To what extent does Constantino’s revisionist history allow Filipinos to assess their national heroes, embedded within their Americanised mentality?
Sefton High School
Colonial historiography did not only try to erase our identity, but also our true heroes who kept the torch burning in the darkest nights. It is the task of history to unearth this with the new data and facts unearthed.
Professor Roland R. Simbulan
The initial purpose of my investigation into the past of the Philippines was to learn more about the Filipino culture – one that I feel I have missed out on, being born in the Philippines and growing up in Australia. I would hear the momentous occasions when the Filipinos triumphed over their oppressors and fought for their freedom. Their fighting spirit would always inspire me. This was the view passed down by my parents but as I discovered the works of Renato Constantino1 and other anti-imperialist historians, it became apparent how misled many Filipinos were, and still are, regarding their past.
The purpose of this essay is to investigate and clarify the issue of Americanisation within the Philippines. Moreover, through my analysis of the heroes that my parents speak of at length, I aim to acquire a better understanding of the Filipino identity and mentality. Both Filipino and American historians have raised the complex debate of America’s ‘Benevolent Assimilation’2. In my essay, their works have been analysed and contrasted to the contemporary works of Ambeth Ocampo3 as well as Professor Roland Simbulan4 – encompassing the views of the past and the present. It was Constantino who wrote “our past is the thread to our future” and so the use of historical works as well as modern day interpretations will aid in a more ‘total history’.
* * * * *
Historian. Artist. Freedom Fighter. International affairs expert. Nationalist. Renato Constantino was all that and more. This is how Professor Bernard Karganilla, as well as most Filipinos today, view the life and societal contributions of the late Renato Constantino. His work has presented the struggles of Filipinos throughout history, exposed the truth behind the nine decades of American colonialism and provided the platform for which Philippine, revisionist history is derived. Constantino’s work coupled with the recent death of Alec Campbell5 prompted a re-evaluation of the “Filipino hero”. Do figures such as General Aguinaldo6 deserve intrigue while the likes of General MacArthur7 bask in reverence of heroism? Adversely, do the figures that were branded as “bandits”8 during the American-Philippine War9 deserve to be promoted? In 1998, in preparation for the Centennial celebrations, Ambeth R. Ocampo discussed the reasons why General Aguinaldo is today treated as a “heel rather than a national hero.”10
Ocampo, restricted by his journalistic limitations of objectivity, views Aguinaldo as the most maligned man in Philippine History simply because he was not martyred nor was he killed in battle like most of our (Filipino) dead heroes.11 He feels that it is easy for people today, armed with hindsight, to catalogue Aguinaldo’s mistakes and take him out of context12. In this, Ocampo not only defends the image and legacy of Aguinaldo but also promotes the reassessment of history, which he feels gives society a fresh view of the past not found in American textbooks.13 This is the basis for Ocampo’s request for every Filipino generation to rewrite its own history.
Criticism has erupted over the fact that Ocampo assumes too much from very little evidence and that his work is based on tsismis (trivialized gossip). Ocampo’s belief, however, is that the only way that the history of the Philippines can be understood is by the exploration of these “stories”. Furthermore, in his defense other critics claim that Ocampo’s story-telling approach enables the true experience of the Filipinos to be told. “Without his history, Filipinos may as well be, well, History.”14
The goal to realise a more Filipino history is the challenge inspired by Constantino, who sought to attain a “people’s history” that would provide the Filipinos with an understanding of their past and a counter consciousness15 for a more Independent future. Constantino stated, “…as people gained knowledge and as societies progressed, some individuals who were hitherto regarded as heroes began to lose their relevance; others were unmasked as villains who stood against the interests of the people. For in the final analysis, it is the people who make or unmake heroes.”16
The idea of there being other, more “idyllic” figures to classify as heroes is an argument shared by Professor Roland Simbulan. He writes, “nationalist history should unearth the truth wherever it may lead, for I believe that it will reveal the true heroes, from the people whose real role has been distorted if not covered up, to avoid inspiring others.”17 Being contemporaries of each other, it is inevitable that Constantino and Simbulan will share similar views.
Constantino does not see Aguinaldo as a leader of his people – he did not sacrifice his life nor did he shape his personal views to support those held by his people. With reference to the 400 000 pesos, which Aguinaldo allegedly accepted from the American colonialists, Constantino is able to prove to the Philippine population of Aguinaldo’s blunders to effectively make him under-qualified to be considered as a hero.
Although Constantino concedes to the scheming and deceptive nature of the American forces, he does not make any excuse for Aguinaldo’s gullibility, which he believes set the precedents for future generations to follow.18 Within this comment, Constantino alludes to the Marcos Regime19, which he himself lived through and resisted. Furthermore, although Constantino did not see the ascension of Joseph Estrada20, his belief has been proved by the actions of the Filipinos. It is alarmingly clear that a nation’s ‘hero system’ needs revision when it elects a movie hero21 as President.
The American perspective is pivotal in this particular analysis of Aguinaldo. Ocampo believes that the dim view of Aguinaldo held by jaded journalists of the time was not shared by the American military that had a healthy respect for the General22.
Stanley Karnow23, an American journalist and historian of our time, however, is very critical of Aguinaldo and portrays him as an incapable general. Karnow contrasts Aguinaldo to one of his fellow generals, Gregorio del Pilar24, who is canonized today in the Filipino pantheon of martyred heroes. The discrepancy outlined by Karnow, between the two generals, is the fact that Pilar opposed the American advance in the Philippines and thus explains the Filipinos regard of Pilar as an unquestionable hero.
This is an indication of the evolving mentality that the Filipinos are acquiring. It seems that the question of Aguinaldo has been asked and answered. Aguinaldo would never live down the perceptions that he sold the revolution for 400, 000 pesos25. If we turn the debate, however, to a prominent American figure in Philippine history, we can see the extent to which Americanisation or American propaganda has “strangled” the history as well as the mentality of the Filipinos.
General “I shall return” Macarthur26, as commonly referred to by Generation X, is one of the most celebrated war generals in history. The fact remains though that General MacArthur and General Aguinaldo are alike in what they contributed to the Philippines, yet they are viewed in diametrically opposed reverence. As Karnow argues, the Filipinos viewed Macarthur as nothing less than superhuman.
A conversation with my mother completely illuminated this idea when I asked her why she viewed MacArthur as a hero. Her response was “he is the Filipino’s saviour.” By fulfilling his promise of returning, her romanticised (and Americanised) belief was that he brought liberation to the country and restored the nation after the Guerra (war). I then asked her whether she believed the claims that he is a hero based on fallacy and fabricated deeds. However, to show the extent of her historical miseducation, as well as the miseducation of the Filipinos, she simply smiled and dismissed the very thought of these claims. The fact is that Filipinos are not prepared to accept the other side of the story because they themselves are not aware of it. However, as F. Scott Fitzgerald would put it, “Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.”27
Such a statement suggests the charade that Macarthur is historically associated with. Karnow argues that the lone eagle image that Macarthur sought to project of himself was deceptive28. In a 1961 TIME article29, Karnow reported the reception for MacArthur as approximating religious idolatry. Alluding to a similar landing during WWII30 Karnow claims that Macarthur seemed to have practiced every step, planned every gesture and rehearsed every statement.31 It was as if MacArthur put on a show for the impressionable Filipinos.
Even to this day, this image of Macarthur stands. However Karnow, supported by D. Clayton James’ 32 biography, argues that he was like a captain abandoning the sinking ship first33. MacArthur deserted the Filipinos when they needed him most, just as Aguinaldo had done fifty years earlier, during the Philippine-American War. The only difference is that MacArthur uttered the three words “I shall return” which will forever be ingrained, just as his hero status remains, in the hearts and minds of the Filipinos. MacArthur’s critics denounce the personal pronoun as yet another symptom of his megalomania. Moreover, his pledge was not even his own; they had been carefully crafted weeks before by Carlos Romulo34 who claimed, “If he says he is coming back, he will be believed.”35
To a large extent, MacArthur is similar to the character of Albert Speer36. Although MacArthur did not conspire with the Americans to exterminate the Filipinos, as the Nazis planned for the Jews, MacArthur presented a false impression to elevate him to the hero that he is today. Sure the Germans do not regard Speer as a hero, however, they began to see his true guilt regarding his knowledge of the Final Solution37 after historians and Germans alike, gained access to hidden documents. It is not the aim of this essay to accuse MacArthur of being the sole cause of Filipino deaths, during World War Two. However, MacArthur’s position needs to be revised, analysed by the Filipinos in order for his “true” image to be discovered and for the degree of his worshipped to be measured.
Constantino feels that, “In presenting men and events uncritically there is always the danger that we may accept as a hero, one who may not fully deserve such an honour.”38
This quote shows the validity of the reassessment of MacArthur’s position. It also stresses a particular strain of Constantinian thought, in that objectivity has become a fetish among social scientists39. Even journalists of today, such as Karnow and Ocampo, are viewed by Constantino to be limited by the objectivity that their work requires. Constantino feels that, “Objective facts and developments must be presented within a framework and a point of view, in order to serve a useful end.”40
In response to this thought, it should be known that Constantino was a journalist himself and was even the chairman of the editorial board of Malaya. Such facts hinder Constantino’s advocacy for absolute objectivity. But Constantino’s personal assessment of MacArthur’s character exemplifies his objectivity, or lack thereof. This is a result of Constantino’s ploy to bring justice to a view, which he feels has been buried by the Americans. To clarify the situation, it seems that objectivity is an integral part of journalism, however, Constantino preaches for there to be a separation between the two – the writings of historians should be constructed differently to the news of a journalist.
It is no surprise, however, that Constantino’s assessment of MacArthur is governed by the presentation of General MacArthur’s fallacies and dramatisation of a fabricated image. Renato Constantino opposes the adulation that MacArthur receives and questions whether MacArthur was a saviour or rather a burden to the Filipinos.
As a way to stress the American deception of the Filipinos, Constantino rejects the promotion of The Battle of Bataan41 as a traditional symbol of Filipino-American unity and common sacrifice. He feels this propaganda made Filipinos forget the empty promises of aid and ignore the errors of their military idol, Douglas MacArthur.42 Furthermore, Constantino specifies some truth behind this American myth. In actual fact during Bataan, American and Filipino soldiers did not receive the same salary or food and Filipino units manned the front lines while the 10,000 American soldiers were held in reserves. Moreover, Constantino dismisses MacArthur’s untruthful statements and progress reports, which Constantino links to the result of “much suffering and death, principally of Filipino soldiers.”43
By providing the facts and historical documents in his essays and books, Constantino is able to provide readers with much of what really happened and enables them to interpret the issue for themselves. He acknowledges the fact that we will have the bias of hindsight in our decision, argued against by Ocampo, however, he believes that this is better than a fixed interpretation, which the Americans have been accused of committing for the past century.44
Furthermore, “Though it is pleasanter to hold onto the cherished illusions, and however sacrilegious it may appear to those who have embraced the myths built up by propaganda, it is always far more beneficial to accept the truth and understand its implications.”45 This is the perception gained regarding the purpose and impact of revisionist and nationalist history.
All of these attributes, which have become synonymous with Constantino’s work and legacy, is an indication of his contribution to the attainment of a “people’s history.”
It is the firm belief of James Petras46 that few intellectuals can measure up to the breadth and depth of knowledge, as well as commitment to popular liberation, as Renato Constantino.
The ideas that Constantino explores in his books The Philippines: A Past Revisited (Volume 1) and The Continuing Past (Volume 2) as well as the numerous cultural essays that have been accredited to his name, enables the Filipino, and all oppressed colonies for that matter, to be aware of a cycle they have fallen into due to colonialism. The reliance placed by Filipinos on General Macarthur is similar to the relationship that the Filipinos had with the American colonialists, fifty years earlier, during Aguinaldo’s time. Not only did the Filipinos welcome the Americans they believed their every word47. Constantino’s work, however, is able to crystallise the existence of such an ongoing cycle that is centred about American dependence. It is a cycle that all Filipinos can blame for their current struggles but also a cycle, which they must rethink and exploit to liberate themselves.
In fact, Constantino acknowledges the nation’s desire to understand why the Filipinos are still so dependent on the Americans, when ultimately they strive for independence? This is the basis for Constantino’s work. However he is also aware of the extent to which the Filipinos have been americanised and that this reliance is what is “normal”48 and one that will take generations to eradicate. The Filipino view of Macarthur and Aguinaldo, to a lesser extent, was not challenged until the likes of Constantino called for greater awareness of the Filipino situation. It is agreed that the Filipinos have a long journey in front of them – but a journey simplified, due to the guiding light of Constantino’s truth.
The assessment of Aguinaldo and MacArthur, two personalities that have been the subject of recent, complex debate, has led to the discovery of Constantino’s true contribution towards a “people’s history.” Simbulan simplifies, “The point is, heroes are there to inspire and the kind of heroes we create are reflections of our aspirations and vision for the future.”49 In this quote we can see that Simbulan understands the reason why Filipinos still hold MacArthur so close to their hearts. Throughout W.W.II the Filipinos yearned for American assistance; they forgot about their dreams of Independence in hopes of being rescued from their current oppressors, the Japanese. This faith and hope was subsequently channelled towards the American General. In today’s society, however, the people’s aspirations are to acquire an understanding of their present by illuminating their past. Constantino’s work has allowed Filipinos to be aware of the opposing views and interpretations of colonial historiography. Moreover he has outlined the reason why there has been little, or non-existent circulations of opposing views, by sharing his discovery of the concealment of the truth, brought upon by the disguise of the Americans. With this in mind, scholarly contemporaries of Constantino50, critics and students, as well as the population of the Philippines have good reason to induct Constantino in their pantheon of heroes. They understand that Constantino highlights the truth that is the missing thread between their past and their future identity.
The people also value the contribution of Constantino’s work and legacy because they have received the truth, which they were taught never existed. They have been inspired, as much as they have been challenged, to attain a future not governed by American colonialism, nor the false pretences of America’s “Benevolent Assimilation”, but hopefully governed by the Filipino himself. This may not be achieved in the near future but definitely for future generations.
My analysis of Renato Constantino’s work has made clear that it is not individuals that make history; it is the people who are the makers of history. Therefore, only those individuals whose acts and teachings are in consonance with the aspirations and needs of the people will have a permanent place of honour in history.”51 This is why the assessment of Aguinaldo and MacArthur, as well as other national heroes, is pivotal in the demystification of the Filipino identity. A hero is someone that should uphold the people’s beliefs and values; thus their reassessment is invaluable in order for Filipinos to understand the steps necessary towards cultural clarification.
Constantino stated in a speech, “I trust that you will not be content just to pass on what you have been taught. I hope that many of you will decide to write history. If you do, your job is not merely to research but to rethink, to revisit the past guided by a decolonised consciousness.52 Through my essay I hope that I have not only honoured the life, work and contribution of Renato Constantino in unveiling the truth embedded within the Philippine past. As a Filipino, I yearn to also challenge what has been written in books as well as what has been taught by my parents. In doing so, I hope that I have done my part in the enormity of achieving a ‘people’s history.’
1 Dr. Renato Constantino, a nationalist and one of the Centennial Artist Awardees of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, died September 15 1999.
2 On December 21 1898, President McKinley issued his “Benevolent Assimilation” Proclamation that, despite its honeyed words about the Americans coming “not as invaders or conquerors, but as friends,” instructed the American military commanders to extend their sovereignty of the United States over the whole country, by force if necessary. (A Past Revisited, pg. 223)
3 Ambeth Ocampo is a journalist at the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He is the author of historical Chronicles such as The Centennial Countdown (1998) and Aguinaldo’s Breakfast (1993).
4 Roland Simbulan is a Professor at the University of the Philippines
5 Alec Campbell died on May 16, 2002. Mr. Campbell’s legacy and that of the 50,000 other Australians who fought at Gallipoli in 1915 have permanently shaped the Australian character. (The Australian, Friday May 17 2002) He is epitomized as an Australian national hero, especially since he lived to be the last Australian ANZAC.
6 General Emilio Aguinaldo became the first President of the Philippines in 1898, when he declared the island nation free from Spanish rule. In 1901, however, he swore allegiance to the Americans, forcing the Filipinos under another colonial power.
7 General MacArthur is viewed as the man who saved the Philippines from the Japanese stronghold during W.W.II.
8 Activists and rebels who fought against the Americans during the colonial period were branded as bandits simply because the Americans feared their potential to ignite revolutionary ideals within the people – leading to Independence.
9 Although Americans have traditionally used the term “The Philippine Insurrection,” Filipinos refer to these hostilities as the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).
10 Article Was he a heel or a hero? History unkind to Aguinaldo cited from Ambeth R. Ocampo, The Centennial Countdown, Philippines, 1998, p. 10
11 Outlined in Ocampo’s article Aguinaldo’s Longevity as Liability (Philippine Daily Globe, April 3 1988). Found in: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Looking Back, Philippines, 1990, p. 188
12 Ocampo argues that if Aguinaldo is viewed within the context of his time, he was fighting with insufficient arms and was “tricked” by the Americans to form such close ties with the enemy.
13 In his article Courage was Filipinos’ main weapon, Ocampo states “Research into the weapons of the revolution will prove that real history is not as simple as textbook history.” (Ambeth R. Ocampo, The Centennial Countdown, Philippines, p. 219)
14 Conrado de Quiros, The Centennial Countdown, Philippines, Back cover
15 Counter Consciousness is a Constantinian ideal that revises the view of colonialism.
16 Renato Constantino, The Philippines: A Past Revisited, Philippines, 1975, p. 7
17 Email from Roland Simbulan, 13 June 2002
18 Constantino, op. cit. p.210 “At the very moment when the people were giving up their lives to assert their right to determine their own destiny, the leadership [Aguinaldo] that presumed to speak for them was already denying them a basic prerogative of a free people.”
19 President Ferdinand E. Marcos (1965-86) declared martial law in 1972. Corruption and favouritism contributed to a serious decline in economic growth and development under Marcos.
20 Ninth President of the Philippines put on trial late in 2000 for allegations regarding corruption and bribery.
21 Estrada: Movie hero or villain? (BBC NEWS, December 10 2000)
22 Ambeth R. Ocampo, The Centennial Countdown, Philippines, 1998, p. 282
23 Stanley Karnow – American journalist and author of Mao and China: From Revolution to Revolution as well as Vietnam: A History, has been accredited for his works on many Asian uprisings throughout the 20th Century.
24 Gregorio del Pilar served under Aguinaldo during the Philippine-American War. G. Pilar cited in Stanley Karnow, In our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines, U.S.A, 1989, p. 158 “The Americans can never take this place. If they did, it would only be over my dead body.”
25 Ambeth R. Ocampo, The Centennial Countdown, Philippines, 1998, p. 54
26 Ocampo, op. cit. p. 184
27 Stanley Karnow, In our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines, U.S.A, 1989, p. 266
28 Karnow, op. cit. p. 262
29 Karnow wrote an article for Time Magazine, during Macarthur’s valedictory visit to the Philippines, in which he outlined the “practiced” arrival of MacArthur.
30 Karnow cited in Karnow, op. cit. p. 257 “He also dramatized his arrival in rhetoric redemption contrived to electrify the emotions of pious Filipinos – even though it angered many Americans at home. Oblivious to enemy snipers not far from the beach, he proclaimed through a radio transmitter: “People of the Philippines, I have returned…Rally to me!”
32 D. Clayton James cited in Karnow, In Our Image, U.S.A, 1989, p. 291 concludes his judicious biography: “When all the evidence is sifted, however contradictory and incomplete it may be, Macarthur still emerges as the officer who was in overall command in the Philippines that fateful day, and he must therefore bear a large measure of the blame.”
33 Karnow, op. cit. p. 299
34 Carlos Romulo was the chief propagandist at Corregidor, an important military base, which the Americans defended against the Japanese during W.W.II.
35 Karnow, op. cit. p.
36 Albert Speer served as Inspector General of Building in Berlin before being appointed the post of Reich Minister of Armaments and Munitions in 1942. He joined the Nazi Party in 1930. (Should I footnote where I got Speer’s biographical information?)
37 The Final Solution was the Nazis answer to their Jewish Problem. It was declared and outlined by Himmler at Posen in October 1943.
38 Renato Constantino, Neocolonial Identity and Counter Consciousness, Philippines, 1978 p. 264
39 Constantino, op. cit. p. 265
40 Constantino, op. cit. p. 265
41 The Battle of Bataan was fought in the latter stages of W.W.II in the Pacific. (Find more information)
42 Renato Constantino, The Philippines: The Continuing Past, Philippines, 1978, p. 50
43 Constantino, op. cit. p. 49
44 Find quote about textbooks.
45 Constantino, op. cit. p. 49
46 James Petras, Professor of Sociology, Binghamton University, NY
48 Renato Constantino, Neocolonial Identity and Counter Consciousness, Philippines, 1978, p. “So deep are the roots of colonial consciousness…there would still be many who would think that what is good for the Americans is good for the Filipinos too.”
49 Roland Simbulan cited in email received June 13 2002
50 Dean Josefina G. Tayag cited from http://bagumbayan.upm.edu.ph/julang1999/9constantino.html recalls “Every book that he wrote was the best source material for me as I taught history with a mission…to teach our young people a sense of history, as Tato (Constantino) has taught us all to have a sense of history. Not to be muddled by a myriad of facts and detail, without seeing the entirety of our history.”
51 Renato Constantino, Neocolonial Identity and Counter Consciousness, Philippines, 1978, p. 274
52 Constantino, op. cit. p. 275
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in 2004