Friday, September 23, 2005

Cristobal, Adrian. "Downgrading Bonifacio Again." Philippine Daily Inquirer 11.359 (Monday, 2 December 1996): A8.

Downgrading Bonifacio Again

Heroes are created by popular demand, sometimes out of the scantiest materials. -- Gerald W. Johnson

There's nothing wrong in subsuming Andres Bonifacio's birthday under the more general National Heroes' Day so long as he is regarded as the most prominent member. This much was conceded by our editorialist last Saturday. Still, Rlzal ss commemorated on his martyrdom but not Bonifacio, whose inglorious death few remember, if at all (May 10, 1897 at Mt. Buntis, Maragondon, Cavlte). Probably this was the reason Nov. 30 used to be known in my school days as Bonifacio Day, as if somebody wanted to make him share Rizal's dominant place in our historical pantheon. The result is the continuing quarrel about which hero is the greater.

The quarrel, of course, is as pointless as it is unresolved, except for the usual compromise: both are great. But while Rlzal has his critics (he wasn't in favor of revolution, according to the lore) it's Bonifacio who has his iconoclasts. He always had them, from the time his credentials were questioned by the infamous Tirona in the Tejeros convention to the present, in the form of an American historian by the name of Prof. Glen A. May of the University of Colorado. Where Tirona questioned Bonifacio s academic fitness for office, May now questions Bonifacio's existence in a book called "Andres Bonifacio: Inventing a Hero."

It's fitting that another foreigner rose in Bonifacio's defense. There's a sense of deja vu here, it was also foreigners who attacked and defended Jose Rizal. In this case, Malcolm H. Churchill, with the benefit of the library of his wife, historian Dr. Bernardita Reyes-Churchill, deflated the Katipunan supremo's latest executioner, who based his "thesis" on the supposition that the Bonifacio letters were forged. Professor May gave historians and students a glimpse of his "thesis" in a recent lecture at the Far Eastern University.

His audience was as unconvinced as Mr. Churchill, who contended that the so-called forged letters could be copies, and that in any case, Professor May's conclusions were too radical for such flimsy evidence. He said that the Bonifacio we have come to know was the late Teodoro A. Agoncillo's invention, as if the hero had only become part of the national consciousness when Agoncillo's "The Revolt of the Masses" was published.

Mr. Churchill's rebuttal of Professor May's notions about Tagalog usage during the revolutionary period on such absurd grounds as the difference between the active and passive voices was devastating it has to be read in full to be appreciated (Lifestyle, PDI, Nov. 29). But more absurd still is Professor May's absolute dismissal of interviews as historical sources. In any case, "Agoncillo's Bonifacio" is no more a figment of the imagination than the Bonifacio depicted by Artemio Ricarte (Vibora) and Gen. Santiago V. Alvarez in their memoirs. It's amazing how Bonifacio could have so many "inventors."

But why make much of an icon-destroying book by a foreign scholar? It's not going to subtract an inch from Bonifacio's stature as a national hero of the Pilipinos. O, if only we can be sure! Some people can make a reputation out of contrarian ideas. At the very least, if Professor May's book is circulated in the Philippines, it will be lapped up by curiousity-seekers as much as by Bonifacio-bashers.

One reason for making a fuss lies in the possible motivation of an American historian in trying to disillusion a people about their hero in the guise of a quest for historical truth. As no self-respecting historian will accept his deeply flawed methodology, the layman is forced to ask what Professor May is up to. He is also known as the implacable "deflator" of nationalist historian, Prof. Renato Constantino, who is also an ardent advocate of Andres Bonifacio as national hero. It may not be irrelevant to point out that Constantino is also a severe critic of American colonialism.

For this reason, there is some talk of "banning" Professor May's book in the Philippines. But that is the surest way of sanctifying him and promoting his silly book. It would be unconstitutional and a betrayal of our democratic pretensions to ban a book on the ground of absurdity, even if it is an insulting one. Ridicule, not censorship, is the only defense against pompous pontification.

Nevertheless, we are unfortunate to have the likes of May looking over our historical shoulders. There's no guarantee either that he's going to be the last. We seem to attract them, and some of us even accept them as we have accepted a writer who pronounced us as a "damaged culture." Cultures, as Rizal once wrote, can be destroyed. But "damaged" is an anthropological oddity.

Following Gresham's law, bad ideas drive out the good in this age of mass communication. Notoriety is immediately attained through the imprint of powerful Institutions. So much for free competition in the world's marketplace.

Our betters tell us that our historians have to work harder and be "world-class" in order to compete, not only for self-promotion but for protecting the national heritage from its gratuitous destroyers. However, a casual visit to any bookstore will impress anyone with the proliferation of Filipiniana and historical works by Filipinos about the Philippines. Their quality varies but there are many excellent ones. In some ways, Senate President Pro Tempore Blas Ople's call for a "paperback revolution" has already been launched.

Assaults coming from the Mays of the world should spur literate Filipinos to read more of their history and literature so that they won't be enthralled or misled by upsetting propositions emanating from distant minds of distant shores. Let the mass media publicize them, nothing can be done about it, but digging deep into our past as we become more aware of our present is the best armor against the detractors and gratuitous critics of our heritage.

We are on the second year of our centennial celebrations. Hoy, gising!