YEARNING TO BREATH FREE
From everyday life in the Philippines in the mid-1800s up to 1946 when the country regained its full independence to some of the greatest moments in its history during this period, these photos immortalize the part of our Filipino her itage when the nation was being proudly built as a modern state.
This particular slideshow contains. 39 images . each of which. have been selected from various public and private collections from the Philippines and around the world. The other three sister websites of Filipinos in Auckland, Christchurch and Hamilton res pectively, also display slideshows on their own ‘The Legacy’ page but contain, in most part, different images. Three selection buttons are activated and appear by hovering your mouse pointer immediately below each image to allow you to go back, pause or proceed forward. Otherwise, the slideshow automatically changes image every four seconds or so.
Spain’s legacy to the Filipino people was the conversion of a majority to the Spanish flavour of Roman Catholicism and the creation of a privileged landed class where none existed before the coming of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and followed by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565.
Towards the end of their rule in latter part of the 19th century abuses and sup pression by the Spaniards of a people be longing to be free again gave rise to a peaceful Propaganda Movement with aims for equality between Filipinos and Spaniards through adoption of reform that included the expulsion of the hated Spanish friars and the return of lands they appropriated from the Filipinos; Filipino representation in the Spanish Cortes; freedom of the press and religious tolerance; equality in treatment and payment for both peninsular and insular civil servants; and equality for all before the law. But Spain resisted all attempts to change. What they reaped was even more agitation and finally, their expul sion.
The spark that ignited the canon volleys finally arrived with the arrest and trial of propagandist Dr. Jose Rizal and author of the books Noli Mi Tangere (Touch Me Not) – the story of the reformist Crisostomo Ibarra who, upon his return to the Philippines from his studies in Europe, was faced with the oppressive and dec adent Spanish institutions; and, the El Filibusterismo (Reign of Greed) Rizal’s magnum opus in this sequel which revolves around the efforts of Simon, the returning and disguised Crisostomo of Noli Me Tangere, to exact revenge against the Spaniards by initiating a revolution.
His public execution at dawn by a firing squad at the field of Bagumbayan in Luneta in December 1896 gave fresh momentum to simmering Filipino rebels to finally resort to arms and expel the Spaniards in 1898. The Revolution that soon ensued is also heralded as the first anti-colonial independence movement in Asia. It also gave birth to the First Philippine Republic inaugurated in Biak-na-Bato in the province of Bulacan.
A dedicated nationalist, physician, poet, novelist, historian, painter, sculptor, lin guist, educator, anthropologist, ethnologist, sportsman and traveller, Jose Rizal’s appear inexhaustible. His famous novels, “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” exposed the abuses of the Spanish authorities and inspired the 1896 Revolution. His martyrdom fanned the patriotic spirit of Filipinos and solidified their craving for nationhood. His two novels, whose telling truths exploded in the hearts of his countrymen, opened their eyes to the cancer of Spanish oppression. Like bunker-buster bombs, these powerful stories destroyed the metaphorical caves and dungeons of the friars, full of simony and injustice, into whose oblivion his people had been cast for nearly four centuries. Rizal was shot in the back, like a traitor, on Bagumbayan Field, on Dec. 30, 1896, at the instigation of Catholic friars, who saw in his brilliant mind and satiric pen, the dying light of the Spanish Empire, and the death knell of their centuries-old religious dictatorship.
THE ONCE DIVIDED BECOME ONE
General Emilio Aguinaldo’s proclamations gradually introduced the idea that all the inhabitants of the Philippines are Filipinos. Even as the struggle for indepen dence was started and waged mostly by the Tagalog people in Luzon, the term ‘Filipino’ was used by Spanish authorities to refer only to persons born in the ar chipelago (the ‘Insulares’).
Philippine historian Leonard Andaya claims that what brought the Philippine Revolution to the non-Tagalog areas was Aguinaldo’s policy of encouraging his military officials to return to their home province and mobilise local support and thus it eventually spread to the rest of Luzon, the Visayas and some parts of Mindanao. Indeed, the revolution against Spain was one of the few times where there was a convergence in the nationalist movements of the Filipino masses and the elite, a convergence that would repeat itself again in two People Power Revo lutions – the ousting of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986 and the removal of President Erap Estrada in January 2001, respectively.
We make no mistake in saying that the Philippine Revolution of 1898 was not a purposeless upheaval; rather, its philosophy can be traced to the ideas of the French Enlightenment and, in fact, drew its inspiration from the exercise of historic revolutionary events waged in Europe and the Americas. Ironically, when its own event in Philippine history occurred it also happened to coincide with the start of the Spanish-American War half-way around the globe. Because it had the wherewithal to do so, American military forces were sent rushing to the Philippines escorted by its Pacific Armada to pummel and neutralize Spain’s Asiatic Fleet anchored in Manila Bay.
DEMOCRACY TAKES HOLD IN ASIA
A young country like the United States – founded on democratic principles of liberty, equality and social justice and that it was able to trounce an Imperial and repressive European colonial power like Spain would have you thinking that they’d leave the scene of a backyard brawl on someone else’s soil. But, it didn’t happen that way. Instead, they decided to extend their stay for nearly the next 50-years in the Philippines. On December 21, 1898, President McKinley issued a ‘Proclamation of Benevolent Assimilation’. The proclamation reads in part:
“Finally, it should be the earnest wish and paramount aim of the military administration to win the confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabi tants of the Philippines by assuring them in every possible way that full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of free peoples, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule.”
This was written, notwithstanding that Gen. Aguinaldo had already earlier that year proclaimed an insurgent dictatorial government in the Philippines on May 24, 1898; proclaimed Philippine Independence from Spain on June 12, 1898; and, quickly changed the insurgent dictatorial government to a revolutionary one on June 23, 1898 preparing the way for Philippine nationhood in the sense it was understood by other countries around the world at the time.
To convene and create a Congress which would draft a constitution Aguinaldo wanted a Philippine constitution to complete the required trimmings of a sov ereign nation-state, a flag, army, government, and constitution.
In his actions, Aguinaldo was advised by Apolinario Mabini who became known as the “Sublime Paralytic” because his spirit was not deterred by his physical handicap, and the “Brains of the Revolution” due to his intellectual acumen.
On January 21, 1899, Aguinaldo proclaimed the Malolos Constitution the result of work undertaken by the Malolos Congress. Two days later, the Philippine Re public was inaugurated in Malolos, Bulacan, the new capital of the fledging Philippine government and for the first time in its history as a modern state, the Philippine flag – the very same one sewn in Hongkong by the womenfolk of the re volutionaries, was officially unfurled.
THE WANNABE IMPERIALISTS
Meanwhile, while all of this was happening, the McKinley proclamation was sent to General Elwell Otis, the U.S. military commander in the Philippines at the time. Somehow and for reasons all of his own Otis sends Emilio Aguinaldo – the new President of the Philippine Republic, a version of the proclamation which he bowdlerized by removing the mention of U.S. sovereignty “to stress our benevo lent purpose” and not “offend Filipino sensibilities” by substituting “free people” for “supremecy of the United States,” and deleting “to exercise future domina tion”.
However, General Otis had also sent an unaltered copy of the proclamation to General Marcus Miller in Iloilo City who, unaware that an altered version had been sent to Aguinaldo, passed a copy of that to a Filipino official there. This immediately prompted Aguinaldo to act by issuing a counter-proclamation on January 5 1899 read as thus:
“My government cannot remain indifferent in view of such a violent and aggressive seizure of a portion of its territory by a nation which arrogated to itself the title of champion of oppressed nations. Thus it is that my gov ernment is disposed to open hostilities if the American troops attempt to take forcible possession of the Visayan islands. I denounce these acts before the world, in order that the conscience of mankind may pronounce its infallible verdict as to who are true oppressors of nations and the torment ors of mankind.”
In a revised proclamation issued the same day, Aguinaldo protested “most solemnly against his intrusion of the United States Government on the sovereign ty of these islands.” Then, on February 4, 1899, an American soldier – Private William Grayson, shoots dead a Filipino soldier at the bridge of San Juan, Manila. The fatal shot was followed by an immediate U.S. offensive on the Filipino lines. This marked the beginning of the Philippine-American War, which lasted for three years and up until the establishment of the civilian colonial government of Governor-General William Howard Taft on July 4, 1902.
The timing of the San Juan incident has long been held suspect since it happened just two days before the U.S. Congress was scheduled to ratify the Treaty of Paris on February 6, 1899. Under this treaty, Spain officially ceded the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the United States in exchange for $20-million.
SENTIMENT OF A SANER MIND
Since the U.S. Congress, like the American public, was evenly split between the anti-imperialists and pro-annexationists who coveted large commercial gains they could reap from huge plantations in Spain’s colonies in Asia and the Ame ricas, the treaty was expected to experience rough sailing when submitted to the Chamber for ratification. But the San Juan Bridge incident in Manila and the outbreak of the Philippine American War tilted sentiment in favor of acquiring the Philippines, and thus the treaty was ratified by the U.S. Congress.
The die was cast. But even with this duplicity of mind on the part of the American powers-that-were at the time, Mark Twain – America’s most famous humorist still had this to write about the whole charade.
“You ask me about what is called imperialism. Well, I have formed views about that question. I am at the disadvantage of not knowing whether our people are for or against spreading themselves over the face of the globe. I should be sorry if they are, for I don’t think that it is wise or a necessary development.
There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it – perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands – but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector – not try to get them under our heel.
We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a govern ment that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a govern ment according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now – why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.”
THE ROAD TO RESTORATION
It took the Japanese, who who aggressively deployed their armed forces to seize control over Asia’s rich natural resources in the mid-1920s and the whole of the 1930s, to physically oust the Americans from the Philippines starting with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 8, 1941 and a similar action against Subic Naval Base in the Philippines the following day.
The attack on Hawaii and the Philippines had several major aims. First, it inten ded to destroy important American fleet units stationed in major naval bases, thereby preventing the Pacific Fleet from interfering with Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies and Malaya. Second, it was hoped to buy time for Japan to consolidate its position and increase its naval strength. Lastly, it was meant to deliver a severe blow to American morale, one which would discourage them from committing to a war extending into the western Pacific Ocean and Dutch East Indies.
The overall intention of these aims was to enable Japan to conquer Southeast Asia quickly and without interference under the guise of its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere – a concept created and promulgated during the Shōwa era by the government and military of the Empire of Japan. It represented the desire to create a self-sufficient “bloc of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western powers.”
But things had changed in the fundamental relationship between Filipinos and the Americans – from one which started acrimoniously to one that had them be come staunch allies by the time the U.S. Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934. This Act designated the Philippines – from 1935 to 1946, as a coun try under commonwealth with the United States and one with free elections, its own constitution, a strong executive, a unicameral National Assembly, and a Supreme Court, all composed entirely of Filipinos after which period the Com monwealth would end and the Philippines proclaimed as an independent repub lic (i.e., the Second Philippine Republic).
THE BONDS OF BROTHERHOOD
Despite odds stacked against it, the Philippines fell after a valiant struggle against the invading Imperial Japanese forces. The Battles of Bataan and Corregidor already attested to strong bonds of friendship and brotherhood which had formed earlier and expressed itself through the splitting of bone, spilling of blood and the sacrifice of life to repel them.
The departure of General MacArthur and his command staff from Corregidor in PT boats headed towards safe haven in Australia and subsequent incarceration of Filipino and American soldiers in the POW encampments of Capas in Tarlac pro vince following the infamous Death March from Bataan, did not end the reso lute resistance of those left behind.
The Filipinos who managed to elude or escape formed hundreds of smaller guer rilla units which kept the Japanese forces and their military resources in the archipelago harassed and engaged thereby delaying Japan’s plans to lurch forward towards both Australia and New Zealand to complete their hold over the Western Pacific. This bought precious time for MacArthur’s forces to re-group and strengthen themselves in force for a counter-attack which the enemy knew all too well was coming.
Filipino guerrillas would also play a very significant role during the liberation of the Philippines. One guerrilla unit came to substitute for a regularly constituted American division, and other guerrilla forces of battalion and regimental size sup plemented the efforts of the U.S. Army units.
In that developing environment, the Japanese Imperial General Staff decided to make the Philippines their final line of defense, and to stop the American advance toward Japan. They were now aware of the cunning, tenacity and ferocity of Filipino warriors through first-hand experience. They sent every available sol dier, airplane and naval vessel into the defense of the Philippines knowing the arrival of the American forces would compound their problems holding on to the precious strategic resources of the Philippines.
The opening round started came years later in1945 with the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944 and subsequent troop landings in Mindoro island and Lingayen Gulf in Luzon that culminated in the Battle of Manila, leaving a once beautiful city of superlative charm and culture utterly ruined but a Philippines nevertheless liberated and the Commonwealth of the Philippines restored as its price in full payment.
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MEANING OF THE WHOLE OF US
But even as peace in the Land of the Morning Sun and the Pearl of the Orient had been restored, the much deeper wounds inflicted on the Filipino psyche as a result of the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines still linger. The deprivation and atrocities endured by the Filipino people in upholding their yearning to be free also divided them as a large minority of them succumbed to collaboration with the Japanese in order to gain favour and advantage and escape the mass suffering of the general population under brutal occupation conditions. The spirit of ‘bayanihan’ eroded and the common trust and respect Filipinos had always for their own people gave way to mistrust, irreparable divisions and re taliation.
Now this may grate your ears and make you cringe in the face of others but truth be told so we’ll mention it anyway. The only thing these days that seems common amongst a number of Filipinos is their display of disunity which erupts often enough. Another thing that’s also evident is the abject lack of consensus on just about anything from type of leadership, to issues of a social nature and even trivialities. Now let’s take that a little further even if it hurts to continue reading or hearing about it.
We succumb to childish mentalities and behaviours that reinforce a collective amnesia about our proud heritage. As a result, what apparently binds us are re lative proximities such as belonging to the same region in the Philippines, the same clan or tribal group, the same school or institution, the same church, same club, same association and so on. These things do not inspire self-conviction and commitment. They all come and go and anything else would be fleeting. We for get about what is enduring about ourselves as a people.
Filipinos, whether living in the Philippines or residing elsewhere in the world today should be grounded on some authentic ‘collective spirituality’ – not neces sarily in the religious sense, but moral, social, and political and one arising from the bloody struggles that our forefathers chose to bear for us to remain free. These gifts bestowed to us by earlier generations cannot be taken superfluously.
These days, even religious practices are geared towards fulfilling private or pers onal concerns, relegating a mere utilitarian role to the wider and more important social component. To be honest, that mode of thinking is senseless because the collective – meaning the whole of us, is increasingly being regarded as being around only for the individual no matter how idiosyncratic it may be. Many Filipinos today forget that the reasons and meaning behind the legacy bestowed upon us bears the reverse. We are one people.
We have a past which exalts us, which tells us that we have a revolutionary trad ition, and that above all, we are a heroic people. Must we forget then that we all are inheritors of a much deeper ideology – one that is shared in equal measure amongst all Filipinos that would inspire personal or moral conviction beyond mere emotionalism or sentimentalism? Consider this: the heritage of any people can only be sustained if it’s rooted on more time less principles but yet peculiar only to those who uphold it. It cannot be any thing else than monolithic and sliding backwards towards the other end of the scale is self-destructive in every sense of the word.
If Filipinos have come to New Zealand, Australia or any other country for that matter in scales as large as the Filipino Diaspora wishing some kind of acceptance and recognition from other cultures as basis for their own self-acceptance then that is because of their ignorance and lack of some clear, stable, objective, and independent benchmark by which they can measure themselves in terms of cri teria relative to other cultures. If they believe that assimilation is a process of assuming the native traits of people of other cultures as a route towards univer sal acceptance, then they willingly abdicate the very core of themselves in the pro cess.
We no longer have to redefine or reinvent ourselves any more than people of other nationalities who have made New Zealand their home. That’s been done for us in the past and we have history on our side to bear witness to it all. Rather, we should continue to uphold the legacy that is already ours in terms of a clear ideal which by itself is sufficient and universally acceptable to all Filipinos regardless of their subgroup, subculture, or other inherent local diversities.
Filipinos should never allow conflicting petty aspects about themselves to over whelm the agreed ones. And when we do agree, then the uplifting and progress ive would then be inherently sustainable, stable, and enduring. It is in that space where we can contribute fully to the building of our adopted country and secure a permanent place in its own history grounded on the glorious legacy of our own home country – the Philippines.
THE BLESSINGS YOU BRING
We hope that this collection of sublime photographs, however limited it is in breadth and scope, will bring every Filipino-Kiwi now residing in New Zealand and elsewhere a sense of pride in knowing that their parents’ and grandparents’ sacrifice is one of the important reasons why they can now live in a country that was shielded from being attacked and occupied by a foreign enemy force that would have changed the course of its own history and culture. If the Filipinos who fought, resisted and died in WWII somehow failed to overcome and achieve victory in that momentous struggle and if their predecessors failed to unshackle themselves from the heavy yolk of colonial masters, then you probably wouldn’t be here today.
So even as you may now face some daily struggle to make a new life for your selves and your kin, may you and your descendants who are now here in Aotea roa continue to be a humble blessing to all its other inhabitants regardless of colour or creed – one that is rooted from that solemn legacy you can be proud to claim as owner. Mabuhay!