Recovering History

Nereo LujanAs I write this, I have just finished Chapter 12 of The Devil’s Causeway: The True Story of America’s First Prisoners of War in the Philippines and the Heroic Expedition Sent to Their Rescue. I have 11 chapters more to go.

The book is about the 15 American sailors who were ambushed and captured by Filipino insurgents, and held as prisoners of war, after they were sent to rescue a band of starving Spanish soldiers under siege in Baler, Tayabas (now Quezon).

It’s a story that never appeared in our history books because many of our historians simply focused on dates and personalities. Mark Twain once said that “the very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.”

Indeed, most of the historical accounts that we read today were written from the point of view of those who wrote them. The Spaniards labeled the Igorots as “savages” but the savages were able to build the rice terraces, a manifestation that they already had engineering skills long before Ferdinand Magellan set foot in the Philippine soils.

Our history was written  fromthe standpoint of the elite, reason why most of the “popular” heroes that we have now are from the ruling class. Thus, the poor Macario Sakay of Tondo, Manila and Papa Isio of Isabela, Negros Occidental were called brigands and not “revolucionarios” like Emilio Aguinaldo and Gregorio del Pilar.

Rewriting history by rectifying its errors is not a bad idea. In fact, we have nothing to lose but have everything to gain if we correct the faults not only committed by past history writers but also those by the contemporary ones.

Let me cite some examples.

Calling the Iloilo Golf and Country Club in Santa Barbara, Iloilo as the first golf course in Philippines is not entirely correct. The correct label for it is “the oldest existing golf course in the Philippines”, while the honor of being the “first” golf course in the country belongs to the Polo Golf Course.

The Polo Golf Course was a short nine-hole layout on a property owned by the Avanceñas in Barrio Polo, Arevalo. It was founded by the late Chief Justice Ramon Avanceña and counted as its members the likes of Mariano Cacho, Oscar Ledesma, Tomas Confesor, and the brothers Eugenio and Fernando Lopez.

These people wanted to play golf too but because they were Filipinos, they could not do it at the golf course in Santa Barbara because that one was exclusive for the Scots, the British and the Americans.

At the lobby of the Iloilo Provincial Capitol we can see portraits of the governors of Iloilo starting with General Martin Delgado. There was one past governor who was not included there – Feliciano Marañon, the chair of the Liga ng mga Barangay during the term of then Gov. Simplicio Griño.

In the 1992 elections, all elected officials who ran for public office were required to resign their posts, and the only one left then at the Iloilo Provincial Capitol was Marañon because he was not a candidate. Thus, by law of succession, he became governor.

Marañon was not just an Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the Governor, nor just an Acting Governor. He was a full-fledged Governor and deserves a portrait at the Halls of Governors, even if he served only for less than a year. Patricio Confesor also served less than a year and his picture is there too!

In my hometown in Cabatuan, the Cabatuan Central Elementary School celebrated its centennial in 2009 because the lot where the school now stands was supposedly donated in 1909. But history researcher Ronnie Casalmir found records showing that the Cabatuan Public School was opened by the Americans much earlier, although not necessarily on the site at Miravite Street.

These include accounts saying that a certain Captain Boardman was already teaching English in a Cabatuan public school in 1900; that Senator Tomas Confesor was listed to have finished his elementary education from the Cabatuan Public School in 1904; and that in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 in Missouri, the Cabatuan Public School had won an award.

As I said, in rewriting history by rectifying its errors, we have nothing to lose but everything to gain. The examples that I gave may be trivial but we need to realize that in history, there are still so many things that remain misplaced and must be recovered. And the recoveries of these accounts should lead to the rectification of the many “truths” that we accept today.

As historian David Thelen said, “The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present.”