Heroes (excerpts)

I have a private collection of long articles written by famous authors, which I can lend to interested parties. One of them is about Andres Bonifacio – Why the Supremo Fell by Nick Joaquin. It’s very intriguing critical analysis of the Philippine revolution and its heroes. One short excerpts below:

Ilustrado means, literally, illuminated, and implies, as in medieval Europe, an esoteric group (for example, the illuminati lifted above the mass of the people by a special intelligence. Even in our day of mass culture, illuminati exist: we have kept the legend of the mad scientist, who is our equivalent of the mad saint. Nevertheless, we can no longer comprehend a time when anybody who had gone beyond book lore and folklore was regarded as more than just a wise man, was deemed to be reading the world in the light of a supernatural illumination, and was feared as a sorcerer. The early philosopher-scientists of medieval Europe — Roger Bacon, Petrus Peregrinus, Albert Magnus ~ were popularly believed to be magicians and to have had traffic with the Devil; they were seers and sorcerers who could read the secrets of the earth and divine the future, and they gave rise to the Faust legend.

This tradition of the sage as seer haunts our use of the term ilustrado, for the ilustrado arose among us when the Philippines was emerging from its own Middle Ages. Rizal was a prophet not only in his own family, who saw him as a dreamer of dreams foretelling the future. To the common folk his skill in the sciences indicated possession of magical powers; and this view of Rizal as magus survives in the cult of that strange sect in Laguna which worships him as a kind of supernatural being: the god of Mount Makiling. A similar mysterious light envelops, in popular mythology, the figures of Burgos, Mabini, Aglipay and Aguinaldo. Ilocano peasants used to say of Bishop Aglipay that he had only to put his hands to his head to make his white hair turn black; and
there’s a legend in Kawit that the General tamed the cafre that haunted the Kawit seashore and put it to guarding the bridge beside his house.

The Filipino ilustrado, who represented the highest reach of the rising bourgeoisie of the 19th century , may thus be said to have worn the conic cap of the sorcerer; and the Revolution can be told as the tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Of the various embroiderings of that tale, one version has the sorcerer laying out the ingredients for a mighty experiment and then going to sleep until the propitious time for his brew, having bidden his apprentice to keep the caldron boiling; but while he slept the apprentice decided to brew the ingredients himself, tossed them all into the caldron, and began stirring the mixture, whereupon there was a terrific explosion; and the sorcerer awoke to find his cave on fire, and rushed to the caldron, to save what he could of his brew, but in vain, because the time for it had not yet come.

Of the many comments made on the Revolution, that is the one that is never dared made: that it was premature, that it was untimely, that the hour for it, as the ilustrados had been saying all along, had not yet struck. Even from just the practical point of view, the Revolution was inopportune because it cost the lives of the very men who could have made a true Filipino nation work: Rizal, and a whole host of the most brilliant minds of the country, as well as Bonifacio, the sorcerer’s apprentice, himself.

It must be granted that Bonifacio could well have seen the time as propitious, with Cuba in revolt and the home government in Spain in the confused coils of a regency and on the brink of war; but Rizal, who had a cooler eye, cast it not across the sea at Spain but across the street at his own countrymen and judged them not yet ready to revolt. History has vindicated him. Being premature, the Revolution proved abortive. We boast that ours was the first revolution in Asia; we fail to add that the other revolutions, though they came later, were more successful, presumably because the time was ripe for them. The Americans didn’t really interrupt our revolution; it had already flopped before Dewey steamed into Manila Bay; and but for Dewey, Aguinaldo and his colleagues might have spent the rest of their lives in exile, frittering away the time in one vain
conspiracy after another, or being used, as Ricarte was used, by some power that coveted the Philippines. That explosion in the sorcerer’s cave delayed instead of hastening the sorcerer’s work; for the Filipino ilustrado had a revolution in progress that got stymied by Bonifacio’s explosion.

The fashionable view of the Revolution today is that it was a proletarian uprising that the bourgeois “captured.” At first it was said that the capture was effected at the Malolos Congress, some two years after the Revolution started. The date has apparently been advanced, since it’s now being said that the capture was made at the Tejeros Convention, six months after Balintawak. We may expect some future theorist to advance the date still further and declare that the capture was accomplished right in Balintawak. All this sounds like an egghead effort to make Marxist boots out of Philippine bakya.

What’s evident is that, soon after the Revolution started, there was a power struggle in Cavite between Manilenos and Cavitenos. The question to ask is: Who captured which? Was it the Cavitenos who, driven from their province by the Spanish forces, fled to Manila and there tried to take over the successful revolution of the Manilenos? Or was it the Manilenos who fled to Cavite and there tried to capture the successful revolution of the Cavitenos? And the geography of the struggle is answer enough.


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