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fieldnotes: Translating Revolution: The Light of Liberty. Documents and Studies on the Katipunan, 18

Tito Genova Valiente IT WAS while serving as a juror for CineSaysay, the documentary film competition organized by the Film Development of the Philippines, that I saw the need to consult and read documents on our recent histories. The competition required that each filmmaker shall work with a historian. Dr. Rene Escalante, present director of the National Historical Commission, brought up a book that he felt, documentarians of history should consult: Jim Richardson’s translation of all documents pertaining to the Katipunan from 1892-1897. We, for some reason, always have this feeling of confidence that we know the revolution fought under Bonifacio. We have taken up the stories in our history classrooms and, if we were unfortunate to have a teacher whose imagination was wilder than his knowledge of historical facts, then we could have held on to many stories without bothering to ask the question that good students of history always should ask: were they true? Unless one has become a historian, very rarely would we consult primary sources about the Revolution and the famous personalities of those years – from Bonifacio to Emilio Jacinto. The book that Rene Escalante, a Bikolano from Sorsogon, was talking about has a title, “The Light of Liberty.” It runs up to 514 pages and contains translation of all the extant Tagalog documents related to the Katipunan. Some 73 Katipunan documents are contained in the book, most of which were unavailable to scholars and Filipinos in general because they were confiscated by the Guardia Civil in Manila in 1896 and were hidden for many years in the Spanish military archives. The book is a gift to those interested in the beginning of nationalism and the search for liberty in this country as initiated by the movement called the Katipunan. This is not to mention that Richardson has made it easy reading for everyone the documents that include the first two statutes of the Katipunan made in 1896. For those who have researched in national libraries and archives abroad, they would know the difficulty of deciphering the handwriting and the abbreviations employed by writers of the late 1800. The book has, in a sense, cleared the path of knowledge for us. Being a non-historian, I marvel at the documents and their ideas and the fact that our history classes never bothered to share them with us. The Tagalog (all throughout the author uses the term “Tagalog” and not “Pilipino”) texts are not only preceded by introductions but are also accompanied by paraphrases of certain important passages. This was the 1800 but the actions and thoughts of the founders of Katipunan can be applied to our millennium. There is, for example, this insight that the Katipunan was not merely a band of rebels; they had constitutions and by-laws, and a structure of councils. They elected officials and documented their meetings. Jim Richardson describes the Katipunan as being “at its core a modern, forward-looking organization, rationalist and secular.” The author calls the Katipunan an original: “The originality of the Katipunan, the singular momentous achievement of the Katipuneros lay in connecting the anticolonial impulse with the contemporary discourse, and in launching a revolution that was “nationalist” (italics by Richardson) in the full, inclusive, nationwide sense of the word. Richardson continues: the KKK called upon all the people of the archipelago to unite, to fight for freedom, and to found a new nation. For Richardson, the Katipunan was unlike any other movements in Southeast Asia in the 1890s. The book contains translation and transcription of more than twenty records of the Katipunan Supreme Council, details of the initiation rituals, contribution to the KKK newspaper, the Kalayaan, and letters of Bonifacio and Jacinto. Documents that we are not familiar with are also in the book, like Bonifacio’s “Decalogue,” Jacinto’s Kartilya, and the Acta de Tejeros, among many others. There is one particular document that is intriguing. It is titled, Casaysayan. Using the metaphor of the mother to refer to Spain and “child” to the Filipino, the document contains the reasons for “separating this Archipelago from the Mother who possesses her. Twenty-two reasons are enumerated. Among the reasons for the need to sever the ties to Spain are the following: (1) the pitiless imposition of high taxes upon us...(2) the expropriation of our meager profit… and,(3) the imposition of a high tariff on any goods that pass through customs. Don’t the reasons sound so contemporary? Reason No. 6 states one reason why we should separate from Spain, and that is because they allow “our means of livelihood to be snatched away from us by any nation, above all by the Chinese, who have not been educated or nurtured in decent behavior, but only in deceit, robbery and misery.” Familiar, eh? There are many more reasons, one in fact, which cites the “pretensions of the enlightened men (ilustrados), and the more we get to know them, we feel we are still in the beginning of the Katipunan movement. The 18oo, for all we care and for all the injustices bred during that period, are still with us, in this book that translates not only old documents but also records for us the materials for a revolution that needs to continue now.

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