our shared love for books, history and junk food. We both came from the generation that endured 12 units of college Spanish, and actually used the same textbook. We both knew the adventures of Anna West: her trip to Mexico, how she ordered orange juice (jugo de naranja), and what she saw at the Parque de Chapultepec. A pity, though, that after four semesters we didn’t finish the textbook and never set foot in Spain as Anna West did.
Spanish was dropped from the college curriculum during the term of President Corazon Aquino, when the mood was anticolonial, when people who came of age in the turbulent 1960s harbored a closed nationalism instead of the global perspective we have today. However, Spanish was not the enemy; the method of teaching was the problem: complicated grammar (who actually uses the subjuntivo in real life?), endless conjugation and memorizing instead of appreciating Jose Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios,” for instance.
Smart classmates posted a copy of Rizal’s valedictory poem on the front of the teacher’s desk, making recitation and a perfect grade possible. If we were taught then using the Instituto Cervantes method with its emphasis on reading and communicating, we would probably be speaking Spanish today, no matter how grammatically flawed.
Having reading knowledge of other languages aside from the basic English and Filipino has served me well in my work. Spanish, French and some German were keys to unlocking texts that would have otherwise remained inaccessible to me. Yet there are documents in English, too, that make for painful reading, like a manuscript circular signed by Gen. Miguel Malvar that goes on the block this weekend. I share my faithful transcription:
“Miguel Malvar y Carpio. Division’s General. Political Military Chief of Batangas, first chief of operations in the same province and in the second Zone upon Manila and Second chief Superior of Luzon’s South with the same ample faculties as the first chief for the present circumstances.
“Being in the most interesting period of the present campaign in which the enemy thinks misspend all means of his politest expending a copiousness of coactions to suffocate by means of force the aspirations to the Liberty and Yndependence which inform the true and Sound Spirit of Philippine people and wanting give at the present historic moments tests of greater vitality and vigour which the Revolution relies Still that had guided to the course of order and discipline, and to avoid further violations of wars Laws that could spring from circumstances.
“I order and command:
“That will be punished under very severe punishments according to the criterion of Instructor Judges who be named accordingly to the cases. 1st All Philippine soldiers de particulares who killed or maltreated the American Soldiers after they enraptured their guns. 2nd All who killed with treason the American soldiers Sleptor drunk. 3rd All who shot or wounded the American soldiers [captured?] or escape after they had thrown their guns in the fights moment. 4th All who wounded or followed shooting to American soldiers who surrender in the fights moment throwing before their guns as a sign of rendition. 5th All who don’t treat well to prisoners of war and all who don’t conduct them to their lines until the place free of all danger. 6th All who don’t lend the necessary help those who throttled themselves may be friends or enemies. 7th All who don’t cure the wounded and sick prisoners before their devolution having means to it. 8th All who vexed without justified motive or maltreated the peaceful Filipinos, Americans or subjects of other nationality. 9th All who don’t lend all considerations to American soldiers who should pass or have already passed to Ynsurgent troops.
“Given in the office of this Head-Quarter at 9 of Feb. of 1901 Miguel Malvar [with the seal of the Jefatura superior sur Luzon. 2Jefe].”
I can imagine the enemy soldiers and generals scratching their heads and asking in Tagalog, “Ano daw?” I don’t want to believe Malvar had atrocious English and blame a bad translator. This and many more documents prove to be a challenge to the historian, for much is lost in translation.
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