Bonifacio, Luna, Mabini in Osias readers

“The Philippine Readers”, a teleological series of textbooks for Filipino youth during the American colonial period, was edited by Camilo Osias who had lived through the Revolution against Spain, the First Philippine Republic, Philippine-American War, the Commonwealth, Japanese Occupation and five years of Marcos’s martial law. Mr. Osias was 90 when he passed away in 1976.

Considering that Mr. Osias lived through such turbulent times, his textbooks gave students a low-resolution view of our history. He did that on purpose, I believe; he had no other choice because of censorship by the American colonial authorities. Better a hazy image, than nothing at all, Mr. Osias must have thought.

Early on, American generals like Elwell Otis and Arthur MacArthur perceived that education was the most effective strategy for the “pacification” and “benevolent assimilation” of Filipinos. When American English became the new medium of instruction, it proved to be an efficacious device to unobtrusively disconnect Filipinos from their own history.

In 1905, Camilo Osias was a pensionado (government scholar) and was sent to Columbia University and the University of Chicago. He became a politician, was appointed Resident Commissioner with a seat at the US Congress where he was called “Mr. Philippine Independence ” because he persistently demanded immediate and absolute independence from the USA. He was elected to the Philippine Senate and was its president for a year. Yet, Camilo Osias’s real passion was education. That was probably why he was the first Filipino to be appointed Division Superintendent of Schools and president of the National University when the Bureau of Public Instruction (later Education) was still headed by American bureaucrats.

Like many of his peers, (Felipe Calderon comes to mind), Camilo Osias must have been deeply concerned about how Philippine history was being taught to the younger generations who were growing up under the Brigandage Act, Anti-Sedition Law and Anti-Flag Act. No one, most especially Filipinos, could talk disparagingly about the USA, or criticize its colonial Insular Government in the Philippines. Those who dared were labeled “insurrectionists”, arrested and imprisoned, or exiled to Guam.

As he put together the Philippine readers, Mr. Osias found ways to dodge censorship and was able to include vignettes about Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, Apolinario Mabini, and, audacious enough, General Antonio Luna! The article about the latter was only 4 pages long, squeezed between “How Perseus Killed the Gorges” by Charles Kimberly and “The Adventures of Juan” by Mabel Cole Cook, a dedicated researcher of “ Filipino tales”. That anonymous essay about Gen. Luna was an apotheosis, so I suspect it was written by Mr. Osias himself.

He presented Gen. Luna as a chemist and pharmacist who had worked with the eminent European Drs. Latteux and Laffon. (No mention of the military science course he took.) When he returned to the Philippines in 1894, the Spanish colonial administration hired him to cure contagious diseases; Luna was also a writer and musician. Mr. Osias mentioned “the Revolution of 1896” which Luna supposedly joined ( but did not); Aguinaldo ( not President, just Aguinaldo) appointed him Director of War. ”Honor is given to Luna as a military genius not only by his countrymen but by foreigners,” wrote the anonymous Osias. There was a laudatory quote from Marion Wilcox of “Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines” who considered Antonio Luna as “one of the most intrepid Filipinos.” There was not even a hint of the Philippine-American War.

Book Seven’s preface said: “This is your last year in the intermediate school and I wish you to get the most out of it that you can. In your seventh reader, you will study the lives of many heroes….You will learn of great characters of all times and countries, and of our own heroes, Bonifacio, Mabini and Rizal. You will learn that the hero does not always wear a sword. There have been men and women who were heroic in peace. “ Those were sanitizing phrases to distract the censors.

The article about Andres Bonifacio had no author either. ” Love for Country” by the Supremo and “The Country’s Call” by Jose Rizal were followed by 14 pages of “George Washington” by John E. Cooke and “Marseillaise”, France’s national anthem by Rouget de Lisle. “Apolinario Mabini” was sandwiched between “Garibaldi” by Ida Whitcomb and a happy poem. Also included was “True heroism”, Gov. Francis B. Harrison’s short speech praising Rizal. Mr. Osias should have replaced “Maria Maquiling” with another Rizal piece, “By the Pasig”, where the devil torments a boy with alluring descriptions of pre-colonial Philippines. I thought “The Charge at San Juan” was about Bonifacio‘s attack on the Spanish ammunition depot at Pinaglabanan, but it turned out to be about the American invasion of Cuba. “Thoughts” from Jose Rizal closed the textbook series with a flourish.

“The Philippine Readers” may have been a colonial tool, but Camilo Osias had a plot point. His textbooks were a first step forward to remind the younger English-speaking generations of a past they deserved to know.