Speech: Marcelo H. Del Pilar and the Filipino Youth

National Symposium on the Greatness of Marcelo H. Del Pilar
In observance of his Hundredth Death Anniversary 1896-1996
July 3, 1996 PlazaSan Agustin, Intramuros, Manila

Marcelo H. Del Pilar and the Filipino Youth
by Manuel L. Quezon III

Mr. Marcelo del Pilar Marasigan, Dr. Serafin Quiason, descendants of Marcelo H. Del Pilar, distinguished panelists and guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

I have been invited to talk to you on the lofty subject of “Marcelo H. Del Pilar and the Filipino Youth.” It is difficult to talk about Del Pilar because of an unfortunate state of affairs which has resulted in a painful fact. The painful fact is that Marcelo H. Del Pilar is of absolutely no significance to the Filipino youth at the present time. You see, the Filipino youth know nothing about him. They haven’t read anything written by him, or even about him, unless you count history textbooks which no one reads with attention anyway. The average citizen simply does not care about Del Pilar. His only place in the national consciousness is the fact that he was a gentleman with wonderful twirly mustachios who used to be on the fifty centavo coin. That is all. With this sad state of affairs in mind, we must face the fact that, if we aren’t careful, this symposium might turn out to be the second funeral of Marcelo H. Del Pilar: a gathering of the dwindling few for whom he still means something.

The only way that we will be able to rescue Del Pilar from obscurity is to consider, today, how on earth we can make Del Pilar count for anything in the minds of today’s young people. And we cannot do this until we first clear up exactly how we want to present Del Pilar to future generations. We must consider three things: Del Pilar as a person, Del Pilar and the ideals he espoused, and the significance and value of the Propaganda Movement, of which Del Pilar was a key member.

Marcelo H. Del Pilar, our learned historians assure us, was a gifted writer with the unique ability to move people in two languages: Tagalog and Spanish. His fame rests on his accomplishments as a writer and editor of La Solidaridad.. To use that horrible phrase so much in fashion now, Del Pilar was surely “world-class”, as a pamphleteer and journalist. For most Filipinos, these accomplishments are the things which entitle Del Pilar to fame and veneration. Obviously something is wrong with this justification for considering Del Pilar as great, since it hasn’t resulted in Del Pilar becoming a model for anyone, much less journalists. I will tell you the reason for this. Simply being “world class” is not a qualification for posthumous fame, because it implicitly takes for granted the presumption that not all Filipinos are world-class, and worse, that Filipinos can only be great if they outdo foreigners in things foreign. An analogy in the world of music would be the fate of Jovita Fuentes: widely admired in her time, the greatest Filipina diva, who enchanted people the world over playing Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly, no one remembers her now except for the small number of people who study music seriously. She was the first “world-class” Filipina singer, but we don’t even have recordings of her voice in quantity. Her fate, I think, will be the fate of today’s world-famous Filipina singer, Leah Salonga. I suspect Leah Salonga will, in her turn end up a footnote in Philippine Music history, as Jovita Fuentes has. Eventually her songs will be played less and less, as tastes and fashion changes, making her irrelevant. Today’s famous singer is tomorrow’s world-class has-been. The only way she would endure, as a significant figure, is if she had helped to create a radical appreciation of Filipino music among Filipinos, which she didn’t. Her path to glory has been the path of foreign music, at which foreigners excel, and which they will always dominate. She will merely be one who played the game, never an innovator. When credit is given for the popularization of Filipino pop music, her name will always be tied to acts of musical collaboration . Such as recording a single with that forgotten group, Menudo. Or playing a Vietnamese, instead of the Japanese girl Fuentes portrayed, in a musical rehash of the Opera Madame Butterfly , meaning she gained fame for the same reasons that Fuentes did. Or of acting in musicals such as My Fair Lady and Grease, both of which are firmly tied, in everyone’s consciousness, with non-Filipino actors and singers. She has only proved that we little brown people can do a tolerable job imitating Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews, and Olivia Newton-John. So what?

The same goes for Del Pilar. If he was a world-class journalist, so what? He would then be merely a precursor to Carlos P. Romulo, who garnered a Pulitzer prize but who, gentleman and credit to the country that he was, has been rapidly forgotten since he died. You have to offer something to posterity other than talent which, of course, must be praised and given credit, but which remains of fleeting significance, because the things that thrill today’s generation will not evoke the same awe in future ones. Besides, the only way to hold up Del Pilar as an example of rare talent, entails his having to be widely read. Otherwise how can we admire his talent if we don’t read the things that earned him a reputation for journalistic skill in the first place? But then this would mean that his works would have to be widely disseminated, which will lead to all sorts of problems, chiefly with Catholic schools. Not to mention that having been widely distributed, you would have to force students to read his works, the surest guarantee for people developing a phobia about Del Pilar.

As a person, let me suggest that the only way to hold Del Pilar up as someone worthy of admiration, is to broadly consider his character, not his particular achievements.

Del Pilar has been considered the supreme political analyst of the Propaganda Movement, just as Graciano Lopez Jaena was its principal orator, and Rizal its foremost thinker. Del Pilar was the accomplished pragmatist of the three, a conclusion borne out by his having been as comfortable in the cockpit, as in the relatively cosmopolitan environs of 19th-century Madrid, where he mingled with the rich and famous and yet managed to shame future generations by practically starving to death out of idealism. This tells us that Del Pilar was the most practical and down-to-earth of the three, and also the most idealistic, second only to Rizal, in retrospect. A well-balanced man, which is also why we are told by historians that the notoriously quarrelsome Filipino community in Madrid chose to elect him their leader.

He is a sympathetic character, in contrast to the wildly gesticulating Lopez Jaena, who went around with food stains on his clothes, and the vaguely prissy and puritanical Rizal. He is a man we can relate to, as we are now a people who expect our leaders to move with equal aplomb in basketball courts (or the perennial cock pits of our towns) as in gatherings of world leaders. Hold an election today, and Del Pilar might just win. In contrast to Jaena who would dazzle, and then irritate -as Miriam Santiago did. Or Rizal, who would impress us, but in the end turn us off with his soaring into the rarefied air of intellectual thought , just as his fellow Atenean Raul Manglapus, a brilliant man, did: people eventually decided he was just too impractical in his idealism.

And yet we also know that Del Pilar was a man of extraordinary devotion, who endured the most miserable circumstances, and who died alone, penniless, and in pain. The way he died tells us that pragmatism and rationality -essential characteristics for political analysts and journalists- can coexist with unlimited adherence to political principles. And that, in fact, one’s being firmly rooted in a pragmatic appreciation of the present equips one with attributes needed to secure the goals envisioned by one’s political ideals.

Simply put, Del Pilar was idealistic without being dogmatic, cultivated without being detached from the majority, a man who had no illusions about the conditions of his day, but not consumed with cynicism, either. A man who literally worked himself to death and endured discomfort while some people in his community embezzled the community’s funds. These characteristics alone qualify Del Pilar to be a model for us all.

Now let me move on to the principles espoused by Del Pilar and his fellow Propagandists. Del Pilar and Co. represented the full flowering of the European Enlightenment among us Filipinos -or so we have been assured. This being the case, we must consider that their ideals, just as much as their individual talents, were great too. If Del Pilar and the Propagandists are to be of any significance, their goals must be relevant over time. And worthy of emulation.

What were their goals? Graciano Lopez Jaena, that disheveled individual, explained them. He said:

“We want a free press so that the truth may shine in all its splendor. we want free trade to develop our resources. We want, finally, voting rights and representation in the Cortes, and we don’t want friars.”

All these things remain contentious issues to this day. What constitutes a free press, and its value in that it reveals the “truth” in “all its splendor,” remains debated to this day. Particularly since a new Propaganda (actually I would call it Counter-Propaganda) movement is afoot in our region, which tells us that press freedom, or any freedom, when you come to think of it, are useless luxuries which retard progress. One writer has pointed out that Del Pilar differed from his fellow Propagandists in that he took it to be an article of faith that we Filipinos were the equals of anyone in the world -he didn’t feel this had to be proved, the way Rizal and the others perhaps did. But either position supports the conclusion that we Filipinos are the equals of anyone anywhere. This conclusion is, as I mentioned, being challenged by the Counter-Propagandists in Singapore and Malaysia, who are actually supporting the colonial view that we Asians are simply unqualified -because of our culture or whatever- to have our personal and political development measured according to Western standards. I cannot see the difference between the racist Spanish friars who howled that we were a race too degenerate to be worthy of education, and Lee Kwan Yew and Mahathir who moo that Filipinos and other Asians are culturally unfit to adhere to liberal democracy. Del Pilar and the Propagandists needed a free press to wage the fight for equality, and later, freedom, just as we need a free press today to continue the fight against attempts to limit those freedoms. Realizing this should give us, and future generations, reason to keep this fight going.

Now as for Free trade, the Gatt-controversy has proved this remains a bone of contention, and I had better leave that issue to the economists.

Let me also briefly consider the Propagandists’ goal of securing voting rights. Voting rights continues to be an issue -never mind the representation in the Cortes part, I don’t care about the lunatic fringe that wants us to annexed by the United States. By voting rights I mean the bitter debate among ourselves as to whether the right to vote means anything, and whether being represented in our home-grown legislature constitutes genuine representation of the people’s will. Not to mention that “voting representation,” is premised on the three principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, which we continue to argue about today. What is Liberty? Liberty for whom? What is equality, and equality for whom? And Fraternity -to whom does it apply? Among ourselves? Our neighbors? Both? The issue of voting rights is therefore tied to the issue of civil liberties, which Del Pilar and friends anxiously sought, and which we should continue to expand.

Now for the thorniest of the Propagandists’ demands: the elimination of friars from influence over government. The issue of friars is an embarrassing thing to mention nowadays in a land which gave the Pope the biggest audience of his pontificate, a record, incidentally, in terms of the number of people involved in a mass gathering. But it must be acknowledged that the issue of the existence of a frailocracy, with all its bad influences, is still alive. This is because our Republican institutions inherited a mistrust of organized religion from Masonry. We cannot cover up the fact that many, if not most, of the Filipinos we hail as heroes were Masons. In his writings Del Pilar was viciously antifriar, too. The anticlerical nature of the Propaganda Movement and later efforts to secure freedom, needn’t be covered up, to my mind, even though it embarrasses the Catholic Church, which wields greater influence over national affairs at present, than it ever has since the time of the last Spanish Archbishop of Manila, Bernardino Nozaleda.

The Propagandists blamed the friars for the backwardness and inequities which plagued the Philippines. They wanted them to stop wielding power -and they wanted them out. They viewed the influence of religion over the minds of Filipinos as a bad thing, they even used a word to describe the effects of religion on the people’s minds: it obscured rational thought. They attributed many of our weaknesses as a people to the friars and their fiestas. They said that a lesson of history is that religion has no business meddling in temporal affairs. Of course people being what they are, many of them became anti-religious to boot.

While I don’t advocate anti-religion, and while I do recognize that religion today has a profound and generally good influence on young people, I do maintain that we can benefit from realizing the full extent and the virulence of the anticlericalism of the Propagandists. Simply because this obligates us to reflect on the influence of religion on our history, and the proper role of Churches and the State. We have to realize that religion can be just as much an instrument for secular repression, as it is a means for gaining spiritual salvation. It makes us think over whether we want a society where we can all agree to disagree, or whether we want a society where one single morality and dogma rules.

You can see that I feel the objectives of the Propagandists remain important ones today. Not all of you, I am sure, agree with me. But even if you don’t, I would think we can all agree that the greatness of Del Pilar lies in the ideals he believed in, and that considering him great requires our accepting that those ideals were great too -or at least of such significance that we have to wrestle with their implications to this day.

So now, my last point.

Earlier I said we had to consider the significance and legacy of the movement Del Pilar belonged to. For this purpose, I think it is fortunate, to use the Nietzschean phrase made popular by one of Senator Ople’s colleagues in the Senate, that today’s commemoration of the death of Marcelo H. Del Pilar represents a “confluence of events”. You see, the centennial anniversary of Del Pilar’s death coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the Third Philippine Republic, and of Philippine independence.

Both anniversaries are significant and quite related. Del Pilar died shortly before the Philippine Revolution began. From what we are told, at the time he died, he had made up his mind that the movement in which he had played such a significant role was facing a dead end. The supreme propagandist was going in the direction of deciding, as so many of his less exalted compatriots would, that separation from Spain was the only option left, if Filipinos were to become anything more than slaves. To achieve separation from Spain, a revolution would have to be undertaken. In other words simply from Del Pilar’s example, we can think of the Revolution being the logical outcome of the efforts of the propagandists; but then, conversely we can also view the Revolution as the repudiation of the Propaganda movement.

Which of the two is it? Did mounting a Revolution mean that the Propaganda Movement was discredited? If so, then what about the Revolution having given birth to the stillborn First Republic, which was crushed by the United States? That would be another dead end. It is a dead end, since the only thing our present institutions have to do with the Malolos Republic is the military insignia the AFP uses as a whole and the rayadillo uniforms worn by ceremonial units, and the red triangle in the presidential seal, and perhaps the Katipunan legacy of an appreciation of ancient Tagalog script.

But Malolos having been subjugated by American arms did not mean that revolution, or simply armed struggle, as a tactic and aspiration, stopped being a legitimate tactic for achieving freedom: our experience during World War II proves that. But the simple fact remains that Philippine independence, the independence we enjoy today, was obtained through peaceful means and not through an armed revolution. So does that mean that Philippine independence, when it was finally secured, was a vindication of the Propaganda Movement? Some writers say so, But then you must consider Edsa, which took place ninety years after Del Pilar died and forty years after independence was achieved -doesn’t Edsa constitute a vindication of the Revolution of 1896, since it was based on the premise that citizens have the right to overthrow tyranny?

Confusing, isn’t it? It should be confusing, because it is troubling. It is troubling, because it isn’t easy to weave all these contradictions together into an understandable whole. Catholic apologists and Marxists have tried to provide a framework within which these contradictions can be forced to fit. In this the Marxists have been far more successful and influential. But today even their way of looking at things has begun to be questioned. Sadly, however, those who avidly followed the trail blazed by Renato Constantino and others thirty to twenty years ago, have become Obscurantists themselves, fiercely defending what was once an invigorating new line of thought but which cannot tolerate opposing views today. The result is that general interest in the past has dwindled, even as bold new scholarship continues to be undertaken for a shrinking audience.

Yet this is the time when the so-called youth must be creating their own conceptions about the Propaganda Movement, its significance and its role. This isn’t happening, and if it doesn’t happen soon, this symposium will be, as I feared, the second burial of Marcelo H. Del Pilar. He would have ceased to be, as the movement he belonged to would cease to be, of any significance because an entire generation would simply stop making the effort to wrestle with their significance today.

So this is my plea, if you want the youth to care about Del Pilar. The only way to make Filipinos care about Del Pilar is to propagandize them as he himself tried to propagandize the Spaniards -an effort needs to be made to reveal the condition of the Philippines in past times, and what people then did about it. The conflicts, the ideas which contended with each other, the good and the bad, need to be shown. Most of all, people have to realize that people like Del Pilar stood for certain clear things. And that they were willing to suffer for these things. They need to know that Del Pilar fought indifference and ignorance, which persist to this day. People need to know that Del Pilar chose to make a stand, and from that stand is derived his greatness. The people need to be politicized and made to know that being Filipino carries with it the obligation to politicize everything in one’s life. This extends to history, which only makes sense if you wrestle with it, and which is only of value if you try to grapple with its contradictions yourself, and not have other people make up your mind for you.

George Orwell once said that being non-political is itself an act with grave political implications. At a time when the youth increasingly claim that being non-political is a virtue, they should know that people like Del Pilar considered being political a virtue, for out of positive political action flows freedom and independence. Del Pilar was a fiercely partisan man, and we all need to be fiercely partisan men and women, when it comes to the cause of freedom, civil liberties, and charting our individual destinies. Del Pilar, uniquely among his contemporaries, bridged our two historical traditions: the tradition of agitating for freedom through peaceful means, and the tradition of fighting for freedom through violent means if we are left with no alternative but slavery. Our independence today is as much the fruit of his efforts as a propagandist, as is the glory of our revolutionary legacy, of which he might have been a part had he lived long enough. In Del Pilar we see that ideals, like individuals, may remain consistent over time and yet adapt themselves to circumstances as they arise. In him alone do we find the key to potentially making sense of our past, which we realize more and more, is really the story of parallel paths to freedom which have crossed, and in so doing, have confused us.

Del Pilar offers the key to understanding to future generations, the same way that his efforts, while he was alive, tried to provide the key to understanding the true state of the Philippines to his contemporaries.

Thank you.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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