Numbers game | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Numbers game

/ 11:09 PM January 17, 2012

Congress and congressmen have been in the news lately. We have the 188 representatives who signed the impeachment complaint against Chief  Justice Renato Corona. Then those in the minority will decide whether to keep Edcel Lagman as their leader or replace him with Danilo Suarez.

That Congress is a numbers game goes all the way back in history to  our Founding Fathers in the Malolos Congress. According to  revolutionary Gen. Jose Alejandrino, in his memoirs “La Senda del  Sacrificio” (translated from the original Spanish as “The Price of  Freedom”), we owe the present separation of Church and State to Antonio  Luna who played the numbers game too. Alejandrino wrote:

“[General] Antonio Luna also became a member of Congress. There he  affiliated himself with the faction that we can call ‘Radical.’ This  faction was formed almost spontaneously when the celebrated debates  started in Congress over: the separation of the Church and the State;  the expulsion of the [Spanish] friars and other religious  congregations from the Philippines; and the prohibition by the  Constitution of the formation of new religious orders.

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“The debates showed signs of dragging on forever because, although it  appears strange, considering the motives that started the [Philippine]  Revolution, one half of the members of the Congress were adherents of  the friars. Eloquent speeches from each group were made but  there never was a voting because both groups were afraid of the result  of the balloting. Luna broke the situation with one of those tricks  peculiar to his character and which made him famous later.

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“He assembled all those delegates of the Radical faction who had  confidence in him and advised them to keep away from the sessions of the  Congress but requesting them to remain within call at a moment’s  notice. With the Radicals absent, the Conservatives constituted a  majority during the sessions. Having made a careful counting and  thinking themselves sure of victory, the Conservatives moved for a  vote, while the few Radicals present registered a token opposition.  The motion to call a vote was carried. Then, at the precise moment of  balloting, Luna immediately called all his adherents to enter the  session hall en masse to the surprise of the [over]confident Conservatives. The voting was taken and we won, if I remember right,  by one or two votes. In this manner the provision in our Constitution for  the separation of the Church and the State was secured.”

It’s a pity that the Malolos Congress was not covered by television  like today because the above event would make exciting viewing.

Remember the rowdy impeachment complaint against then President Joseph  Estrada? Then we had the recent one against Chief Justice Renato Corona that  some representatives signed without reading the articles of  impeachment. One can only hope that the Congressional and Senate  Libraries and their Archives keep all records and transcripts for easy retrieval by historians of the future who will study  our times in a more detached and, hopefully, objective manner.

For the  Malolos Congress, the standard work is a 1972 compilation by Sulpicio  Guevara, entitled “The Laws of the First Philippine Republic: The Laws  of Malolos 1898-1899.” More materials have come out of the  woodwork since then, and we need a second look at these laws from the  perspective of a historian and a lawyer so we can see how the Founding  Fathers made sense of their world, and whether we have progressed  since their times.

Antonio Luna is one of the tragic but lesser known of our heroes. We  all know of his assassination at the hands of Presidential Guards from  Cavite whom he had disarmed and reprimanded earlier. We read about the  many wounds inflicted on him by gun and bolo, of his famous last cuss  words as he lay dying in the plaza of Cabanatuan in 1899 and how an  old woman, allegedly Emilio Aguinaldo’s mother, looked out of the  window and asked, “Nagalaw pa baiyan?”(Is he still alive)?

Luna was a  fascinating character, a man of many talents wearing different  hats. He was a good swordsman and reputedly one of the best guitarists of  his time. He was a journalist, a writer, a scientist trained in the  Institut Pasteur in Paris who did early studies on the purity of  carabao milk, the quality of water in the Pasig River, and the spread  of malaria. He is considered one of our heroes but according to  Teodoro A. Agoncillo, he was the greatest general of the  Filipino-American War who did not win a single battle!

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Aside from Rizal, Antonio Luna and Apolinario  Mabini are my favorite  Filipino heroes, and I believe they deserve a second look. Both are  covered by standard biographies—Luna by Vivencio Jose and Mabini by  Cesar Adib Majul—but it will not hurt to hit the libraries and  archives again in the hope that fresh material will result in new  insights that will help us further understand our past.

Now that Rizal’s  sesquicentennial is done, we can look forward to more 150th birthdays:  Andres Bonifacio’s in 2013, Apolinario Mabini’s in 2014, Antonio Luna’s in 2016,  and Emilio Aguinaldo’s in 2019. Much work is waiting to be undertaken by  younger historians.

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