Her master classes

My siblings and I were not advanced students of performing arts and our ages varied markedly, but that did not deter our mother from giving us her master classes in history. Without fail, on the 4th of February as we gathered for a family meal, she could tell us about the significance of that day. “What every Filipino should know and never forget,” she always began, “is that we had a First Republic and brave soldiers, Filipinos like us, were guarding the agreed dividing line at the San Juan bridge, between the US forces and the army of the Republic of the Philippines, when an American soldier shot a Filipino soldier who was patrolling the San Juan bridge, and the Filipino-American war broke out.” She emphasized that we Filipinos have been taught to forget that period of our history, so 4 February 1899 is a day we must always remember with our hearts and minds.

“Why is it important for us to remember that night and the battles that followed? Filipinos today are often told that we are lost and foundering, that we find it hard to solve our problems. That is because those who do not know the past will never understand the present; much less know how to chart our future (she was paraphrasing Rizal). That is why we must remember 4 February 1899; we must remember where we came from.” She was purposefully planting the seeds of nationalism.

That was to be expected of a mother who was raised in an atmosphere of nationalism. Both her maternal and paternal grandfathers were born in the middle of the 19th century and were sons of the Revolution and the First Republic. Dr. Leon Ma. Guerrero, the eminent botanist, and his son Alfredo (Mommy’s father) witnessed Rizal’s execution. Later, he was a delegate to the Malolos Congress and director of the Universidad Literaria. Gabriel Beato Franciso, her maternal grandpa, wrote and produced anti-American zarzuelas and was jailed after each performance. “We were not naked savages the American politicians said we were,” she declared. “We wrote and spoke a world language, in addition to our own languages. Our young men won prizes in painting, music, and literature in the capitals of Europe. We were Christians, civilized Asians with our own unique culture. We were a free people who had fought for our independence and set up our own republic. That is where we all came from, that is why we must revisit 4 February 1899 to save ourselves today.”

In the 1990’s, Mayor Alfredo S. Lim appointed my mother chairperson of the Manila Historical Commission and her main task was to organize the commemorations of Filipino heroes who lived or studied in Manila and important historical events that occurred in the country’s capital. She was in her element as the master classes in history suddenly had a larger audience that comprised barangay officials, public school students, teachers and principals. Members of the diplomatic corps were invited as well as an assortment of cabinet members and department secretaries. The Manila City Band played patriotic songs and honor guards from the Philippine Army directed the wreath-laying ceremonies. Mayor Alfredo S. Lim delivered the memorial speeches.

In 2008, I was recruited to flesh out the “master classes.” A decade earlier, when I was secretary of tourism, the 99th anniversary of the Philippine-American war was observed under a cloud of controversy. The venerable Dr. Benito Legarda Jr. told my mother that the Philippine-American War did not begin at the San Juan Bridge, but at the corner of Silencio and Sociego streets in Old Santa Mesa. That placed then President Joseph Estrada in a tight spot because he used to be the mayor of San Juan and his constituents were up in arms when the chairman of the National Historical Commission tried to remove the official marker from San Juan Bridge. To avoid bloodshed, my mother had a diplomatic solution: Memorial ceremonies were held in both places and at a certain point, those in Santa Mesa marched to the San Juan Bridge.

However, the 111th commemoration was held in Santa Mesa and Mayor Lim sounded as if he were given the master class. He declared: “Only a few Filipinos realize the true importance of this historical event. On this site, the very first shot, which started the Filipino-American War of 1899, was fired. It was a war that changed our nation and besmirched the image of the United States of America in our eyes.

“We Filipinos had just won our revolution against Spain,” the mayor continued. “We had established our own First Philippine Republic. We had a Constitution, a Congress in Malolos, an army, a Cabinet, we even had a university when America, whom we thought was a friend and ally, decided to conquer us. By so doing, the United States of America violated its own principles of equality and liberty for all, and became just another colonizer.”

Mayor Lim spoke about that Filipino soldier, Lt. Grey from San Juan, who sent a telegram to the Filipino generals on furlough (it was a Sunday) in Bulacan, visiting their families; it was also the wedding day of one of them. “But, all the officers rushed back to join the counter-attack and gave the orders to respond to America’s challenge. A fierce battle erupted, from San Juan and Mandaluyong all the way to Caloocan. The US Congress afterwards declared the Filipinos had treacherously started hostilities. It was a long and bitter war; the USA insisted on calling it an “insurrection” and the Filipino fighters, “insurrectos.”

That war of conquest was declared officially ended in 1901, when General Funston and his troops, disguised as prisoners of war, took President Aguinaldo by surprise in his hideout in Palanan, Isabela. In truth, our anti-imperialist war was continued guerrilla style by Generals Macario Sakay, Miguel Malvar, and Lucio San Miguel, Artemio Ricarte, etc., supported by the people.

The Filipino-American War lasted until 1907, when the First Philippine Assembly was inaugurated by the American colonial administration. However, the demand for independence reverberated in the halls of parliament. Politicians like Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, and Manuel Roxas continued the struggle for independence throughout the Commonwealth period, World War II, and the Japanese Occupation, up until the 4th of July, 1946, when the USA found it expedient to restore the independence of a Philippines horribly devastated by a world war.

Mayor Lim ended by saying that we Filipinos have suffered unspeakable hardships, “…yet, we have never faltered or given up, and in memory of those who had fought so heroically so we may live and prosper, we should always do our best for the country, in good times and bad times.”

I wonder if President R. Duterte’s mother gave him master classes in history.