In defense of El Pueblo Filipino
In tracing the careers of the three “foundational heroes” — Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and Emilio Aguinaldo — to the Spanish “reordering” of Philippine society as embodied in the pueblo, historian Reynaldo Ileto paid homage to the country’s Spanish-Catholic heritage.
Ileto, delivering the Jose Rizal Lecture of the Philippine PEN recently, said that between the Spanish colonization of the Americas that started in the late 15th century and that of the Philippines in the 16th, “there is a vast difference.”
The conquistadores and Spanish settlers “transplanted their social order to the Americas and adapted it to local conditions,” so that “indigenous institutions were partly destroyed and the survivors put to work in silver mines.” American colonists developed huge plantations which were worked by slaves from Africa.
“This did not happen in Filipinas,” Ileto said. “Instead Manila was intensively developed as the hub of the galleon trade; (it was) populated by merchants and clerics but very few Spanish settlers.”
The pueblos were “offshoots” of the reduccion policy of resettling and concentrating the inhabitants within hearing distance of the church bell—the proverbial bajo de las campana, or within earshot of the friar parish priest. Datus, maguinoos (nobles), and their followers built their houses around the church-convento.
“There is little reason to believe that the resettlement … was the outcome of bloody conquests, enslavement or coercion,” said Ileto. Armed clashes “were the exception rather than the rule.”
“The conquest of the Philippines was accomplished mainly through soft power, through treaties, blood compacts, and the introduction of a new and powerful religion called Roman Catholicism.”
“Christianity has had the most profound influence in shaping what we Filipinos are today as a people,” Ileto declared. With conversion came “the formation of the original towns that would form the core of the new religio-political entity called Filipinas. The concept of the ‘taong-loob,’ or the taong-bayan, arose with the formation of the original bayan, the pueblo.”
Beyond the pueblo would be the spaces occupied by those who refused Spanish rule — “the remontados … the apostates, sectas, vagabundos, tulisanes, indocumentados, mga taong-labas.” Their cases “were usually labelled revolts.”
The negative image of the friar was British black propaganda. “The British invasion of 1762 to 1764 made evident British determination to put an end to the Spanish empire,” said Ileto. “Working with Masonic lodges which were originally founded in England in 1770, the British targeted the dominance of the Catholic Church throughout the Spanish empire. Their ultimate aim was to cripple Spain’s ‘Pearl of the Orient,’ first by taking control of the external trade of the Philippine colony, and second by undermining the religio-political foundation on which the Spanish empire was built. The friar lord of the town, as he in fact was, became Britain’s ultimate target for subversion.”
Rizal, Bonifacio, and Aguinaldo were freemasons. But the first two belonged to the metropole; in fact, Rizal, who made his name with his two novels in Spanish, was hardly known to the “taong-loob.” Aguinaldo remained in the pueblo and became mayor of Cavite Viejo where perhaps he learned to distinguish between freemason agitprop and fraile reality.
Not that the local elite didn’t aspire to get rid of friar domination and have their way completely. When in 1889 M.H. del Pilar, also a freemason, compared the British colonies of Hong Kong and Singapore with “the paltry and insecure life in the lush abundance of the Philippine archipelago,” Ileto said he “was voicing the sentiment of his fellow ilustrados that Spanish Philippines was short on progress and freedom, including the freedom to make more money.”
Things came to a head in the revolution of 1896 and the execution of Rizal later that year, making him known finally to the taong-loob or taong-bayan. In 1898, Aguinaldo declared independence and, showing facility with the ways of the pueblo under bajo de la campana, promoted the cult of Rizal. The Malolos Republic of 1899 declared Rizal “national hero.” Native priests replaced the Spanish friars, but Catholicism continued.
“The extraordinary extension that the Aguinaldo government gave to fostering Rizal as national hero indicates that religion was the bond that put all the diverse regions together,” said Ileto. “The martyred Rizal was derived from the Christ figure familiar to all lowland Christians from whatever region. The cultural roots of the new nation were to be found in the Hispanized Catholic pueblos.”
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Lito Zulueta is a journalist and editor. He teaches at the University of Santo Tomas and is national secretary of the Philippine PEN.
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