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G.

Bankoff
Selective memory and collective forgetting. Historiography and the Philippine centennial of 1898
In: Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, The PhilippinesHistorical and social studies 157
(2001), no: 3, Leiden, 539-560

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GREG BANKOFF

Selective Memory and
Collective Forgetting
Historiography and the Philippine Centennial
of 1898
The fanfare and extravaganza with which the centennial of the Revolution of
1896-1898 was celebrated in the Philippines serves largely to obscure the surprising lack of unanimity concerning the significance of the occasion or even
the purpose of the festivities. Philippine history, more especially the historiography of its colonial period, poses some particular problems in serving as
the basis from which to fashion an identity suitable to the modern citizens of
a nation-state. These problems are not restricted to the Philippines, but the
combination of features is certainly specific to the history of that nation and
differentiates its historiography from that of others in the region. Attention
has long been drawn to the unique geographical location and cultural experience of the islands; indeed D.G.E. Hall even omitted the Philippines from the
first edition of his seminal history of Southeast Asia (Hall 1955). But these
observations on their own offer no insuperable obstacle to the creation of a
national historiography. Far more significant is the lack of appropriate historical experiences whose symbolic value make of them suitable rallying
points round which a counter-hegemonic and anti-colonial historiography
can coalesce and flourish.1
The history of nations is always presented in the form of a narrative, the
fulfilment of a project that stretches back over the centuries along which are
moments of coming to self-awareness that prove to be decisive in the selfmanifestation of national personality (Balibar 1991:86; Bhabha 1990:1). The
origin or starting point from which this national history commences is
imbued with special significance and, with the exception of those states
which may wish to establish their validity on a radical break with the past
(though even here the role of the distant past is often somewhat ambiguous1

Material for this article is drawn from Post-colonial national identity in the Philippines;
Celebrating the centennial of Independence (Bankoff and Weekley forthcoming).

unfortunately. is a useful referent. were constructed at the instigation of the colonizing power. provides no such expedient agents: there are no indigenous monuments. though built with native labour. Myanmar. Han Kao-tso. A classical past.5 As much by default.:3). that raises as many questions about the nature of that national identity as it seemingly provides answers for its citizens.540 Greg Bankoff ly depicted). Angkor Wat. too. Filipinos are the only peoples of Southeast Asia to have mainly embraced the religion of their erstwhile overlords: over 80 per cent of Filipinos are Catholics. some 90 per cent Christian. as by any sense of conviction. a fellow at the Institute for Popular Democracy. Apart from the difficulties inherent in the interpretation of individual 2 The People's Republic of China has continued to venerate traditional heroic characters such as Ch'u Yuan. The 'problem' of Philippine history Philippine history. Pat Smythe argues that after 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule less than 30 per cent of the population were formally registered as Catholic. Cambodia.4 Worse.some few dozen churches. as if pedigree somehow confers upon a nation-state a greater degree of legitimacy. Elizabeth Nissan's essay on the changing symbolic value of the sacred city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lankan historiography (Nissan 1997:23-41). . or an impressive citadel of more recent regal authority.d. 5 Christianity played a somewhat analogous role in East Timor under Portuguese colonialism. and one. while 90 per cent of the people presently declare that affiliation (Smythe 1998:153-4). In still other cases. forts or bridges . as with Islam in Malaysia and Brunei or neo-Confucianism in Singapore. Wu Tse-t'ien and even Confucius (Crozier 1977:4). but then Catholicism provided an important nationalist referent during the Indonesian occupation of the country 1975-1999. religion or creed has proved to be just such a medium. Thailand. holds 'an accident of geography' that isolated the archipelago from the mainstream of Asian civilizations responsible for this state of affairs and maintains that the entire socio-cultural configuration of the Philippines was determined 'by a void of compelling dimension' (Gonzalez n. A common religion shared between colonizer and colonized deprives a people of a useful medium through which to express nationalist sentiment (Renan 1990:10). Vietnam and Laos. this leaves the Revolution of 1896-1898 as the only really 'legitimizing principle' or 'foundational event in the history of the nation' (Ileto 1998:195. Pagan or Ayuthia and Hue or Vientiane have been gainfully evoked as important symbols aiding in the construction of a modern sense of national identity in Indonesia.3 Thus Borobudur. for example. what relics of the past there are . preferably one strewn with the monumental remains of an illustrious civilization. nor even a suitable naturalized creed. 3 See.2 there is an attempt to demonstrate longevity. then. citadels or palaces.have their origin in the colonial period and.241). 4 Eduardo Gonzalez. Moreover.

both of which are irrevocably associated with colonial rule. betrayals and questionable decisions that make of it at times a less than epic struggle and its course far from glorious. Jose Rizal most closely approximates this role. while the Spanish period is irredeemably associated with colonial oppression. Nor does history throw up an all-encompassing national figure to whom the attributes of a founding father can unequivocally be attributed. the years of American occupation are much more ambiguously portrayed. Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo. but his attitude towards the revolutionary struggle was ambiguous and his image has been somewhat compromised. And then there are the events of the Revolution itself. the periodization of Philippine history is frequently divided along cultural lines: an indigenous period followed by a Spanish and then an American one before a different nomenclature is employed. despite his competence. who found in the figure of the reformist doctor a suitable exemplar upon which to fix the aspirations of a newly vanquished people. whether fairly or unfairly. the focus is on the evolution of the state and manifestations of modernity. The other main contenders. despite evidence that such was not the case for significant cultural and ethnic communities within the Philippines. by the taint of US colonizers. Rather than emphasizing the diversity of the historical experience.Selective Memory and Collective Forgetting actions or particular historical incidents. are equally problematic: the former. proved incompetent. not independence but merely a change in colonial regimes. proved too pragmatic and is held responsible for the execution of Bonifacio and the signing of the truce of Biak-na-bato. The truce of Biak-na-bato was signed in November 1897 in which the Spanish paid the sum of 400. often being equated with modernization.6 The acrimonious 6 Bonifacio was court-martialed and sentenced to death on the charge of sedition in May 1897.000 pesos in return for the surrender of rebel arms and the exile of Aguinaldo and other members of the Revolutionary Committee to Hong Kong. As a consequence. and the latter. fraught with all kinds of compromises. This preoccupation with the cultural distinctiveness of the colonial administrations serves somewhat to obscure the ethnic tensions within the archipelago and confers a false sense of unity upon its peoples. Spanish colonialism has become typecast and contrasted unfavourably with that of the United States. despite his undoubted idealism. he and his brother were nonetheless executed on 10 May. The advent of US domination is explained not only as a result of the decline and decadence of Spain but also as a necessary social. cultural and economic step in the preparation of Filipinos for true nationhood. Though the sentence was subsequently commuted to indefinite exile and imprisonment. Moreover. as the conception of modernity is increasingly constructed around notions of democracy and capitalist competitiveness derived from North American cultural norms. the problem posed by the Revolution is that it does not signify a radical enough break with the past. That is. 541 .

in fact.and early 20th-century nation-state. Both Spaniard and American viewed Philippine society as a 'melange of communities'. A modern state apparatus that seeks to normalize its people into an undifferentiated body of citizens by imbuing specific historical events with nationalist symbolism may unwittingly call attention to notions of difference based on ethnic. In the final analysis the Philippine Revolution was a failure. more especially the American regime. But tensions inevitably arise between the concept of an 'ideal nation' and the notion of fictive ethnicity that seeks to make of the population a natural community as much in the past as in the present and future (Balibar 1991:92-6). May 1997). . Seeking recourse in the Revolution of 1896-1898 as the foundational event in the history of the nation only reinforces the ethnic divisions within society and ensures that modern politics 'continues to run along channels excavated by colonial discourse' (Chatterjee 1993:224). the tribal peoples of the Cordillera and ethnic Chinese. Then there is the question of participation among the different ethnic groups of the archipelago: not every Filipino can derive his descent from forefathers who fought in the Revolution. The ability of the colonial state. Philippine history in general and the Revolution of 1896-1898 in particular pose certain problems in the production of a fictive national ethnicity. may only reinforce contemporary struggles for separate identities (Chatterjee 1993:33) and may even lead to the construction of counter-ethnicities and to demands for counterstates based on counter-nationalisms (Appadurai 1993:415). did not really participate in the events of 1896-1898. Churchill 1997. this is a process that involves converting the external frontiers of a state into the 'internal frontiers' of self-ascription. it was this lack of success that problematized the celebration of the centennial of national independence in 1998. More than any other aspect of the Revolution. to enumerate the peoples of the archipelago not only established clear limits or boundaries to the national estate but also divided them into discrete communities. Significant national minorities. marking not the birth of a nation (in anything more than a symbolic sense) but an ensuing period of colonial rule that endured for another 48 years.542 Greg Bankojf debate in recent years over the validity of the historical evidence and the nature of their respective characters discounts either from serving as a unifying national role model (Ileto 1998:203-37. The national successor to the colonial state has proved unable to convince Filipinos that they constitute a single cultural community or to merge them into a larger more modern political identity. The imperative to produce 'a people' that are 'nationals' is mainly the product of the late 19th. Such symbols. According to Etienne Balibar. regional or religious origins that have often served as the foundations upon which colonial rule was established. Muslims in the south. they were unable to countenance the idea that subject peoples could constitute a single political community or nation as did 'advanced western peoples' (Chatterjee 1993:223-4).

democracy and competitive economic development. The ability of a mainly Tagalog and Christian Manila-based ruling class to extend their patronage back through time. it is not participatory but oligarchic in form. there is little real dispute over what constitutes the basis of this national identity . What is important for this official view of the past is that these values are established as the prevailing credentials and that the historical record is made to conform to their dictates. While there is a measure of dissension as to the particulars of this definition and how various historical incidents should be represented or importance accorded to specific individuals.Selective Memory and Collective Forgetting 543 The politics of patronage As Partha Chatterjee writes. which. the second is often far from deregulated market-driven decision making. The Revolution heralded the birth of 'the Filipino nation as a land of freedom-loving people' (Centennial celebration 1997:12). neither the sense of democracy nor the manner of development is precisely what they are made out to be: the first is tainted by oligarchy. . While the democracy that is expounded by this Manila-based elite is modelled on the Western democratic tradition. the mode of recalling the past. a state of mind. one whose boundaries match those of the modern nation-state. as the first democratic republic in Asia. Accordingly. the power of representing oneself 'is nothing other than political power itself' (1993:76). Moreover.7 Establishing the past democratic credentials of the nation thereby takes on added importance as a means of legitimizing the present governing institutions and. the Revolution is presented not simply as a struggle to cast off colonial bondage but as the principal event in the evolution of a democratic tradition from which all subsequent developments can be traced. It narrowly defines the concept of freedom as a political process that effectively makes an electorate decide between two contending factions of the elite for leadership. At the same time. So the Revolution of 1896-1898 has to be interpreted in such a way that it promotes democracy and establishes the preconditions for economic development. those who control them. the Philippines is credited with becoming the 'father of independence' 7 This notion of democracy is not that necessarily favoured by the great majority of poor or less educated Filipinos (Canieso-Doronila 1997:70). despite the rhetoric. separate or local histories need to be incorporated within the larger nationalist account so as to present them as part of the 'natural past' of the archipelago. to fashion the past by creating an 'official history'. indirectly. could only be realized through 'the logic of democracy' (Maragay 1998:1). However. allows them to determine the values to be attached to the revolutionary experience and so to define the terms upon which modern nationalism is constructed. according to President Ramos.

inspiring freedom in Africa (RP 1998:5). whose 'people power' restored Filipino history to its true course and 'indirectly set the stage for freedom in Russia and Eastern Europe' (RP 1998:5). But the spirit of a freedom-loving people is impossible to suppress for long and the 'aberration' of the Marcos years was soon swept away by the EDSA9 Revolution. at a Centennial flag-raising ceremony on 12 June 1998 at the Andres Bonifacio monument along EDSA in Caloocan City. Jose de Venecia. Raymundo 1998:1). Thus. In fact. it is just as integral to the construction of a sense of national identity as democracy. Indeed. According to President Ramos. but it also permits the struggle to be seen in a somewhat different light: not as defeat on the battlefield and ensuing colonial bondage but as the commencement of a process of constitutional tutelage under US administration. Filipinos express a natural desire 'to be free and to prosper' (Maragay 1998:1. The four decades of US colonialism only channelled the struggle for freedom into the parliamentary arena where it achieved political fruition in 1946. despite the proclamation of the first republic under the authoritarian leadership of General Emilio Aguinaldo. Filipinos 'did not linger too long in a dictatorship' but immediately sought 'constitutional legitimacy'. .8 Not only does the Revolution establish the Philippines' credentials among developing nations. Hand in hand with democracy goes 'faith' in economic growth. ultimately providing the raison d'etre to justify the entire oligarchic structure of political power in the country. this. is blamed on 'the detour toward authoritarianism from 1972-86' {Celebration 1998). 8 Speech made by Speaker of the House of Representatives. the history of the hundred years following 1898 are recast along these lines. however. the main ring-road around Manila and named after the first Filipino member of the Spanish Royal Academy in Madrid. The proof of all this is held to be manifest in the smooth transition of power from Fidel Ramos to Joseph Estrada in 1998. only democracy can lead 'to sustained economic growth and social progress' (Maragay 1998:1). If development subsequently lagged behind the other emerging nations of Asia in the 1970s and 1980s. 9 EDSA is the abbreviation of Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue.544 Greg Bankoff to the rest of Asia and. Development. the two 'must come together and work together'. too. remains more of a future promise than a present reality. in turn. but it also served to discredit 'the Asian values model' to which was attributed the 'cultural camouflage' for disguising dictatorship {Celebration 1998). that proved to the world how deeply Filipinos 'value the ideals and practice of constitutional democracy' (Maragay 1998:2. the greener valley that lies just over the other side of the hill or the other side of the millennium {Run-up 1997:8). Raymundo 1998:6). Nevertheless. Martial law not only legitimized the 1986 Constitution and its presidents as the restorers of democracy. It was this democratic tradition that was mainly responsible for the economic success of the Philippines during the 1960s.

so the year also signalled the 'historic exit' of the Philippine economy after more than three decades of 'constraints' imposed by the International Monetary Fund. to the extent that they are privately owned and operated. media releases on the various commemorative events were disseminated by a specially established media bureau. Just as 1998 commemorated the birth of the Philippine nation after more than three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. himself a televi- 10 An event achieved on 27 March 1998 with the passage through Congress of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Package and the Oil Deregulation Law. 11 The economy's subsequent poor performance in contrast to the recovery evident in many of its neighbours is largely blamed on the highly personalistic and idiosyncratic decisions of the since deposed President Estrada. today the Filipino is not only politically free but economically free. but of economic freedom and competitiveness in the market place. As the Center's director. all engaged in fierce competition for readership and advertising revenue. after 35 years of IMF tutelage and control'. 545 . And its success is something that can be measured. Moreover.n The ability of a Manila-based elite to exert their patronage over the past and to project on history an interpretation that mainly reflects their image of national identity depends to a large extent on their ability to manipulate the media. the principal government coordinating agency. At the height of its activities in the weeks immediately preceding the June 12 celebrations. it is not simply economic growth as such but the underlying assumption of a competitive deregulated market that demonstrates its efficacy as a development model. and employment rose to 91.10 'In a very real sense. This is an endeavour of no small order in a country where the media are relatively independent. However.7 per cent of the workforce (De Venecia 1997:5). The press alone comprises 25 or so national daily newspapers divided between the more serious English-language broadsheets and the more popular tabloid press in the vernacular. Jesus Matubis. the Centennial Information Center (CIC). so today the Philippines offers 'a model of development' based on 'freedom of enterprise' (Beacon to the world 1998). which precisely combined the qualities of these freedoms (Raymundo 1998:l). and characterized by a multiplicity of outlets. The Philippine economy grew by seven per cent in 1996. the CIC issued as many as seven press releases a day on the activities of the National Centennial Commission (NCC). declared Speaker De Venecia (1998). So the Centennial was not only a celebration of political freedom and democratic values. the initial ability of the Philippines to better withstand the financial turmoil that swept through East Asia in 1997 was largely attributed to the 'freewheeling' nature of Philippine democracy. up from one per cent in 1994. In the absence of more direct means of control.Selective Memory and Collective Forgetting Just as a century ago the Revolution offered 'a beacon to the peoples of Asia and the whole world'.

] but at least in terms of the structure. why we should not emphasize that. which could so easily be made to engender the desired feeling or 'message'. the CIC had first to package its product in such a way as to 'entice' the media to carry its releases. but his denial only reveals the probable bias of those among the elite who made such decisions: Question: 'Do you think the political administration influenced what was celebrated?' Matubis: 'No.546 Greg Bankoff sion executive at Channel 4. explains: 'We didn't have access to the public except through the newspapers. In the process of contextualizing history for the short temporal constraints of the modern media (colour slide.' (Matubis 1998) However. there was a voice' (Tan 1998)..' (Matubis 1998)12 The resultant media coverage of the Centennial stressed the values of a democratic heritage and the promise of a competitive economic future. no. you had members of the academe. okay? I think the Commission was neutral in that sense. The Centennial had to compete for space in the media with national and local elections in 1998. and they represented the spectrum of the community. to successfully disseminate information on the Centennial. the signing of the Malolos Constitution. Whether these views were generally accepted by the majority of people as the basis of their sense of citizenship is difficult to gauge. simplified episodes that might more readily be appreciated by the public (Matubis 1998). I didn't think that happened. the Revolution was often reduced to a visual image with little or no explanatory commentary: the emotional or stirring moment like the raising of the flag in victory at Alapan. the radio and TV programmes. Matubis was adamant that 'politics' was not a factor determining the emphasis placed on the presentation of the historical material. That's why our main target. which deprived the event of mass cover12 The other sectors included corporate managers. I do not think that politics entered into why we should emphasize this. Matubis described the role of his agency as one of 'transforming' Philippine history into what he termed 'chewable chunks'. There was no such thing. but whether they 'contributed a lot to the Commission is a different thing [. the proclamation of independence at Kawit. Later representatives of the Tribal and Muslim communities were added. because you had members of the administration. . army generals and 'women leaders'. 30-second radio break or 60-second television spot). members of the opposition. was not the people but the media. so far as the Commission members were concerned. really our primary target. These qualities of national identity were celebrated as the principal distinguishing characteristics of the Filipino and were assumed to underlie the nation's distinctiveness from its Asian neighbours. What I think the NCC was really focused on was that the Centennial was celebrated properly and I am happy to note.. all sectors were represented in the NCC.

Nor are these social processes mutually exclusive: both may be at work within the same extended community at the same time among different sectors or classes. forgetting may be just as potent a collective act in creating a sense of group identity as the more frequently assigned role of shared memory. A central issue in this respect is what Independence Day on 12 June actually commemorates.13 But it also had to contend with a generally low level of historical consciousness among the population. a change made by President Macapagal in 1962 as an act of national assertion in the face of continuing US influence in the Philippines after 1946.14 The decision to commemorate General Aguinaldo's 13 A notable exception was the Philippine Daily Inquirer. which commenced a 100-day countdown to the 12 June celebrations with a daily column of historical vignettes written by Ambeth Ocampo. which claim to be old but are often of quite recent origin . But remembrance is not the only instrument at the command of a state that may employ commemoration more as a cloak to obscure than to recall the past. However. as the eminent Filipino historian Onofre Corpuz notes. As a consequence. Selective memory and collective forgetting Eric Hobsbawm draws attention to the manner in which institutions purposely set about 'inventing traditions' .sets of practices of a ritual or symbolic nature that inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour through repetition. These processes of selective memory and collective forgetting are particularly evident in the official historiography of the Philippine centennial celebrations. Regardless of whether his motives were more political than nationalist. while little reference was made to the central role played by the United States in overthrowing the First Republic or to the subsequent Philippine-American War. Certain key dates or figures were chosen for commemoration and others were quietly overlooked. public speakers often had to resort to high levels of hyperbole in order to excite a sense of nationalism.as if the appearance of continuity with the past establishes legitimacy and confers upon that body a sense of authenticity (Hobsbawm 1983:1-14). First there is the question of substituting the current date for 4 July. such rhetoric 'does not penetrate to the guts of our people and the message from an independence day oration dies out before the echoes have faded away in Manila's polluted air' (Corpuz 1998:4).Selective Memory and Collective Forgetting 547 age except in the last few weeks preceding the anniversary of the actual proclamation of independence. 14 President Macapagal's decision (Proclamation 28 of 12 May 1962) was made in the context of public indignation at the US Congress's rejection of a bill authorizing an additional appro- . his action necessitated finding a historical substitute to serve as an appropriate alternative. In fact.

It heralds a chain of events that ultimately led to the defeat of Spanish colonialism through the endurance and self-sacrifice of thousands of ordinary people. since no foreign power accorded it diplomatic recognition. however. if it does mark any centennial. it is that of the past hundred years of ilustrado (oligarchic) hegemony over the nation's political structures (Constantino 1998). as foreign diplomats would inevitably choose to attend the functions held at American rather than Philippine embassies (Manalo 1998:2). Professor Gabriel Fabella is credited with initiating this movement by publishing an article entitled 'Philippine Independence. a cut that was later restored. The first occasion commemorates the Katipunan and gives greater prominence to the actions of Andres Bonifacio and the masses with which he is closely identified. alternative dates have been proposed that celebrate events more truly representative of popular nationalist consciousness. . It also gives a misleading notion of independence. 6). There were also more practical difficulties in sharing a national day with the United States.548 • Greg Bankoff 1898 proclamation of independence seems to have been determined partly as a consequence of the spontaneous popular celebrations that took place at Kawit each year.15 Subsequently. 15 The PHA's campaign included a series of public seminars and a resolution petitioning the President and Congress for the adoption of this change made on 24 March 1960. and partly as the result of a concerted campaign by the Philippine Historical Association (PHA) to have such a change of date made. One is the outbreak of revolution in 1896 and another is the inauguration of the Philippine Republic at Malolos on 23 January 1899. It is argued that 12 June represents nothing more than the declaration of a dictatorial government. The second incident symbolizes the brief moment of unity when Filipinos of all social backgrounds stood together to declare to the world their sovereign determination to be free and to be a nation. proclaimed under the protectorate of the United States. reasoning that either one would only underscore the extent to which the Revolution is presently misrepresented or has been betrayed in the past. The NCC. so their erstwhile forefathers had quickly abandoned their pro-independence stance to become the eager collaborators of American colonialists (Constantino 1998). however. June 12th or July 4th in the Sunday Times Magazine on 1 July 1956 (Historian's Role 1998:1. Instead. moreover. It is this 'distortion1 of history that helps explain the 'confusion' over the Centennial's significance and is said to be behind the disappointing lack of popular enthu- priation of US$73 million in war payments to the Philippines. Finally. both the historical significance and the nationalist credentials of the event have become the subject of considerable public debate. chose to pass over both these dates. Just as today's descendants of the ilustrados (many of them holding directorates in the very same commission) transformed 1896 into the much less controversial centenary of Jose Rizal's martyrdom. one.

and as such it can be dismissed as inter-elite rivalry. a conflict that cost the lives of over 600. President Ramos's denial of a petition to have Bonifacio declared the first president of the Philippines and accord him a state burial in July 1994 (Gonzalez 1996:24). on the other hand. Conference contributions have subsequently been published in a two volume edition (Ordonez 1998). three-quarters of the US army. it does represent a more profound division within society between the haves and have-nots. between oligarchy and proletariat. Another aspect of this selective memory manifests itself in the intense partisan rivalry between the supporters of Aguinaldo and Bonifacio for historical prominence as revolutionary heroes. President Ramos's reticence to acknowledge America's colonial role was noted. which lends itself very readily to class analysis in a society that is still experiencing an active communist insurgency.18 Collective forgetfulness. Any commemoration that might bring into sharp relief the Filipino experience of the war would 'put in perspective the real beginnings of Philippine-American relations' and place 'the very notion of national independence into question' (Constantino 1998). on a deeper level of symbolism. and when pressed to make a comment. On one level this is simply a dispute between the family descendants of one man or the other.000 American soldiers. The Past Revisited. 18 A public declaration made by both families at the unveiling of a new monument to Bonifacio in Manila to put an end to their animosity while calling for unity received no official or media attention (Quezon 1998). But. a re-enactment of the Magdalo Magdiwang division16 intensified by a century of familial resentment (Quezon 1997). the absence of a single paper on his life or significance during the officially sponsored three-day international conference convened at the historic Manila Hotel in 1996. The theme of the conference was The Philippine Revolution and Beyond and was a lavish affair that included over 90 speakers from 23 countries. former university professor and author of the influential history of the islands. he described Philippine-American relations as 16 The rival Katipunan councils that controlled the province of Cavite. 17 .Selective Memory and Collective Forgetting 549 siasm shown towards the celebrations (No need 1998:2). An entire day was devoted to papers on Rizal. argues that the relatively scant attention paid to the anniversary of the inauguration of the Philippine Republic in 1899 is an attempt to downplay the embarrassing fact that it owes its destruction to American aggression and colonial expansion. Renato Constantino.17 and the number of Aguinaldo family descendants appointed as members of the NCC only confirmed suspicions that there was a concerted attempt during the Centennial to play down the importance of the more radical nature of the revolution. Indeed. is particularly evident in the absence of any but the most fleeting of references to either the more than four decades of US colonialism or the Philippine-American War.000 Filipinos and involved 126.

see Orlino Ochosa (1995).19 he carefully qualified this recognition by devoting three of seven paragraphs to a eulogy on the special relationship with the United States. prompted a swift reprisal.21 However.20 But. An issue that has the potential of unravelling this careful fabric of purposeful oversight and selective remembrance and forcing a more balanced account of Philippine-American relations into the public arena is that of the bells of Balangiga. Much more success has crowned the campaign to have Washington change its official nomenclature concerning the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War. has ensured that all such claims have so far remained unheeded. 20 The history of the Philippine-American War is reputedly not taught in US schools (De La Cruz 1998). There on the morning of 28 September 1901. townsfolk and men from General Vicente Lukban's guerrilla army suddenly fell upon Company C of the US Army's 9th Infantry Regiment as they were eating breakfast. the US veterans' organization. killing 45 and wounding a further 22 soldiers. Horacio de la Costa (1958) and former President Fidel Ramos (1993-1994 and again in 1997) (De La Cruz 1998. the resolute opposition of the American Legion. the bells have not been forgotten in the Philippines. 'our two countries realized that they could be allies and brothers in the name of freedom' (Mercene 1998:1. For the histories of some of the most notable of these leaders. After only a few years of fighting and bloodshed. in this instance. Fr. 8). most recently with a request for their restoration in time for the 12 June celebrations. killing those whom they found. A punitive force sacked the town. The action. Silva 1997). 21 Among the eminent people who have petitioned for the bells' return are the historian. where attempts to have them returned began as early as 1912 and have continued ever since.550 Greg Bankoff 'bittersweet'. condemned by the Americans as a 'treacherous massacre' in which men dressed as women and carrying the coffins of children had smuggled rifles into the church the previous night. On a rare public occasion when he made reference to the less well-known heroes of the war. all but forgotten relics of a little-remembered war. leaders such as Generals Macario Sakay and Julian Miguel Malvar. Filipinos have long complained of the 19 Any Filipino resistance fighter who refused to surrender was classified as a bandit after the passage of the Bandolerismo Act by the US Philippine Commission in 1902 and consequently subject to execution or 20 years imprisonment. the former of whom was subsequently hanged by the Americans as a bandolero (bandit). a small coastal town on the Visayan island of Samar. and carrying away as booty two church bells with which the signal to attack had apparently been sounded. Wyoming. . he remarked in his Centennial address. The bells were subsequently shipped back to the United States where they presently grace the parade ground at Warren Air Force Base (formerly Fort Russell) in Cheyenne.

advised in his letter of 11 February 1999: 'As part of our regular subject review process. 551 . o u r Cataloging Policy Office investigated the terminology used for these events. Politics aside. Senate President Bias Ople even authored a resolution (SR348) calling on President Estrada to commence diplomatic initiatives to have the American government correct its texts so as to recognize the events as 'a genuine war of independence on the same moral plane as the American Revolution against the British crown and the French Revolution against the ancien regime in France' (Atencio 1999a). the revolution was both lost and betrayed. Based o n these findings. and the Centennial.22 More militant voices vowed to collect five million signatures demanding that the US apologize for the alleged war crimes and atrocities committed by its troops. according to academics such as Zeus Salazar24 (Santillan 1995:1). but there is a tendency for the former to subsume the latter. 22 These come from specifically y o u t h a n d cause-orientated groups such as the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan a n d the Sentenaryo ng Sambayanan. by casting doubt on the democratic credentials of the present state. more stridently nationalist and also far more radical. is nothing more than a celebration of 'the coming of the Americans to the Philippines'. who they claimed killed more Filipinos during the first two days of the war than had died at the hands of the entire Spanish army during the more than 300 years of colonial rule (Atencio 1999b)! While no apology has so far been forthcoming. as presently constituted. Aguinaldo was both a member of the bourgeoisie and a stooge propped up by foreign powers. Moreover. 23 As the librarian.Philippine American War'. While xenophobia is never very far from the terminology of the extreme nationalists. James H .Selective Memory and Collective Forgetting American custom of labelling the two together as the Philippine Insurrection. which required a two-thirds (16-vote) majority to be ratified by the Senate (Casayuran 1999). Billington. the Library of Congress has amended the subject headings of its catalogues accordingly (Ople 1999). the Library reversed the t w o relevant subject headings to Philippine History . Often these positions mutually reinforce one another. Others have called for much more drastic gestures. 24 Professor of European History a n d Anthropology at the University of the Philippines. these criticisms of the official history do challenge the oligarchic nature of power structures in the contemporary Philippines and question the extent to which Filipinos exercise real democratic choice. what is being postulated here is a revision of Philippine history that is. with its implication that the revolutionaries were simply bandoleros engaged in brigandage and not freedom fighters seeking to liberate their country from the yoke of foreign rule. at the same time.Revolution 1896-1899 a n d Philippine History .23 Cynics may find in this timely consciousness of political correctness (one hundred years after the events in question) some connection with consideration of the Republic of the Philippines-United States Visiting Forces Agreement.

many of whom are the very same colonialists of old. Criticism is levelled at multilateral funding agencies. . then restricting its expansion to a few export commodities (notably sugar. feminists and ethnic minorities. Caltex and Petron) to set their own prices. However. abaca and coconut) during the late 19th century. The legacy of both colonialism and debt is seen as having seriously distorted the Philippine's economy and of hampering the ability of post-1986 administrations to take any significant measures to relieve the extreme poverty that still afflicts many millions of Filipinos. each in their own way. The Roman Catholic clergy. saddled the economy with a large foreign debt. Nor can it be blamed solely on their inability to create an alternative rendition of the past that has real meaning to the majority of Filipinos and that dispels all hint of patronage.6 billion in 1975 to US$26 billion by 1984 (Oviedo 1998:23). a condition of the IMF to end its economic restrictions on the Philippines. (On the economic distortions created by colonialism in the Philippines. also challenge the construction of national identity based on an oligarchic concept of democracy and a deregulated market economy (Bankoff and Weekley forthcoming:Chapter 4). see Fast and Richardson 1983.25 Apart from the nationalist and radical critiques. leaving no markers behind' (Quiros 1999). tobacco. Colonialism is held responsible for initially retarding agricultural growth in the 17th century.552 Greg Bankoff they also effectively contest whether it can create the conditions necessary for sustained economic development. especially the extensive international borrowing to fund non-revenue generating investments and the granting of guarantees to favoured corporations that subsequently failed (socalled crony capitalism). The country's total overseas loans rose from US$2. which permitted the three foreign oil companies (Shell. large foreign multinationals and government policies in favour of economic deregulation that perpetuate this historic chain of oppression'. the root cause of their lack of success may lie in something much deeper.) The financial mismanagement under the martial law regime of President Marcos. The degree to which the Centennial actually challenged this notion of a forgotten past and a continuous present was perhaps indicated by the indifferent opinion polls and the limited public impact of the extensive 25 The lack of real economic development in the Philippines is blamed on a heady mixture of colonial exploitation and the financial mismanagement of the Marcos years. While these are certainly factors. A notable example of opposition to foreign economic dominance was the Oil Deregulation Law of 1998 (RA 8479). their failure to sustain a meaningful public debate on these issues is not simply due to their disunity of purpose or vision. one that 'lives almost exclusively in the present. As Conrado de Quiros writes in his recent obituary of Renato Constantino. the past gliding by like water against an aimless boat. Nor are these conditions seen as unrelated: both past colonialism and present debt tie the country to foreign masters. The companies were subsequently accused of failing to pass on substantial falls in the monthly landed cost of crude to customers (Not free 1998). the Philippines is a country with an almost desperate need to forget. before creating dependence on a single market with the passing of the PayneAldrich Tariff Act of 1909 that abolished tariffs between the Philippine and American markets through a system of quotas that regulated the amount of Philippine agricultural produce entering the US. there are a multiplicity of other dissenting voices in the contemporary Philippines that dispute the official history of the Centennial.

Genealogical amnesia and the social function of history The notion that the purposeful forgetting of the past may be part of an active process of creating new.Selective Memory and Collective Forgetting 553 commemorations. and the energy and ease with which new kinship ties are forged in migrant communities (Carsten 1995:326-9). Elites are concerned with lineage and descent. Placing more importance on creating kinship ties in the future and of ignoring divergent ancestral descent has been referred to as 'genealogical amnesia' among the Balinese (Geertz and Geertz 1964) and as 'structural amnesia' among the Iban (Freeman 1961:208). Wolters argues that the relative unimportance of lineage in determining claims to status is characteristic of Southeast Asian cultures as a whole (Wolters 1982:5. following degrees of "siblingship" rather than backwards into the past'. The concept of citizenship in the Philippines has been found to be problematic. apart from politicians and government functionaries. that express national affiliation as expanding concentric circles of horizontal social ties in which identification 'with the family or clan lay closest to the heart and identification with the Filipino. citizenship is more frequently described in terms of belonging to communities. In her study of migrant communities on the island of Langkawi. both local and large. As one pundit aptly said. identifying in any real sense with the idea of the nation. similar practices have been recorded in the Visayas (Dumont 1992:146-7) and among the Buid of Mindoro (Gibson 1986:88). shared identities has been previously noted among ethnic groups within Southeast Asia. Unsurprisingly. their significance for the nationstate can also be considered.W. 'stretching outwards. 9). farthest away' (Diokno 1997:19-20). with few people. They look to the past to . 'unity in diversity may actually be nothing more than dissension tamed by a show' (First hundred 1998). Janet Carsten describes the importance of kinship ties and how these are 'wide' rather then 'deep'. hi the Philippines. She suggests that there is a historical relationship between the constant population flux in maritime Southeast Asia. The emphasis instead is on expanding horizontal relationships in the present and future that may serve to enhance an individual's life chances. though O. the practice is found to be more prevalent among commoners (Geertz and Geertz 1964). Instead. This dichotomy between the abstraction of nation and sense of community largely replicates class divisions between elite and the rest of the population within the wider society and is reflected in their differing perceptions of the past. the personalistic form in which authority has been exercised. While these concepts have so far been applied mainly to small-scale societies. with little regard for a past that confers no comparable benefits.

an enduring history. According to the April 1998 survey. the Centennial offered a perfect scenario for celebrating history in such a manner that it propelled them into public notice and linked them to the heroes of a revolutionary past. They find few occasions in the past worth commemorating and little or nothing of the past worth celebrating. the sphere they better understand and in which they mainly operate. are largely indifferent to family background and ancestry. their prospects in society depend on a future made more secure by expanding their horizontal social connections. they prefer occasions that commemorate a history in which their forebears played a significant role. as the scope of their interests is commensurate with the widest possible socio-economic and political unit available.) The future they favour is one that is a continuation of the past. The apparent eagerness with which many public commemorations such as the 12 June parade were greeted should not be confused with pride in the past as presently constructed. in fact. (Some. to 78 per cent by April 1998. the Republic of the Philippines. but more as enthusiasm for a grand occasion on which to have a fiesta at someone else's expense. It is this dichotomy between elites' and majority views of the past and their perception of history that may account for the relatively mixed survey findings on Centennial awareness among different sectors of the population. Thus Centennial awareness was greatest in MetroManila (97 per cent) and Luzon (84 per cent) but much lower in the Visayas (68 per cent) and Mindanao (63 per cent). And awareness declined rapidly at the local level: only 35 per cent of those in the Visayas and 23 per cent in Metro Manila were conscious of actual events being staged in their own neigh- . While popular consciousness of the commemorations rose significantly from 47 per cent in September 1996. moreover. these figures varied substantially between regions and among socio-economic groups. They especially operate on a national scale. on the other hand. to 55 per cent in June 1997. of course. that was distinct from a history redolent with past injustices and exploitation.554 Greg Bankoff validate their position in the present. a future. which was itself presented as the origin of the nation-state. have supra-national interests. For them. meant little in terms of national symbolism and was only significant in so far as it promised a better future. therefore. are recent rural-urban migrants and think more in terms of extended kinship relations. as this serves to remind people why they currently occupy privileged positions in society. often through ritual or fictive ties of siblingship. Their concerns are less national and more oriented towards the local. History is best forgotten. 93 per cent of persons classified as belonging to ABC-class demographic profiles were conscious of the Centennial as compared to only 63 per cent for those with an E class profile. The differences were even more striking among certain sectors of the population. The Centennial. In particular. The majority of the population. Many.

Certainly some considered such to be the case (Jurado 1998:15-B). 555 . The Marcos dictatorship.that could not be forgiven without public repentance. That is far too banal an interpretation. Garcia and Reyes 1998:1. to succumb to genealogical amnesia. Again. This desire by the majority of Filipinos to collectively forget the past.Selective Memory and Collective Forgetting bourhoods (Cadelina. widespread acts of terrorism. In contrast.26 Similar low levels of awareness were found among schoolchildren whose consciousness of citizenship still remained at only 49 per cent in 1998 despite the incorporation of Centennial topics emphasizing civic culture. These percentages were based on the number of people actually aware of the Centennial and not the total population. As a populist president. The majority of people are behind you'. and not all those buried there are heroes'). exSenate President Jovy Salonga and 'dozens of other eminentoes [sic] representing a highly impressive and distinguished cross-section of Philippine society'. values. brutal salvaging27 and indiscriminate hamleting' . had committed crimes against the Filipino people . the words with which the president-elect chose to announce his decision were highly revealing: 'We will bury Marcos's body and bury the past with him' (Bengco and Garcia 1998:1). restitution and the administration of justice (Benigno 1998).between elites. and concluded that: 'only the vocal minority is making noises against your plan to bury the Marcos issue. that 26 The corresponding statistics for Luzon and Mindanao were 40 per cent and 44 per cent respectively. Cardinal Sin. then. the religious. which has already consigned martial law to 'history' and largely cloaks Marcos in the forgetfulness of genealogical amnesia. even the more immediate past. 28 Jurado argued that whatever his other actions Marcos was still a former president and war hero of Bataan. I can offer no explanation for this relatively higher latter figure based on current information. counter-narratives . there are counter-discourses. was put to a severe test in 1998 with the controversy surrounding the then president-elect Estrada's resolution to permit the re-interment of Ferdinand Marcos's remains in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. among the left. the feminist and ethnic minorities . Of course. the cemetery reserved for the nation's heroes. that the Libingan grounds were not as sacred as some make out ('not all heroes are buried there. geography and history into the educational curricula since 1996 (Torres 1998:2).but these narratives are not simply counterpoised to that of the hegemonic.colossal plunder. gross human rights abuses. it was claimed. 27 The euphemism used in the Philippines for the murder of political opponents by members of officially sponsored assassination gangs.28 What. There was vociferous opposition to the proposal among certain sectors of society and an open letter addressed to Joseph Estrada signed by Corazon Aquino. Estrada's views may have been more in tune with public opinion and popular ideas about the past. is the social function of history in the contemporary Philippines? It should not be understood as simply a hegemonic discourse or narrative of absolute domination. 6).

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