History and Criticism: The Invention of Heroes
The nationalist "invention" of Andres Bonifacio, though brought to the limelight by Glenn May in 1997, is an issue that begins for me in the early 1980s. Soon after the publication of my book, Pasyón and Revolution, I found myself engaged in a polemic with a University of the Philippines colleague concerning a relatively minor episode in Philippine history: an excursion that Bonifacio and eight fellow Katipuneros made to the mountains of Montalban and San Mateo in April 1895.1
1984: Reading Andres Bonifacio
In our history books, the motive for this activity is derived from a statement by one of the Katipuneros that they were looking for a safe haven to retreat to in case of difficulties in the lowlands.2 I argued that there was more than a pragmatic side to the Katipuneros' excursion. For one thing, they are said to have climbed Mount Tapusi and entered the cave of the legendary Tagalog folk hero, Bernardo Carpio. As I show in the first essay in this volume, the Historia Famosa ni Bernardo Carpio is one we know to have been Bonifacio's favorite. In fact, in his copy of the awit he penciled in what he imagined to be the local equivalents of the names and places in the text. The mountains of Montalban was the general area where Bernardo Carpio was believed trapped and
from where he would some day descend with an army of liberation. Could Bonifacio have suddenly forgotten this as he and his group arrived in the area? Or, to ask an even more pertinent question, how did the inhabitants of the area who, we are told, came in to be initiated into the society interpret the event?
Other details complicate a singular, "common sense" explanation. Bonifacio is said to have written on the walls of the cave: "Long live Philippine independence." If the Tagalog original of this slogan is reconstructed, it turns out to be something like Mabuhay ang kalayaan ng bayang Pilipinas! which can also be translated as "May the [condition of] freedom of [Mother] Filipinas come alive." Katipunan manifestos and rituals, and even later anticolonial plays like the well-known Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas, freely manipulated the idea and imagery of the mother country (Inang Bayan) rising from her grave or at least her incarceration. I believe the Katipunan expedition was itself a symbolic event, a scattering of signs of the approaching time of liberation. The possibility of such an interpretation already existed in the popular expectation of their slumbering king finally awakening in his cavernous prison. The analysis might even be extended to the image of the risen Christ emerging from his tomb, an image all Christianized Filipinos were familiar with. The Katipunan entry, then, into Bernardo Carpio's cave has various levels of meaning, one of which points to the assimilation of the Katipunan enterprise into the larger body of myths floating about the region.
Milagros Guerrero dismisses the above arguments to the extent of calling it the work of a creative fictionist rather than a historian. This opens up the question of what the proper activity of a historian is. It concerns methodological limits and therefore justifies a more detailed examination. What do the objections consist of? Paramount among them is my alleged use of "doubtful evidence" to deduce the political motivations of Bonifacio. This particular objection can be broken down into two aspects. One is my use of awit literature, as well as other unfamiliar texts like songs, dreams, legends, and even pictorial seals, as evidence. I am told that in using literature as well as, by implication, those other "doubtful" sources we "need to have incontrovertible proof that
the slice of life they portray actually happened." The other aspect
concerns the need for evidence of Bonifacio's political motivations, his "internal psychological state," his "truth," to come to light before conclusions can be made about the significance of the mountain-climbing event.3
Evidence is the bread and butter of historians, and some have even claimed recognition on the basis of nothing more than the ownership or control of such. Written documents are considered a privileged means of access to some past reality, sometimes naively equated with that reality itself which the collectors thereby get to "own." Fine, if only they knew how to utilize these documents fully. What is often missing in this obsession with the documentary is an awareness of the relationship between language and the world, the nature of document as text.
To take a concrete example, the objection to my use of the Bernardo Carpio awit is that it refers to a world that is fictive, unreal, and therefore "literary." The events therein did not happen in the Philippines; the awit therefore is not history. There appears to be a conceptual confusion here. It originates from viewing the awit merely as a fanciful representation of some past reality. Its "literariness" is regarded as a hindrance to the faithful reproduction of this past. Enter the historian who, armed with a more "scientific" language of representation, sorts out fact from fiction: yes, those kings and princes did exist, but Bernardo Carpio himself is a Spanish legendary figure; those events could not have happened in the Philippines; the Filipino belief in King Bernardo is a manifestation of a false consciousness, itself an effect of colonial role. All these points appear to be valid. If awit are viewed in this way, then there is certainly no point in treating them seriously as historical texts.
There would be no cause for dispute if historical documents were mirrors of our society. Can documents, being linguistic productions, be identified with fixed referents, the "facts" in contrast to fiction? There are problems with this "common sense" view, as we will explain later. Let us discuss first what seems on second thought to be obvious: that certain social classes and sectors have been favored by the written word. Colonial officials, friars, explorers and travelers, ilustrados, the native clergy, revolutionary offic-
ers, mestizos, principales and as a whole, men, are the principal subjects of our archival records. Histories centered around them have been and will continue to be important in providing some kind of framework for our national past, and a justifiable pride in the achievements of a Burgos, a Luna, a Rizal, and so forth. But where are the ordinary people, the pobres y ignorantes, the so-called masses, and the women, about whom the archives are largely silent? A dependence on proper documentary sources amounts to a capitulation to the "tyranny" of the Philippine archives.
Guerrero certainly does not dispute the need for a history from below. In her work on the revolution she demonstrates how peasants throughout Luzon rose against the republic in response to abuses by government officials and the local elite which made it seem like "Spanish times" all over again!4 What her documentation cannot reveal, however, is how the masses perceived and thought through their condition. Colonial and elite records can be read with the aim of reversing the process by which the activities of rebels or subalterns were distorted by those who observed and wrote about them. For every interpretation of "terrorism" or "banditry" there is a body of suppressed data that can be recovered by a creative rereading of the colonial source.5 This, of course, is nothing new to many of us. Sakay is too obviously a patriot despite the label ladron, or bandit, plastered all over him. Too often, however, a colonial discourse is simply transformed into a "nationalist" or "progressive" one, with little being revealed about the masses themselves. What did Sakay really mean to those who sympathized with him? What meanings were generated by his appeals for a continued struggle and his mode of death?
The emphasis since the late sixties -- at least in student circles -- on "learning from the people" has heightened our awareness of the relative autonomy of the masses' thoughts and perceptions. The belief that unity of action can be obtained by enlightenment imposed from above, has given way to an acceptance of differences. As those who go to the countryside to conduct "mass work" usually discover, the masses' comprehension of their condition is just as real as the "brute facts" of their material existence. Even today, so-called superstitions, feudal customs, fanaticism, and
other survivals of a premodern past are discovered in the most unlikely places and, as a glance at our weekend magazines will show, are the object of great interest. If these phenomena exist today, we can imagine what it must have been like at the turn of the century.
Those who want to pursue this matter will want to consult the classics of Philippine history for their antecedents. Sadly, however, they won't get very far, for these books basically provide an account of the Filipino people's emergence from a dark age of colonial rule. Superstition, ignorance, fanaticism, timidity, and the like are the ideological features of this dark past. Instead of an articulation of the categories of meaning implicit in them, subjects of this sort are simply given a negative sign and generally dismissed. The archives, again, are partly at fault for not providing direct access to popular mentalities. Sharing the blame, however, must be the view that only educated, middle-class Filipinos thought, while the masses were kept mesmerized by the fanfare and spectacle of pop culture with its irrational, sentimental, and escapist attributes. This view, applied to popular religion, originates from ilustrado propaganda against the friars, which was transformed into a general statement about society.6 The problem is analogous to that of the historiography of Indian nationalism which, according to Ranajit Guha, "has been dominated by elitism -- colonial elitism and bourgeois nationalist elitism."7 This denial to the masses of any substantive role beyond that of implementing the thoughts of those above them, rears its head in the very way Philippine history has been conceived within an uncritical, linear, and developmentalist framework, an ilustrado legacy that underpins even the most anti-ilustrado of texts.8
The current problematic of the masses' role in Philippine history thus forces us to turn to unconventional sources. Symbols, rituals, epics, and other aspects of culture can tell us how people who otherwise could not write diaries and reports, publicly manifested their thinking. The shape of a house, dance movements, poetic conventions -- these are all clues to how people organize their experience of reality. Works previously assigned to the realm of "literature" gain a wider range of use, particularly in sociocultural analysis.9 Yet these sources hardly provide us with facts. If we
are to use literature, Guerrero argues, we "need to have incontrovertible proof that the slice of life they portrayed actually happened." After all, it is the documentary aspect of the text that the historian is trained to latch onto. In this mode of analysis, the text is situated in terms of its factual or literal dimension, how it refers to empirical reality and conveys information about it. Working in this mode, we would ask how the Bernardo Carpio awit corresponds to its Spanish model or to actual events and personalities in medieval Europe.10 The historical reconstruction of the Katipuneros' ascent of Mount Tapusi, on the other hand, would not stray beyond repeating what the documents said.
Or what the authors said. Corollary to the above is the view that a text can only tell us about the mind of its author. The truths and meanings of a text, produced at the time of its creation, are simply waiting to be discovered by literary critics and philologists. Thus any attempt to connect the text to its "outside" -- such as the thinking and gestures of Bonifacio or the behavior of the Katipuneros -- is regarded as frivolous. This is merely a symptom of one of the canons of Philippine scholarship today: the notion that text and society can be separated, that the former belongs to the realm of the imaginary, the individual creation, while the latter is real, even capable of statistical verification. The latter is deemed, in the final analysis, to "produce" the former. Perhaps this is the reason why, in the growing number of studies of folk literature or literary history that are appearing, "history" plays the role of introductory background to, or causal explanation for, "literature." The latter is subjected to classification procedures, thematic analyses, and author-centered readings that more or less assure the status of a text as nonevent, a static receptacle of truths and facts rather than a moving force. This approach now appears "self-evident," "universal," and "common sense" to many. But looking back at the history of historical thought, how obvious it is that "rules," "canons," criteria of true and false, cause-and-effect, etc., reflect not timeless truths but the epistemic character of particular ages.11
Roland Barthes has a simple explanation for the typical historian's anxiety about "the facts." It's all part of the prestige of "this happened," another consequence of a certain historical con-
ditioning of western man. When history was trying to establish itself as a genre in its own right in the nineteenth century, it took as a guarantee of "truth" the abundance of concrete details in a carefully constructed narrative that was deemed to express "reality" out there. It was this attraction to the "reality effect" that also led to the popularity of the realist novel, the diary, the documentary, and photography. Today, this nineteenth-century aspiration towards an objective and realistic historiography is seen as part of that complex of myths peculiar to western culture "at a time when it was trying to deal with the social pressures caused by the impact of industrialization on institutions and beliefs peculiar to feudal social systems and agricultural economies."12 The enlightenment drive to approximate reality through reason coincided with establishing the "facts of history," which meant that literature, which seemed to undermine the ideal of factuality, had to be kept at arms length.
Authorcentrism, too, can be traced to a certain historical conditioning. It could stem from our own bourgeois conceptions of personal property, individual works, and the private control of meaning. Michel Foucault traces back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe the beginnings of a preoccupation with writing as an expression or even extension of an author's individuality. The value attributed to a text began to depend on information such as author, date, place, circumstance of writing, and so forth. Without an author to shoulder the responsibility for truth, evidence was not "reliable."13
It is authorcentrism that seems to lie behind the insistence that my first duty should have been to probe into the origins (i.e., the authorial circumstances) of the pasyón, religious rituals, folk beliefs, awit, and the like. We can raise at least two objections to this approach. First, can meaning be controlled at the moment of writing? How could "personal authorship" thrive in a situation where works, stories, poems, and other writings freely borrowed elements from each other, were transmitted orally, and were therefore subject to creative alterations; in short, where works were seen as part of a collective enterprise, expressing not an individual point of view but a general outlook? Second, how far back should one go in the search for origins, when any "origin" is already the outcome of
a prior event? Doesn't this preoccupation with ultimate origins, absolute ground, in fact reveal a metaphysical rather than some disinterested "scientific" outlook? Barthes goes as far as to link the notion of the unitary or author-determined meaning of a text to two forces: Protestantism and capitalism. He sees in a certain attitude towards the text (including the "properly" historical) the same impulse that brought forth notions of the individual's personal relationship to God and the personal commitment to acquire and accumulate money.14
Unfortunately, the "documentary" approach to sources has come to be identified with the historian's "proper" activity. For any text, whether this be awit, personal memoir, or proceedings of a trial, has also its "performative" or "work-like" (to borrow a term from Heidegger) aspects. The "performative" aspect of a text refers to how it does things with words that brings about a change in the situational context; how it engages the reader -- the past audience as well as the historian or critic -- in a recreative dialogue with the text.15 The Bernardo Carpio awit was written within the limits of a prevailing system of conventions. Already, at the moment it was composed, the author (whose identity remains problematic) was in a relational situation to an imagined audience. Furthermore, the
publication of the work meant that it took on a life of its own, moving through its nineteenth century readership and engaging it in thinking about self-identity, control of loób, relationship with kinfolk and patrons, stages of the life-arc, love, utang na loób, revenge, and even, as we saw in the earlier essays in this volume, freedom from domination by a foreign power. Textual analysis makes available the units of meaning which the historian, working equally with conventional sources, can use to restore the play of meanings between text, and ever-present context. We can say that meanings were generated outside the awit, with the participation of its mass audience, and in relation to nineteenth-century social and material conditions.
Reading texts in the above manner, the historian gains some idea of how human actions are defined and limited, or the range of possible meanings in an event. Not that we should cease scouring texts for facts and ordering the data in cause-and-effect chains, but when we are recovering a Philippine history "from below" and
faced with an apparent scarcity of records by and pertaining to the masses, do we have any choice? In undertaking a new reading of Bonifacio's favorite awit in relation to events of the war against Spain, we are in effect identifying possible structures of meaning that informed both popular mentalities and that of the Katipunan's founder. We can state with virtual certainty that the ascent of Mount Tapusi was more than a search for a safe haven, for the event was thoroughly imbedded in "culture."
This stress on social significance is related to another criticism of my reading of the Mount Tapusi affair: the absence of direct evidence that Bonifacio had the intentions and motivations I seem to have ascribed to him. History, Guerrero reminds us, should deal with the "articulation of conscious experience"; it is dangerous to draw inferences about Bonifacio's psychological state.16 But is it Bonifacio's psychological or internal state that we are after? Must we limit our investigation to the consciousness of individuals, of the "great men" who changed the course of history?
Philippine historical writing has traditionally put a premium on the utterances and personalities of national heroes. This may be the fault of the archives as well as the hagiographic tradition that serves certain needs. But there are other traditions: "Men make their own history," Marx once said, "but they do not know that they are making it." Social science today bears the imprint not only of Marx but also of Ferdinand de Saussure's linguistic revolution. Saussure proceeded from a simple insight: the distinction between parole and langue, the everyday speech of individuals and the underlying grammar, or linguistic system which unconsciously structures utterances and which is by nature "social."17 Must we forever attempt to link the "speech" of Bonifacio and the "Katipunan to conscious motives? The present dispute began when I broke out of the preoccupation with "Bonifacio's truth" to probe into the social meanings generated by the events of 1896, whether Bonifacio intended them to happen or not.
In fact, Philippine historiography in the last decade (i.e., the 1970s) has largely removed the individual from center stage. Renato Constantino's A Past Revisited (1975), with its insistence on economic and class explanations, has eroded much of the cult of
pesonality-centered history.18 There is now a "new wave" of structural explanations of the economic, sociological and demographic sort, recently summarized by John Larkin (1982) and which can be sampled in the collection, Philippine Social History (1982).19 Key events in our past, so these works maintain, were made possible by changes occurring beyond the pale of individual intentions, or "conscious experience." These historians have made more efficient use of the archives, exploiting the abundance of land transfer records, economic transactions involving local compressors and foreign capitalists, colonial reports, census-type data, and the like. The relative lack of personal correspondence, diaries, and autobiographies is no longer regarded as a handicap.
This particular enrichment of Philippine historiography is not, however, without its limits. We recall how Larkin, in his book on the Pampangans, explained the appearance of the charismatic leader Felipe Salvador in terms of the rise of export agriculture and deteriorating landlord-tenant relations in Pampanga.20 We do not know, however, from his work how Salvador managed to mobilize peasants from varied linguistic groups in central Luzon to join the Santa Iglesia. Writing in the Philippine Social History volume, Guerrero merely reiterates Larkin's explanation of the Santa Iglesia while emphasizing the local elite's abuses that triggered such phenomena.21 One senses the limit of their "methodology" when the consciousness of the Santa Iglesia cannot be articulated in a specific cultural milieu; when the rationale for their acts is preconceived rather than demonstrated -- the assumption being that Salvador (or Bonifacio, for that matter) was really "just like us." The peasants were oppressed and so they quite naturally rose up in arms? Salvador's "interests" were no different from those of budding capitalists, except that cultural factors made him a bit more "fanatical" or "religious" or "emotional" as "men of the masses" are deemed to be? This outlook takes an extreme form in the writings of David Sturtevant. A pioneer in the study of popular traditions of Philippine protest, Sturtevant nevertheless paints his rebels as pathological failures reacting rather "irrationally" to stresses and strains in rural society and the economy until more rational and properly political leaders appear. Moving to more fa-
miliar ground, we can cite Constantino's reference to "mystic mumbo-jumbo" in otherwise comprehensible peasant revolts as a sign of the limits of his analysis.22
What characterizes the above works is the absence of any real attempt to understand the masses on their own terms, and the consequent reliance on colonial and elite-nationalist representations of the masses' behavior. The boom in "objective" socioeconomic analyses of the Philippine past may be taking for granted the deeply ingrained, behaviorist assumptions of social science models such as "patron-client ties" and archaic notions of language, textual analysis, human motivations, and the role of the unconscious.23
Predictably, anyone who engages in an alternative history based on "fragments" will incur the wrath of the empiricists. For a history that prides itself in being "objective" displays its character by the amount of unambiguous, documented statements of fact it contains. Not surprisingly, Guerrero says that I am treading "dangerous ground" when I "evaluate the collective mentality during the revolution largely by indirection." Is there any choice for us? To combat the "tyranny of the archives," to avoid that lapse into silence about the masses while waiting in vain for conventional documents to surface, "indirect" methods must be resorted to. This is nothing new. Claude Levi-Strauss once cited the Annales historian Lucien Febvre's work on sixteenth-century thought for its constant reference to "psychological attitudes and logical structures" which "can be grasped only indirectly because they have always eluded the consciousness of those who spoke and wrote."24
No matter how "dangerous," looking into the "collective mentality" rather than "Bonifacio's truth" is another way of removing the individual from center stage. Its basic premise is that, just as Copernicus decentered man and his planet from a privileged place in the universe, man is decentered from his own meanings. The conscious subject is displaced from the center of social activity. Just like a "text," Bonifacio cannot be pinned down to a particular meaning and truth. He could only operate within the prevailing social structure and mode of discourse of his time. There were limits to what could be thought. Within such limits, however, there
was also play: Bonifacio's writings, speeches, and gestures were texts which generated meanings which he may not have intended. Ultimately it is the notion of text that leads us to justifiably circumscribe Horacio de la Costa's advice, reiterated by Ed de Jesus, that students skirt the subject of Rizal and the revolution in order to do socioeconomic history.25 The present dispute about the Mount Tapusi affair is a good example of what I mean. Half a century or more of scholarship on the revolution has actually domesticated a subject matter which, in itself, ought to be strange and full of surprises, a product of a different time and sociocultural milieu. We have all come to identify Bonifacio and the Katipunan with a stock repertoire of meanings, and I suspect that the sense of indignation provoked by my reading of the subject comes from the simple fact that it is unfamiliar. It fails to reiterate the contours of the "thing itself" that Agoncillo and others have "objectively" laid down.
The difficulty, to once more address the question of "methodology," originates from a simple faith in the transparency of all historical phenomena. It is supposed that in the course of a historical narrative -- the story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan in this case -- what appears to be "strange" and opaque to reason can be rendered susceptible to understanding by ordinary, informed common sense: the standards of universality imposed by present consensus. Nietszche's admonition of nineteenth-century historiography still rings true for our times: What the much touted "objectivity" of the academic establishment amounted to, he said, was simply "the measurement of the opinions and deeds of the past by the universal opinions of the present... They call all historical writing 'subjective' that does not regard these popular opinions as canonical."26 When Bonifacio is somehow linked to "primitive" and "superstitious" beliefs in a slumbering king who would one day descend from Mount Tapusi at the head of a liberating force armed only with anting-anting, the effect can be disconcerting. For the established "truth" is that Bonifacio was a radical nationalist who led a movement that was far advanced in a developmental sequence from "primitive" to "modern." But what is elided by this construct? I have suggested that the Katipunan, whatever ancestry it
had in the Propaganda movement and masonry, of necessity absorbed the characteristics of earlier cofradías and samahan, and the potency of existing religious symbols and linguistic usage.
A well-meaning friend once complained to me that her grandfather was a Katipunero who believed in liberal principles, so how dare I suggest that the "fanatic" Valentin de los Santos (of Lapiang Malaya fame) carried on the Katipunan tradition! In reply I would ask, do we really know Ka Valentin or, for that matter, the Katipunan? Every scholar is convinced that he or she has pinned down the Katipunan's true nature. Jim Richardson writes: How could Bonifacio "who read Victor Hugo and spoke of Reason... be allied with a rustic prophet (Ruperto Rios) who professedly spoke with European emperors, climbed to heaven up a rope and kept independence in a magic box?"27 The problem with Richardson and coauthor Jonathan Fast is that they think they have pinned down the ideology of the Katipunan because of their careful research into the rise of the capitalist economy that preceded it.28
The Katipunan leadership's middle-class origins, urban or provincial, are all too obvious. This leadership, however, also sought to mobilize lower-class Filipinos in an armed struggle. Why was it, to a great extent, successful? If we can accept the view that the Katipunan subalterns were not simply blind followers, we can go on to ask what it was about the gestures of some of their "lower-middle class" or "plebeian" leaders (notably Bonifacio) and the language of their manifestos, that proved so efficacious. Without a sensitivity to the range of meanings that could be generated by words or ideas like kalayaan, kasaganaan, kaginhawaan, damayan, katuwiran and kaliwanagan -- and images like independence jumping out of a box (mother country rising from the grave, of course!) -- it is no wonder Richardson and Fast were able to convince themselves of the essentially bourgeois ideology of the Katipunan as a whole.
However, let us not blame foreign scholars when expert "Tagalists" are guilty of the same thing. In our universities, as we all know, schools of thought and factional groupings have played a great part in determining which kinds of history are "in" and which ought to be purged. Instead of constructing and defending
the "correct" (or, more ominously, "official") version, should we not perhaps reflect upon the function of historical studies in the first place? When first published, the well-known works of Agoncillo and Constantino simultaneously reflected current thinking about the revolution and added new, "unfamiliar" dimensions to it. The problem is that these have become classics, reduced to certain stock anticolonial and/ or antifeudal meanings, self-evident "truths" which, unless brought alive by those who practice new modes of reading, no longer have the revolutionizing effect they once had. The aim of historiography, Michelet once said, was "resurrection," to restore to "forgotten voices" the power to speak to the living. Once these voices are drained of their strangeness and mystery as once-vital forces, they cease to move the present to action. When once-vital events in our past become reduced to unquestionable truths and facts, they have been "domesticated."
Historians can no longer bask in the confidence that all they need in order "to do research" is a lot of documents (living informants included) and rare books plus some rudimentary training in historical detective work such as submitting the evidence to cross-verification, being fair to all sides, getting at the facts. The culturally specific sources of their own analytic or sorting categories must be recognized and evaluated. How, for example, do the dichotomies primitive versus modern, superstitious versus rational, religious versus secular, backward versus forward, or even regional versus national, draw their aura of factualness from their place in the culture of westernized, educated Filipinos? How do they draw their legitimacy from the social prestige of the groups who may have employed these categories as an ideological weapon in the past? What are the configurations of power in our society that conspire to institutionalize certain favored constructions of our history? Historians today, rather than clinging to the security of past practices, should be asking themselves such questions. They should be recovering what has been ignored or swept under the rug in past works, letting this "excess" challenge the dominant "truths" and thus preventing history from becoming, in Nietzsche's words, the "harem of a race of eunuchs." For Foucault, the task is one of disordering, destructuring, unnaming -- an ex-
treme view, yet so relevant to our present situation.29 In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, to climb the mountains of San Mateo -- the so-called Montes de la Libertad -- was a demonstration of one's exceptional valor. It was in achieving this singular feat that many tulisanes -- a term which literally translates as "bandits" but, according to Teodoro Kalaw, carries past connotations of instigador revolucionario -- became enshrined as heroes in the folk memory.30 As we saw in the second essay, Jose Rizal, whose extraordinary powers and eventual martyrdom endeared him to many an unlettered villager, was rumored to have climbed the mountain, entered Bernardo Carpio's cave and proven his intelligence and inner control to the trapped king. With the outbreak of hostilities against Spain, the gentes ordinarias of the region joined the fray expecting their King Bernardo, with only one foot left chained, to finally break free and descend from Mount Tapusi to aid his people. Even today, I have heard peasants and artisans in Batangas and Quezon provinces (which are quite a distance from San Mateo) speculate about the meaning of nag-uumpugang bato (lit., "two rocks colliding"), the mountain where Bernardo, now in the company of the patriots of the revolution, still lives until the next war when they all will return.
There is behind all these "folk1oric" details a coherent view of the world, not consciously articulated and, at least until their discovery of Gramsci, ignored by the intellectual class. In fact, there has hardly been any place in our histories for such mental categories. To illustrate this point, we need only go back to when the dispute regarding Andres Bonifacio actually began. In 1897 Carlos Ronquillo, the personal secretary of Emilio Aguinaldo, in his "history" of the Katipunan uprising castigated Bonifacio for raising false hopes that an army would descend from Mount Tapusi "to lead his whole army." "This plain falsehood," writes Ronquillo, "was a deception or morale booster (pangpalakas loób) perpetrated by Bonifacio; because at the appointed hour neither men nor arms arrived from Tapusi. Up to now we do not know where this mountain is."31
When I posited a connection between the Katipunan ascent of Mount Tapusi and the Bernardo Carpio myth, I lacked the assur-
ance of such a direct statement as Ronquillo's. Yet, other signs, made intelligible by the use of literature as a historical source, pointed to the same thing. And there is something else, even more important, that Ronquillo's account reveals: As early as 1897, this nationalist, revolutionist and historian, a believer in enlightened liberalism, was already decrying the "dark underside" of Bonifacio's mentality, adding it to the litany of faults (the assumption of "kingship" being one of these) that he felt justified Bonifacio's execution at the hands of Aguinaldo and the Caviteño elite. Things are different now, you say. Bonifacio's unswerving patriotism has been given just recognition since the appearance of Agoncillo's book. But is the angry bolo-waving Bonifacio and his followers, contrasted with the effete likes of Rizal, all there is to it? Have we, perhaps, constructed this Bonifacio to suit our own needs and desires? Despite the nationalist and revolutionary badges conspicuously displayed by some of our vociferous intellectuals, I suspect that it is Ronquillo, not Bonifacio, that lurks within them.
1997: Heroes and Mythmakers
Thirteen years later, I find myself dissecting a book that raises some of the older issues regarding the construction of Bonifacio as a revolutionary nationalist. I would not be surprised if Inventing a Hero: The Posthumous Re-creation of Andres Bonifacio was published deliberately during the centennial of the Philippine revolution. At the very moment that the nation remembers and celebrates the individual who initiated the event, Glenn May asserts that this hero was, in fact, "posthumously recreated and the six individuals who did the recreating [were]: Manuel Artigas, Epifanio de los Santos, Jose P. Santos, Artemio Ricarte, Teodoro Agoncillo, and Reynaldo Ileto."(4)32 Professor May teaches history at the University of Oregon and is the author of other books on the Philippine-American war and American colonial administration. As a professional historian, May employs a familiar strategy in his critique: the questioning of
evidence and sources, a rather old-fashioned but very persuasive weapon. Among his sensational discoveries is that Bonifacio cannot have authored the texts attributed to him, that most of his personal correspondence was "probably forged."
May relentlessly assails the questionable methods of Filipino historians and memoirists. At least one is accused of having "consciously dissembled" (i.e., "camouflaged, disguised, masked, concealed") while "more than one altered evidence." Teodoro Agoncillo, late professor of history at the University of the Philippines, is said to have dealt with historical evidence "in demonstrably peculiar ways" (peculiar: strange, weird, not according to accepted rules). Artemio Ricarte, a participant in those events whose memoirs offer some of the most detailed accounts is dubbed another "re-creator" whose "influential narrative bears little resemblance to reality." Ricarte, in short, was a liar.
There is, to May, an obvious explanation for this posthumous recreation of Bonifacio: politics, or more precisely, the politics of nation-building engaged in by historians all of whom were, in their respective days, "prominent, outspoken nationalists, deeply committed to the ideal of Philippine nationhood." A reconstructed and sanitized Bonifacio "served a vital political function as a symbol of Philippine nationalism and a model for Filipino youth." This "explains the liberties they took with historical evidence and other deficiencies of their scholarship." The following passage clearly evidences May's conviction that "politics" is inevitably linked to "invention." It also reveals, in its proliferation of "ifs" and "mights," that May's conclusions are foregone -- "if" these Filipinos were nationalists, they must have written bad history:
For if, as I suspect, the historical Bonifacio may have mattered less to them than their nationalism -- if, that is to say, they cared less about the 'documentable' particularities of Bonifacio's life than the contemporary uses to which their reconfigured hero might be put in the present -- they might have seen nothing wrong with embellishing a bit. If the ultimate goal was re-creation, the inclusion of footnotes was very much beside the point. (34) [italics mine]
Some commentators have responded favorably to the book, but there has been more condemnation than approval. Passionate negative reviews have appeared with titles like "The Ugly American Returns" and "The Repeated Murder of Andres Bonifacio." Many Filipinos have reacted with anger and deep hurt.33 And why not? The book strikes without mercy not necessarily at Bonifacio but at the way Filipinos -- particularly those of the "nationalist", "patriotic,” and "anticolonialist" varieties -- have remembered, reconstructed, and disseminated the past. It suggests that the centennial is a big sham because Filipinos have spent the last hundred years manipulating or inventing historical evidence in order to have a revolution worth celebrating. In the introductory pages, May tries to allay suspicion that he is gunning for Filipinos by stating that the problem is a universal one: "History invariably serves a political function; nationalist historians around the world wave the flag… Hence, the general historiographical matters I touch on in my examination of the Bonifacio myth are hardly unique." May points out other cases where "supposedly priceless historical documents have turned out to be certain or probable forgeries." Of direct relevance to the Bonifacio controversy is the universal genre of "heroic biography,… invariably hagiographic in nature," produced by Americans, Latin Americans, Africans, and all. An extreme case is the invented hero Stalin, alluded to by May as the Bonifacio of the Soviets. "Indeed, it can be argued, and sometimes is, that all historical writing, including the most esoteric, has a political dimension, even if the writers do not acknowledge (or may not be aware of) it." This is a most telling point, but apparently there are exceptions.
May, in fact, seems to already know who the guilty ones are. Aside from the nationalists, he mentions other types of historians who use their work to promote political objectives, among them being certain Marxists, conservatives, liberals, environmentalists, feminists, and postmodernists. (6) Now this would include among the "bad guys" practically anyone who writes within the framework of an "ism," a theoretical standpoint, an ideological perspective. May, however, claims to be beyond such "isms," describing himself as one who deliberately avoids fancy theories and sophis-
ticated readings because he merely wants to expose a scandal and get the facts about Bonifacio straight. As he puts it, "my discussion of these writings will strike some readers as pedestrian and theoretically innocent. I intend it to be exactly that."(44) Most thoughtful readers who encounter statements of this sort would already suspect that it rests on still another "ism," however ill defined or obfuscated in the text.
I will not deny that the Bonifacio we know today has mythological dimensions, and that there are problems with how the centennial has been celebrated. I do not dismiss outright the claim that the six Filipino writers May targets are implicated in various ways in the creation of a mythic Bonifacio. What I object to, mainly, is May's own act of dissembling and concealment in the book, his naive claim to be standing outside the controversy, describing the world as it really is. He wants the book to be seen as an attempt to clear the path of mythological obstacles so that he can access the "real" and human Bonifacio. Yet, the very nature of historical inquiry, as anyone attuned to contemporary debates in the field should know, cannot but limit May himself to producing still another representation of Bonifacio -- perhaps drab and unheroic, perhaps more authentic, but a construction nonetheless. One positive effect of the book is that it reminds us of the relational, dialogical -- even combative -- aspects of any historical reconstruction.
The Filipino nationalist "mythmakers" are the villains in the book because they "introduce and circulate inventions." However, the very act of identifying and criticizing the "bad guys" is dependent on a notion of the "good guys."34 The "other" of the mythmakers are the supposed truth-seekers, the professional historians. Of necessity, then, the first chapter of the book has a long section in which May projects himself as the "other" of the devious, dissembling nationalists. On page three he says: "For the next three years, I spun my wheels. I continued to do research, spending many hours alone with my refractory Tagalog texts…" In describing his attempt "to find a path through the documentary/scholarly forest," May portrays himself as taking up the professional historian's lonely quest for truth, which lies in the docu-
ments themselves rather than the perspectives brought to bear upon them. The hero of the book is the historian himself.
Now this image of the dedicated investigator who uncovers a scam is, I suspect, what makes May's book attractive to some. In a society whose citizens routinely suspect and accuse politicians, bureaucrats, and even departmental colleagues of corruption, pork-barrelling [sic], and the manipulation of facts, it is easy to get behind a crusader from the outside who will set things straight -- someone from the United States, no less, which is still perceived by many Filipinos as the place where the standards of the professions are set. On the other side of the equation one can explain the book's attractiveness in terms of the American public's thirst for sensational exposes, feeding orientalist fantasies about crime, such as Asian gangs dealing in illicit merchandise. Here we have the author blowing the whistle on what amounts to a Filipino nationalist clique of pseudoscholars telling lies, if not forging and hawking documents behind the hallowed walls of the academe.
An alternative and more productive way of reading May's book is to forget about May the savior and source of light, and instead see him as letting off a salvo, an artillery barrage, in a long- drawn battle over the terrain of Philippine national history. "Andres Bonifacio" is an effect of the ongoing battle which involves the nationalists, the colonialists, and all their successors. By thereby shifting our perspective we can ask such questions as: What kind of history of the revolution does Glenn May and his cohorts uphold? What is the color of their flag?
When May starts to give the reader a background to the revolution (12), it is obvious that he regards the socioeconomic approach as the way to go. This has been the approach favored by most U.S.-trained Philippine historians like Alfred McCoy, Norman Owen, Michael Cullinane, and Ed. de Jesus. They do not necessarily agree with May's critique of the Bonifacio biographers, but they definitely signify the "good guys" in the conflict. In their kind of history, the colonial archives are privileged. In fact, if May had his way, nearly every historical source that is not written down and stored in a proper archive would be made suspect. The privileging of colonial archives is an essential stratagem in the present war.
May, for example, questions practically everything we claim to know about the details of Bonifacio's youth. Zaide is faulted for citing newspaper articles: these are not proper archival sources, such articles are "clearly not works of original scholarship." Agoncillo is assailed for relying on only a small number of written sources about Bonifacio's youth. We know, however, that
Agoncillo interviewed many people who knew Bonifacio. To May these are next to useless! Bonifacio's sister Esperidiona was interviewed several times by Esteban de Ocampo. But where is the transcript? asks May. How do we know the interviews were not made up?
May argues that the relative absence of proper archival records -- records, by the way, that can be freely accessed by the socioeconomic historians -- facilitated the mythmaking:
This sparse documentary record -- something that appeared to have posed formidable obstacles to the recovery of the past -- actually made it easier for nationalist historians to invent the man. Unhampered by existing documents, they were freer to attribute certain ideas and personal characteristics to Bonifacio, to explain away the apparent human flaws, and, in the process, to create a suitable national symbol.(17)It is entirely legitimate for May to push for the kind of history he favors, namely socioeconomic and demographic history based on parish records and colonial reports. It is also reasonable for him to criticize Agoncillo for not using certain archival collections (such as the Philippine Revolutionary Papers and the archives of the
Spanish religious orders), and for relying on oral interviews for much of his reconstruction of Katipunan history. The problem is that May attempts to establish a binary opposition between archival sources (which he privileges) and oral sources whose provenance is difficult to trace. He posits a dichotomy between authentic records (i.e., official, reliable, written, archived) and inauthentic records (i.e., in private hands, oral, biased, probably tampered with). It just so happens that for May the authentic records lie mostly in colonial archives, easily accessible to him.
Agoncillo knew that Filipinos were disadvantaged in histories that privileged archives. He often spoke of the tyranny of the colonial archives, how they only spoke of the indios in relation to Spain and Spanish official surveillance. That is one reason why Philippine history to Agoncillo begins in 1872, when native voices start to proliferate in the written records. He believed that, aside from captured records in their custody, the official archives would not have revealed as much as interviews of survivors of the revolutionary period. Revolt of the Masses relied heavily on oral information, which to May is "Agoncillo's most distinctive methodological quirk -- his seemingly unqualified faith in interviews” and the main source of the book's “striking weaknesses.”(131)
Those who attempt to write women's history will sympathize with Agoncillo's criticisms of the colonial archives. How effectively can we retrieve women's past when men largely penned the so- called reliable archival sources? Women's history relies much on the use of “unofficial” records, oral interviews, creative readings of men's writings, and is currently informed by feminist or, worse, “postmodernist” theory. By May's reckoning, then, feminist historians should turn out to be just as bad as the nationalists.
The oral sources or interviews pertaining to Bonifacio are criticized by May because they were conducted half a century after the events. People would by then have forgotten or distorted -- deliberately, he insinuates -- certain details of the past. Most historians have in fact used the sorts of records Agoncillo used, but May belittles Agoncillo's ability to properly use the data in his sources. Agoncillo is pictured as a “home-grown” scholar, largely uninitiated to western scientific methods of history. Moreover, he is accused of being essentially biased, not just because of his nationalism, but by virtue of his kinship ties to the second wife of Aguinaldo, a major informant. In all sorts of ways May assumes the position of the modern, liberal, scholar (rational, objective, freed from particularistic ties) vis à vis the preprofessional, and coincidentally brown-skinned, Agoncillo.
Underlying Glenn May's doubts and anxieties about oral sources is, I think, the question of access to the historical or native “other." One thing we all knew about the Philippine social histori-
ans back in the late 1960s and the 1970s was that they considered it unimportant to be fluent in a Philippine language; after all, their targets were the Spanish and American archival holdings. And so because of language barriers, May could not in fact have conducted oral history extensively or effectively. In his one attempt, an extensive interview of a Philippine-American war veteran
named Benito Vergara, May relied on an interpreter and assumed that the translation into English was entirely transparent.35 In contrast, Agoncillo was himself a Tagalog writer and poet. He could communicate at a deep level with his informants. From them he could, and did, wean out details, even deep sentiments, about the events of 1896-97. In contrast, I doubt if even with all the documents at his disposal May could have written a book like Agoncillo's The Revolt of the Masses, which required extensive interaction between the historian and informants. So May' s valorization of the [colonial] archives has also something to do with the problem of an outsider's access to the indigenous world. The archives can be regarded as privileged memory machines of elites, both colonizer and native.
Let me now turn to one of the highlights of the book: May's discovery of a sensational trade in forged documents. Much of the book has to do with examining the authenticity, validity, or legitimacy of the sources used to construct Bonifacio's biography and the history of the 1896 revolution. While oral history is regarded as suspect, certain written documents are alleged to be fakes.
May notes first of all that the writings of Bonifacio are in private hands, not locked up in some state or church archive. So immediately his suspicions are raised. For example, take the letters of Bonifacio which used to be owned by Epifanio de los Santos and his son Jose P. Santos. Why are there differences in penmanship, May asks, even though the signatures are the same? "Santos may have known, or strongly suspected, that the documents in his possession were bogus and wanted to cover up that fact." May then embarks upon a hypothetical scenario of what I call "the grand coverup." I stress the word "hypothetical" because despite all his demands for hard proof in making historical statements, he himself is unable to say for sure that what he alleges is true. Readers, in
fact, should note the extraordinary number of times in which May uses variations of the word "probably" in his analyses of texts and scenarios.36
It all starts with the observation that not all of Bonifacio's letters were penned by the same person. May himself hints at a simple explanation for this: that different scribes (escribiente, secretary) penned Bonifacio's letters, which he himself signed. But this explanation is glossed over; May instead asserts that the documents had "major defects" which Santos may have tried to rectify through forgery. It is interesting to trace the drift in May's arguments and style of presentation. What starts out as a hypothetical scenario -- he admits that his conclusions are circumstantial and speculative -- ends up reading like a reconstruction of real events. The reader gets seduced into thinking that a major trade in forged documents has actually been exposed. In subsequent chapters May boldly refers back to this hypothetical scenario as a real event. Anyone who skips the middle chapters will not realize that the whole issue is shot through with doubt.
May speculates that Santos knew the documents he had were forgeries and so transcribed them so that they looked more authentic. May's argument, however, when examined closely, is not all that convincing. For example, he says that the "originals" used goal-focused verbs which were not characteristic of older Tagalog, or the Tagalog of Bonifacio's time. So Santos is supposed to have transcribed the sentences to make the verbs actor-focused (e.g., "Tinanggap ko ang sulat" becomes "tumanggap ako ng sulat"). However, May himself undermines his argument by admitting that Marcelo del Pilar used goal-focused verbs as well. So, in fact, the allegedly forged original letters also conform to a nineteenth-century stylistic practice, albeit less common. Maybe Santos wanted to transcribe them in a way that he felt modern readers would feel more comfortable with. I myself have transcribed nineteenth-century texts and subtly altered sentence constructions to make them more readable.
"In the end," says May, "the accumulated weight of the evidence -- the unbelievable stories about the provenance of the documents, the inconsistencies in penmanship, and the defects in the
Prose -- seems to indicate that the Bonifacio letters are probably fabrications."(79) Unbelievable?... to whom? Penmanship?... there could have been different escribientes writing. Defects in prose?... Marcelo del Pilar wrote in the same style. And despite all his arguments, May can only conclude that the letters were probably fabrications. The most he achieves in this chapter is to undermine the credibility of De los Santos and Santos, to plant the seeds of doubt in the reader. I would argue that this is in fact his aim -- to show that these Filipino nationalists cannot be trusted.
The theoretical positions that undergird May's work become a bit clearer in his discussion of Bonifacio's personality. Why this interest in personality? He says: "Agoncillo' s picture of the early Bonifacio is almost certainly too flattering."(p. 126) The Bonifacio of the Manila phase was depicted by Agoncillo (based on his interviews with survivors) as a calm and charismatic leader who inspired his followers to rise in revolt. It was only when he became embroiled in Cavite local politics that he became impulsive and rather irrational. May disputes the view of Agoncillo and others that Bonifacio's personality was affected by the changing circumstances and environment.
Despite his claims otherwise, May is not neutral about Bonifacio. He embraces Santiago Alvarez's suggestion that even before Bonifacio went to Cavite he "manifested many of the same traits of personality that later led to his downfall: hypersensitivity, extreme irritability, and volatility." May also disputes Pio Valenzuela's claim that his depiction of Bonifacio as being temperamental was due to testimony taken under duress. What is the pattern in May's own "critical judgement" [sic] of the differing testimonies? What makes him so sure that Bonifacio was ruled by his emotions -- easily offended, a hothead, volatile? The stakes are high on this issue: If Bonifacio can be proven essentially temperamental, he is therefore unfit for national hero status.
May is unable to offer "hard proof" of Bonifacio's temperamental nature; I don't think anyone can, for that matter. His argument feeds, however, into another narrative upheld by critics of the revolution -- certain upper-class Filipinos, colonial rulers included -- that the Katipunan was not a rational movement, that it
was led by a fanatic Bonifacio, and that it needed the leadership of a more calculating individual such as Aguinaldo. May's view also feeds into the orientalist representation of Filipinos (especially the indios) as ruled by emotions and therefore needing guidance from more advanced tutors. Just look at any description of indios in Spanish and early American writings, and chances are you will be told that the indios or the taò are still ruled by emotions, and therefore need western disciplining and tutelage.
But another problem here is that May has an either/or, static, essentialist view of personality types. Individuals have to be located within a rigid personality category. In this case, Bonifacio should fit into the category "emotional" rather than "rational." Therefore the heroic, charismatic Bonifacio who only became emotional when things got bad for him, is an invention of the nationalists. To May, Bonifacio was never calm and heroic. He did not change, as Agoncillo alleges; he was always an irrational leader and thus his downfall was deserved.
May's views about the behavior of nationalist writers and the personality of Bonifacio are fortified by his views about Filipino politicians. In connection with his critique of Artemo [sic] Ricarte's memoirs (another useless nationalist document, he concludes) May takes a close look at the famous "Tejeros Assembly" of history schoolbooks. This, he says, was really a gathering of politicos with revolutionary pretensions at Tejeros in early 1897 to resolve the problem of leadership through elections.
His first conclusion about that historic event is that the elections were rigged, marred by irregularities. So what's new, he asks? "Such was the norm in Philippine local elections during the final decades of the Spanish regime and such is often the case in Philippine elections today."37 Ricarte is accused of concealing the intrigues that took place; he wanted it known that he was given the position of captain general due to high regard by others, not because of political shenanigans. "One thing we know for sure about Ricarte is that his public image was very important for him," May states in all innocence. But Ricarte's whitewashing of the truth makes his account flawed and unreliable; "Ricarte the defiant was, in reality, Ricarte the deceitful."(99) Quite a devastating conclu-
sion, considering that I have used the memoirs myself and find much of it accurate. How does May know the real Ricarte? He doesn't, but he makes the reader doubt Ricarte's nationalist credentials; baka político lang siya, maybe he was just playing politics, one can hear the murmurings. The "real" Ricarte also happens to conform to colonial representations of the native. Check out May's first book, Social Engineering in the Philippines, and you will find an earlier statement of his view that Filipinos were not prepared to run the country by themselves because even their best leaders were inept, ambitious, and patron-client oriented.38 And so American tutelage was needed.
To May, the Tejeros Assembly must have been a typical dirty election in the Philippines. But lacking reliable sources (because the available ones -- firsthand native accounts -- are mostly "tainted" as far as he's concerned) May draws on his earlier work on elections under Spanish rule to paint a scenario of what must have happened in Tejeros. The electoral participants
would have been expected to conduct themselves as they normally did in electoral contests. That is to say, they probably consulted with each other, lobbied, cajoled, threatened, conspired, drew up slates of candidates, and made deals. Some may have engaged in ballot tampering. In the aftermath of the voting, as might have been expected, too, the defeated or dissatisfied cried foul, charging their opponents with all sorts of nasty behavior.(101)Behind May's treatment of Filipino elections is the discourse of democratic development, which has tied Filipino political development to American tutelage. A male, liberal enlightenment fantasy of rational politics is posited as the norm which Filipinos failed to reach, therefore their politics -- as in factional and then nationalist politics -- is shabby, pretentious, forever lacking. What is missing is a discussion of Filipino political behavior on its own terms. Instead, May encodes the Philippine data in terms of rather dated social science paradigms about "underdeveloped societies." In fact, the problem goes back much farther, to an orientalism that
presumes that the Philippine case must be the binary, negative, opposite of the developed west.39
Typically, May's imagined scenario subsequently operates as a real event: "The elections at Tejeros were, after all, only elections." The people at Tejeros would have acted like astute Filipino political operatives" engaging in "electoral politicking, arm twisting, and dirty tricks."(110) May gives these leaders the essential attributes of the prepolitical and corrupt Oriental; they are transformed into one-dimensional beings. They are typically corrupt,
authoritarian-leaning, nonideological Filipino politicians. The ghost of Marcos helps to promote this view.
So those leaders at Tejeros were just ordinary Filipino power-grabbers but nationalist historians, May laments, always like to portray heroes as conducting themselves "with the sort of dignity that, in their view, such a moment deserved," in order to build national pride in accomplishments of past leaders. May has a point, but we can go the other extreme of forgetting that, despite their principalía origins, the participants at the Tejeros Assembly also
called themselves revolutionaries. In May's account we lose sight of the fact that a war was raging all around those leaders. It wasn't "only elections." Those leaders had lost brothers and cousins to Spanish bullets. It was an election in a time of revolution.
May tries to show that Bonifacio got what he deserved, Philippine elections being what they are: "Bonifacio was unhappy, but that was to be expected: electoral contests in the Philippines invariably led to bad feelings." Since the archetypal premodern Filipinos are supposed to be driven by emotion, not reason, we are told not to take seriously Ricarte's allegations that Bonifacio had been wronged. Instead May suggests that Bonifacio (being basically emotional) was a bad loser in a typically rigged election. Again, the idea is to demolish by innuendo another account sympathetic to Bonifacio. Instead of presenting various possible scenarios, May is inclined to dismiss or at least undermine any pro-Bonifacio position.
So who are the Bonifacio sympathizers? Let me return to the theme of Glenn May's "bad guys." To him the nationalist historians can be characterized as "pro-lower class, anticolonial, and anti-
upper class" and so they posthumously recreated Bonifacio in order to obtain all these attributes in a hero. May recoils from the nationalist position because it appears to be the antithesis of his own views about Filipinos. He has always viewed Philippine society in patron-client terms.40 The lower class cannot be anti-upper class because they are beholden by all sorts of traditional ties to their superiors. And most Filipinos were quite happy with what colonial rule offered, especially American tutelage. So it pains May that a character like Bonifacio might actually have existed, and that a lot of Filipinos have come to believe so.
What readers of the book may not realize, because it is dissembled by May, is that the current controversy is a replay of much older ones dating from the time of the American occupation but reaching the height of intensity during the 1950s and 1960s. Let us take a close look at the following statement by May:
For at least four decades, the nationalist school has dominated the Philippine historical establishment. It is not surprising, therefore, that the only challenges to the existing orthodoxy have come from outside the establishment. Joaquin does not hold an academic post in the Philippines… Fast and Richardson are foreigners. Nor is it surprising that such challenges have been studiously ignored by the establishment.(51)First, we notice that the "other" is collapsed into the same. May stereotypes "the nationalist school," so that it can be "othered." In fact, Nick Joaquin has a following among nationalist scholars, while Fast and Richardson were aligned with Constantino, who is also embraced by nationalists. Internal debates and bitter controversies are hallmarks of Filipino nationalist scholarship. Ever fond of essentializing Filipinos, May wants Filipino scholars portrayed as a more or less homogenous, reified, group (bound by an "ism" -- in this case, nationalism}. By reifying them as the irresponsible "other," May makes it appear that by his intervention as a responsible historian (who, by coincidence, happens to be a white American male), he is opening up the field for the first time. There
is in fact no "school." Even the external critics of the nationalists hailed by May also positioned themselves within those debates.
Returning to the quote, May says that the nationalist historians have dominated for at least four decades, therefore since at least the mid-fifties. What was the other kind of history against which the "nationalist school" was established; what used to dominate before the so-called nationalists mounted the challenges of the late 1950s? Do I hear names like Gregorio Zaide, Conrado Benitez, the good followers of the David Barrows and Dean Worcester schools, Horacio De la Costa? There was obviously a contest over history, and what is hidden in May's book is his position in this struggle. We cannot understand the vehemence of May's attack until we appreciate the extent to which American colonial discourse dominated historical writing until the 1950s when it was assailed by a new generation of postcolonial writers and scholars. We cannot fully understand this book without glancing at, say, Lewis Gleeck's earlier salvos in the pages of the Bulletin of the American Historical Collection, formerly housed in the U.S. Embassy.
In the present hero-mythmaking controversy, the flip side of the coin is the Rizal debate, in which Americans and Filipinos alike clearly figured. Manuel Artigas, Epifanio de los Santos, Jose
Santos, and others were keeping one tradition alive at a time when Rizal, approved by the Americans, was the national hero. As we saw in the previous essay, Bonifacio was not a dominant figure in history books until the 1960s. Overshadowed by Rizal, he was a hero of some Katipunan veterans associations and troublesome anticolonial movements from the time of Macario Sakay (himself an ex-follower of Bonifacio who was labeled [sic] a bandit). Rizal on the other hand was the sort of hero that could more easily be recruited into the American colonial project. May himself states that the Bonifacio of the nationalists is an invention to counter the Bonifacio "excoriated by foreign writers and home-grown enemies… Here was a worthy national hero, an attractive revolutionary alternative to the reform-oriented Rizal."(47)
Where does May fit in all this? Only way into the book does he allude to the tradition from where he comes: American colonial historiography. "Agoncillo was also controversial. An outspoken
nationalist, he was critical of both colonial rule and colonial historiography." This is a muted reference to Agoncillo's "other" -- colonial historiography -- which is practically ignored throughout May's book. By raising the question of [American] colonial historiography earlier, May would have had to state his subject position in relation to it. This would have been a more productive stance instead of posing as a disinterested "fixer," a hero amongst the mythmakers. For what we can easily overlook is that, in relentlessly undermining Bonifacio's authorship of every piece of writing attributed to him, in ruthlessly cutting down every pro-Bonifacio work around, May is himself engaged in that 1900s-vintage conflict over heroes.
May asserts that his "aim here is not to discredit Agoncillo… but, if we are ever to understand Andres Bonifacio and the revolution he led, we must first jettison prevailing views of the man's personality"[.](114) In fact, as I have suggested, the kind of Bonifacio May would produce after clearing the ground would hardly be a neutral figure, if there ever was one. His aim is precisely to discredit Agoncillo and the University of the Philippines (U.P.) History Department (Diliman campus), a breeding ground of nationalist and anticolonial scholars. May reveals in his earlier polemic against Renato Constantino (which I refer to in the previous essay) how his students at the U.P.-Manila campus, where he taught as a visiting Fullbright [sic] professor in 1980, remained diehard adherents of the Agoncillo-Constantino construction of history despite his efforts at reeducation. This was a time of student activism and martial law, when the revolution and its heroes were being read, interpreted, appropriated, and even manipulated by the present. The American professor's intervention was no less a part of that politically charged scene.
Glenn May's politics is clearly revealed in his overall treatment of Philippine historiography. As pointed out earlier in relation to the Tejeros election, a male, liberal enlightenment fantasy of rational politics is posited by May as the norm which Filipinos have failed to reach. Therefore, their politics, as in "nationalist" politics, is shabby, pretentious, dishonest, and lacking. It is a prerational and rather infantilized politics where the participants are ruled by
their passions and kinship relations. We can detect a homologous relationship between this evolutionary and developmentalist narrative of politics and May's linear construction of the writers of Philippine history.
At the lower end of May's schema is Manuel Artigas y Cuerva, easily the least developed because he was an ordinary, Spanish-educated clerk without any formal training in the discipline of history. Proof of this is that Artigas did not use proper citations, and saw nothing wrong with relying on hearsay rather than authentic documents for his Bonifacio biography. At the other end of the spectrum is Glenn May himself -- the professional, nonpolitical and unbiased scholar. Somewhere in-between is Teodoro Agoncillo, who wrote in English (as well as Tagalog) and held a chair in history, but was a literary person supposedly untrained in the canons of historiography (although I remember him discoursing on his favorite historian, Benedetto Croce); in any case, Agoncillo's "nationalism" let him down.
Occupying a somewhat ambiguous position in May's schema is the sixth and last of his Filipino subjects, Reynaldo Ileto. U.S.-educated and now Australia-based, Ileto appears to be the most "developed," described as "to some degree a product of a foreign intellectual environment, and in that regard… a very different historian from [the others], none of whom had such an intense exposure to outside intellectual influences." Early in the book, May remarks that the "problem" of Bonifacio's invention can be blamed on the slowness with which Euro-American traditions of history established themselves in the Philippines. Ileto represents for him one end-result of the American colonial project to educate the Filipinos. That Ileto nevertheless produced a "flawed work" is due to his having written in the service of "independence and national unity" as "a participant in this nationalist discourse." Ileto is also pictured as having been, "to some extent, a victim of the mythmakers."(165)
The elements of May's book are organized around or between two poles: one negative, undeveloped, backward, unhistorical, and Filipino, and the other pole being positive, developed, modern, historical, and Euro-American. Even the sources of history are organized along these lines. Most of the Filipino writers he criti-
cizes seem to have depended on sources which are oral, unauthenticated, mostly unauthored and therefore unreliable. On the other hand, "scientific," modern historians like May are associated with the use of written, archived, catalogued, authenticated, authored, and implicitly objective source materials.
What happens, though, if we move beyond such binary oppositions and hierarchies, which after all reflect a certain manner of thinking which we call “postenlightenment"? The most positive and productive moments in May's book are precisely when he identifies the dark features of Filipino nationalist writings. Jose P. Santos, for example, describes how documents of the Katipunan pertaining to Bonifacio survived several fires, floods, termites, and even the Huk rebellion; “Ang mga kasulatan ukol kay Bonifacio ay parang himalang muling nakaligtas." The documents are likened to religious relics or anting-anting, having the power to survive disasters.41 May uses this as further proof that such writings, having a fantastic, even laughable, quality about them, cannot possibly be authentic documents.
This to me raises the much more interesting question of what Katipunan texts meant in relation to the social field in which they circulated. What was the status of writing at the turn of the century? The production, circulation, and conservation of historical memories through oral means is another exciting theme that May draws our attention to, even if he regards orality as a less effective -- in fact, a rather primitive -- mode of conserving and transmitting memories. There is also the whole question of who really authored the letters and other documents attributed to Bonifacio, which raises the broader issue of how the idea of authorship, which is another effect of the rise of capitalism and private ownership in the late eighteenth century, was handled by Filipino writers in the early twentieth century.
A final example of the productive aspects of May's book can be found in his discussion of Pasyon and Revolution. According to May, Ileto adopted a textbuilding strategy that might be best described as "discursive blurring -- by which I mean that [Ileto] constructed his text in such a way as to blur important distinctions and link things that should not necessarily be linked."(146) One conse-
quence of this is that Ileto mistakenly blurred the distinction between the Katipunan and the Colorum. May expresses dismay at this collapsing or blurring of the clear lines demarcating a religious, backward, premodern and nonrevolutionary movement (the Colorum) from a supposedly secular, forward, modern, and revolutionary movement (the Katipunan).
What, in fact, Pasyón and Revolution sets out to do is to shift the study of the revolution away from the enlightenment/modernist foundations on which it had developed at the hands of the nationalists. The irony in May's critique of Filipino nationalist historiography is that its own foundations lie squarely in the discourse that underpins nationalist historiography itself. Contrary to its claims of being above politics and beyond discourse, May's book merely adopts a different subject position in relation to the same discourse. It reconfigures for the twenty-first century the same lines of conflict over the meanings of the revolution that first appeared during the early American colonial period.
Let me recapitulate those early events. When Aguinaldo declared independence and organized a government in 1898, it was with the intention of establishing a nation-state and joining the ranks of the progressive Euro-American nations. Republican leaders like Aguinaldo, Mabini, Ricarte, and Malvar believed that there was a genuine impulse for liberty among the general population, and that they, as the better-off and educated, were articulating such sentiments into a nation-state. The United States, however, in collaboration with some Filipino ilustrados, upheld the view that the revolution was a purely cacique phenomenon, and that the "poor and ignorant" rank and file were blind followers of their bosses. American "tutelage" was deemed by them necessary in order to defeudalize society and turn the masses into modern citizens. The Philippine-American war was therefore anchored in a fundamental question: whether the revolution was a "revolt of the masses" or a "revolt of the elites." If it was the latter, then the U.S. Army was not suppressing a genuine revolution; the Filipinos were but an oriental version of the American Indian tribes which needed to be subjugated. The whole program of "benevolent assimilation" in fact rested on this presumption.42
While Glenn May's book has appeared just in time for the centennial of the revolution of 1896, I think it really is more suitable for another centennial: February 1899, the outbreak of fighting between the U.S. and Filipino forces. For what May is criticizing is not so much that Bonifacio is an invented hero, but that he was invented as a popular hero. His dispute with Agoncillo concerns not so much Bonifacio as it does the U.P. professor's theme of a "revolt of the masses." The problem he sees in Ileto's work is that it moved "the locus of nationalism from the dominant elites to the common people."(165) May's "take" on the revolution and the Philippine-American war is that it was a "revolt of the elites."43 His book, then, is not so much about Bonifacio and the sources for his biography, as about the effects of the Philippine-American war and the subsequent American impact on -- and nationalist responses to -- how Filipinos would remember and transmit their memories of the revolution.
Notes to Essay 9
"History and Criticism: The Invention of Heroes"
The first part of this essay was originally published as "Bonifacio, the Text, and the Social Scientist," Philippine Sociological Review 32 (Decem-
ber 1984): 19-29. The second part originated as lectures at the University of Hawai'i (Center for Southeast Asian Studies, September 1997) and at the Ateneo de Manila University (February 1998).
1. My book, Pasyón and Revolution, was published in 1979 by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, Q.C.
2. Teodoro Agoncillo, Revolt (1956), 70; Gregorio F. Zaide, The Philippine Revolution (1968), 98.
3. Milagros C. Guerrero, "Understanding Philippine Revolutionary Mentality" (1981).
4. Guerrero, "Luzon at War" (1977), chapters 3-4.
5. See Ranajit Guha, "The Prose of Counter-insurgency" (1983), 1-42.
6. See Agoncillo, Revolt, 49; Agoncillo and Guerrero, History of the Filipino People (1977), 106-7.
7. Ranajit Guha, "On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India" (1982), 1.
8. I develop this argument in "Outlines of a Nonlinear Emplotment of Philippine History" (1997).
9. In this regard historians owe a great deal to the pioneering studies of anthropologist Clifford Geertz (see Ronald Walters, "Signs of the Times" ).
10. See Damiana Eugenio's approach in "Awit and Corrido" (1965).
11. For example, such a common-sense distinction as the "literary" versus the "historical" derives from changing notions about language and the anxious efforts of nineteenth-century historians to align their work with science and factuality (see Hayden White, "Historicism" 14  and "The Discourse of History" ).
12. Roland Barthes, "Historical Discourse" (1970), 153-55.
13. Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?" (1977), 125-27.
14. Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author" (1977), 142-43; Terence Hawkes, Structuralism and Semiotics (1977), 119-20.
15. Dominick LaCapra, "Rethinking Intellectual History" (1980), 250ff.
16. Guerrero, "Philippine Revolutionary Mentality," 249.
17. See Nancy Streuver, "The Study of Language" (1974).
18. Renato Constantino, A Past Revisited (1975).
19. John A. Larkin, "Philippine History Reconsidered" (1982); McCoy and De Jesus (1982).
20. John A. Larkin, The Pampangans (1972), 235-39.
21. Milagros Guerrero, "The Provincial and Municipal Elites of the Philippines during the Revolution," in McCoy and De Jesus, Philippine Social History (1982), 156, 179. Brian Fegan's contribution to that volume ("The Social History") is one of the few that grapple with the actual cat-
egories through which people experienced the changes around them (see pp. 107-8, 115).
22. A Past Revisited, 267 and passim.
23. The problem is certainly not confined to Filipinists. Keith Thomas, author of Religion and the Decline of Magic, replying to a critique by Hildred Geertz, admits that historians, though equipped to handle underlying social structures, are much less accustomed to searching for "invisible mental structures, particularly the mental structures underlying inchoate and ill-recorded systems of thought, which are only articulated in a fragmentary way" (see "An Anthropology of Religion" , 106).
24. Claude Levi-Strauss, "Introduction: History and Anthropology" (1967), 24.
25. Ed. C. de Jesus, The Tobacco Monopoly (1980), x.
26. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History (1874),37.
27. Jim Richardson, "Revolution or Religious Experience?" (1980).
28. Jim Richardson and Jonathan Fast, Roots of Dependency (1979), 70-84.
29. See Hayden White, "Foucault Decoded" (1973), 50.
30. Teodoro Kalaw, Cinco Reglas de Nuestra Moral Antigua (1947),20.
31, Ronquillo, Ilang Talata, 6, 21.
32. The numbers in parentheses correspond to page numbers in Inventing a Hero. The book, published in 1997 by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, has a Philippine edition put out by New Day Publishers.
33. For a published compilation of critiques of May's book, see Bernardita Reyes-Churchi1l, ed., Determining the Truth (1997).
34. I am indebted to Betty Holt for helping me think through this crucial point. She particularly drew my attention to parallel issues in feminist historiography. Australian National University doctoral students Theresa Millard and Mike Poole also contributed their thoughts on Glenn May's peculiar style.
35. Glenn May, "Private Presher and Sergeant Vergara" (1984), 57. 36. A good example is May's treatment of Epifanio de los Santos who, he admits, may have been right about his details concerning the titles in Bonifacio's library:
But the opposite is possible, too. De los Santos's discussion of Bonifacio's reading habits and preferences is less than convincing, and his entire treatment of Bonifacio's early years should be viewed skeptically. If it is true, as I have intimated, that de los Santos's account of Bonifacio's life may have been embellished, what possible motive could he have had for doing so?" (33, my emphasis).
The whole argument is based on a possibility that he asserts. Later on in the chapter, this possibility magically gives way to certitude. Later chapters build on such rhetorical slides.
37. This paraphrases his conclusions in "Civic Ritual and Political Reality" (1989).
38. Glenn May, Social Engineering (1980).
39. Surprisingly, American writings on their Philippine colony have not been subjected to the same sort of critical reading that has been applied to French and British writings since the appearance of Edward W. Said, Orientalism (1978). For an overview of the philosophical issues surrounding the critique of orientalism, see Robert Young, White Mythologies (1990). It might be well worth exploring how "America" constituted itself in relation to its Philippine colonial "other," and how this is reproduced in some scholarship.
40. For example, note his description of Benito Vergara: "Here was a man who was not interested in fighting, who was not especially interested in Philippine independence, but who fought all the same. Why? The answer lies in the nature of his society. He fought because he was a client and his patrons asked him to fight" ("Sergeant Presher and Private Vergara," p. 57).
41. For stories of the appearance, disappearance, and survival in fires of the writings of Bonifacio and Jacinto, see Nepe (pseud.), "The Thirteen Miraculous Escapes of the Bonifacio Document" (1927).
42. These views are developed in Reynaldo Ileto, "Knowing the Philippines" (1988).
43. See the introduction to May's Battle for Batangas (1993). The "revolt of the elites" subtext explains why May is sympathetic to any account that does not portray Bonifacio as a man of the masses. It is otherwise puzzling why May upholds Nick Joaquin's essay on Bonifacio as a model when it displays even less scholarly attributes (such as footnotes and proper documentation) than Agoncillo's book.