Looking Back

Bibliographic ghosts

/ 07:45 AM December 17, 2014

If we are to go by some university administrators’ fetish for citation indexes and ISI Scopus publications, Jose E. Marco, the subject of my ongoing research, hardly exists. However, Marco’s work has cast a long and enduring shadow over Philippine history that merits closer scrutiny.

In 1968 William Henry Scott focused the spotlight on Marco’s handiwork, debunking what were once believed to be sources on pre-Spanish Philippines and exposing these as 20th-century forgeries. Notwithstanding Scott’s definitive arguments, some people insist on believing fiction more than fact, therefore keeping the fictitious Datu Kalantiaw and his code of punishments current in some history, law and political science textbooks to this day.


In 2004 the National Historical Institute (NHI) declared the Code of Kalantiaw a hoax and recommended the discontinuation of the Order of Kalantiaw, the state award conferred on retiring Supreme Court justices. It recommended as well the closure or retooling of the Kalantiaw Shrine in Batan, Aklan. But the NHI resolution was challenged by local officials in Aklan, and I have not heard about the status of the Kalantiaw Shrine since.

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction and hoaxes are hard to put down because these usually consist of half-truths and not outright lies. Marco’s forgeries are fascinating because they feed on our continuing search for a nation and a Filipino identity. These create what Caroline Hau has aptly termed “necessary fictions.”


In 2009, four decades after Scott hammered the nails into Kalantiaw’s coffin, historian Michael Salman resurrected Marco using material from the archive of the defunct University of Chicago Philippine Studies Program. In 2011 postgraduate student Maureen Justiniano focused on Kalantiaw yet again by focusing on public reception to Marco’s most enduring creation. One could say that Kalantiaw has been fully debunked, and the story complete, so why beat the dead horse some more? The last piece in the puzzle gives overdue credit to the eminent Philippine bibliographer Mauro Garcia, who was the first to suspect and prove that something was not quite right about materials traced to Marco. It was actually Garcia who tipped off Scott and provided the leads that resulted in Scott’s landmark 1969 work, “Prehispanic source materials for the study of Philippine history.” Scott acknowledged his debt to Garcia only in 1984, when the latter had already passed away.

Garcia had an ax to grind against Marco, but he had to keep his peace because to expose Marco fully would also expose himself to ridicule. Garcia not only believed in the Marco creations in the beginning, he actually acquired many of these forgeries. In retrospect, why and how did Marco get away with this for so long? How was he able to pull one over not just Garcia but also other stellar names such as James Alexander Robertson, H. Otley Beyer, the Chicago Philippine Studies Program, Luis Ma. Araneta and Epifanio San Juan?

Marco’s motivation was simple, he simply wanted to make money, and he succeeded by feeding scholars and collectors with what they were looking for.

My research on Marco has been very enjoyable, especially since I found a 361-page typescript by him in the Library of Sophia University, Tokyo: “A Philippine folklore: containing practically all what is known on this subject: in our country, through the aid of what has been written on this subject in the archives of neighboring countries, from prehistoric days to the end of the conquest” (1940). This work is largely based on bibliographic ghosts—books and primary-source materials that do not exist or are outright forgeries. Compiling a list of these bibliographic ghosts is an ongoing project aimed at attributing all these to Marco, speculating on his motives, and perhaps putting the story into context in order to understand the conditions that made him and his creations possible.

Marco had a long and fruitful career that spanned half a century from the time he brought a handful of “pre-Spanish manuscripts” to James Alexander Robertson in the prewar National Library to the 1960s when he peddled off more “early Spanish period” materials to the National Library of the Philippines, the Chicago Philippine Studies Program, and even the Newberry Library in Chicago that declared, upon receipt, that the manuscript it acquired on the recommendation of the Chicago Philippine Studies Program was fake.

Ever creative, Marco did not stop with the pre-Spanish and Spanish Philippines. He produced at least 45 writings allegedly by Fr. Jose A. Burgos, most of which were acquired by Luis Ma. Araneta, who described them in an article for Philippine Studies, and announced their forthcoming publication in the original Spanish and English translations. Fortunately, the critical eye of the late Fr. Miguel Bernad, SJ, and Fr. John Schumacher, SJ, sensed something wrong, and the Marco-Burgos manuscripts remain unpublished to this day.

If we are to go by these fake manuscripts, Burgos was more of a renaissance man than Rizal, having written on history, anthropology, astronomy, natural science and philosophy. Burgos even wrote a novel, “La Loba Negra” (The Black She-wolf), that antedates Rizal’s “Noli” and “Fili.”


Marco produced all these, and he deserves to be written about. That is one of my New Yearís resolutions.
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TAGS: fr. Jose a. burgos, Jose E. Marco, Kalantiaw myth, Philippine history
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