Sunday, July 15, 2018

126. Our heroes up for auction

The strong women behind our heroes
By: Ambeth R. Ocampo
June 06, 2018

 Jose Rizal' relief sculpture 
depicting a man lifting a barbell
sold for 17.5 million pesos
(Source: Leon Gallery)
A handful of historical manuscripts are expected to sell well beyond my budget at auction this Saturday: a letter from Marcelo H. del Pilar to his wife “Tsanay,” a letter of Gregoria de Jesus to Emilio Jacinto, and letters addressed to Teodora Alonso.

In addition to these is a large relief sculpture on Philippine hardwood by Jose Rizal depicting a man lifting a barbell, made sometime during his Dapitan exile in 1892-1896. The sale comes a week before our 120th Independence Day, and two weeks before Rizal’s 157th birthday.

Over a century old, these documents resonate in our times, framed by some in the context of a strongman president bullying a handful of pesky women: a vice president, a chief justice, a senator, and an ombudsman. We all know that Philippine history has been largely written by men, its narrative dominated by great men who would not be such if not for the strong women who made them whole.

The coming auction is significant because the lots are related to women who are largely absent in the national narrative, except as footnotes. Rizal would not be around if not for Teodora Alonso. Marcelo H. del Pilar would have turned out differently without Marciana or “Tsanay.” Then, of course, there was Oryang—Gregoria de Jesus, the muse, the Lakambini of the Katipunan, Bonifacio’s better half.
All these historical relics are billed as “Extremely Rare and Highly Important” by the auction house writers, who are well-advised to use a thesaurus for more engaging descriptions. While collectors covet originals, historians are concerned about content. While collectors put a premium on antiquarian and monetary value, historians require access.

Marcelo Del Pilar's letter sold for 467,000 pesos
(Source: Leon Gallery)
Del Pilar’s letter to Tsanay, written from Madrid on Aug. 17, 1892, was originally in the collection of Jose P. Santos, who presumably inherited it from his father Epifanio delos Santos, after whom the longest street in Metro Manila was named. The letter opens with a rant about someone who can never finish anything yet slowly destroys what others have put up. If that sounds familiar, throw in the agrarian dispute in Calamba that turned out badly for the Rizals as he predicted. Land has always been at the root of Philippine social problems.

Del Pilar complains that Tsanay had not sent the chocolate she promised, or funds expected from friends that remained empty promises. Del Pilar’s life in Spain was hard; he needed living expenses or fare to return home. He had to borrow money, beg for food, collect cigarette butts from the street, and the only job openings were for servants:

“Sa pautang-utang na lamang ang ikinabubuhay ko … Ako ang natataya sa kahihiyan dine, ang kakanin ko lamang ay dinidiligencia ko araw-araw. Nakarating na ako sa mamulot ng beja ng cigarillo makahitit lamang … Dine ay walang paghahanap na masosooyam. Liban na sa pumasok na alila; datapua’t matanda na ako kung gayon ko lang sisimulan ang pagka alila …”

That so many expatriate overseas Filipino workers today can relate to Del Pilar’s letter to his wife underscores the fact that not much has changed in over a century.
Gregoria De Jesus' letter sold for 467,000 pesos
(Source: Leon Gallery)
The short letter from Gregoria de Jesus to Emilio Jacinto, dated Oct. 29, 1898, comments not just on her own hardships, but also those of her brother and parents who have lost their livelihood. Worse, she is helpless to aid her mother, who scrapes small change from working in a [fish?] pond, mistranslated by the auction house as “water tanks”: “Ang aking ina ay nagtitiis pumasok sa istangki. Gumagana ng sikapat, isang araw, nagtitiis araw gabi … Ako nama’y walang sukat magawa …”
Contrary to auction house notes that claim an undated document by Oryang has never been seen in full, the first accurate transcription from the original was made by me, presented at a conference in 1989, but deliberately left out of the published proceedings. It relates the unfortunate events that led to the Tejeros Convention and its tragic aftermath.

Oryang’s account is but one biased source that needs to be read with others to reveal the painful truth that Bonifacio was set up and betrayed, not by Aguinaldo and Magdalo, but by the Magdiwang he trusted with his life, because its leaders were related to his wife.

A Narration of the Events Leading to the Tejeros Convention of March 1897 and the Days After, Including the Arrest, Trial, Death of Andres Bonifacio in April 1897, and Her Search for Him, signed “Gregoria de Bonifacio, Lakambini (Noble Woman)” Consisting of fifteen (15) Pages, undated.  Sold for 584,000.00  (Source: Leon Gallery)

Auction prices are tempting historical documents out of hiding. As long as historians have access to them and digital copies shared, then we can slowly complete the jigsaw puzzle that is our history.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

125. One Flag, One Nation

REVOLUTIONARY RELICS Emilio Aguinaldo’s cabinet of relics of the
revolution at his home in Kawit, Cavite, included one of the flags used
during the Filipino-American War. The flag is now preserved in Baguio City.
Flag unites archipelago into one nation
By: Ambeth R. Ocampo
June 12, 2018

Forged in the fire of revolution, bathed in the blood of our heroes, and sanctified by usage, the Philippine flag we inherited from Kawit on the afternoon of June 12, 1898, has become so commonplace that Filipinos today hardly notice it.

At worst, the Philippine flag is disrespected — used like towels by Filipino athletes competing overseas or, in a video that went viral, used to mop a dirty floor.

The late Sorsogon Rep. Salvador H. Escudero used to lament that the usual violator of the Flag Law was the government, flying faded, tattered flags in front of its buildings from the national level down to the barangay level.

Old and worn flags should be burned and reverently buried, a ritual that many find antiquated or obsolete.

General Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine poster drawn by Larry Alcala

Ignorance of history

Teachers and textbooks are often blamed for ignorance of the Philippine flag’s history or the confusion that arises from the different meanings read into its colors and symbols over the last century.

The first Philippine flag was made in Hong Kong in 1898, hand sewn and embroidered in silk by Marcela Agoncillo following Emilio Aguinaldo’s design.

Agoncillo was assisted in the task by her daughter, Lorenza, and Jose Rizal’s niece, Delfina Herbosa.

Aguinaldo took the flag back to the Philippines when he returned from exile in Hong Kong, and it was first unfurled, not on June 12 in Kawit but in the Battle of Alapan on May 28, 1898—a date now commemorated as National Flag Day.

This original flag is now lost, but a contemporary one, in cotton and once displayed in Kawit, is preserved at a private museum in Baguio City.

A silver thimble, used by Marcela Agoncillo in making the first flag is preserved at Malacañang Museum.

Declaration of independence

Emilio Aguinaldo carrying a flag during
the Philippine Independence Day celebration

On June 5, 1898, Aguinaldo issued a decree setting the date for the Declaration of Independence on June 12.

On the same day, he commissioned Julian Felipe to compose some incidental music for the occasion, the “Marcha Aguinaldo,” which has come down to us as the tune for the national anthem.

Felipe composed the march for the piano and arranged it for a brass band that played it in Kawit on June 12.

Lively at 2/4 time and in the key of C, it was not made to be sung.

Spanish lyrics were added by Jose Palma in 1899, which were translated for singing in English before World War II and again into the Filipino version we know today as “Lupang Hinirang.”


Miniature paper Philippine flag
distributed on the occasion of the
proclamation of the First
Philippine Republic in 1898.
Different flags based on the Marcela Agoncillo original were made for use during the Filipino-American War, and they had different shades of red, white, and blue.

Sometimes there were more than eight rays in the sun, which was not always golden but sometimes red.

A face adorned the sun, like the sun in South American flags, but this was removed when the colors and elements of the flag were standardized during the time of Manuel L. Quezon.

Over time, even the meanings of the Philippine flag changed.

The June 12 Declaration of Independence states that the colors of our flag must resemble those of the flag of the United States, which assisted in the war against Spain.

Next year, in Malolos, Aguinaldo delivered a speech describing the flag as having “three colors, three stars, and a sun, the meaning of which are as follows: the red is symbolic of Filipino courage which is second to none, and was the color used during the war in the province of Cavite since the 31st of August 1896, until the Peace of Biak-na-Bato [in 1897]; the blue carries an allegorical meaning that all Filipinos will prefer to die before submitting ourselves to the invader, whoever he may be; the white conveys the idea that, like other nations, the Filipinos know how to govern themselves, and that they do not recede from observation of foreign powers.”


The Philippine flag and its symbolism has been challenged over the years.

Some say the flag is anchored in the events of 1898 and irrelevant to our times.

Others complain that the sun and its eight rays is partial to Luzon, which explains the moves to add a ninth ray to the sun to represent Mindanao, which already has one of the three stars shared with Luzon and the Visayas (Panay).

1900 French magazine featuring a fallen Filipino
revolutionary soldier fighting for independence.
Aguinaldo said the sun and its rays “stirred up Filipinos and spread the light over their world, piercing the clouds that enshrouded it; it is now the light which brightens every spot in the Philippine islands, and under its influence the Itas, Igorots, Manguians, and Moros, all of whom I believe were made in the image of God, and whom I recognize as our brethren, now come down from the mountains to join with us.”

A national flag can include and exclude, depending on how it is read.

Going back to its history reminds us that it is meant to unite an archipelago with many peoples and languages and cultures into one nation.

The flag is a reminder that it was one thing to declare independence on June 12, 1898, and another to know what to do with that independence.