Forging history | Inquirer Opinion
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Forging history

On Jan. 26, 1911, Governor General William Cameron Forbes issued Executive Order No. 2, which instructed all provincial governors, to communicate with municipal presidents under their jurisdiction and authority, and ask them to seek out and gather old men in every barrio, sitio, and arrabal for the purpose of obtaining from them all sorts of historical documents and other materials relating to local history. All these reports and materials were to be collected and sent to the executive department for turn over to the Philippine Library. The deadline was set for Aug. 1, 1911.

Over a month after the Aug. 1 deadline, a certain Jose E. Marco from Pontevedra, Negros Occidental, wrote to National Library director James Alexander Robertson as follows:


“I have now in my possession three curious old manuscripts. I cannot state how old exactly, but they are written in pre-Spanish Visayan characters and according to the headman of the montescos in the mountains of the Island, he found them early in the fall of 1888 while doing some excavations in Camesana, the abode of Negritos. They were found sealed with beeswax in an earthen jar; the manuscripts had a special bamboo container and this, together with various articles, were sealed in the jar.” Marco later claimed he acquired these manuscripts from a certain mountaineer named Ygo Syka for P18 and exchanged them for rare books being disposed of by the National Library.

In 1912, the three bark manuscripts were received by the National Library. Robertson wrote of them in the September 1913 Bulletin of the Philippine Library declaring:


“Those of first importance historically are the three manuscripts written in the old Visayan characters on boñga bark. These constitute the greatest literary find ever made in the Philippine Islands. They were found on the Island of Negros and were obtained for the library by the care and interest of a young Filipino, Mr. Jose E. Marco, who was educated in American schools, and who appreciates the value of historical material much above the average.”

“Although these have not been deciphered, it is known that they relate to certain old beliefs of the people. The key to their transcription is known, and their translation into English is only a matter of time. Their importance lies in the fact that they are the only known manuscripts of this class that have been preserved. The early friar missionaries are said to have destroyed many in their zeal to rid the land of all heathen influences. Several of the friar convents in Manila possess a few samples of ancient writing, but they are written on paper and are mainly names of persons. The age of the library manuscripts can as yet only be guessed at as perhaps between one and two centuries, although it is not impossible that they might have been written nearer the time of the first Spanish settlements in 1565.”

“Old Spanish writers assert that the Visayans could not write at the time of the conquest, but that the Tagalogs could. If this be true the Visayans learned the art of writing after the advent of the Spaniards, and this, if so, determines roughly the age of these literary treasures.”

“When discovered first, these manuscripts appear to have been covered with a resinous gum which acted as a preservative. It is reported by certain ethnologists that the half-wild mountain people of Negros carry native writings as charms, and that they guard these very jealously. In this connection should perhaps, be mentioned the bamboo rolls owned by the library on which are etched the curious characters employed today by the Mangyans of Mindoro. These are modern and were made especially for the library, through the interest of Commissioner Worcester.”

The manuscripts were on display at the National Library until they were lost or destroyed during the 1945 Battle for Manila. Clear photographs of these were sent as exhibits at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Despite all the warning signs that these might have been a hoax, Robertson lent his reputation to their authenticity. Thus, Jose E. Marco embarked on a half-century career in forging manuscripts. Marco fed a hunger for lost history by creating the Code of Kalantiaw to “La Loba Negra,” a novel allegedly by Fr. Jose A. Burgos. He deserves closer scrutiny.


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