Saturday, October 29, 2005

Thoughts on Philippine history

This is Philippine history leading up to Independence as I remember it from my lessons in high school and college.

Ferdinand Magellan came to these islands on March 16, 1521 with the intent of conquering them for God and for Spain. He befriended Humabon and convinced him to become a Christian. However, in the neighboring island, Lapu-Lapu refused to have anything to do with him. In a fit of pique, Magellan fought with Lapu-Lapu but lost. His men retreated, leaving him for dead.

Knowing of the location of the Philippine islands, the Spaniards came back some years later and began a program of systematic conquest. They destroyed everything they found of the native culture and began 300 years of subjugation. They enslaved the Filipino people and did many other bad things, the worst offenders being the friars. That was why there were so many uprisings. In fact, the whole of Philippine history is simply a list of failed uprisings.

Before the Spanish came, the Filipinos were a brave and honest lot. Chinese traders could leave their wares on the street untended, and when they came back, they would find its fair equivalent in gold. But the Spanish destroyed all that, bringing their vices of drink and sloth.

Then Jose Rizal and the propagandists came into the picture towards the middle of the 19th Century. They wrote many things against the colonial masters. Chief of these was Jose Rizal's Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which exposed the abuses of the friars and the colonial government. This drove the people to revolt, a movement led by Andres Bonifacio. Bonifacio, unfortunately, was killed by one of his own men. In 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence for the Philippines.

This synopsis would probably earn me an 'F'. I will have to thank my lucky stars that I am no longer in school and no longer subject to the tyrannies of history teachers. Ignorance is bliss, so they say, and I am now free to wallow in it.

Before you excoriate my cavalier attitude towards my own country's history or the quality of the schools I went to (Stella Maris Academy of Davao and University of San Carlos, if you must know), I challenge you to take any ordinary fellow from the street and see if you can get a better synopsis. I will bet you that you cannot. This is the picture that is painted in Filipino students' minds by the time they finish school.

I don't know if things have changed dramatically for the better since I was last in a classroom 15 years ago. I doubt if it has. There is something terribly wrong with the way that history is being taught in schools, much in the same way as there are many things terribly wrong with my four-paragraph capsule history of the Philippines.

For one thing, Philippine historians, at least the ones who write the history textbooks, would have us believe that the Philippines enjoyed a golden age of nobility before it was so sadly ruined by the colonizing Spanish. But was that really the case? Really, how would they know, if the friars destroyed all evidence of Filipino-Malay culture as they found it?

In the history books, the Spanish are consistently portrayed as villains (or at least that is the impression one receives). Everything that is wrong with Filipino culture today is attributed to the bad influence of the Spanish: the poverty, the laziness, the superstitious and hypocritical religiosity. I have known some people to say that it would have been better if we had been colonized by the British instead. But how much of this can we really believe?

I am not saying that there were no abuses on the part of both the colonial administration and the so-called frailocracy. Yet these things do happen in any cultural disparity where one is treated as inferior and the other treated as superior. This was a fairly commonplace occurence in all colonial expansions, be they Spanish, British, French, Portuguese, or American. But to go to the opposite extreme and say that everything the colonizers did was bad? I think that does history a great injustice.

If there's any group of people who have destroyed history, it is not the Spanish friars who purportedly exterminated traces of native Filipino culture. It is the people who write the Philippine history textbooks.

Why does such a skewed picture of the colonial past needs to be perpetuated today? Is there some underlying agenda that demands this view of history? Or is this simply inertia that continues to give life to a socio-political perspective wrought by the propagandists so many years ago? What were the reasons in keeping those views alive?

I think it's high time we painted a balanced and reasonably objective view of our own history. As it stands, the history we are taught in school is inadequate, and worse yet, erroneous. Without the proper understanding of who we are and where we come from, without the proper appreciation that we are an amalgam of Malay culture shaped through three centuries of dynamic colonial rule (with all the good and evil entailed therein), we will continue to have a fractured psyche.

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