Revolutionary Routes is more than a family history across four generations. Author Angela Stuart Santiago has deftly woven together the memoirs, clippings, correspondence and other traces of her family’s past into a microhistory that spans the late 19th century up to the 1950s. While this book is rooted in the specific experiences of a family that lived in Tiaong and its adjoining towns in southwestern Tayabas (now Quezon) province, it also tells us much, from the ground up, about everyday life in the countryside under the shadow of successive imperial and national regimes. This book can also be read as a modern history of the Philippines.
Tiaong, as a typical town in the colonial Philippines, exemplifies the interaction of a number of realms: the Church-convent complex, the civil administration, the local elite or principalia, and the world beyond the poblacion comprising villages located often in rugged terrain and untamed peripheries such as Mt. Banahaw. As a microhistory this set of family stories reveals the flux and tensions within and between the realms and how enterprising natives were able to navigate through these layers with varying degrees of success. The church-convent complex was certainly under the thumb of the Franciscans but a native Filipino coadjutor was always around—in this case Padre Inocencio Herrera of Dolores, who may even have been related to one of the main characters in this book, Angela’s great grandfather, Isidro Herrera. The leading citizens, counting among whom were the Herreras and Umalis, competed among themselves for prominence and could be ideologically at odds with each other.
Mt. Banahaw, the holy mountain, added an element of uncertainty to local politics because it remained largely uncontrolled by Spain, at least until the 1880s, but was accessible to the townspeople. Groups such as the “Colorum” were not a separate, fanatical entity as often represented in colonial sources, but another layer of society that offered refuge to those fleeing from the authorities or merely seeking an alternative way of life to what was prescribed by the Spanish Church. In this book the foothills of Banahaw serve as places of refuge for the family during wartime and the site of guerrilla resistance by various armed groups from the Batallón Banahaw of 1899 to the Hukbalahap of the 1940s.
The colonial state, too, was not a monolith. Spanish politics at this time was fractured by competing liberal and conservative parties, a situation reflected in the politics of Tiaong. Isidro, for example, worked for a certain Señor Piraces, Spanish commissioner of religious affairs, who investigated excesses committed by friars. The family had a valuable ally in Capitán Bolea, commander of the Guardia Civil, who appeared to be a liberal. Thus, although the punishment meted out by Padre Jesus Roman to great-grand Lola Ula (Paula Cerrada) is the perfect example of the frailocracy’s abuses, this does not equate to “Spanish rule,” for even within the Spanish church such abuses were condemned.
Lola Ula’s ordeal is reminiscent of what Rizal’s mother, Teodora Alonzo, underwent as she was framed up by the local authorities and forced to walk 16 kilometers from Calamba to Santa Cruz, where she was jailed for two years. Noli me Tangere was written to avenge somewhat the suffering and humiliation of the Rizal family; the novelist would have taken liberty with the facts of Spanish rule to dramatize his case and highlight the goals of the Propaganda Movement. Arguably, the first two stories about Lola Ula and her son Isidro are just as valuable as Rizal’s novels in depicting what late Spanish rule was like. Like Rizal’s Crisostomo Ibarra, Isidro was well-educated and connected with the world outside his hometown, although he did not travel to Europe like Rizal did. Instead he traversed the archipelago with his employer and patron Señor Piraces, married Juliana Basa Lopez, a schoolteacher from Manila who was assigned to Boac, Marinduque, and then returned to Tiaong to work as a scribe in the mayor’s office.
Isidro’s quiet activities as a scribe and notary in the casa tribunal would seem insignificant were it not for the celebrated case in 1861 of Fr. Pedro Picayo, the Franciscan priest against whom the leading citizens of Tiaong filed a devastating queja or complaint over corruption and physical abuse resulting in the death of a prominent principal. The boldness of the Tiaong principales in confronting their priest can be attributed partly to the support of the Spanish governor of the province, who was a liberal. Señor Piraces and Capitán Bolea have their antecedents in the story. The controversy came to involve the higher authorities in Manila and became the talk of the town such that Padre Picayo could conceivably have been the model for Rizal’s Padre Damaso.
The crafting of the 1861 complaint would have been the work of Isidro Herrera’s antecedents in the Tiaong municipal office. The narrative of Isidro’s assiduous work of documenting and writing a complaint against Fr. Jesus Roman over the abusive treatment of various local residents, including his mother Paula, is thus part of a deeper municipal tradition. Such repetitive events or patterns, which the reader can begin to identify while carefully going through the five main stories, make a compelling case for this book presenting much more than a local or family account of the past. It speaks to a more generalized condition of everyday life in colonial Philippine society.
The second story about Isidro Herrera the revolutionary provides us with a glimpse of how the events of 1896 to 1898 were experienced in the countryside. Through his frequent travels, especially to Manila, Isidro became acquainted with the issues that led to the rise of Bonifacio and the Katipunan, Rizal’s trial and execution, and Aguinaldo’s takeover of the revolutionary movement. How did members of the local gentry like him contribute to the cause? Here we move beyond the stereotypes of “ilustrado” and “principalia” and actually confront the choices individuals had to make in the face of inevitable social and political changes. Hence categories such as revolutionary, collaborator, nationalist, loyalist, friend and enemy become confounded as individuals, fired with the ideals of Rizal, to be sure, nevertheless had to take into account the well-being, if not survival, of their families as contending forces beyond their control wrought havoc on their lives and properties.
Isidro’s story, as recounted by her daughter, is of utmost importance because it cuts across the conventional divides between Spanish, Revolutionary, and American eras. It shows how an educated and self-made Filipino of rural origins survived and even made good through these tempestuous times while remaining faithful to the goal of nationhood. Isidro supported the revolution and the young republic with all he could. When the Americans sought to occupy the country, Isidro’s family evacuated to a property in Tagbakin, where they offered support to the republican Banahaw Battalion, but nevertheless had to guard against potential abuses by revolutionary soldiers themselves. When, however, the Americans threatened to raze Isidro’s house in Sariaya, he moved his family from their refuge in the countryside back to the poblacion. He seemed to be perfectly adjusted to the American military presence, even profiting from rent and the provision of supplies to the US garrison. But the category “collaborator” to which he now belonged is complicated by his arrest and imprisonment in November 1901 up to March 1902, for allegedly providing support to the anti-American guerrillas.
The case mounted by the US Army against Isidro gives us tantalizing hints of what the Americans termed “amigo warfare,” wherein the town gentry appeared to be friends by day while providing aid to the guerrillas by night. The problem is that we do not learn much about the details of amigo warfare because by its very nature its story could not be told without harming the prospects of the amigos during the postwar era. The focus of the second narrative is, instead, the quest to prove Isidro’s innocence with the help of an American lawyer. The fact is, Isidro’s story is paralleled by dozens of others I have come across in my research, including that of my wife’s grandfather, Pedro Carandang, who was appointed mayor of Tanauan, Batangas, by the Americans in 1900 only to be thrown in jail during precisely the same period—Nov. 1901 to March 1902—under the same charges of aiding the enemy. We have a glimpse here of a secret history of the Philippine-American war, which has become largely forgotten as the defeated revolutionaries sought to come to terms with the New Order by shelving memories of their resistance to American occupation.
The third story, centered on the exile of Isidro’s son-in-law Tomas Umali, provides a rare glimpse into the process of transition from the revolutionary era to that of American colonial rule. Almost all of the principal actors in this chapter are veterans of the Philippine-American war. Tomas Umali had fought as a captain under Malvar’s command, just as the padrino at his wedding, Manuel Quezon, had been a major in Aguinaldo’s command. The reader would profit from a careful examination of the process through which the revolutionaries of the 1898-1902 period were able to recover from the trauma of defeat by working through the American political and economic order—just as Isidro Herrera’s career flourished within the Spanish religio-political order and the opening up of the countryside to world trade. Quezon had been identified by the Americans as the politician best suited to effect the transition from the Spanish and revolutionary eras to the American era. He had been christened to lead the New Order, and because of this Tomas Umali would become the “fall guy” as rivals exposed irregularities apparently committed by Quezon as he rose in the ranks from Tayabas governor to assemblyman.
The third narrative is instructive also for what it reveals about Tomas Umali’s exile: In Hong Kong and Macau, he meets Vicente Sotto and the indomitable Artemio Ricarte, and he gets involved, albeit with some reluctance, in their campaign for immediate independence with the support of the Japanese. We are reminded of the fact that American victory and rule did not mean the end of the revolutionary struggle. The family, in the person of Tomas Umali, figures in this continuing narrative of revolution, but the story is always situated in terms of real experiences of idealism, patriotism, corruption, rivalry, betrayal, and the quest for justice.
In story number four, careful attention should be paid to the repetition of events as the Japanese army occupies Tiaong in January 1942. It is commonplace to make a radical distinction between the two eras, 1899-1902 and 1941-1945, yet from a microhistorical perspective there is more similarity than difference between the two. As in 1899, the family in late 1941 had evacuated to the barrios where they provided support to guerrilla fighters. As in 1900, the family in 1942 had come to terms with the new Japanese rulers. In place of the guerrilla resistance waged by the Banahaw Battalion in 1900, we now have resistance by the PQOG –President Quezon’s Own Guerrillas.
Crisostomo “Mitoy” Salcedo, Tomas Umali’s son-in-law, had come to terms with the Japanese but after experiencing the “zona” or concentration of the male population in 1943 joined the PQOG. This “zona” that we now associate with the Japanese military was in fact the same as the “protected zones” policy practiced by the American army in November 1901 that got Isidro Herrera into trouble. The reader should ponder upon the question, introduced perhaps unintentionally in this book, of why the war with Japan would have been any different from the war with the United States, or the war with Spain for that matter. From the family experience of those wars we find many common elements: the friendship and support of elements of the Spanish and American colonial establishment is repeated here in the story of a certain Masuda-san who boarded in the family’s big house thus helping to assuage relations with the Japanese authorities. Even the family’s former gardener-poultryman Waseda-san has re-emerged as a captain in the Japanese army, providing discrete protection from the excesses of his soldiers.
In 1944, Major Anderson of the USAFFE appointed Mitoy Salcedo as intelligence head in his area, but he was put to death by the guerrillas themselves. Who was behind the killing? The narrative boldly tells us of an old rival who had initially collaborated with the Japanese to become the mayor of Tiaong, but who then decided to quit his job and organize the PQOG! The categories collaborator and resister become confounded. What happened at the assembly of the PQOG in Apar, Batangas, that led to the killing of Mitoy? It was justified later on as the guerrilla execution of a Japanese collaborator, but the story reveals a situation much more complex and frightening. I am reminded here of the events at the Tejeros assembly in Cavite in 1897 that led to Andres Bonifacio’s secret execution and the laborious search for the truth by his family and friends. The narrative of Crisostomo the guerrilla enables us to re-read the stereotyped period called “Japanese occupation” within a broader narrative of a Filipino family’s experience of three successive imperial rulers, revealing more similarities than differences between them.
The story of Narciso “Naning” Umali, eldest son of Tomas, is the fifth and last in the series and should be required reading for all Filipinos seeking to understand what is behind the familiar textbook depictions of so-called liberation, independence, and the Huk rebellion. Just as brother-in-law Mitoy Salcedo was murdered on allegations of being a Japanese collaborator, Congressman Umali was jailed for eight years on allegations of being a communist and Huk sympathizer. As in the previous stories, neat categories like collaborator, resister, communist and democrat are complicated by the actual experiences of the family. Local politics is the primary locus of events: the conflict is triggered by the actuations of Mayor Punzalan, himself an ex-Huk, enabling the reader to connect the final episode to the very first that involves the friar, Padre Roman, who threw Paula Herrera in jail, or even earlier than that to the celebrated case of Padre Picayo, which forced the civil and ecclesiastical authorities in Manila to turn its attention to faraway Tiaong in 1861. In the case of Congressman Umali’s incarceration, the story implicates no less than President Ramon Magsaysay and his CIA adviser Colonel Lansdale. But even more surprising, perhaps, is the role that fiery anticolonial Senator Claro Recto, himself a native of Tiaong, may have played in this drama.
As I stated at the beginning, this book is much more than a local and familial history. In the melding of the five narratives we have the makings of an alternative history of the Philippines in which can be glimpsed the intersection of the familial and the communal, the local and the national, and the Philippines and the world beyond. While we are introduced to the lives of certain individuals from a couple of towns in what is now Quezon province, at the same time there appear familiar national figures such as Aguinaldo, Quezon, Ricarte, Recto and Magsaysay. We are forced to reexamine familiar categories such as collaboration and resistance, nationalist and communist, patron and client, elite and masses. Above all, we are introduced to a Philippine history viewed through the lenses of the women of the family, from Concepcion Herrera-Umali down to her grand-daughter and author of the book, Angela Stuart-Santiago. The intimate details of domestic life and family relationships, the trials and tribulations—and pleasures—of everyday existence, should be no less important than “big events” in our attempt to understand what Filipinos have experienced from the nineteenth century to the present.
Reynaldo C. Ileto,
National University of Singapore