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Critical Questions on Nationalism: A Historian's View

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Clarisse Baniqued

on 27 August 2014

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Transcript of Critical Questions on Nationalism: A Historian's View

Critical Questions on Nationalism: A Historian's View
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Ileto wanted to question the reassuring views we have of nationalism, more specifically, the historical underpinnings of this nationalist consciousness that most everyone will claim he or she possesses

He recognized certain patterns in the way an awareness of the past and a view of the future are instilled in the Filipino student
A Golden Age (pre-Hispanic society)
All modern history textbooks will reveal that they contain the following categories and chronological sequence:
From the moment the typical student begins to learn about himself, his society, history and culture in books, the mass-media and the classroom, he becomes immersed in ideas of development, emergence, linear time, scientific reason, humane pragmatism, governmental ordering, nation-building, etc.

He becomes so immersed in them that he takes them to universal categories, part of the natural ordering of things. Little does he know - for rarely do his teachers tell him -- that such categories are historical, that they were devised at a certain time in the past by men bound by their unique interests and environments.
The Philippine history that we have today is a glaring example of how the raw data of the past has been organized, ordered, within a framework of development, emergence, linear time, scientific reason, humane pragmatism, governmental ordering, and so forth, which we are not made aware of.

The overall assembly or construction of history is obscured or kept out of sight in history textbooks and history teaching. The student is made to learn the facts of history, not the silences (or that which is left out), and not why a history is made in this way rather than that way.
Teodoro Agoncillo

-most influential history textbook writer

-famous for his construction of a Philippine history that begins after 1872, the year of the GomBurZa executions, or the year that a "national consciousness" was born

-justified this view on the grounds that one cannot hear an authentic Filipino voice prior to 1872 in the masses of Spanish colonial records that have survived
-At most there are isolated, regional and tribal assertions against the colonial order, but hardly one that articulates a common experience and destiny of the Filipino people

-Agoncillo blames this on Spanish colonialism because according to him, before the conquest in the sixteenth century the people had a sense of belonging to the Malay world; they were literate, prosperous and united under their respective chiefs

-Spanish rule encouraged the docility of the masses, the corruption of leaders, their collaboration with the foreigners, and above all a loss of authentic customs and beliefs

-Only with 19th century economic development and the consequent rise of a native intelligentsia would things be set straight again

the Fall (i.e. the conquest by Spain in the 16th century)
the Dark Age (17th and 18th centuries)
Economic and Social Development (19th century)
the Rise of Nationalist Consciousness (post -- 1872)
the Birth of the Nation (1898)
either Suppressed Nationalism or Democratic Tutelage (post 1901, the American Regime)
Sometime in the late 19th century there is seen a breakthrough, a movement forward out of darkness and subjection, towards independence, progress and the Filipino nation-state. It was the ilustrados who first emplotted history in this manner.

The first native students of Philippine history

Jose Rizal
Gregorio Sanciangco
Isabelo de los Reyes
Ramon Paterno
Trinidad Pardo de Tavera

saw their generation as the first to be guided by Reason rather than Superstition. As a way of liberating themselves from their colonial consciousness, they studied the ancient alphabets, literature, religion, and other aspects of pre-Hispanic society, and posited a break in their time between the Dark Age of Spanish colonialism when religion and ignorance ruled men's minds.

-a quarter of the volumes were to be devoted to the pre-Hispanic "roots of Filipino heritage"

-In this view of the past, the seed of the future Filipino nation is to be found in the idealized pre-Spanish barangay

-another quarter, "during which the Filipinos struggled first to assimilate and participate in the hispanization process, gradually and consciously moving towards the idea of a national community in the reform or propaganda movement"
F. E. Marcos's Tadhana: The History of the Filipino People
-in his best selling book The Philippines: A Past Revisited, participates in the discourse of the liberal nationalists they condemn

Like Agoncillo and Marcos, they present an image of pre-Hispanic feudal order bastardized by colonialism and a native culture contaminated by Christianity.

What these texts have in common with their liberal rivals is that they proceed from the same construct of Fall-Darkness-Recovery, where there is a necessary development from a point in the past to the present and everything in between is either taken up in the march forward, or simply suppressed.

Constantino and the NDF seek to precisely locate the stages of economic and social development in the Philippine past so that the progression in time can be more scientifically plotted.

The end point is not the nation-state but a condition of true independence and social levelling. There is finally a call to action for participation, through organization and struggle, in this historical process.

Renato Constantino
"Who are we to quarrel with such righteous and noble claims? As a historian, I cannot but marvel at the precision and order by which the data of the 19th century is ordered in what is mentioned. Each personality, each social class, each movement, each event, has its proper place or role in the forward-movement of history. Revolts are shown to be increasingly complex and secular, in stages, as the economy develops."

"But what about the parts that don't fit? What gives rise to this passion for order and linearity in constructing history? I know that for history teachers, their work is made so much easier if they can present the facts neatly, systematically. At the same time, this is a tactic so that students can be more easily controlled because there is less room in this system for imaginative, non-conformist thinking."
Perhaps the passion for precision and order stems from the bourgeois mentality-- the fear of anarchy and social disorder. By displaying such order and precision in his text (which is why it is so easily pirated by lesser minds), Constantino in fact subverts his radical aims.

Another point about the above mentioned texts is that while they lock upon the masses as the real "makers of history," the masses are not allowed to speak. They exist only to be represented by articulate leaders who are said to have a deeper understanding than "ordinary people" of the causes of oppression, and who begin to emerge in the second half of the nineteenth century. This view of the masses is something that nationalist opposition writing have in common.

Another sign of elitism is to be found in one of the major themes in the history texts circulating in the schools: the development of the nation-state that is supposed to articulate the hopes and needs of each citizen. The germ of the future nation-state is found in the pre-Spanish barangay, a community bound together by kinship ties and loyalty to the chief. It was but natural for the nation-state to emerge as the goal of the principalia's struggle against colonialism. The consolidation of the colonial state would simply be inherited by the principalia at the turn of the nineteenth century.

We can see that the diverse texts mentioned share a common historical mode of employment or construction.The reason most educated Filipinos find the linear- developmental mode a natural one for ordering such phenomena as revolts and the consolidation of state power in the name of nationalism is, I think, because this framework puts them at the forefront of the development process.
These historians have shown that while the native perception of reality was strained by the impositions of colonialism, there was no break or disruption arising from the conversion and relocation of the lowland populace

J. Phelan (1867)
-demonstrates that spanish missionaries could not have succeeded in their enterprise without building on pre-existing notions of curative waters, amulets, anito worship, family alliances, and so forth

V. Rafael (1984)
-suggests that there was no conversion at all because of the conflicting sign-systems constituting the Spanish and Tagalog languages,which rendered impossible the translation of concepts from one to the other.The convert used the missionaries for their own ends
What about our deliverance from the Dark Age? The decline of the galleon trade, the consolidation of Spanish monopolies, the entry of foreign capital, the taming of the frontiers and expansion of the cash crop economy, all brought prosperity to the principalia class in the cities and pueblos.

Natives were exposed to new ideas, entertained new ambitions such as entering the professions and the higher levels of the colonial bureaucracy. Inspired by models from Europe and America, the new intelligentsia was responsible for the initial "imaginings" of a national entity called Filipinas. Current history books portray the principalia and its ilustrado vanguard as frustrated in their rise to prominence by the conservative friars.This stumbling block to progress is dismantled with the revolutions of 1896 and after.

It is a very reassuring history, indeed, that pictures the friar as the epitome of evil and backwardness, whom the masses rejected in regaining their ancient liberty. While there is some validity in this, it is an ilustrado construction pure and simple. It is repeated again and again in modern writings without is original context in nineteenth century liberalism beings understood.

In the first place, was the Spanish friar really that powerful? Isn't this merely a perceptions by up-and-coming principalia living next door to the conventos, a perception exaggerated to make possible the construction of a "dark age"? The extent of Spanish control outside of the pueblo centers, even in the nineteenth century,has to be seriously questioned. What does one make of the fact that pueblos were constantly under fire from the outside?
The significance of one of the suppressed figures of the Philippine history:

The bandit (tulisan)

-In Tagalog literature he signifies contempt for the law and for settled pueblo life

-He is often a victim of false accusations by the parish priest, thus the resort to flight

-At most he is romanticized as a Robin Hood Type, a proto-nationalist rebel

-remains a hidden and slippery figure

-Often without a proper Christian name and lineage, just an alias signifying a certain character or physical trait

-He is illiterate, yet held in awe by the common folk for his bravery and invulnerability

-he robs and kills the rich, particularly Chinese merchants and native landlords, including the occasion

It is almost impossible to trace the origins of ''bandit'' gangs and their chiefs. They only revealed their existence when they attacked and even occupied pueblos all throughout the archipelago. More became known about them when expeditions of local police (quadrilles), the Guardia Civil (an elite constabulary force organized in the 1860's) and even the regular Spanish army (in the 1870's-80's) were sent to flush them out of their hideouts. But the terrain and the lack of central control outside of of the pueblos prevented this "disease" from being stamped out completely.

For the "bandits"--whatever they really were --were feared. Spanish leaders and local principalia alike imagined an army of tulisanes poised to attack Manila itself. In the sugar districts of Negros such groups proliferated in the hills surrounding the canefields, creating the need for extensive police surveillance and military operations.

One obvious explanation for brigandage is that it is a mark of the on slaughter of capitalism upon village society, creating a deprived class that then turned to pillage. The terrain of the 19th century brigands was almost always the site of "disorder," "assertion"or "resistance " in earlier periods. Instead of seeing banditry as a unique 19th century response to new socio-economic forces, we can just as readily see it as just another, perhaps more visible, embodiment of the shadowy, "other side" of the developing pueblo and its principalia.

In the process of extending its authority, the colonials state enjoyed the alliance of the principalia, which also feared tulisanes. In cooperating with the state, the principalia in turn became more conscious of resistance to, or at least avoidance of, central control at the fringes of the pueblo. The bandit was one of the signs of fundamental disorder in the colonial polity, of the gap between pueblo and countryside. The principalia became conscious of itself as leaders of the people not only through its cooperations with or opposition to the colonial power, but through its difference from the tulisan chiefs.
The Philippine-American war is what really brings the issue of banditry into contemporary historical consciousness. During the guerrilla resistance to the U.S. takeover from 1901, the new colonial government controlled the pueblo or town centers, establishing local municipal governments where possible. American propaganda concentrated on identifying guerrilla resistance with banditry. Accounts of the war, initially written by Americans, pursued this line.

Thus, to generations of Filipinos educated in American schools, the Philippine-American war was a brief episode since the greater part of it had become reduced to the familiar theme of town-centers establishing order in the countryside.The bulk of official town histories unabashedly subscribe to this framework; the line between anti-American resistance and banditry is never clearly drawn.
"Illicit associations" could be more structured affairs: a church, a cofradia, or an association (samahan) or brethren. These became natural sites of resistance to control by pueblo centers and the state. Members generally refused to be "processed" by the state.

In the late 1880s there seems to have been an expectation of new era, in which time there would be a unification of all inhabitants of the archipelago under one or more native kings; the poor and dispossessed would enjoy an era of knowledge, prosperity and physical well-being. Yet, despite attempts to ignore or suppress this "dark side" of developmental history, it appears in the gaps of this history.

For an example of ironic reversals we need go no farther than the career of the very archetype of illustrado-ness,
Dr. Jose Rizal

Rizal the Filipino Christ, rather than Rizal the doctor and historian, was the rallying point of the thousands who joined the Katipunan rebellion in 1897. After his death, which is disputed, he became the source of healing and other powers to peasant leaders way into the 20th century.
The career of Andres Bonifacio evidences the same ironies. The Katipunan uprising against Spain beginning in 1896 is regarding as a turning point in the struggle for national independence. Yet in the complex and disjointed events of this period we find irony and reversal rather than ideological and organizational development. The Katipunan was regarded by many members of the principalia as a bandit gang or "fanatical" association.

After Bonifacio was executed, Aguinaldo, the new leader, was then able to put the Katipunan in "proper" form -- the form that historians would be attracted to -- as a liberal nationalist movement seeking to form a republic that would be recognized by all civilized nations.
The first Philippine republic of 1898-1901 is universally regarded as the crowning achievement of nationalist efforts from the 1880s on. Newly-installed officials all over the nation complained to President Aguinaldo of centers of power beyond their control, frequent bandit attacks and fanatical movements -- all of which Aguinaldo labelled as "anti-revolutionary."

From poems, songs and interrogation records it is evident that with the defeat of Spain a new era or condition of independence was expected to set in. Independence was imagined as a kind of paradise on earth, where at least those who participated in the unfolding of victory would enjoy prosperity and comfort.

The point of all this discussion is to show that the republic cannot be abstracted as a stage in the development of political institutions, national consciousness and struggle for freedom. It became caught up in the age-old problem of establishing order in what seemed, to its representatives in the pueblos and provincial capitals, to be a sea of anarchy.

History should be seen in relation to power struggles in the field of knowledge. Ever since, we have been complacent, failing to see that in subtle ways we may be replicating the historical constructs of the past or our present rivals. The more familiar and commonsensical this history becomes to us, the more it can be manipulated to serve the interests of power holders and interest groups.
This history should have a conception of historical beginnings as lowly, complex and contingent -- not romanticizations of the barangay or communal society, not celebrations of some epic resistance to colonialism. It should give equal status to interruptions, repetitions and reversals, uncovering subjugations, confrontation, power struggles and resistances at the level of the local and specific, which our dominant histories tend to conceal. For only at this level can we begin to appreciate the dynamism at the heart of the so-called "dark age" of our history.

We would be better nationalists with a national history that welcomes difference, disorder and uncertainty.
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