History as a door, not a mirror | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

History as a door, not a mirror

/ 04:20 AM January 15, 2021

Pandemic spring cleaning is far from over. As a historian with over three decades of random notes, transcribed interviews, sketches, unclassified photographs, and a mountain of photocopied material, I find the task overwhelming, because it seems endless. Yet it is something only I can do correctly.

For weeks I have been filing papers into brown envelopes and labeling each to create a sense of order in material accumulated over a lifetime from various sources here and abroad. Unfortunately, each document leads one down a rabbit hole of remembering where, when, and why I picked such papers up. Much of the material are interesting in themselves, but cannot be developed into a column of 700 words. Years ago, such scraps or retazos went into (H)ISTORYA, a short-lived trivia column I wrote for Inquirer Lifestyle.


Comparing notes taken in the Newberry Library in Chicago in September 2000 with notes from June 2019 led me to wish that the pandemic was over, so that I could spend two weeks digging up the Edward E. Ayer Collection. Shortly after the United States acquired the Philippines in 1899, Ayer assembled a Filipiniana resource as one of the spoils of victory in the Spanish-American War. That resource has not been exhausted by those who have dipped into it. In 2000, I refused to even look at the original Rizal manuscripts in the collection, because there was far too much to discover. For two days in 2019, I went for the Rizal material and discovered a lot that I didn’t know before.

One day, I hope to write up two curious documents on 19th-century witchcraft, starting with the 1864 investigation, in Palapag, of Adriana Capuquian, who warned people of the consequences of a refusal “to return to their old practices.” The other document, written under the pseudonym “Don Merlin,” concerned witchcraft in northern Luzon.


Some documents resonate in our times. In May 1876, a few months after he assumed office as archbishop of Manila, Pedro Payo sent a confidential letter to the cardinal archbishop of Toledo, Spain, regarding sexual abuse. Translated roughly from the original Spanish, it reads:

“An Indian appeared before me saying that he was currently contracted into making a general confession more than the confessor had indicated, but he could not go forward unless he appeared before me and made a hundred declarations.

“Asked what happened to him, the student related that being a young man he confessed on account of the sins that he used to commit very frequently, that were of onanism [masturbation]. [During the confession] the confessor began to touch him in his shameful parts. At that moment nothing bad happened to him, and if a great fear entered him, it was only days after, as a result of his studies. He lived in the same building where the confessor priest resided. He had several sins of pollution with him. The name of the said confessor is inside the attached envelope.”

The envelope is not in the file, and we do not know how the investigation concluded.

A report dated Dec. 5, 1865, narrates the inspection by the political governor of Cavite, accompanied by Mayor Bernabe España, of the city jail. The governor inquired into the state of the prisoners and asked if they had complaints regarding food or maltreatment. Obviously, nobody complained. But when the governor asked about the reasons for their detention, a different story emerged. Aguedo Minaldo, detained from July 31, 1864, was ignorant of the charges against him. The same was true for Francisco Dayugo (detained from Nov. 9, 1864), Eulogio Soler (detained from Nov. 25, 1864), Cristino Garcia, Jose Devuando, Anselmo de Leon, Buenaventura Acuña, Antero de Leon, and Juan Vanta (imprisoned from Aug. 27, 1865).

The principal citizens of Imus—Cirilo Legaspi, Mariano Cristobal, Tomas Guevarra, Gregorio del Rosario, Francisco Bautista, Agustin Medina—were imprisoned a month earlier, on Nov. 26, 1865, because they were supposed to accompany the governor, Don Luis Oraa, with their respective horses. But they had no horses and presented themselves on foot. Meanwhile, Juan Bonus, gobernadorcillo of Sta. Cruz, was arrested on Nov. 28 because he had not fixed the roads of his pueblo.

This would not look out of place in today’s overcrowded jails.


History is not a mirror into the past, but a door that shows that we have not changed much since.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: History, pandemic, spring cleaning
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