Revolution and Spirituality 

Among Filipinos

By Atty. Pablo S. Trillana III

Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers

Atty. Pablo S. Trillana III, ex-Delegate to the 1991 Constitutional Convention and Undersecretary of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources, was also a broadcaster on historical and cultural themes. He joined KMS before being elected President of the Philippine Historical Association, and later on becoming the Chairman and Executive Director of the National Historical Institute (NHI).

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E ARE CELEBRATING the centennial of the Philippine revolution against Spain. As we relive those struggles, it is also worth remembering the EDSA Revolution and asking whether a revolution has ever really taken place in the Philippines or, more precisely, among Filipinos.

            The Philippine Revolution of 1896 is commonly regarded as an armed uprising against Spain by a people newly awakened to nationhood. The EDSA Revolution 1986, on the other hand, is acclaimed as a rare demonstration of "people power" to effect the relativity peaceful overthrow of the unpopular Marcos regime.

            To discern their common thread, and the essence of "revolution" in the Philippine context, it is necessary to examine more closely these two events of Philippine history. To start with, it is safe to assume the both events were spurred by a basic and massive desire for change. But what sort of change?

            Were the Katipuneros of 1896 merely after the termination of Spanish colonial rule and the creation of an independent state? Did Filipinos from all walks of life come in February 22-25, 1986 to the defense of a faction of military defectors just so Marcos would be ousted?

            On both occasions, individual participants in the mass movement for change had a wide range of motives -- some pure, others selfish, still others ill-defined. What mattered, ultimately, was the recognition of their bonds, the realization of their collective strength, and the the triumph of their spirit. By banding together and expressing their common will, they initiated the process of change.

            As made manifest by subsequent events at the turn of the century and during the past ten years, the process of change did not reach -- or appears to encounter difficulties heading towards -- full fuition. The first Philippine Republic established in 1899 was short-lived as a new colonial power (the Americans) emerged to subjugate the Filipinos. On the other hand, the Aquino and Ramos administrations found themselves swamped with "traditional" problems - aggravated by rising popular expectations and by destabilization efforts of rival political, ideological, military or secessionist forces.

            Why did neither "Revolution" gather enough momentum to effect substantial and lasting transformation in Philippine society?   The answer seems to lie in the focus of the desired change.    In both instances, political emancipation ultimately became the focal objective. It was as if, by establishing a Philippine Republic and by installing a new President, the rest of the necessary fundamental socio-economic changes would neatly fall into place.

            Deeper reflection would make us conclude that political freedom, by itself, does not necessarily lead to substantial, transformative social and economic change. This is because politics involves, primarily, structures and power relationships. But beneath the"superstructure" are people -- individual human beings.

            If no transformation occurs on the personal level, all change on the structural level could be superficial. This is the crux of revolutionary change: participants in a popular mass movement must profess a firm commitment to internal change and bring about lasting societal transformation.


            Commitment to internal change was central to the Katipunan's call for revolt. The Spaniards had lost the moral right to govern, but it was not enough for Filipinos to take up arms and force the colonizers out of power. Participants in the revolution had to attain a level of consciousness where each was willing to endure sacrifice to initiate, first change within himself and, then, in the external order.

            This moral imperative of the revolution surfaces clearly in the writings of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto and in the initiation rites assiduously espoused by the former. The two revolutionary leaders insisted on "kalinisan ng loob" or inner transformation as the essential foundation of the struggle and participation in the redemption of the Motherland. Both Bonifacio's Dekalogo and Jacinto's Kartilya, the basic commandments of the Katipuneros, pressed for a life of uprightness as the defining characteristics of the Katipunero.

            In Kalayaan, the Katipunan's official publication, whose only issue began to circulate in March 1896, Bonifacio and Jacinto were exacting in their call for "a dying to a state of darkness". Here, "darkness" meant ignorance because of "bad inclinations" that blinded the people from seeing that the appealing exteriors of Spanish rule were all "pandaraya" (trickery).

            The friar rhetoric of christianizing the Filipinos and their conduct in administering the pueblo-parishes were embellished with the beautiful facade of religious pageants and rituals. But beneath the admirable exterior lurked their ignorance because of "bad inclinations" that blinded the people from seeing that the appealing exteriors of Spanish rule were all "pandaraya" (trickery). The friar rhetoric of christianizing the Filipinos and their conduct in administering the pueblo-parishes were embellished with the beautiful facade of religious pageants and rituals.

            But beneath the admirable exterior lurked their aarogance and exploitation of the people. Bonifacio and Jacinto were, therefore, insistent that anyone, who wished to join the Katipunan, should first die to a past of bad habits as a way of seeing clearly through this appealing facade of friar rule in order to discover its sinister underside.

            This preoccupation with inner transformation as the condition of revolution was the underpinning of the Katipunan initiation rites as envisioned by Bonifacio. To him, the Katipunan was a society dedicated not simply to political self- rule but to a rule founded on brotherly love. Each neophyte must affirm his wish to die to past relationships -- to previous attachments and bad inclinations.

            Every Katipunero was required to prove this willingness through tests of hardship (such as jumping into a well or crawling through narrow passages of dark caves to find the right egress) in order to achieve internal purification. Only then were the gates of the society opened (pagbubukas ng karurukan) to receive the neophyte, who was made to sign his membership oath in blood in a solemn throwback to the ancient tradition of the blood compact.

            Towards the end of the initiation, the Katipunan leader would exhort the new recruit in the plaintive and supplicating language of a woman in chains who sought "damay" from her sons. The final words of this lament brought back the theme of inner transformation, of humility, unity, love and sacrifice:

            "Bear in mind, my chosen compatriots, that the way travelled by this Katipunan is the way of unity, mutual caring and mutual damay that will not perish even unto death. And bear in mind that in this Katipunan, bad behavior and bad loob (inner self) and pride in particular, are renounced, for the object of our journey is the purest and most immaculate existence that can ever be attained. Be humble of loob and sacrifice your lives and all your resources in order to defend the banner of our tearfully lamenting religion and native land."

            At the end of the initiation, ceremony, the Katipunan brothers will be shedding tears. The message of compassion for the Motherland was understood. And the tears were expressions of a deepening experience of change in the "loob", the growth of an inner strength that enabled them to face suffering and death with admirable resolve.

            It is to be noted that from the time the Katipunan was founded in 1892 until January of 1896 when its official publication was printed, its membership numbered only about 300. After this publication was circulated and passed from hand to hand beginning in March 1896, the number grew rapidly, so that from mid-March 1896 to the time of the August 1896 outbreak of the revolution (a matter of about five months), the Katipuneros numbered about 30,000.

            The spread and popularity of the secret society, which surprised even Bonifacio, would unfortunately contain certain seeds that did not portend well for the successful achievement of its redemptive goal. Bonifacio's insitence on the initiation rites as the means to draw the neophytes to experience the change in their "loob" and, therefore, to determine the purity of their motives and steadfast resolve, met resistance.

            Citing E. Arsenio Manuel (Dictionary of Philippine Biography), Prof. Reynaldo Ileto in his book "Pasyon and Revolution" reported that Roman Basa, for example, was either expelled or withdrew from membership because he wanted to do away with the tedious process of initiation. Further, Prof. Ileto (citing E. Aguinaldo's "Mga Gunita Ng Himagsikan") stated that many other revolutionary leaders practically discarded the initiation rites while retaining the Katipunan rhetoric to rouse the people and sustain their resolve to fight.

            While it lasted, however, Bonifacio's call for change in the "loob" and brotherly love was not lost on the masses. Among the memories of many veterans of the Katipunan was a recollection of the spiritual bonding among them and the yearning for the condition of "Kalayaan" achieved in the early stages of the struggle. Santiago Alvarez came close to recalling this condition when he described life in the Katipunan liberated town of San Francisco de Malabon in Cavite province during the latter days of September 1896:

            "The people were truly happy, free to enjoy life in all sorts of ways. Food was plentiful; all things were cheap; there were no perversities, no robberies, no thefts, no pickpockets. Everyone had love for his fellow men, and in every place the Katipunan's teaching of brotherly love held sway. Frightful threats of death, like the whistling cannonballs, were viewed calmly as everyone simply ducked to avoid them. And with hope in the grace of God, the children, the elders, women and men had no fear of news of the enemy's advance was ever cause for fear...The cannon bursts were no longer feared and even came to be regarded as fireworks in a celebration..."

            Weakening Threads. Eventually, however, leadership of the revolutionary movement and the political ascendancy in the events that followed fell into the hands of the faction (the "intellectuals" and the "haves") that did not fully share nor appreciate the spiritual dimension of the struggle. At this point, the desire for political independence became pre-eminent- making it easy for the Americans to win over the revolutionary leadership, many of whom came from the native principalia, with visins of a "democratic" way of life.

            Under American colonial rule, Philippine society became gradually transfixed with the more "modern" consumerist culture and Western secular thoughts brought by their new colonial masters. They began to forget the spiritual dimension of their revolutionary struggles which slowly diminished as a central influence in their lives.

            In 1946, the Philippines finally achieved its leaders' post- colonial obsession: political independence. But this was to prove little in terms of benefits to the majority of the Filipinos. In the first place, as pointed out by nationalists, the economy remained dependent on the United States. More fundamentally, the orientation of development was based on aggregate economic growth with little regard for spiritual upliftment and for responsible stewardship of resources.

            The Filipino sould floundered in the materialist environment. And while individual Filipinos attained varying degrees of "success', the Filipinos as a people drifted into a spiral of poverty. Clearly, social ends had become subordinate to private interests. It became painfully ironic, therefore, that by the beginning of the 1990s a nation so rich in natural resources and human talent had distinguished itself as among the last within its Asean neighbors and behind the "economic tigers" in the world's most dynamic growth region.


            Then came EDSA in February 1986. That event witnessed a resurfacing of the Filipino soul. Many Filipinos from all walks of life, aware that they could become martyrs for national deliverance, gathered at EDSA to pray and to relive their lost sense of community. Millions of their countymen in homes across the land joined them in spirit. An inner force that united the people vanquished the walls of division in Philippine society.

            And, in unison, the Filipinos expressed their rejection of an immoral regime and thereby least for the moment -- restored the oneness of their innermost values and their wordly actions.

            Many wondered at how it all happened, that hundreds of thousands of Filipinos would converge on EDSA and for three "dark days" shield a group of military defectors with only their bodies and their prayers against the tanks and guns of an entrenched strongman.

            With their simple faith, they disarmed battle-ready soldiers who could not muster the courage to kill their citizen-brothers. The mystical and the supernatural, the inexplicable element of EDSA, remains to this day a matter for reflection among many Filipinos, not the least among those whose bodies knelt before the tanks.

            Robert Chabeldin narrated his EDSA participation in unmistakably spiritual terms when he said:

            "I positioned myself, along with others, the barricade in front of Camp Aguinaldo so that when the reported tank assault coming from Malacanang would come, we would all be crushed to the time I realized I was willing to die.

            "Actually, it may sound like we were all doing heroic acts, but it was more like dealing with some inner feelings in the realm of the spiritual. To this date, I still cannot explain where we all got that sense of spirituality. I thought by forming the barricades, I was being one of them, and them being part of me. That in sharing these moments of challenge, we have achieved a breakthrough in national consciousness. It is difficult to explain it, but you have to experience it to know what it is all about."

            (B)eing one of them, and them being part of me "re-echoed the longings of solidarity in struggle, of brotherhood, of compassion and damay that have percolated in popular conciousness among Filipinos since the days of their forefathers."

            In a truly wonderful sense, the Filipinos at EDSA rediscovered their spiritual bonds -- the same inner strength and brotherhood in the face of trials and even possible death that, generations before, allowed their brothers in the Katipunan of Andres Bonifacio to participate and die in the struggle to attain a common dream.


            In the context of Philippine history, the Katipunan upheaval of 1896 and the EDSA phenomenon of 1896 were unfinished revolutions. While both revolutions shattered the old political order, neither achieved the transformation of the largely feudal and oligarchic Philippine society into a more dynamic and equitable polity.

            As the nation, therefore, commemorates the centennial of the 1986 Revolution, individual Filipinos have to renew their stake in the revolution. They must stir back to life the conscience of endurance and sacrifice that blossomed in the Katipunan and resurfaced in EDSA.

           They must bring the process of change, once again, to the level of personal sacrifice and, infusing their development efforts with the spiritual bonds of brotherly "damay" as their forefathers had done before them, pull themselves up to join their tiger-neighbors and, in the process, provide another model of growth for the developing world.

(Kamalaysayan Media Service)



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