Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Prayers for the Revolution

Prayers for the Revolution

Updated 06:37am (Mla time) Dec 15, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the December 15, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

CHRISTMAS traffic is upon us again. Our yearly experience of being stuck on the road near malls and commercial centers is enough to dilute the spirit of giving (and buying, of course) generated by lights, d├ęcor and Christmas carols playing on public address systems.

There is something about the season that makes us forget, at least momentarily, the pressures of everyday life. In recent days, my students seem to be far away, lost in thought, not about the past and history but about Christmas parties past and future. One wonders if people felt this way at Christmas during the Philippine Revolution, the Filipino-American War, or even World War II. Soldiers may have no occasion for shopping, but usually a ceasefire is called on Dec. 25 so that the battle weary can rest and think of peace. Why we cannot hold on to this wonderful spirit indefinitely is the challenge that has faced man for a long time.

One man who had a miserable Christmas in 1896 was Jose Rizal who was locked up in Fort Santiago and brought out only to face a military court on charges of treason. Rizal left us with a lot of letters and he seems to have forgotten to describe his last Christmas. He was not allowed to see his family, except for his mother and sisters. His father and elder brother Paciano were not allowed to see him; the only males allowed into the cell were toddlers. Rizal left us with a lot of documentation for various parts of his life but is silent about Christmas 1896, knowing that he faced a death sentence as soon as the trial was concluded.

In this silence, we have room to imagine how he filled his time. Sleeping or perhaps scribbling his "Ultimo Adios"? A historian studying this period in Rizal's life often wishes that some sort of document was left, but then having nothing and being forced to imagine can be better.

There is a lot of documentation on the Philippine Revolution that remains to be looked into and evaluated, but in the great mass that is now in the National Library, the Philippine Revolutionary Records or PRR (formerly the Philippine Insurgent Records or PIR) will tell us how Christmas was celebrated during the Revolution. All it needs is a historian who is looking specifically for documents on the topic.

The Jesuit historians, Pedro de Achutegui and Miguel Bernad, have compiled an interesting mix of documents on Aguinaldo and the Revolution of 1896 (Ateneo de Manila, 1972) that give us a sense of the times. I refer to two letters that ask for prayers. The first one is dated Nov. 16, 1896 and is originally in Tagalog. The text reads:

"In gratitude to the help extended to our Katipunan by the Blessed Mother of God, whose perpetual succor we have felt in trying to achieve our Liberty, please command your Brothers of the Katipunan under your jurisdiction to tell the townspeople to recite the Holy Rosary at all hours. Ask them to implore the help of the Holy Mother and of her Child to redeem us from the bondage of slavery and to take us under the mantle of grace. For three consecutive nights, ask the Brothers under your jurisdiction to pray that the enemy may abandon their contemptible conduct and that they face God and the mercy of heaven. Thus, the freedom that we have been able to hold so far may be ours forever.

"Please try to fulfill the order I gave last week with regard to the reinforcement of the camps and inform us of its compliance."

Praying the rosary for three consecutive nights in the hopes of a military victory is quite significant because the Spaniards surely prayed just as hard for a different outcome. Not knowing God as well as some people today, I wonder how He settled the issue.

The other document is signed by Baldomero Aguinaldo and is dated Jan. 14, 1897. He ordered the following:

"To the Military Commanders and Presidents of the towns mentioned in the margin [these are Mabilis, Magdalo, Gargano, Haligui, Magpuri, Sumilang, Mapagibig, Alapaap, Matalilong and Taliba]:

"According to a message sent here by a countryman of ours who is reliable and sympathetic to our cause, the enemy will attack our towns on the 24th of this month. However, we should be on guard even in the intervening days, and prepare all ways and means for our defense.

"Please order the people, especially the women, to make novenas. Ask those in charge of the barrios to be strict in carrying out this order, because we must understand that our prayers to Almighty God are really powerful weapons against our enemies."

In previous columns, I have written about various feasts and parties that Aguinaldo attended even when he was being pursued up north from Malolos by the Americans. Even in times for great difficulty, the Filipino found time to relax and to party. They also found a time to pray, a time to fight, a time to retreat.

There are documents on the music that was played, the food that was served and enjoyed. Trivial, of course, in the wider context of the struggle for independence but important to our understanding of how the Revolution was fought. Surely, there are more documents asking for prayers than there are instructions to soldiers on how to fight. When all of these are unearthed and studied, only then will we get a complete picture of the Revolution.


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