Living our history

Last week, I received an email from historian Dr. Reynaldo C. Ileto because had I lamented that the anniversary of the First Republic of the Philippines (23 January 1899) is never celebrated with the pride, pomp, and circumstance it deserves.  I also said Emilio Aguinaldo who is often shown in a bad light, as in the movie “Heneral Luna,” should be given credit for forcing the First Republic through despite all odds. Dr. Ileto agreed we should really be kinder to Heneral Miong.

He asked if I had read his book (Knowledge and Pacification, on the US Conquest and the writing of Philippine History), in particular Chapter 7. “I am also waiting to hear what you think of my inclusion in Chapter 7 of the interventions of Bishop Cesar Ma. Guerrero and the young Leon Ma. Guerrero in the ongoing “unfinished revolution of the 1940s,” he said.

Chapter 7 was intriguing; so was Chapter 9. He wrote about Bishop Cesar Maria Guerrero, (Chapter 9) my grandfather Alfredo’s brother, a secular priest who studied in Rome for 8 years.  We used to call him “Lolo Obispo” and looked forward to his infrequent visits to Manila because he would celebrate Mass at home on a special table in the living room.  “Santo y sabio,” saintly and wise, he was so holy the devil would taunt and push him while he was praying; he was reputed to be an exorcist.

Dr. Ileto put  Bishop Guerrero’s life in the proper perspective: In 1943, during the Second Republic under the Japanese Occupation, he was the auxiliary bishop of Manila, second only to Archbishop of Manila Michael O’Doherty, whose functions were curtailed because he was an Irish-American.   Bishop Guerrero asked for President Jose Laurel’s intercession   to get the Japanese authorities to approve the Filipinization of the Church; in exchange, he would harness  Church support for the educational policies of President Laurel, in particular making the works of Rizal and other heroes of the Revolution required reading for all schools. Archbishop O’Doherty lost no time in declaring Bishop Guerrero a nasty collaborator.

As a result, the Church was split into two camps, one led by Archbishop O’Doherty and his staunchly pro-American protégé, Fr. Rufino Santos (later cardinal); the other was headed by Bishop Guerrero who  exploited the Japanese policy of de-Americanization to revive the cause of Gomburza and reconnect the Church to the spirit of 1872.  That was his hidden agenda, according to Dr. Ileto.  He made a “de facto coup” and took control of the Manila archdiocese while Fr. Rufino Santos languished in prison for his recalcitrance.  From another source, I learned that Bishop Guerrero was imprisoned in Novaliches when Gen. MacArthur returned; yet he was later consecrated as bishop of Angeles, Pampanga. How strange for a “collaborator” to get a highly prized and sought-after post.

In the late 1950s  during the Rizal Bill controversy, Bishop Guerrero  supported Senators Recto and Laurel and refused to sign that letter drafted by Archbishop Rufino Santos, but his signature was forged. He resigned quietly and retired at the Hospicio de San Jose.  I remember my mother telling us that Lolo Obispo said all Filipinos should read the Noli and Fili, so we did in the unexpurgated original.

In Chapter 7, “the young Leon Ma. Guerrero,” nephew of the bishop, my mother’s elder brother figured rather prominently. He shook the political scene when he made a speech titled “Asia for the Asians” at a law school in Manila. That could have passed unnoticed, had he not held an important position in government; he happened to be the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs of President Ramon Magsaysay who was   in the clutches of the USA. The rumor mills hummed that the Americans were pressuring Pres. Magsaysay to fire him.

Dr. Ileto said that at the height of the controversy caused by that fateful speech, “Guerrero’s early career as a diplomat in the 1943 Republic was dug up, and he was accused of resurrecting a slogan of attributed to the ‘dark age’ of Japanese Occupation.” During the Japanese Occupation, he was working for Foreign Minister Claro M. Recto, a staunch supporter of “fellow colonized Asians” in the throes of their independence movements.

L. M. Guerrero was accused of “preaching neutralism,” taboo for the Americans who had earlier denied President Quezon’s request that the Philippines be declared neutral during WW II. L.M. Guerrero was derided for allegedly supporting Communist states in Asia. President Magsaysay did not fire him but banished him to the Court of St. James as the first Philippine ambassador to Great Britain (and Scandinavian countries). After eight years in London, he was sent to Spain, then to India, then to Mexico (accredited to Central American countries) and to Yugoslavia, his last post. Though his diplomatic career was illustrious, Ambassador Guerrero was a virtual exile; no president wanted him around, never was he allowed serving in the Home Office in between assignments.

In Dr. Ileto’s second book (his first was the equally edifying Pasyon and Revolution), he points out that Philippine Independence was declared at various historical junctures — by Aguinaldo on 12 June 1898, by Jose Laurel   in October, 1943, and by Manuel Roxas on 4 July 1946. Although  the three occasions varied in significance,  Filipinos from all walks of life shed tears at the mere sight of our flag unfurled and flying alone.  Independence has always been an obsession. The other side of the coin   is the “unfinished revolution” — not just the one in 1896-1898, unfinished because the USA crushed the First Philippine Republic, but also the other, Laurel’s “assertive nationalism” of 1944-45, interrupted when MacArthur returned to “liberate” us. “Unfinished Revolution” was Pres. Diosdado Macapagal’s battlecry, so he moved our Independence   from 4 July to 12 June, to the chagrin of the Americans.  Like the lives of Cesar and Leon, each one of us is intimately intertwined with  an unfinished history.