When I went to Dolores, Quezon, at the foot of Mt. Banahaw, to meet those who worship Gat Jose Rizal, I was baffled to see Pedro Paterno among their 12 apostles. I whispered to my professor about my disgust of this idea that Don Pedro Alejandro Paterno would be someone honorable.
Historians like Ambeth Ocampo and Renato Constantino have expressed their respective negative comments towards Paterno in their works. Ocampo branded him as the greatest turncoat, or in the Filipino tongue or slang, Balimbing, while Constantino branded him as the one who sold the Philippine Revolution.
I initially have shared the same thought. But the frequency of the mentions on the historical texts and historical biographies piqued my curiosity. Deep inside, I felt some injustice on the depiction of Paterno. Alejandrino did not speak of him as badly as he did on Felipe Buencamino Sr, Paterno’s co-leader on the autonomist faction in the Philippine government at that time. In fact, even though the black sheep, he still belongs to the ranks of Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Graciano Lopez-Jaena and the other expatriates in Europe who led the propaganda movement.
Resil Mojares described that: “History has not been kind to Pedro Paterno. A century ago, he was one of the country’s premier intellectuals, blazing trails in Philippine letter. Today, he is ignored in the fields in which he once held forth with much eminence, real and imagined. No full-length biography or extended review of his corpus of writing has been written and no one reads him today.”
With that, I venture on into writing a biography of his. Prof. Mojares only managed to compile up to 40 pages of details about his life. There were still lots of grey areas about his life that need to be filled. Learning his psychology may give us the reasons why, as a human being, he would betray his own kind and constantly shift allegiances . However, some of the answers were still hidden behind those grey areas and history was still silent about it.
Continuing on quoting Mojares: “…that Paterno has sunk to insignificance, has to do in part with his politics. Nationalist historiography has cast him as symbol of the class that betrayed the Philippine Revolution. Reduced to a […] sign (Traitor of the Revolution, or kindly, Peacemaker, Father of Malolos Constitution), the motions, depth and shadows of the living person have dissolved in the flat light of ritualized remembrance.”
The reason of that as said by Mojares: “…to his delusional personality and the eccentric text he produced. His books on Philippines culture and history were judged an embarrassment by his contemporaries almost from the day they saw print.” In his works, he ventured into proving an Ancient Tagalog Civilization as great as that with the Greeks and proving that a prototype of the Christian values had already been embedded to the minds of the Filipino natives even before the colonial period. Portia L. Reyes did a comprehensive study on the literary texts that Paterno had authored in the 36 years of his writing career, from his novel Ninay, up to his historical texts. Even so, it did not bring us closer into knowing Don Pedro’s state of mind. I myself have to wonder how Don Pedro withstood the negative criticisms of Rizal, Pardo de Tavera and Blumentritt towards his works as well as the scornful eyes from the his fellow expatriates in Spain and most of all, the embarrassment brought by his letter to Miguel Primo de Rivera in 1898 and the fiasco he initiated in Manila in 1900. Being a snob does not alone answer this question.
I further quote on Prof. Mojares the reason I shared why I begin to write a biography of Paterno: “Paterno’s ghost inhabit an important phase in the National History. It is time to put it to rest by locating it more clearly in the context of that history. At the time when there is a need to go beyond the reductionism of early nationalist historiography, a reevaluation of such occluded figures as Paterno should reward us with a denser, more textured understanding of the past. At a time when there is interest in defining the local ground for Philippine Studies, it is necessary and instructive to recall the work of a scholar who was unreserved a pioneer in this field.”
Reading a lot of Don Pedro’s work stopped me on my tracks. The writer in me is currently in an existential crisis. It was like when Jean-François Champollion finally deciphered the code behind the hieroglyphics. It was as if a curse had befallen on him. For day, he was incapacitated by a raging fever, the same fever that took the lives of most of the discoverers of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Studying Paterno was comparably the same as with the hieroglyphics. The course, the delusional brilliance and the end of his academic life give contemplation to those who deeply studied him. The grey areas in his life was due to the nationalistic scrutiny of the early historiographers who happened to be his colleagues and displayed lack of interest on his life.
History repeats itself. The vicious cycle continues on as long as it’s secrets were not yet unveiled. People claimed that the likes of Don Pedro have re-emerged in our society of today. We took his name for granted to use as an insult to people whom we judged that had the same traits as him. But we still fail to answer on how these people emerged in our society. Like Dr. Rizal had said: “The contours of the past will determine the path to the future.” The ghost of Don Pedro still indeed haunts our society of today. He may be feeling restless because he was forgotten. For the writers who wanted to instill their ideas for the next generation, to be forgotten is their worst nightmare. We might have overlooked his life and the lessons that we might have learned from studying him. To learn about his life, we must get rid of the prejudices and before-hand remarks of previous historians. We must venture into knowing his eccentric personality because no matter how outrageous it was, it still gives episodes of modern-day Filipino thinking, no matter how much we deny it. This might vindicate his character, role and legacy but the initiated study do not see the vindication as its final end but as possible by-product. It might upset some of those already at rest in their graves. But I must remain true to my dogma that I would sacrifice everything for the truth, as what Rizal have said as the greatest remedy towards our illnesses.
However, I have my own qualms as a scholar which incapacitating me now into continuing on with my manuscript. What if I share the same fate as Don Pedro? What if like him, no one will read this manuscript of mine in the future? What if this book that I arduously wrote would be just some display on an old-fashioned library that no one goes to? What if my attempts on the vindication of his character would be like his attempts to prove an Ancient Tagalog Civilization? What if the outrage of this book that I’m writing would preempt people into reading my other works, which are far more important?
It is the curse of studying Pedro Alejandro Paterno, a prominent Chinese mestizo lawyer who was born on the 27th of February 1857, who lived a pompous life in Spain for 21 years (1872-1893), who authored the Pact that betrayed the revolution then later heading the drafting of the constitution that once united a nation (Malolos Constitution), who successfully pressured Mabini into vacating the postion of Prime Minister for him, who was notorious on shifting allegiances (From the Spaniards to the Filipinos and from the Filipinos to the Americans) and who died as the same way as the soul of his novel, the first Filipino one, Ninay, alone and unloved, on March 11, 1911.
I myself have to concede that I would have to rely on Don Pedro’s methodology, through philology and philosophy (as well as psychology) to fill in the grey areas of his life, while making myself wary into not committing his fallacies, such as taking-for-granted and evidence fabrication (In the end it was T.H. Pardo de Tavera’s methodology that I would be doing).
By catching a glimpse of the events in Don Pedro’s life, people would ask these questions to themselves, all regarding disillusionment: “What if my works were not so great as I perceived after all?”, “What if all of the things that I envisioned and theorized were all just a sham?”, “What if my actions which I regarded as heroic, were not so heroic after all?”, “Am I really the champion of the people as I thought myself was?”, “Am I really a great scholar?”, “Were the criticisms of my works, which I brushed off as envious comments, really the case after all?”, “Was it too late for me to be patriotic?”, “Did hypocrisy downgraded my legacy?”, “Was there no chance at all for me to have my redemption no matter how hard I tried?” and most importantly, “Was the life, that I thought it was, a lie all along?” It is a tragic judgment for a human being. He was judged with his side of the story not fully presented. His life was also part of the puzzle.
His thought might be the Pandora Box, for everything. He was an interesting subject for biographers, but 104 years after his death, no full-length biography was written about him. The aforementioned question about him is still relevant until today, from the lowest of crooks to the highest of officials.
The questions apply to everybody: To those who stage demonstrations, to those who claimed to be after the people’s welfare, to those who claimed to be well-versed scholastically, to those who claimed to be the champions of the people, to those who can’t live up to their words, to those who claim to be selflessly serving the people, to those who only looked after themselves, to those who forget easily, to those who judged people quickly, etc. You can help me in filling the list.
That was my moral lesson, on studying Paterno and his mistakes, that I learned: self-consciousness. His story makes us think twice of our actions. His story makes us think twice of our ideas. His story makes questions our motives and our ends. His story breaks the tethers of our delusions about ourselves and our lives.
- Elumbre, A. (2014). The Times and Narratives of Pedro Paterno, 1858-1911: A Study on intellectualism/Panahon at Pagsasalaysay Ni Pedro Paterno, 1858-1911: Isang Pag-Aaral Sa Intelektwalismo. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 45(01).
- Mojares, R. (2006). Brains of the Nation. Quezon City.
- Reyes, P. (2006). A ‘treasonous’ history of Filipino historiography: the life and times of Pedro Paterno, 1858â€“1911. South East Asia Research, 14(1), pp.87-122.
- Tomada, N. (2007). ‘Brains of the Nation’: Resil Mojares’ groundbreaking new book. Philippine Star. [online] Available at: http://www.philstar.com/cebu-lifestyle/389995/brains-nation-resil-mojares-groundbreaking-new-book [Accessed 18 Dec. 2015].