Friday, January 07, 2005

The first Filipino novel

The first Filipino novel

Updated 03:06am (Mla time) Jan 07, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A13 of the January 7, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

SOMETIME in the early 1990s, as a monk with a lot of time on my hands, I decided to try my hand at translating Pedro Paterno's "Pacto de Biyak-na-Bato" (first published in 1910). At the time, I was inspired by the example of medieval Benedictine monks who spent their time praying and, of course, copying, translating and editing manuscript materials that made monasteries beacons of light in the so-called "Dark Ages." My Latin was bad and my Greek nonexistent, so I dashed my abbot's hopes that I would do erudite commentaries on the homilies of Bernard of Clairvaux or some other obscure monastic writer. My spoken Spanish has always been bad, but I'd like to think I know enough of it to make sense of written text, so Paterno seemed the easiest to translate.

Initially my list even included some 19th-century French travel accounts of the Philippines, but all that has since been abandoned. After completing a translation of "Pact of Biyak-na-Bato," I was informed that the whole book had already been translated by the National Historical Institute (NHI), so I gave up on yet another of the career paths available to me.

While I gave up on translating Paterno, I continually felt the need to have this work see print, if only to provide an insider's look into this controversial event in Philippine history. While one should read the work with caution, it still remains a primary source on the events leading to the truce of Biyak-na-Bato that ended with Emilio Aguinaldo and his men postponing the Revolution and leaving for exile in Hong Kong in December 1897. My appointment to the National Historical Institute in 2001 gave me an opportunity to suggest to Dr. Augusto de Viana of the research and publications division that we re-issue not only Paterno's "Biyak-na-Bato" but also his landmark novel "Ninay" because I had photocopies of the Tagalog and English translations on file.

Finally, the book is now available from the NHI on T.M. Kalaw Street, Manila. It's a double-billing as old moviegoers would say: "Pacto de Biyak-na-Bato" translated by the Institute, and "Ninay" translated by a certain E.F. Du Fresne, encoded from the book published in Manila in 1907 and dedicated to Mrs. William Howard Taft.

Now that is what we would call today “sipsip” [sucking up]. Remember, Paterno was one of the greatest “balimbing” [turncoats] in history (perhaps he was the original balimbing in Philippine political history). He was first on the Spanish side, then when the declaration of independence was made in 1898, he wormed his way to power and became president of the Malolos Congress in 1899, then sensing the change in political winds after the establishment of the American colonial government, he became a member of the First Philippine Assembly.

Pedro Alejandro Paterno was born on Feb. 27, 1858 in Santa Cruz, Manila. If you look at the list of works printed in some of his books, he seems to have published a lot especially on Philippine history that have since been discredited as long-winded flights of fancy.

So why are these works being published by the institute? Well, Jose Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere" (1887) may be the great Philippine novel but contrary to popular belief it certainly was not the first. "Ninay" holds the distinction of being the first Filipino novel. It is also to be noted that Paterno's slim volume "Sampaguitas y poesias varias" (Madrid, 1880) is also supposed to be the first Filipino collection of poems. Since I am not a literary critic and I do not read novels and poetry for work or pleasure, I will not attempt an opinion on the literary merits these works may have or not.

Paterno is often remembered as a man with a moustache, wearing a black coat with tails complete with a sash and medals because he was decorated with the Grand Cross of Isabel by the Spanish government. He was elected president of the Malolos Congress, and after some political intrigue, succeeded Apolinario Mabini in Emilio Aguinaldo's Cabinet. In 1907 he was elected to the Philippine Assembly. He was founder of a handful of newspapers at the turn of the last century. He died on March 11, 1911.

He may not be the most inspiring person in Philippine history but he is worth reading since he claimed descent from pre-colonial Tagalog nobility and claimed to be the "Prince of Luzon." So on the cover of the present book, we have Paterno wearing a strange costume and carrying a scepter with ostrich feathers.

"Pacto de Biyak na Bato" is engaging because he gives short descriptions or makes references to many of the revolutionaries we now revere as heroes: Gregorio del Pilar, Emilio Aguinaldo, Mamerto Natividad, Mariano Llanera, etc. Often overlooked are some side stories like his going to the mountain of Susong Dalaga to consult an oracle. She was a 30-year-old woman who communicated with the spirit of Jose Rizal through a three-legged round table that would rise and fall. Rizal, or whomever it was they were communicating with, knocked on the table top to signify simple answers to their questions. When asked how they could serve the country, she answered, "... the celestial paternal rose of your country shall be the ones to suggest the dawn of liberty."

On that cryptic message, we leave the readers to make their own conclusions. This also explains why I suggested that we label these works "two works of fiction by Pedro Paterno," but again I leave the readers to form their own conclusions.


Post a Comment

<< Home