Friday, November 19, 2004

Looking closer into historical details

Looking closer into historical details

Updated 03:19am (Mla time) Nov 19, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the November 19, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

WITH THE NOTABLE exception of the slim volume, "Hills of Sampaloc" by the eminent economic historian Benito Legarda Jr., most works on the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War omit details of the struggle. Textbook history tells us of these events on a grand, macro-scale. We know their outcomes but do not know how they were actually fought. In recent years, undergraduate students, finding the details engaging enough, have embarked on their own research outside of their classes or research papers. Some students can tell me what guns, cannons and ammunition were used. Some go through the five-volume "Philippine Insurrection Against the United States" to outline a map on how military tactics were employed. Using old photographs, they can tell what equipment was standard issue to Filipino soldiers or whether they fought barefoot. Research covers tactics and even food. Meeting students like these is its own reward and makes teaching and all its troubles all the more worthy and meaningful.

During the centennial years, I searched in vain for someone in the Philippine Military Academy who did research and study on the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War. More than the outcome, I wanted to know how the war was fought. Even if I had scattered documentation, I needed expert opinion; I am still waiting for someone to help me out. One cannot expect our patriots, like Emilio Aguinaldo, to leave detailed battle plans to posterity. But I do remember being shown some maps, drawn in Aguinaldo's hand, in an antiquarian bookstore near Cornell University in upstate New York over a decade ago. I do not know what became of those papers -- that's another bit of our history gone.

One patriot who did leave us with an interesting historical documentation is Vicente Lukban, whose letters and circulars not only deal with the military end of the war but also provide a way of understanding the situation he was in. I have only read him in English translation and I can't wait to see the originals of a letter he wrote from Calbayog (now capital of Western Samar province) on July 8, 1899, where he described the political situation:

"The origin of all the disturbances here is due to those clerks, lawyers, writers and pettifogers during the Spanish domination, who appear to be under the orders and thumb, as I understand it, of that traitor Luis Flores, the so-called Presidente of Cebu, who turned over the city to the enemy without firing a shot. This gentleman was solicitor of the Audiencia in the said Island of Cebu. The tendency of all these men is to sow seeds of discord and friction between families; and to this is due the division of parties; all of them, under the name or pretext of Country, wish to feather their own nests. Evidence of this is the fact that this Flores, during the months he was in Leyte, ordered many colonels and a so-called brigadier general named Velozo, to recruit men in Leyte; and having noticed this move by reason of its tendency to federalism, I took all precautions and directed them that in the future they should not recruit any men without authorization from your Bureau or from the undersigned, and I believe that on this account those barrators and potbellied pretended patriots are working to have me removed from here. For they know that under Mojica they will have their own way, and they are taking advantage of this leniency or trust to carry out their wishes."

What, in the original manuscript, would be "pettifogger" and "pot-bellied pretended patriots"? Such strong language then and now. Like Apolinario Mabini, he complained of the upper class that had too much to protect, too much to lose. "Most of the wealthy and middle class here sacrifice their patriotism in favor of their personal interests and wish to eat when the table is already set, that is to say, they expect us to restore them, but they always offer lives and lands in words and not by acts."

Lukban coped with the lack of ammunition:

"My arsenal, situated in the mountains of Catbalogan, is already turning out cartridges of various calibers and my ordnance chemist Sr. Vito Borromeo, is studying how to increase the output of nitrate of potash, without the necessity of ingredients; because I discovered by the mixture of various substances secured in the woods chlorate is made, according to the chemist's analysis.

"The bullets used in the cartridges are made from the [church] bells that I ordered melted, all of which, General, when the cartridge machines are all working for which I also used worn out sewing machines, I will make a report, as also of the number of thousand cartridges manufactures per day.

"The enemy is steadily besieging us, and today it is a week that we have been eating sweet potatoes [‘camote’) in the morning, ‘morisqueta’ [boiled rice) at noon, ‘lugao’ [rice porridge] in the afternoon, and once in a while palm flour [‘harina de palmeras’], as rice costs ten pesos a ‘cavan’ [50-kilogram bag]. It is fortunate that the steamer Kondoy arrived here today with rice. But the price is the same."

All the material for a detailed study of the period is ready. All that is needed is a dedicated historian to weave it all into a coherent and surely absorbing story.


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