Friday, February 25, 2005

Rizal's two unfinished novels

Rizal's two unfinished novels

Posted 00:47am (Mla time) Feb 25, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the February 25, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

EACH year on Feb. 25, people are busy with a commemoration of the 1986 People Power Revolt that drove Ferdinand Marcos from power and installed Corazon Aquino as president of the Philippines. Since the Inquirer is also one of the main products of those troubled times, it tries valiantly to keep the flame of Edsa alive, by publishing first-hand accounts on the front page.

But all this now seems like a dimly lit part of the Philippine past, especially to many of my students who were toddlers when all this was going on, changing the lives of their parents and all those who were adults at the time. Feb. 25 should be a time to remember the events of Edsa 1986 and today's column should focus on people power, but I go back to the late 19th century.

What better proof could there be that I am a walking anachronism than that I associate Feb. 25 not with Edsa 1986 but with Berlin 1887? Very few people know and remember that at 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 25, 1887 in Berlin, Jose Rizal placed the last period on the manuscript of "Noli Me Tangere."

I remember February 1986 well because that was supposed to be the centennial of the "Noli" but then things were overshadowed by the events of Edsa. At that time, I had embarked on the project that would study the novel as it progressed from its rough drafts to the final clean manuscript copy to the first printed edition of the novel. How did the novel develop? Even this study was overtaken by Edsa.

Working on this led to other unfinished manuscripts by Rizal in the vault of the National Library, and two of my favorites are worth remembering today because they should have been completed like the "Noli" and "Fili." The first is labeled "Principios de una novela satirica" by the National Library but it is better known under the title "Una visita del Señor a Filipinas" or in its English translation, "The Lord Gazes at the Philippine Islands." As an untitled work, it goes under a variety of names depending on which text or translation you are reading, thus it is also known as "Friars and Filipinos" or "The Divine Wrath."

The story opens with God the Father pacing around in heaven. He hears a stream of complaints from the earth and turns his attention to the Philippines where the complaints are coming from. He walks around, consulting a number of people, including Confucius and Buddha, asking about certain beings called friars and a pope who claims to speak in His name on earth. God traces all this to the Christian Church, so he summons both Jesus Christ and St. Peter to explain how and why this state of affairs has come about. Not satisfied with their answers, God then commands Jesus and Peter to return to Earth, investigate in the Philippines and report back to him. Jesus, naturally, refuses to go but is assured that on this trip he will not have to undergo another round of suffering and death on a cross.

Jesus and Peter are transported back to Earth, but God, it seems, has a bad pitching arm or an equally bad sense of direction because the pair appear, not in the Philippines, but in Hong Kong. They first visit a tailor because they are wearing New Testament attire instead of the clothing in vogue in the late 19th century. They learn about passports, visas and all the necessities for travel on board a regular steamer service from Hong Kong to Manila. All should have gone well, but upon arrival in Manila, the boat is placed under quarantine, which adds to the impatience of the duo that wanted to return to heaven as soon as possible. Jesus notes down all his observations (actually, more complaints) in a pocket notebook, which is later opened by Spanish customs and immigration officials in Manila, leading to yet another round of detention. When Jesus and Peter complain about the shabby treatment they receive in the hands of the Spaniards who do not know who they really are, both are branded as subversives by the authorities.

Somehow Peter manages to escape and searches for the Manila Cathedral, which he has heard in heaven is the seat of the archbishop whose authority emanated from Peter himself. As a matter of fact, a statue of Peter is to be found in the Cathedral. This is the place to go for help.

While leaving the Customs house, Peter overhears Jesus being interrogated, and at this point he feels so relieved that it is daytime because then he doesn't have to hear the cock crow thrice again.

Unfortunately, the unfinished novel ends abruptly on this note, leaving us wishing this classic of Philippine comic or satirical literature were completed. But then, that is Rizal for you: truly a man with so many talents, he tried out so many things but left many things half finished. What better word to describe this but “sayang” [what a pity]!

Then there is the other unfinished work of Rizal, also untitled, but known as "Memorias de un gallo." Written in the first person, it is a fictional autobiography of a newly hatched chick trying to fathom the mysteries of the world outside the secure confines of the eggshell.

The chick asks the mother hen the great existential question, "What is a man?"

A man, replies the mother, is "a chicken bigger than all of you, very powerful, very strong."

On this enlightening sentence, Rizal abruptly ends the manuscript to keep us guessing what he really meant well on to the next century.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The way to Baguio

The way to Baguio

Posted 00:56am (Mla time) Feb 23, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the February 23, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

LAST Friday, the Baguio Country Club began a series of activities to celebrate its centennial. It started with the usual things: a thanksgiving Mass, the unveiling of a bronze National Historical Institute marker at the entrance, and the launching of postage stamps with a picture of the club as it looked a century ago. These were followed by golf tournaments, photo exhibits, eating and drinking to celebrate the club's surviving well into a second century.

The club was established through the initiative of William Cameron Forbes, the governor general of the Philippines who is best remembered for the street in Manila that bears his name but is mispronounced "Por-bes." It is one of the street names sanctified by usage and one that has withstood some rather ill-considered but well-meaning changes. (Other Manila streets now threatened by legislators who want to foster historical amnesia are Espa¤a and Taft. Now that is worth another column.)

Forbes is also remembered for the upscale gated community in Makati called Forbes Park whose name is pronounced correctly but is sometimes sneeringly referred to as "Pobres Park" because some wags would want to believe that the premiere subdivision in the country is filled with mortgaged lots. From "Por-bes" in Manila to "Pob-res" in Makati-that's a world of difference best tackled by "Cocktales."

I had to look beyond contemporary history and go back 100 years to know more about the Baguio Country Club. I dusted off the two hefty volumes of "The Philippine Islands" by Forbes himself and published in Boston in 1928. I was surprised to find in the first volume, which tackles the history of the Philippines and of course the pillars of American colonial government in the islands-Civil Government, Public Order, Finances, Justice, Health, Public Works, Education, etc.-one whole chapter on Baguio. The reason for this was the justification of the now famous Kennon Road built by an army colonel named L.W.V. Kennon at a cost of well over $2 million dollars, which was widely questioned, because it was believed that this great expense was merely resorted to give a handful of high colonial officials a cool place for rest and relaxation. I'm sure digging into contemporary materials on the building of Kennon Road will make interesting reading.

When people plan a trip to Baguio by land these days (flying is much faster and convenient, but people can't seem to forget some recent high-profile plane crashes), they figure five to six hours of travel. That already takes into account traffic, going around tricycles, trucks and kuligligs and making the usual rest and meal stops along the way. We have two choices of routes these days: it is either the Marcos Highway, which is is supposedly longer but faster, or the scenic Kennon Road, which is shorter but takes longer to travel.

In the early 1900s, Forbes said that to get to Baguio from Manila one had to take a boat "to San Fernando, de La Union, and from there by horseback on a very fair trail known as the Naguilian Trail, as it passes through the town of that name. This was a comparatively easy trip, but it involved nearly a day on horseback into the hills, which in itself consumed a whole day."

This is hard to imagine today, but this was the same route taken by William Howard Taft who made it up to Baguio on horseback. There is a famous photograph of the heavy, smiling Taft on his horse and an equally famous quotation uttered when he reported to US Secretary of War Elihu Root that he made it up to Baguio in one piece, "but I'm afraid, I can't say the same for the horse."

A better road was planned and it was then known as the Benguet Road. It took about 4,000 men to work their way up, blasting a trail out of the mountains and paving these into what later became Kennon Road. Forbes wrote:

"As the Benguet Road began to creep into the hills, a stage line was inaugurated from the northern end of the railroad at Dagupan through the province of Pangasinan to the end of the road, from which point the remainder of the trip was made up the Bued River. During the construction of the road, stages passed from camp to camp of road-builders, until finally, at a point called 'Camp Four,' all passengers had to take to horses and follow a new rail which zigzagged up the mountain-side on an extremely steep grade, where it was often necessary to walk, leading the horses. The trail reached the high levels at a place called Loakan, from which point seven miles of delightfully cool riding on easy grades brought one into the site of the future city of Baguio."

Even when Taft left the Philippines to assume the post of secretary of war in Washington, he was keen to see the completion of this road up to Baguio.

Today it is easier to get to Baguio, but then a lot has changed from the Shangrila they described a century ago. The scent of pine that used to mark the ascent and entry into the city is no more. As a matter of fact, there is even a concrete pine tree on Session Road leading to the latest marker of progress, SM Shopping Mall.

Looking at Baguio's past will help us appreciate the city and hope to preserve its climate and character.

Friday, February 18, 2005



Posted 02:22am (Mla time) Feb 18, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the February 18, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

JUST recently, the term "damaged culture" became widely used in describing our bad traits. This reminded me of the controversial essay in Atlantic Monthly with the same title by James Fallows.

When I was introduced to Fallows over a decade ago at lunch in Kamayan, I greeted him by saying, "Oh, you're the guy. I presume you're in town researching for another article that will infuriate all of us." With that tactless remark I was shunted away to a corner like the bratty little boy I still am. No loss, I said to myself, as I concentrated on the lechon de leche, but that was the last time I was invited by the host.

Filipinos are a forgiving lot; Fallows was never tarred and feathered.

In 1925, a similar report on the Philippines and the Filipinos appeared in book form and was titled "The Isles of Fear: The Truth about the Philippines." It was written by Katherine Mayo, who also wrote a similarly infuriating book on India that was publicly burned. Threatened with being tarred and feathered, I don't know if she ever returned to India for a lecture tour and book signing. In the Philippines, despite the grumbling, she would probably still be invited to a lechon lunch instead of being roasted alive.

Yes we are a forgiving lot. It has been almost two decades since Edsa 1986, and we still have to find closure for the martial law years.

Re-reading "The Isles of Fear" was an eye-opener. I realized first that the black-and-white photographs used to illustrate the book have been marvelously re-invented into striking, and now very expensive, pictures by the painter Bencab. For example, the frontispiece showing a man barefoot and holding his hat, photographed in profile as in a criminal mug shot, now enlarged and tinged with muted color, is one of the jewels of the Cultural Center art collection. Another photograph of an Ilocana lighting an over-size cigar has been cropped and re-made by Bencab into a picture that now hangs in a posh London flat.

Of the many anecdotes related by Mayo, this one stands out in my memory and is worth quoting here:

"One quiet morning ... a fisherman came rushing in from his work in Manila Bay with a great tale to tell. As he bent over his net, he had seen bubbles rising in a steady column from the depths. Looking farther, he perceived that the bubbles, like a crown of pearls, marked the center of a shadowy cross stretched upon the surface of the sea. Greatly amazed, he had dipped his coconut drinking cup into the bubbling stream, tasted it and found it sweet. Sweet water provided in the midst of the ocean! On that, he had sped ashore, aflame with his news.

"A priest, accompanying the fisherman back to the spot, found the stream and forthwith blessed it, proclaiming a miracle. Then the whole district of Tondo flung itself into small boats. And from that moment no one needed to lead the way, for, day and night, the spot was crowded with human cargoes, awaiting their turn to drink.

"Two days later, one of the liveliest epidemics of cholera on record broke out in the district of Tondo. Dr. Heiser, grappling with it, quickly discovered the history just narrated. Then he, also made a little voyage-resulting in the discovery that the unsalted stream and crown of pearls rose from a cracked city sewage pipe, whose poisonous contents the people in mounting thousands were eagerly drinking down. And so great already was the hold of the thing upon the whole city that Mr. Taft, then Governor, hesitated forty-eight hours before taking definite action, for fear lest an insurrection be provoked."

Mayo also wrote about women in jail, one a victim of an abusive usurer in Tarlac, the other accompanying the youngest criminal in an Ilocos Norte jail. The latter, if true, is something for the Guinness Book of World Records. Her informant, A.W. Prautch, related seeing a woman holding a sick baby in jail. When he inquired about the wretch, the Governor replied, matter-of-factly, that the woman was there to take care of the baby. When he inquired what the baby was doing in a prison cell, he was informed that the baby was guilty of arson. The story briefly is as follows:

"The woman, it appeared, was the wife of a poor laborer. One day when the man was off in the fields working, the woman climbed down the ladder of the shack and went to look for faggots to boil the evening rice. The baby, then just learning to creep, remained alone in the room. The baby was supposed to show discretion. What he did do, seemingly, was to hitch his way over to the fire-pot and pull out a pretty red ember. After which it would be a matter of minutes, no more, before the whole nipa-palm shack would blaze. The neighbors rescued the baby. But the house-which by the way belonged to the laborer and his wife and was all they owned in the world-[burned down]."

When the police came and investigated, the blame fell on the baby who was committed to prison to await trial. Problem was that the baby wasn't weaned yet, so the mother had to accompany the baby in jail and feed it.

Fortunately, Mr. Prautsch convinced the Governor to post bail that Saturday, get the baby and mother out of jail and on Monday during the trial simply suspend judgment. Without his intercession, the case would have dragged on and no one would have cared.

Now that really makes the Philippines the Isles of Fear.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Two letters to Rizal

Two letters to Rizal

Posted 00:47am (Mla time) Feb 16, 2005
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the February 16, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

LAST Monday, Valentine's Day, I decided to walk around Glorietta and watch the happy couples go by. It was best to spend the evening away from traffic choke points in Pasay, Mandaluyong, Caloocan and Sta. Mesa where we have the heaviest concentration of motels. Aside from brisk sales in roses and chocolates, there must have been a big turnover in restaurants, motels and hotels that night. Everything seemed normal until 6.45 p.m., when I noticed people crowding down the escalators. There was no stampede, nothing was amiss except for establishments whose excited staff literally closed shop before 9 p.m.

When I inquired, I was calmly told that this volume of people was normal when a movie finished on the fourth floor. However, people I saw didn't look like they had come from a nice movie; everyone had his cell phone glued to his ears. Catching the fear in their faces, I just followed the flow like a lemming.

On the ground floor, I caught the scent of gunpowder. Outside, white smoke was being blown in our direction from the MRT station on Edsa beside the Hotel Intercontinental. It was useless to get in the car and add to the traffic, so I found a restaurant and ordered dimsum.

Munching on chicken feet steamed in tausi, I discreetly watched a man stare blindly at the cold food on a table set for two. His date was late.

The scene reminded me of the woman in Juan Luna's controversial painting "Parisian Life." She waited for her date to return to the table as three Filipino patriots -- Jose Rizal, Juan Luna and Ariston Baustista -- sat at the next table and examined her with X-ray vision, making her conscious and nervous. It is an ordinary painting that results in a number of interpretations, one fantastic reading being that if you look at the silhouette of the lady with her splayed legs, it resembles the outline of a map of the Philippines. Hence, the three leering men on the side are actually looking at their motherland, Filipinas, with homesick longing in a Parisian café. Another way of seeing is that the woman looks like she is hanging on a noose, hence Rizal is looking at his future, when he would die for love of his country.

Valentine's and romantic love was a column topic playing in my mind last Monday, until I was rudely interrupted by the bombing of the bus on Edsa. It's difficult to write about love in the past in the face of such senseless violence, but then half the column was already written by Josephine Bracken in two letters to Rizal written in August 1896.

Rizal requested some things to be brought to him as he waited, bored and understandably irritable, aboard a prison ship off Manila Bay. He requested his sisters or Josephine Bracken to bring an assortment of articles that included clothes, detachable collars and cuffs, mangoes, cheese (surely “kesong puti,” or cottage cheese) lanzones, terrine, and foie gras. Having been exiled in Dapitan for four years, he craved for certain foods. Bracken wrote him on Aug. 13, 1896 and apologized because she forgot to send his pants and waistcoat. Then she complained:

"Ah, my dear I am suffering a great deal with them in Trozo [where the Rizal family maintained a home after being evicted from Calamba], it is quite true they ought to be ashamed of me as they say in my face & in the Presenance of Sra. Narcisa & their children because I am not married to you. So if you heare that I don't go to Trozo any more don't be surprized..."

The grammatical and spelling mistakes are so evident in her letter that the editor of a compilation of Rizal's correspondence could not resist a seemingly objective but snide remark: "It is evident Miss Bracken does not write grammatical English."

Bracken had first lodged with the Rizal family in Trozo, but later moved to the home of Rizal's sister Soledad who was estranged from the family because she married a man they did not approve of. Misery does love company. But by staying with Soledad, she did not endear herself to her once and future in-laws. Depressed at this point, Bracken tried to break off with Rizal thus:

"If you go to Spain you see any one of your fancy you beter marry her, but dear heare me better marry than to live like who we have been doing. I am not ashamed to let people know my life with you but as your dear Sisters are ashamed I think you had better get married to some one else..."

Four days later, on Aug. 17, 1896, she was in better spirits. She wanted to visit Rizal alone, without members of his family, so they could talk and they could "be very free to each other." She bade Rizal goodbye:

"...I am always sorry thinking of you. Oh! Dear how I miss you. I will always be good & faithful to you, and also do good to my companions so that the good God will bring you back to me. I will try all my best to be good to your family especially to your dear old Parents...How it made the tears flew in my eyes when I read those few lines of you. Say darling say it makes we think of our dear old hut in Dapitan and the many sweet ours we have passed there.

"Love I will love you ever, love I will leave thee never, ever to me precious to thee never to part heart bound to heart or never to say good bye. So my darline receive many warm Affection and love. From your ever faithfull and true till death Josephine Bracken."

Rizal's written replies to the above are not extant, though we can presume that they did get to talk and settle things heart to heart.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Chinese in Manila (1846)

The Chinese in Manila (1846)

Posted 00:40am (Mla time) Feb 09, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the February 9, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ALTHOUGH I am about one-eighth Chinese, my paternal great-grandfather being a full-blooded Chinese who allegedly had a braided ponytail, we never celebrate Chinese New Year. As a boy I just noticed the boxes of “tikoy” [a kind of Chinese cake] that came in some time in February as a signal for Chinese New Year. Now that business is down, the tikoy doesn't descend on us as it used to but a growing number of Filipino friends seem to be preparing round fruits, red clothes and fireworks for the Chinese New Year. Times must really be hard for people to go into feng shui, Chinese horoscopes, and have those gaudy ornaments that allegedly bring luck, like the frog with the coin in the mouth or the cat with the waving paw.

Thinking of all this made me look up what Jean Mallat said about the Chinese in the Philippines in 1846. In his two-volume work "Les Philippines" are chapters on different racial types. The Chinese take most of a chapter shared with mestizos. Mallat described their looks, the trades they engaged in, and even their personality as a people.

Not much seems to have changed in over a century, except physical features. Mallat described Manila Chinese as having "average height" (whatever that meant in 1846). Most of the Chinese were male who left their families in China in search of a new life in the Philippines. Mallat wrote that while men in China were good-looking, those in Manila, "who have come for the most part from Macao, Chanceo, Nyngo and Canton, are very ugly and this is explained partly by their social position, for these are generally coulis (porters) and domestics who come to the Philippines to do business and who send their savings every year to their families." (These days we have Jerry Yan smiling from huge Bench billboards around the city and we watch Chinese “telenovelas” [TV soap], and the characters look very much like Manila Chinese.)

When Mallat mentioned that the Manila Chinese in 1846 sent their earnings back to their families in China, I could not help but think that we have come full-circle. In the 19th century, men usually from southern China came to the Philippines to trade, practice a trade or just find work. When I was a boy, some of my friends had real Chinese amahs as their “yayas” [nannies], but today Filipinas work in Hong Kong as domestic helpers. Our compatriots today also send their earnings to families back home.

Reading Mallat reminded me of many prints, lithographs and photographs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that show us that in the past, Philippine Chinese did not look anywhere close to the stereotype characters of the movies "Mano Po" 1, 2 and 3 whose lively brocade costumes are bought from souvenir shops and are not worn by Chinese. Mallat described their costume as:

"... (S)imilar to that of coulis of Macao and Canton; this is a kind of overcoat in the form of a blouse, a shirt called bisia and wide pants made of white cloth, with very low seat, fastened by a string; sometimes these pants are black or blue. They shave their heads, leaving only a braided tail and wear a small black cap tapped with a red knot [again something usually bought by tourists as souvenirs from China]. Their shoes are black, rounded at the tip with thick soles made of paper; they get them ready-made from their country." (Today we know these light distinctive black shoes as "kung-fu shoes.")

Then as now, the Manila Chinese shared a reputation for being good at business and math, "apart from wholesale and retail commerce which they share in Manila with mestizos; they are also spice-dealers, fruit-dealers, cook-shop keepers, pastry shop keepers, either at home or on the streets. Other Chinese are tailors, boot makers, shoemakers, soap makers. In a word it would be difficult to enumerate all the kinds of industries they engage in. Moreover they send their savings regularly to China."

Mallat described a Chinese using an abacus and concluded that though the Chinese have a reputation as good accountants "they do not know decimal calculation; they also have account books, but it seems that they are hardly skilled in what is properly called bookkeeping."

That of course is his point of view. What is common to all travel accounts of the Philippines is the graphic description of eye, ear and nose cleaning by Chinese that supplements many illustrations of this kind of livelihood in old books:

"It is very strange to watch without being seen, this part of their toilette, which is done with the aid of a razor shaped like a triangular chopping-knife. The barber runs a kind of small brush on the lids, the mucous membrane, on the cartilage of the lower lid and even on the eyeball to stimulate a tickling sensation: this operation causes a lot of ophthalmias.

"Cleaning of the nose and ears, by means of pins and small, especially made instruments is still the domain of Chinese barbers ... They put their customers to sleep by touches and truly magnetic frictions; they run their hands from head to the shoulders and even the armpits and then shave the customer, and when the operation is finished, the latter gets up, stretches his arms and yawns as if after a long sleep."

There is a lot of material on the Chinese in the Philippines waiting to be read and help us see their influence on our history and our culture.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Revenues and expenditures of Aguinaldo government

Revenues and expenditures of Aguinaldo government

Posted 01:22am (Mla time) Feb 04, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the February 4, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

SOME readers have sent appreciative e-mail regarding the way this column makes history relevant by connecting it to current events. I wish some of my critics feel the same way, particularly the constipated ones who told me directly that this column could be better used to comment on current social issues. Writing history, they say, is like aping an ostrich that hides its head in the sand but leaves its body in full view. When I replied that the past can also be a way of addressing the present as well as the uncertain future, they countered that I wrote in a colonial language, English, and that my columns hardly deal with the masses or women, sectors that are marginalized both in the present and in the past.

Perhaps my view of history is skewed because of the primary sources that are often written by men for men. I envy novelists who are not limited by the documents and have license to use the imagination freely to develop a story.

Today being the 106th anniversary of the beginning of the Filipino-American War, I tried to find something new by browsing over the hefty volumes of "The Philippine Insurrection against the United States," these being a mass of documents compiled by J.R.M. Taylor at the turn of the last century. It is the second time that the commemoration is being held in Manila, after the marker and the site were moved from San Juan Bridge last year. I have covered and used most of the material on the first shot fired in 1899 that resulted in the ratification of the 1898 Treaty of Paris and eventually the purchase of the Philippines by the United States from Spain -- land and people -- lock, stock, and barrel for $20 million.

Then serendipity struck again. One of the folded pages opened up to reveal the sources of revenue for the Emilio Aguinaldo government in 1898 as reported from the provinces of Pampanga and Pangasinan. This may be stale data now, but in the light of the current debates on value-added tax (VAT) the material gains some significance, at least for me.

I didn't really mind the progress of the VAT bill in Congress until they exempted doctors and lawyers. That made me see red, but that wasn't as bad as imposing VAT on books. You would think that books and book paper should be considered basic commodities like rice and exempted, but the desire to bring in more revenue for the government overrides the more important task of forming better citizens through reading. Some people in the finance department and Congress should be forced to view that arresting National Bookstore advertisement on investing in your mind. This shows a man spending money and time in a gym resulting in a buff body but a small mind. Maybe the exemptions should be restudied and books considered nourishment for the mind as food and drink is for the body.

The long document of 1898 from Pampanga was more detailed than the one from Pangasinan, with two separate columns clearly stating income from taxes and the expenditures of government. The funds came from taxes -- direct, indirect, local, and "voluntary" (which in those days could be interpreted as a patriotic duty if voluntary and extortion if one was forced and thus gave reluctantly). General obligations of government covered salaries and supplies for government employees and offices. Obligations also covered prisons (both for criminals and for the Spanish prisoners of war) as well as "church servants," an allocation that today would raise howls about the separation of church and state.

Citizens paid some sort of direct tax, though it is not so clear what this is and how much was required. Perhaps it was a poll tax or “cedula.” What is interesting though is the breakdown for indirect taxes: civil suits, revenue from lands (confiscated) from the religious orders, rental from land and buildings, fines, and taxes on forestry products. Local taxes included carriage licenses, fees on the operation of slaughterhouses and public markets, and inscription of births, deaths, marriage contracts and marriage banns in the civil registry. Fees were collected for the ownership of large cattle, as well as personal and real property. Fishing rights were given out and became a source of revenue, the same as the operation of ferries. One half of a “centimo” [centavo] was charged for each pound of meat sold.

Expenses of the government were arranged according to department. Local headquarters meant salaries for personnel, office supplies, books and even "illumination," suggesting that offices were open till dark. Funds were allotted for communications, police, public health (supplies and salaries for “mediquillos”), military officers and public instruction (salaries for teachers of primary instruction of both sexes, supplies and rental of school houses). There seems to have been no budget for intermediate grades and college. Public works got money for construction and repair of buildings but none for roads and bridges. "Church servants" happened to be a bell-ringer and two singers for religious services.

Our budget today is more complicated and bigger than that of 1898, but the effort to balance the books and keep the government afloat remains a problem to be addressed annually.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Fan language

Fan language

Posted 01:26am (Mla time) Feb 02, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A13 of the February 2, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

BEING typecast as a historical relic is an occupational hazard. My students probably assume, from my lectures, that Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio were my classmates in kindergarten. When I annotate some hazy old photographs, coaxing out a sense of life in the late 19th-century Philippines, they marvel how I can do it if I hadn't lived in the past.

I bring new light into required readings by highlighting lusty passages in "Noli Me Tangere" and ask if the sexual undertones are really in the text or merely another example of Ambeth Ocampo over-reading. In Chapter 25 Maria Clara and her friends are wading in a river searching for heron's nests believed to make people who held them invisible. Here was a brief description of Maria Clara that made me remember Nick Joaquin who insisted that Rizal was so enamored of his tragic heroine that his language turns mushy and romantic whenever Maria Clara enters the scene:

"At last, Maria Clara emerged from the bath accompanied by her friends, fresh as a rose opening its petals with the first dew, covered with sparks of fire from the early morning sun. Her first smile was for Crisostomo, and the first cloud on her brow for Padre Salvi..."

A few paragraphs before earlier, we find the friar hiding in the bushes and this is what he sees (quotations are from the translation by Soledad Lacson-Locsin):

"Their legs were wet up to the knees, the wide folds of their bathing skirts outlining the gracious curves of their thighs. Their hair hung loose and their arms were bare. They wore striped gay-colored blouses ... Pale and motionless, the religious Actaeon watched this chaste Diana: his sunken eyes glistening at the sight of her beautifully molded white arms, the graceful neck ending in a suggestion of a bosom. The diminutive rosy feet playing in the water aroused strange sensations and feelings in his impoverished, starved being and made him dream of new visions in his fevered mind."

The above texts reflect what was considered sexually attractive in those days: bare arms, a good neck or nape, tiny rosy feet. These appear very tame compared to the present when you can find more flesh and steamy action in magazines or pirated VCDs. Rizal's daring seems corny in comparison with Xerex Xaviera but one can see that there is value in leaving some things to the imagination.

For many students raised on heavily edited high school texts (or chapter summaries or, much worse, the badly drawn black-and-white “komiks” version) like the above, are like a revelation. Rizal can be seen in a new light: he could be funny and he could actually laugh, unlike all the glum and brooding monuments we have of him all over the archipelago.

When people take the trouble to read through Rizal's texts, they get a revelation. We can never shake off the national hero bit and that makes reading him an imposition, an obligation of a good citizen. I tell my classes that Rizal's greatest misfortune was becoming our national hero. If he had not been so exalted, maybe more people would read him for pleasure and learn more about the past and themselves.

There is something about the late 19th century that made things more interesting: the use of codes and symbols, which probably made people more aware of things below the surface. For example, the most common gadget Filipinos have these days is the cell phone. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It comes in a rainbow of colors and can be customized and accessorized into something mildly fashionable by hanging charms on them or even putting them inside various sheaths from something as ordinary as used eye or sunglass boxes to Louis Vuitton key holders minus the keys. These things transmit voice, fax, e-mail and even pictures. What would our history have been like if our heroes had the same gadgets a century ago?

Things were indirect then, social etiquette restrictive. In the wonderful opening chapter of the "Noli," Rizal describes the living room segregated by sex, with men on one side and women on the other. Ibarra says the women "open their mouths to suppress yawns, but cover their faces instantly with their fans, scarcely making a sound. Whatever attempts at conversation are ventured dwindle into monosyllables, like the sounds one hears at night, caused by rats and lizards. Is it, perhaps the different images of Our Lady hanging from the wall between the mirrors, which makes them silent and assume a religious composure; or are the women here an exception?"

A Filipino gentleman in Rizal's time would have to be conversant with the non-verbal language used by women, and I don't mean text messaging. Communication was discreetly made through the main feminine accessories of the time-not cell phones, but fans and handkerchiefs. If a woman covered half her face with her fan, she meant, "Follow me." If she counted the ribs it meant, "I want to talk to you" If she carried the fan on the right hand, she was saying, "I want to have a lover," if on the left, "I'm already taken." To fan herself briskly did not mean it was hot, but rather "I have great love for you." To fan slowly was to say, "You mean nothing to me." And to put the fan away meant, "I don't want to be courted." Worst was to close the fan suddenly, which said, "I hate you."

So when you re-read the "Noli," look out for other clues and know that the women once described as “mahinhin” were more daring than we think. If only they were not so repressed.