Striking from Below: Pasyon and Revolution

During the early years of the American occupation in the Philippines during the early 1900’s, several religio-political revolutionary groups, which were operating since the reign of the country’s previous colonizer, were sustained and grew in numbers. One of these groups was the Santa Iglesia, a Katipunan-influenced group whose population was concentrated in the Central Luzon provinces of Pampanga, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Tarlac, and led by its leader, Felipe Salvador. In 1905, the Manila Times, one of the news publications in the country, illustrated the manner how Salvador acquired followers, and provisions for the group’s day-to-day living:

claiming to be a pope, he would enter a town with some followers, all dressed like pasyon characters. … Exhortations and speeches ‘quickly worked the population into a frenzy to the point where the people willingly turned over money and many joined his force.”

Reflecting the propagandist aim to form the ruling perception towards these groups, the media reduced Salvador to a phony religious leader, and made the people appear as ignorant fanatics, unable to think critically for themselves. This misconstrued understanding lacked the empathy to heal the unrest during the period, and perhaps instigated its worsening. The malicious control foreshadowed yet another problem in the writing of the country’s history in the next decades to come: that is, the local historical narrative neglected, or was made to neglect, the perspective and motivations of the masses.

This served as the point of departure of author-historian Reynaldo Ileto in his seminal book, Pasyon and Revolution. The book is a “long overdue” scholarly revolution against the ruling elite viewpoint in the way the country’s history was written. The author studied the spirit of the masses through a structural analysis of the collected fragmented bodies of local popular literature. Such analysis focuses on the motivations, causes and the meanings behind these pieces. With this, the author rallies for the inclusion of the masses – their stories, beliefs, customs, and value systems – into the dialogue of defining the national revolutionary narrative of 1840 to 1910.

Ileto found revolutionary potential embedded in seemingly passive texts and corresponding rituals of the pasyon, an epic narrative, comprehensively depicting Biblical stories from the Fall of Man to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; and the integral values therein, such as loob, damay, lakaran and hiya – elements that the elites and the colonizers had ignored. Comprising the backbone to the book, the stories in the narrative, layered with “folk sensibilities”, were deeply entrenched in the haraya of the masses from centuries of Spanish Christianization in different parts of the country. Tagged as “Little Tradition”, in contrast with the “Great Tradition” of the sophisticated revolution led by the ilustrados and the elites, the masses’ revolutions were “spontaneous, fragmented and in need of ilustrado articulation”, but driven by this embeddedness of the pasyon in the lives of the masses, were “genuine vehicles for the expression of the people’s dream of national liberation and economic amelioration”.

The hymns, prayers, and letters used by the Confradia de San Jose, a revolutionary brotherhood founded by Apolinario de la Cruz in 1832 to respond against the racial inequality imposed by the Spanish colonizers, disclose the sanctity of the endurance to maintain a stable and unwavering loob as one undergoes the narrative of transformation from suffering to Everlasting Life present in the pasyon. Taking its name from the Father of Jesus, the Confradia anchored its faith unto St. Joseph through submission “in honor of the seven trials and the happiness that [he] experienced when [he was] united with [his] beloved wife [Mary]”. For them, St. Joseph mediated them to the revelation of the ‘straight path’ towards happiness or state of “pure liwanag”, which is explicated in the prayer “Dalit sa caluwalhatian sa langit na cararatnan ng mga banal”. The belief that this liwanag, attainable in the earthly world through the release from the unjust Spanish policies, and de la Cruz’s reminders to prevent the wavering of the loob inspired the Confradia to “force [themselves] to remain steady” in the face of the struggles (Ileto 45), justifying the persistence of these people in the revolution.

The Katipunan, a revolutionary society founded at 1982 by Spanish-opposing Filipinos, held central the formation of nationalism among its members – nurturing the concept of Katagalugan into the more nationalistic Inang Bayan. In reference to the Fall of Man in the pasyon, leader Andres Bonifacio’s patriotic rallying call, “Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog”, speaks of the paradise-like “abundance and prosperity” in the lives of the Katagalugan prior the arrival of the Spaniards, who instead of keeping the promise of guidance towards the “awakening of minds”, brought Bayan to lose its honor and be consumed into darkness. Relaying this similar narrative in his Manifesto, Emilio Jacinto tapped into the valued Filipino familial ties, specifically the mother-child relationship, as he tackled the encounter of a Tagalog youth with Mother Kalayaan, who narrated how “the Tagalog lived in the shade of my protection, and in my bosom she was happy” until “Slavery arrived saying that she was Virtue and Justice, and promised Glory to all who would believe in her”.

With these references to history, the leaders called for persistence in wading the way through the darkness to find the light, and in joining together as one people in the struggle against the colonizers, so that they could at last return to their Paradise. This transformational struggle also serves as the backbone of the initiation rites into Katipunan, which highlights the departure from revered familial ties and the rebirth of the neophyte into the brotherhood towards a higher mission, similar to Jesus Christ’s.

As the revolution progressed, schism between the two factions of the Katipunan – the Magdalo and Magdiwang – built up, spelled by the differences in their goals. After the assassination of Bonifacio, the leadership of the revolution was transferred to the hands of the ilustrados, in the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, who rallied for the attainment of sovereignty through legal and sophisticated means. However, the Republic of the ilustrados failed to meet the expectations of the masses, who were thirsty for the fruits of the 1896 Revolution, causing dissatisfaction and further unrest. Instead of pacifying the masses by providing their needs, as the government looked outwardly towards internal recognition of the sovereignty of the country, they labelled these anti-revolutionary efforts banditry, allegedly backhanded by the Americans to destabilize the infant-state. Amid the efforts of Aguinaldo’s government, the Malolos Republic still fell under the claws of the wealthy Americans.

Amongst those who hasn’t surrendered, there was a return to the ideals of the Katipunan struggle towards independence, which are evident in local literature. “Ang Bayang Kahapishapis”, by Diego Mojica, revisits the “straight and holy path” from darkness to light. Awits in pamphlet forms, which are basically transcribed from songs sung by beggars, reexamine the call for unity, the condemnation of traitorhood as kahihiyan, and the indispensability of gulo in the attainment of unity. These values resonate the pasyon stories of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus Christ for personal gains, and the disruptions caused by Jesus in the society governed by Herod.

Beyond the surrender of his comrades and the growing inclination of the politicians towards personal interest, Miguel Malvar pushed through with the resistance. In the hopes of bringing back the vitality of the wounded spirit of the Filipino revolutionaries, he also revisited the values promoted by the Katipunan ideals in his speech “Mga Capatid at Casamasama sa Paquiquihamoc”, calling for the masses’ continuous participation and pakikiramay towards the “straight path”, with the assurance of a just reward. Macario Sakay was equally quick to respond after the surrender of the Malolos government to the colonizers, and reestablished the society as the “New Katipunan”, which aimed to negate the failures of the Malolos Republic. The group’s Kalayaan departs from merely being “the attainment of political autonomy”, towards “the attainment of certain possibilities … in life, like morality and economics”.   In his War Order, Sakay is deliberate in stating the failures of the previous government, and emphasizes the need for a genuine commitment to nothing else, but the country. These values were lived by both Malvar and Sakay until they faced their deaths.

The relatively silent, yet irrevocably active Santa Iglesia, through its persistent leader Felipe Salvador, braved the turmoil of both colonial rules from the early 1890’s to the late 1910’s. Staying true to the values instigated by the Katipunan, through the persistent reuse of the recall of pasyon principles in his teachings, Salvador has been committed to the lakaran mission of promulgating the religio-nationalistic sentiments from one encounter to the next. Having next to nothing, he went through his missionary journey from one town to the next, humbly begging and toiling with the local poor, in exchange of the lessons he taught and a brotherly meal that they shared. It is in this experience of constant dynamism of awa, damay and utang na loob that the author wanted to conclude the book, as it is in this experience of emphatic mutualism and engagement in the brotherhood that elicits the efficacy of the religious character of the revolution – something that has been left covered and underappreciated prior Ileto’s study.

The study stressed the primacy of the agency of history in the development of social memory, which in itself, affects how the future would be. In a country and a period where the screams and shouts of the masses were silenced into quiet whispers familiar only to a few, Ileto amplifies the voice of the masses – the pawns of the revolutions – ensuring that they are not only heard, but are striking from below. It was truly significant to spark the democratization of history, as according to George Orwell in his political novel 1984, “he who controls the past, controls the future”. 

Pasyon and Revolution is available in National Bookstore, Powerbooks, and FullyBooked branches nationwide, and in the Ateneo de Manila Press.

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