Thursday, September 23, 2004

News and gossip from Mabini

News and gossip from Mabini

Updated 11:01pm (Mla time) Sept 23, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the September 24, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

BROWSING through Apolinario Mabini's correspondence recently, I was drawn to a number of chatty letters to Marcelo H. del Pilar. My original impression, after going through all these letters twice several years ago, was that, compared to Jose Rizal's, they were devoid of human interest. Mabini probably turned serious and conscious of his letters when he was Emilio Aguinaldo's trusted adviser.

In the US Library of Congress are letters addressed to Aguinaldo, with marginal notes, usually a draft reply, written in Mabini's small almost feminine script (which is why some people make a big thing about his surname, maliciously linking it to “binibini” [miss]). Poor Mabini was the target of a demolition job that originated from the Malolos Congress. The nasty rumors about his paralysis and venereal disease emanated from his enemies in Congress, and these were debunked only in the 1980s following an autopsy proving that the Sublime Paralytic lost the use of his legs due to polio, not syphilis.

Mabini had a human side and we get rare glimpses of this in his letters to Del Pilar. For example, in a letter dated Nov. 28, 1894, he narrated:

"In the last town fiesta of Cavite, moments before the start of the bicycle race, which was one of the highlights of the celebration, the captain of the civil guards of one of the military posts of the said province pushed Don Jose Luna out of his way, insulting him at the same time. As it was to be expected, this resulted in a challenge to a duel, which the captain refused to accept. He is the kind of man who values his life as much as he despises the dignity of a fellow human being."

One would wish that Mabini's notes and comments made it to some small blind item or a column in La Solidaridad because some of the gossip is as interesting today as it was 110 years ago. In the same letter of Nov. 28, 1894, he said:

"In Santa Isabel, Bulacan, an event took place lately, news of which was circulated here among our friends. The parish priest of that town visited the Municipal School for Girls and, because of his brazen and discourteous behavior, of which only our friars are capable, a fight ensued between him and two girls. The girls came out with bruised heads, whereas the parish priest, his garments torn to shreds, ran down the streets, giving a show of nakedness never expected even by Christ himself. I am not in a position to guarantee this news."

Sometimes Mabini relates the social and political tension during those times. On Jan. 22, 1895, he wrote Del Pilar:

"Rumors of an approaching rebellion are starting again to circulate here and the government is trying to forestall it by giving secret orders to the police to raid any meeting of the Freemasons and arrest the people they come upon as if they were gamblers. For this reason, the workshops here, which will never be found guilty of audacity because they have learned enough prudence, have suspended their work to avoid criminal complaint for unlawful assembly. In truth, I do not know how Freemasonry, being a lawful association in Spain, could be unlawful in the Philippines, where it is practiced exactly as Spanish Freemasonry."

In our history textbooks, the Philippine Revolution led by Andres Bonifacio seems to appear out of nowhere. Of course, the Revolution is supposed to have resulted from centuries of neglect and opposition, but to have rumors of a rebellion circulating over a year before August 1896 made me realize how paranoid Spanish Manila could be. In the same letter, Mabini related:

"The municipal captain of the town of Talisay, Batangas, is under court-martial because a letter, signed by him and addressed to the German Consul requesting that the accompanying letter be sent to Rizal, was found in the person of the drunkard. In this letter, Rizal was being informed that the people of Talisay and others were already prepared and only waiting for his decision. It is clear that it is a coarse scheme, plotted by his enemies, which does not even deserve to be mentioned had the authorities not given it importance and, like Quixote, started persecuting what did not exist."

So rumors of a rebellion were not real? The alleged letter to Rizal from rebels in Talisay was a forgery planted on this poor innocent man? Didn't Bonifacio send an emissary to Dapitan to ask Rizal what he thought of the revolution and whether he was willing to support it?

This mixture of news and gossip deserves a second look if only to help us recreate the history of the late 19th century. In a letter dated April 29, 1895 Mabini related news that sounded like Basilio and Crispin in "Noli Me Tangere":

"In Manila nowadays the only topic of conversation is the theft of a ciborium in the church of Paco. The suspects, two sacristans, died in San Juan de Dios Hospital because of tortures inflicted on them with real inquisitorial fury. There are rumors circulating around, which appear as truth. What is worse is that it is also being heard around that one of the sacristans declared that the parish priest had knowledge of the theft, doubtless to implicate certain persons whom he does not trust. But this last rumor is still uncertain."

Mabini wrote only to Del Pilar, but now his letters are read by others who are curious about his life and times.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The devil and his works

The devil and his works

Updated 01:04am (Mla time) Sept 22, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the September 22, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ONE of the worst movies I have seen lately is the prequel to "The Exorcist." Friends said I would have been better off watching Kris Aquino in "Feng Shui."

Demonic possession may be something most Westerners would consign to the Middle Ages (some books call the same period the "Dark Ages"), but it remains real and current to most Filipinos. TV news regularly cover some possessed schoolgirl being tormented with crucifixes, rosaries and holy water. Most of the time, however, the spirit that speaks through these schoolchildren rarely claims to be the devil but some other less but playful form.

One cannot imagine a TV crew being face to face with pure evil, but I remember a segment of the popular TV show "60 Minutes" airing what was reputedly the first televised exorcism in the United States. In some hick town in Florida, there was a Greek girl possessed by a number of evil spirits. She manifested most of the symptoms exhibited by Linda Blair in "The Exorcist": speaking in different voices and languages, threats, profanity, etc. To cut the long story short, the exorcist was able to speak to all the spirits and made them agree to leave the body of the girl at the end of the prescribed Roman Catholic rite of exorcism. While the exorcist ordered all the spirits to depart, there was some wailing and gnashing of teeth, and then from the depths a small voice cried out, "Sandali lang! Sandali lang!" [“Just a minute! Just a minute!”] The exorcist engaged this spirit in conversation and convinced the whole demonic group to leave. I couldn't believe my ears. Even in the supernatural world, a Filipino was making life more complicated than it should be.

When the exorcist was interviewed afterwards, parts of the exorcism were re-run and in one of the scenes I could hear that same little voice shouting invectives at the priest and adding, "Bakla ka... Bakla ka!" [“You are gay!”] Was the demon telling the truth? Was it able to see through the sins of the exorcist? We will never know. Nobody spoke Filipino in the room, so no one was bothered.

How did this little Greek girl in Florida learn our language? Was the demon Filipino, or did she learn it from her nanny? The demon was described as short, dark, with curly hair! I will not comment further on this matter and leave you to experts like columnist Jaime Licauco for a more enlightening discussion on demonic possession.

What intrigues me is that if you read early friar accounts of the Philippines and Filipinos, you will see the devil roaming about the archipelago and making life difficult for missionaries. If you open the index to the 55-volume compilation of documents compiled by Blair and Robertson, called "The Philippine Islands 1493-1898," and check under the heading "Devil," you will find a lot of references subdivided into these various topics: his influence over the natives; worshipped and invoked; addressed by his priests and takes possession of them; sacrifices to; dedication to; seen in dreams or visions; impersonated; deceives people; torments human beings; his tricks and witchcraft, etc. All this makes for absorbing reading, but why was the devil more real to people in the 17th century than in our times? Was life then so simple or simple-minded that the devil could be blamed for everything bad?

In our secular and modern times, have we taken more responsibility for evil in the world that we forgot the man with the horns, the tail and the pitchfork? Maybe evil comes in a different form and shape today?

In the Dominican Diego de Aduarte's "Historia de la provincia del Sancto Rosario ... en Philippinas (Manila, 1640)" are accounts of how the members of his order converted the Filipinos from their heathen ways and how they battled with an old religion that they considered to be the work of the devil. In some accounts, the devil actually walked abroad and spoke through people who often heard but did not see him. Often the devil worked through the pre-colonial shamans or “babaylan” who were not acknowledged as leaders of a different religion but were branded as witches, their gods, devils, demons and evil spirits. Often illness was attributed to the devil and so a cure was interpreted as God's conquest of evil. One account says:

"Still there is one miracle that is almost universal in all these regions; this is, that when the devil torments some Indian, under the influence of witches with whom he has made an agreement to torment those whom they desire to harm, he loses his power before the command of the religious. The Indians fear witchcraft so that they do not dare deny the witches anything they ask; and thus they become masters of the property, the food, and the persons of all Indians. The devil is driven out by the very presence of the religious, while in their absence he is kept away by merely having the sick hold a scapular. All this is accomplished without exorcisms, except the command in the name of the Lord that they shall cease their tormenting. In many cases, miracles of healing have been wrought by baptism, or by confession."

When one sees how Filipinos in the 21st century still use crucifixes, rosaries, scapulars, etc. in their homes, offices, cars and persons, we wonder if we have really changed very much in the past 400 years.