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Memories of Subversion: The Sakdal Case

My foray into popular history brought me once more into the world of newspapers. Once more, I am convinced that histories indeed are some of the amusing arbiters of memory. It was the 1930s and the issues of the year for politicians was independence. The age was inhabited by names that are heroes now like Quezon, Osmeña, and Roxas, and those that are but landmarks, in the form of streets like Pedro Gil and a type of architecture, as Gabaldon.

America was in the heart.

The Church was in the heart and soul. Long powerful under Spanish colonizers, the Catholic Church retained its power even under the Americans. It needed just to change language.

There were powerful newspapers written in Spanish and English. Some had sections written in Tagalog. Tribune, Bulletin, Herald – they were already around.

Then there was this newspaper called “Sakdal.” Founded by Benigno Ramos who used to work for Quezon as a translator, the newspaper became the paper of a movement that accused practically everyone in the mainstream politics and society.

No one was spared. Not Quezon and not the other politicians. Not the Church. Not the artists and the arts. The National Library has limited extant copies. But what I saw was enough for me to acknowledge one important thing: no history of the mass media can be written without considering the rage and passion of “Sakdal.”

The oldest issue in the National Library gives us a glimpse of how incendiary the newspaper was. The emblem or motto says it all: “Malaya, walang panginoon kundi ang Bayan” (Free, with no master except the Nation). The 9th issue of the first year of the newspaper carried the headline “Gabaldon Laban sa Mision Roxas-Sumulong.”

Under the headline, the banner was “Sakdal ni Gabaldon” or “The Accusation of Gabaldon”. The news was about the travel to the United States of Manuel Roxas and Juan Sumulong to represent the nation’s quest for independence. At the center of the controversy was the First Philippine Independence Act. There were two groups of politicians facing this law: one was in favor of it and the other called “the Antis” were opposed to it. The latter believed that when passed, the law will allow the Americans to run the country even if independence had already been granted. How prophetic!

Beyond the prophesy, this issue of “Sakdal” sounds very contemporary as it raised concerns that remain the same concerns our nation has today. The politicians who are travelling to the United States are accused as: “And mga Kagawad ng Mision ay halong walang ginagawa sa America kundi a walang ginawa kundi ang magpasarap at mag-aliw sa New York” (the representatives of the Mission practically do nothing but have fun and enjoy themselves in New York.” The same article also accuses the Mission as consorting with those we are not in agreement with and thus in the process give the impression they are not really interested in independence.”

“Gabaldon” is Isauro (sometimes written as “Rosauro”) Gabaldon, the member of the Philippine Assembly, later Senator and then Representative. He sponsored a bill, which gave rise to the construction of the American-Period elementary school buildings called “Gabaldon.”

On the same page, an article notes the dominance of American/Western culture. It says: “karamihan ng mga kuento ngayon ay hango sa mga napapanood sa sine, sa mga magazine ng mga Amerikano, sa mga photo-play, at lubos nang nawawala ang likas at katutubong ugaling Pilipino.”

An Albay representative named Sabido is in the news on page 3. He is quoted for his five suggestions for the campaign for our independence. Each suggestion is mocked by the writer. One suggestion, for example, says that we should have an office set up in the United States for the dissemination of our campaign for freedom (the writer says there is one already). Another suggestion is for each government employee to devote one day of salary to be used for this journey to independence. Sabido even suggests that we get the funds earmarked for the Ferrocaril or Railroad company and use them for our works on independence.

The roster of Representatives has a Pedro Sabido who was a member of the 8th Philippine Legislature representing the 3rd District of Albay from 1928-30 and the 9th Philippine Legislature from 1931-34.

What is most amusing in this issue though is an article which asks the question: “DAPAT IPAGDIWANG O HINDI SI Bb. JOVITA FUENTES.

Jovita Fuentes was the Filipina soprano who, it was written, had captured Europe when she travelled to that region in the 1930s. She would be declared a National Artist by the Marcos administration. The essay mentions that Fuentes now travels with a prominent Italian (kalihim na Italyano) as she performs in small Italian towns “Madama Butterfly.” Fuentes, the article says, travels with Luisa (Isang) Tapales, another soprano said to have made it good in Europe. With almost a glint of intrigue, the writer speaks how the two have not really performed in the big opera houses in Europe.

The article concludes with the “sakdal” or accusations that come in form of questions, whether it is good to celebrate Jovita Fuentes when she allows herself to be introduced as a Japanese wherever she performed. The context of this is in the opera by Puccini where Fuentes sings the role of a geisha.

The newspaper “Sakdal” became the paper of the movement called the “Sakdalista. Both the paper are nearly forgotten. Benigno Ramos was so disenchanted with the political atmosphere in the country that he moved to Japan. During the war and under the Japanese occupation, he returned to found the “Kalibapi” and “Makapili” organizations. The former is described as a “Fascist Filipino political party while the latter refers to the militant group that helped the Japanese soldiers. The two organizations were pro-Japanese and its members declared as traitors after the war.

Very few people at present know the ideologies of “Sakdal,” which included the fight to give lands to the landless, Filipino education to the youth, and monitoring the performance of the politicians.

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