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Time to put PH history online

/ 12:10 AM January 13, 2016

When I started out doing historical research well over three decades ago, the Internet and cell phones were the stuff of science fiction and fantasy. In those days the scarcity of telephone lines resulted in a system where two households shared one phone line known as a “party line,” which brought out the worst in Filipino behavior. The parties argued over the use of the phone and a stalemate occurred when one party hung up the phone on one end, making it unusable for both. In those days also, one needed an operator to call outside Manila (domestic call), or outside the Philippines (overseas call), but today you can call anyone direct at any time, through either a voice call or a video call.

I remember the days when research meant physically going to a library or archive to dig up materials. Today, my students presume that anything that cannot be found online does not exist! One student once challenged my library requirement and asked why I was forcing him to go to the library and handle a physical book! I simply told him that the real lesson is knowing that not all things are online. As a result, when I enter a classroom at the beginning of each semester and look at my students, I really feel like a soon-to-be-extinct dinosaur.

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I must admit that the Internet has made research so much easier. When I need to cite a book, I can find the bibliographic data online instead of looking at the title page of a physical book in a library. In the past, a Filipino scholar needed to travel abroad to find primary sources that were unavailable in Manila. For example, you needed to fly to the United States to consult the “Doctrina Cristiana” of 1593, one of the first books published in Manila, the only extant copy in the universe. Today, all you need is a fast and stable Internet connection to browse the copy online. Once you find it, you can flip the pages of the “Doctrina” as if you were handling the late-16th-century original. If something is unclear, you can enlarge the image and look at minute details. You can even download a high-resolution copy for your reference or perverse entertainment.

Just recently, the New York Public Library uploaded thousands of images from its collections, making them accessible, searchable, and downloadable for free. I spent a happy afternoon just looking at the Philippine images.

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Manuel L. Quezon III has been the administrator of an online resource called the Philippine Diary Project, which gives us an intimate view of parts of 20th-century Philippine history from the firsthand view of diarists. I have spent many happy hours reading through this website and am now contemplating undertaking a complementary site for the 19th century. Rizal, of course, left us with 25 volumes of writing; Apolinario Mabini and Marcelo H. del Pilar left us with two volumes each. Graciano Lopez Jaena, Juan Luna, Gregoria de Jesus, Artemio Ricarte, and others left us with diaries, letters and other correspondence that should be continually studied as we attempt to weave everything together into one narrative history.

Emilio Aguinaldo left us with at least four autobiographical accounts, the earliest being his 1899 “Reseña veridica de la Revolution Filipina” (True Account of the Philippine Revolution), a slim pamphlet, quite rare to find in the original. It was published in the original Spanish twice in 1899, in Tarlac and in Nueva Caceres. A version in English was also published in 1899 and a Tagalog version decades later. The “Reseña” is often consulted in an English translation, one of 1,500 primary-source documents in the five-volume compilation by Capt. J.R. M. Taylor known to scholars under the title “The Philippine Insurrection Against the United States” (Eugenio Lopez Foundation, 1971), or a text published by Leandro H. Fernandez, in the May 1941 issue of the Philippine Social Science Review reprinted by the Philippine Historical Association in 1969 with Fernandez’s note:

“Although it carries the name of Don Emilio Aguinaldo as author, some scholars have expressed disagreement as to authorship probably because according to Capt. John  R.M. Taylor, portions of the original manuscript … filed in the Insurgent Records are in the handwriting of Felipe Buencamino, and not in that of Aguinaldo. It is possible that the work was prepared in Tagalog at the instance and under the direction of General Aguinaldo and translated into Spanish by Felipe Buencamino, Secretary of Foreign Relations, for as the latter said in a letter to Dr. Galicano Apacible in Hongkong on September 10, 1899, the Reseña was ‘a work written solely by Don Emilio and translated by me.’ At all events, it is quite likely that the pamphlet was not only translated into Spanish but also revised by Don Felipe Buencamino.”

Teodoro A. Agoncillo, in his book “Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic” (1960), said the original manuscript of the “Reseña” in Tagalog, in Aguinaldo’s awful handwriting, can be consulted in the “John R. Thomas Collection Relating to the Insurrecionist Government of the Philippines, 1898-1899” in the US Library of Congress in Washington, DC. He stated: “Scholars have suspected Felipe Buencamino Sr. of having written the work, but the presence of the original Tagalog draft of the Reseña shows that Buencamino merely adapted it into Spanish.”

Why some people question the authorship of the “Reseña” is beyond me. Time to make more primary sources on Philippine history available online.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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