Thursday, January 05, 2006

May, Glenn Anthony. "Historian says he's not questioning Bonifacio's heroism -- but historians' methodology -- Part II." Philippine Daily Inquirer 12.168 (Monday, 26 May 1997): E4-5.


To summarize, then, Guerrero and Villegas have done nothing to answer the questions I have raised about the Bonifacio letters. They have not established the provenance of the documents; they have not explained why they were altered by the transcriber; they have not explained the inconsistencies in penmanship.

In fact, they have not provided a single reason for doubting my conclusions about Bonifacio letters -- that they are of dubious authenticity and that scholars who rely on them, as Guerrero and Villagas have, do so at their peril.

Fourth, Guerrero and Villegas attack me for calling into question certain parts of Reynaldo Ileto's brilliant book "Pasyon and Revolution."

Although I have great respect for Ileto and his book, I do criticize him because, in my view, he incorrectly links Bonifacio to the Philippine millenarian tradition. Ileto's argument about this linkage rests largely on his lengthy analysis of a prose work entitled "Ang Dabat Mabatid ng Mga Tagalog," which appeared in the Katipunan's newspaper Kalayaan and was often attributed to Bonifacio.


In his discussion of the text of that work, Ileto attempts to show that Bonifacio adopted images, metaphors, and vocabulary that could be found in the core texts of earlier popular movements. But, as I demonstrate in my book, there is no convincing evidence that Bonifacio authored "Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog"; there is no extant copy of the newspaper Kalayaan; and there is a resonable possibility that the Tagalog text Ileto used (which he found in a published collection of Bonifacio's writings) was not the one printed in the newspaper but rather one retranslated into Tagalog by Jose P. Santos from an earlier Spanish translation.

Having raised those concerns about authorship and authenticity, I then show how Ileto's reliance on a possibly corrupted Tagalog text undermines his argument about the correspondence between metaphors in "Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog" and the texts generated by other popular movements. I focus on a few words and phrases that figure prominently in Ileto's analysis and argue that, because Ileto unknowingly used a translation of translation, a good deal of slippage occured along the way.


My key point here is that we have no way of knowing whether the words analyzed by Ileto are the ones found in the original version of the newspaper article.

Guerrero and Villegas direct their attention to my discussion of the verbal slippage. Characteristically, they begin with another gratuitous ad-hominem attach: "May, the non-Tagalog speaker, again attempts a critique of linguistic nuance, an exercise for which he is clearly not qualified." They then zero in on a single phrase in the Tagalog text: the words "ang araw ng katuiran," which Ileto translated as "the sun of reason." In my book, I show that, in the Spanish version of the article, the words used -- "el dia de justicia" (or "the day of justice," in English) -- do not come close to the meaning of the Tagalog one.

Guerrero and Villegas make two points about the phrase: that the Tagalog word araw can be translated as both sol ("sun") and dia ("dia"); and that katuiran might be rendered as justicia by a "European" translator. I agree with the first point, but that is not conceding much. I make clear in my book that I am concerned about Ileto's use of the word katuiran ("reason", "straightness") not the word dia.

In my judgement, it is unlikely that the word katuiran was in the Tagalog original, for if it had been, most translation [sic] would have been razón.

The second point, is, literally nonsensical. Here is their argument: The root word of katuiran in Tagalog is tuid ("straight") -- which is derecho in Spanish; the word derecho also refers to "justice and laws, equity and reason"; hence, the "translation of katuiran to justicia indicates a European translator, since the nuance of that word is that social order is based on the rule of laws and not of men." I cannot believe that any reader is likely to find the "nuanced" discussion of the translation issue by Guerrero and Villegas to be more convincing than my own.

Fifth, Guerrero and Villegas are critical of my treatment of Artemio Ricarte, whose memoir is the subject of one of my chapters. This chapter suggests strongly that the account of the Tejeros Assembly in Ricarte's memoir is highly misleading and also that its deficiencies can best be explained by the fact that Ricarte himself played a key role in bringing about Bonifacio's fall from power.

Questionable Ricarte

I am criticized on two counts. First, they claim that I have not told the reader anything new. Second, they accuse me of being "prejudiced" against Ricarte, ostensibly because Ricarte refused to come to terms with the American colonial regime.

Neither criticism should be taken seriously. Having dismissed my findings about Ricarte as "not new," Guerrero and Villages fail to inform us where we can find earlier versions of them. They do not because they can not. Furthermore, I am not opposed to Ricarte because of his opposition to US rule. As any reader of my book "Social Engineering in the Philippines" knows, I am hardly an apologist for US imperialism.

If I appear to be not too well-disposed toward Ricarte, that me be because of Ricarte's questionable actions during the revolution against Spain, not because of his subsequent struggle against the Americans.

Sixth and finally, Guerrero and Villegas blast me because I am, in their eyes, an opponent of the so-called nationalist school of Philippine historigraphy -- and also, by implication, an opponent of Philippine nationalism. I am accused of sneering at Teodoro Agoncillo, the leading figure of the school and the mentor of Guerrero, and of challenging Agoncillo's argument that the revolution of 1896 was a popular movement. Guerrero and Villegas conclude their assessment of my treatment of Agoncillo with a vintage ad hominem assault:

"Only an incompetent alien with pretensions to being a Philippine historian -- or an idiot -- would question the fact that the 1896 [sic] was a popular mass movement led by Bonifacio."

But, misguided or not, that is exactly what I and more than a


few other historians have been doing in our scholarship for more than a decade. Guerrero knows this well. Her 1977 doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan, never published, was one of the first studies to challenge the assertions of Agoncillo during the revolutionary period.

My book about the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War in the province of Batangas confirmed many of Guerrero's earlier observations. And others have come to similar findings -- Schumacher, Medina, Joaquin, and so on. What should be emphasized here is that my criticisms of the nationalist school, which I do not deny, should not be equated with an opposition to Philippine nationalism. Guerrero and Villegas assert that I have an "agenda":

"May's intention is to savage Bonifacio, denigrate the national and democratic nature of the Philippine Revolution, but above all to ridicule the character and abilities of Filipinos to form a nation and to construct a national history."


I categorically deny the assertion and I am puzzled by it. I, for one, have never claimed, or even thought, that Guerrero was impelled to question Agoncillo and to provide a more accurate view of the revolutionary period because she was anti-nationalist. Why do Guerrero and Villegas make such a claim about me?

So what can we conclude about the Guerrero-Villegas attack? Most of their criticisms of my book turn out to be, on close examination, assetive reaffirmations of the existing orthodoxy. They criticize me for lapses of logic and then themselves raise illogical argumentation to an art form. Unable to marshall convincing evidence to counter my arguments, they fall back, time and again on name-calling and nastiness. I have suggested at the outset one important reason they have attacked me this way. I will leave it to readers to decide whether that explanation is sufficient.

Two things more need to be said. The first is that I find it regrettable that Guerrero and Villegas have chosen to debate these issues in this way in the national press. I have no axe to grind with the Inquirer for publishing this piece. Obviously, the paper's editors consider it newsworthy. But Guerrero and Villegas, by resorting to smear tactics, have embarrassed all of us who call ourselves historians of the Philippines. They may believe that they have scored points with the public by dealing with a fellow historian in the way that certain politicians deal with their opponents; I suspect that they are mistaken.

My second point is self-serving, but after being subjected to critics like Guerrero and Villegas, I feel that I can be forgiven for making it. Read the book! Whatever else it may be, "Inventing a Hero" is a serious work of history on a subject of undenialble importance.

It questions much received wisdom and raises significant questions about the study of the past in general, and the Philippine past in particular. It also poses challenges not only to the Philippine academic community but to every Philippine citizen. It calls on professional historians to do more research and on informed citizens to read more skeptically.

The response of Guerrero and Villegas to these challenges is to discuss them and mock them. Others of their ilk will doubtless do the same. But I am confident that most Filipinos will rise to the challenges. The simple truth of the matter is that the anachronistic historical notion of the likes of Guerrero and Villegas have finally run their course.

The time has come for a new nationalism, based on more solid evidential foundations, to replace the old, based in some measure on myth.