Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Richardson, Jim. "Ileto's Indeterminacies." 2005.

Pasyon and Revolution and other pieces by Ileto, it is not entirely flippant to suggest, might be seen as akin to the pasyon itself, as texts capable of generating multiple, even contradictory, meanings. These diverse meanings stem not just from the diverse interpretations of individual readers, but also from Ileto’s own inconsistency.

Perceptions or empirical realities?

Ileto, it has been said (BfB, 287), is interested principally in perceptions rather than behavior or attitudes, and indeed this statement can be supported by a host of quotes. The tenets of traditional empiricist historiography, Ileto maintains, - cause-and-effect, objective truth, common sense, the author-centric fixation of meanings etc. - are outmoded, and need to be rejected in favor of structuralist and phenomenological approaches that focus on collective discourses, mentalities and perceptions.

On the other hand, Ileto by no means forswears addressing traditional concerns. When analyzing the popular movements of the period 1840-1910, he makes innumerable statements about the character, attitudes and behavior of individuals as well as collectivities. This, one might argue, smacks strongly of what he scorns in other passages as fuddy-duddy, old-style history. He indicates, for example, that his purpose in examining literature like the pasyon, awit and poems is largely instrumental; he is seeking to complement conventional sources and to shed fresh light on the trajectories and ideologies of "concrete struggles", not merely on how they were perceived (P&R, 14-5; CI, 95; 103).

Bonifacio's "real" character and intentions: chimerical and irrelevant or sufficiently knowable and relevant for the historian to offer a view?

This inconsistency is illustrated very clearly when Ileto discusses the KKK Supremo, Andres Bonifacio. He claims that, "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" (BTSS, 25). Ileto wishes to call attention not to “the historical content of Bonifacio's work but its form and language” (P&R, 103, emphasis added). “Bonifacio's psychological make-up”, he writes, “is never discussed in [my book] Pasyon and Revolution”..…Whether or not Bonifacio intended (his trip with other Katipuneros to Mount Tapusi in 1895 to evoke associations with the legendary giant Bernardo Carpio) "is irrelevant to the web of meanings in which his gestures were located" (CI, 96). "Whether Bonifacio was a Mason or a Catholic is irrelevant here…. " (P&R, 103)

On the other hand, Ileto by no means forswears imparting "facts" and judgments about Andres Bonifacio. "They called him an ignoramus, an outsider from Tondo, a poor military strategist, a Mason, a monarchist, a tulisan (bandit) even. But beneath these accusations, most of which are valid...." (P&R, 137, emphasis added).

Bonifacio's "real" character and intentions: closer to the ilustrado propagandistas or to the Tagalog millenarian tradition?

Having succumbed to the temptation to proffer "facts" and judgments, Ileto gives a portrayal that is not just ambivalent - as indeed might befit Bonifacio's character - but self-contradictory. It is tempting here to jest that Ileto gets hoisted by his own post-modernist petard. Due to an excess of theoretical purity, in other words, he is so reluctant to "privilege" one contending "truth" or "meaning" (as divined either by contemporary observers or by historians) over another that he accepts and endorses a variety of "truths" and "meanings", even when they appear mutually exclusive. But presumably this cannot be the case, because the post-modernist purist would always present contending views as the perceptions of others rather than adopting them as his own. The real source of contradiction, it appears, is the opposite of theoretical purity. Ileto cannot, in the end, entirely shake off the shackles of traditional historiography or abjure the view "from above".

(a) Close to the propagandistas

Ileto, contends Glenn May (IH, 143), "essentially eliminated the Propaganda Movement from the history of the Philippine Revolution, linking Bonifacio not to a reform program shaped by European liberal ideology but to a tradition of home-grown popular uprisings." Perhaps this overstates the case. Ileto criticizes those who he says have convinced "themselves of the essentially bourgeois ideology of the Katipunan as a whole" (BTSS, 26), but he does not deny that the ideology of some or all of the Katipunan's leaders might be termed "essentially bourgeois". The foundation of the Katipunan he likewise describes as having been "excessively" attributed to ilustrado influence, but he does not deny that influence altogether (P&R, 98). The middle class origins of the leadership in both city and countryside, he acknowledges, are "obvious" (BTSS, 26). Historians, he accepts, have been right to assume that Bonifacio's manifesto "Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog" was "inspired by the writings of ilustrados like Rizal" (P&R, 103).

So, the Katipunan did have some ancestry in the Propaganda Movement and 1896 was in some degree the culmination of a nationalist tide that stemmed from heightened Westernization (P&R, 97). The primitive-to-modern construct adopted by previous historians, Ileto thinks, exaggerates these linkages and conceals the linkages with the folk millenarian tradition, but he does not totally reject the conclusions drawn from this construct, and even acknowledges the "usefulness" of the construct itself for certain purposes (CI, 100).

The pasyon language, Ileto writes, is outside the subject, in society, delimiting the individual construction of meaning for those immersed in its world. The "ilustrados, on the other hand, could stand apart from it and 'use' it" (CI, 96, emphasis added). The Katipunan supremo, Ileto suggests in some passages, belonged with the ilustrados in this regard. He and "other Filipino nationalists of some education", for example, are seen as finding in the Bernardo Carpio story "a popular perception of events on which to hinge their separatist ideas" (P&R, 126, emphasis added). Similarly, "Bonifacio was so adept at tapping popular feelings to serve his revolutionary ends that he was unavoidably incorporated into the folk view of events" (P&R, 137, emphasis added). Surely the reader must infer from these passages that Ileto has concluded Bonifacio's nationalist, revolutionary ideas and ends were somehow more "modern" than the ideas and ends of the Tagalog masses.

(b) Close to the Tagalog millenarian tradition

And yet, as Glenn May suggests (IH, 155), Ileto does situate Bonifacio firmly in the Tagalog millenarian tradition. By this I presume May means not merely that Bonifacio’s personality and appeals were so perceived by sections of the "pobres y ignorantes" (which is indisputable, and not in the least incompatible with the position that "Bonifacio was close to the propagandistas"), or that he consciously tailored his appeals to a pasyon-attuned audience (almost certainly he did), but that he actually shared in large measure the millenarians' world view.

That Ileto does take this latter view can again be supported by a number of quotes. “There was something about Bonifacio's mentality that a believer in enlightenment liberalism like Carlos Ronquillo found disturbing, and decried as a ‘dark underside’” (BTSS, 28, emphasis added). Bonifacio, like the millenarians but apparently unlike Aguinaldo, believed that spiritual preparation was as important as military preparation in gaining victories on the battlefield (P&R, 176). His downfall at the hands of the Caviteño elite can be traced to his pre-occupation with "sacred ideals" and moral transformation. He conceived of national unity as each citizen's rebirth in a society of liwanag (P&R, 135-7).

The pasyon idiom: politically neutral or radical?

No reliable evidence, Glenn May concludes (IH, 161-3), links Bonifacio to the pasyon and the Philippine millenarian tradition. Again, I presume the issue here is whether Bonifacio actually shared the millenarians' world-view. If so, I believe May’s verdict would still hold good even if all the “Bonifacio texts” of dubious provenance turned out to be genuine.

The pasyon, says Ileto, cannot be regarded as an "ideology", an "articulation of ideas", an "inspiration" or a "cause" (CI, 95-7). To argue otherwise is to confuse structure with content. Ileto might even object to May’s formulation “pasyon tradition" (IH, 155). Rather, says Ileto, the pasyon offered units of meaning; it was a language, an idiom, a modality of social discourse.

The pasyon story, Ileto initially observes, can be construed politically from diametrically opposed standpoints. On the one hand Christ may be seen as a subversive figure, a man “poor and lowly" who attracted his followers mainly from the common people, drew them away from their families and from subservience to their wealthy masters, gave them special powers and formed them into a brotherhood that proclaimed mankind's salvation. But alternatively the scriptures might be used to inculcate loyalty to Spain, Church and the status quo; to encourage resignation to worldly injustice and suffering by promising the poor, meek and humble their reward in the afterlife. Pasyon language might equally be employed to define either a conservative, orthodox religious fraternity or a radical heresy (P&R, 15).

As his discussion moves on to the popular movements themselves, however, Ileto all but forgets these crucial points and increasingly delineates the pasyon idiom as inherently radical, as properly belonging to the dissident tradition alone. When discussing the early 1900s, for example, Ileto says that for Macario Sakay and other leaders of the revived Katipunan "nothing was more infuriating than the abuse of the term kalayaan. The word was alienated from its original, full meaning by collaborators and plain politicians who sought to justify their behavior to a populace with fresh memories of the revolution….One can imagine the surprise and disbelief of the revolutionaries at such co-optation of their language by collaborators in the towns"(P&R, 219-20, emphasis added). Ileto might counter this point by saying he was representing Sakay's views rather than his own, but at the very least it is clear that he strongly empathizes with those views. In any event, if Sakay and his colleagues were so indignant about pacification rhetoric, why did they twice succumb to it? In 1901 they accepted positions in a Nacionalista Party founded on a platform of peace, order and independence "in opportune time…under the protectorate of the United States", and in 1906 they were persuaded to surrender after the ilustrado politician Dominador Gomez had promised them that the establishment of a Philippine Assembly would be "the gate of kalayaan". Partly, Ileto notes, the surrender showed regrettable naïveté. Nevertheless, he suggests, it also reflected the idea found in the dissident folk tradition that kalayaan could not be realized until Filipinos had proven themselves worthy of it (P&R, 240-2).

The pasyon idiom: the rightful property of the Tagalog masses or pretty much ubiquitous?

But the notion that moral upliftment was an essential prerequisite for liberty, of course, was not confined to the dissident tradition. It is a recurrent and prominent theme in the works of the propagandistas. The liberties he desired for the country, Rizal wrote in his manifesto condemning the revolution, "I made conditional on the education of the people, so that by means of learning and work they would have their own personality and make themselves worthy of (such liberties)".

The language and structures of the pasyon, it can be demonstrated, were employed by the elite before 1896 as well as subsequently. Ileto himself makes this point, but periodically fails to keep it in mind. "Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog", he notes, is ordered in a Lost Eden/ Fall/ Redemption sequence - a structural feature of the pasyon. "Is this merely Bonifacio," he asks, "or have we not begun to discuss the masses?" (CI, 104). But the same "Lost Eden" theme, Ileto acknowledges elsewhere, can frequently be found in the writings of Rizal and other ilustrados (NLE, 133).

This brings us back, finally, to the distinction Ileto makes between those whose construction of meaning was delimited by pasyon language (the "masses") and those who could stand apart from it and “use” it (the elite) (CI, 96). How do we know where to draw the line between these two groups? How do we know whether an individual employing pasyon language and structures actually shares mass perceptions? We don't. Ileto, once again, seems ambivalent and inconsistent on this point himself, for in certain instances he suggests that members of the elite did not always "stand apart" from mass perceptions and beliefs. He contends that, "for Rizal", martyrdom by firing squad was "the culmination of his pasyon" (P&R, 312, emphasis added). Aguinaldo was not only "an effective orator in the traditional idiom of struggle", but to protect himself against misfortune reportedly added to his entourage an individual with potent special powers.

But in Ileto's view others who definitely did stand apart from Tagalog folk culture, like Governor General Harrison, could employ pasyon structures unwittingly, and evoke a passionate response from a Tagalog audience almost accidentally (OC, 100). This is because Harrison too came from a Catholic background, Ileto might counter. What then, about the lengthy passages on "liwanag" in the Tagalog translation of the Koran, it might be asked - elements of the pasyon idiom can be found wherever you look for them.

If Glenn May is right that Jose P. Santos "made the crucial linguistic choices" (IH, 161) when crafting a Tagalog version of "Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog", it therefore seems to me that those choices would have been accorded a deep significance and resonance by Ileto whatever they had been.

Indigenous categorization: valuable or let's not bother?

As May very aptly observes: "In Pasyon and Revolution, Ileto adopted a text-building strategy that might best be described as discursive blurring - by which I mean that he constructed his text in such a way as to blur important distinctions and link things that should not necessarily be linked" (IH, 146). The trouble with Ileto's one dimensional "from below" approach, to put it slightly differently, is that all the various movements he studies finish up cast in the same millenarian mould. Instead of suggesting criteria that might replace the orthodox, elite-defined constructs, it appears, the perception categories of folk Christianity reduce the political spectrum to a monochrome blotch.

At one point Ileto suggests he may offer alternatives to the elite-defined constructs: "'That religious/secular categories can be applied to 19th century Philippines is not self-evident and can be done only within critical limits. Or better still, why not derive categories from within the socio-cultural milieu itself?”(CI, 99). But once more he cannot make up his mind, because he also half-agrees with Foucault that any system of categorization amounts to an attempt to domesticate what should be exotic and unique. "For Foucault, the task is one of disordering, destructuring, unnaming - an extreme view, yet so relevant to our present situation" (BTSS, 27). This latter view must be the one upon which he finally settled, because the projected alternative categorization has not so far materialized.


BfB Glenn Anthony May, The Battle for Batangas: a Philippine province at war (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991)

BTSS Reynaldo C. Ileto, "Bonifacio, the Text and the Social Scientist", Philippine Sociological Review, 32 (January-December 1984), pp.19-29.

CI Reynaldo C. Ileto, "Critical Issues in 'Understanding Philippine Revolutionary Mentality'", Philippine Studies, 30 (First Quarter, 1982), pp.92-119.

IH Glenn Anthony May, Inventing a Hero: the posthumous re-creation of Andres Bonifacio, (Madison: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin, 1996).

NLE Reynaldo C. Ileto, "Outlines of a Non-Linear Emplotment of Philippine History" in Lim Teck Ghee (ed.), Reflections on Development in Southeast Asia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1988), pp.130-59.

OC Reynaldo C. Ileto, “Orators and the Crowd: Philippine Independence Politics, 1910-1914” in Peter W. Stanley (ed.), Reappraising an Empire: new perspectives on Philippine-American History (Cambridge, Mass.: Committee on American-East Asian Relations of the Department of History in collaboration with the Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1984), pp.85-113.

P&R Reynaldo Clemeña Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution: popular movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910 (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1979).