Imagining ‘Inang Bayan’ (Manila Times Walking History)

by xiaochua

By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

July 4, 2020

ILUSTRADOS are equated with elitism, even if the word is actually a term for a person who believes in the enlightenment philosophy — in equality and the advancement of science. We have a tendency to generalize elites as bad, and this is because we tend to look at society as a class struggle and because many ilustrados advocated for the return of peace in times when we should have been fighting.

But in a time when there was no concept of a unified Filipino “nation,” it was the ilustrados who actually imagined it. One such person was the young medical student named José Rizal, who saw in his travels in Europe beginning in 1882 that the liberal philosophy made possible the development of the continent. He advocated education and saw it as a way to “liberate” the people. He recognized that there were Two Spains, and wanted to bring progressive Spain to change the “backward” Spain in his motherland, even if that meant that at first we had to be Spaniards and then, little by little, ask for more civil rights until we could finally ask for our freedom.

Rizal and his friends in the La Propaganda dreamed about this in their writings. He endured the cold and homesickness in Europe to produce his novels Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo to tell the Spaniards the sad truth about those who implement their colonial policies in his land and showed it as a common problem of many Filipinos. He researched our past and annotated an old historical work, Morga’s Sucesos de la Islas Filipinas, copying it by hand in the Library of the British Museum to show those who denied that we could have a “patria” (motherland), that we had a common identity that could be proven by history and that we were willing to fight for it.

When Mariano Ponce founded the La Solidaridad, Rizal and his friends like Marcelo del Pilar and Graciano Lopez Jaena imagined the “nación” in its pages. They were hopeful that Madre España would listen. But Rizal began to feel that it may not be the case and the internal politics in the group only solidified his decision to eventually return to the Philippines and face the Spaniards themselves.

Meanwhile, a warehouse man in an international trading company in Manila was devouring various books about the French Revolution and the American Presidents, Les Misérables by Hugo and the works of Dumas, and of course, Rizal’s novels. Although Andres Bonifacio did not finish school, he learned Spanish by himself and made himself aware of the situation of other nations. If others waged revolutions to create theirs, why can’t we? You might say he was a self-made ilustrado except that he was also different from them.

Although the American and French Revolutions inspired Bonifacio, he imagined not a “nación,” but an “Inang Bayan” (Mother Country). A bayan (country/people) that understands itself not only in terms of European liberalism, but in its own terms. Instead of liberal democracy, he used the term Haring Bayan (People Power). He did not only aim for political freedoms but “kalayaan” as we understand it, along with “kaginhawahan” and “mabuting kalooban.” He dreamed to call this multi-ethnic country Haring Bayang Katagalugan, Tagalog or river people as our Austronesian ancestors were. He, along with his friends, organized the Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan — Society of the Sons and Daughters of the People — and worked to convince people that reforms were useless, the only right thing to do was to separate from Spain.

The Katipunan brought back the ritual of the Sandugo — they offered blood oaths and reminded themselves that they were of one blood, and since they were children of Inang Bayan, they were taught to love each other as brothers and sisters (kapatiran). Their primer, the Kartilya written by their young secretary Gen. Emilio Jacinto, states, “One of the foremost rules here is true love of the native land and genuine compassion for one another.” Bonifacio once wrote: “Believe with a fervent heart in the Creator. Reflect always that a sincere faith in Him involves love of one’s native land, because this shows true love for one’s fellows.” So, when the national revolution — himagsikan — finally broke out in 1896, the bayan faced the Spaniards with a great feeling of love. “Himagsikan” meant a burst of a great feeling from within. It was love that made them sacrifice their lives to see their dream of Inang Bayan being fulfilled. In the same year, 1896, Lopez Jaena and del Pilar died penniless in Spain; by the end of the year Rizal had been shot as a martyr. Bonifacio lost a bitter power struggle that led to his murder, not seeing the fulfillment of his dream. Yet the bayan defeated Spanish rule in 1898 after 300 years. We should never forget that.