Saturday, December 12, 2015

Today's Revolution: Rodrigo Duterte?

“He who submits to tyranny, loves it.”− J.P. Rizal

If there is anything Rodrigo Duterte hated so much, it is the elementary notion of due process: a law which hears before it condemns. Under his watch as mayor, the City of Davao has no use for such notion. This is a perversion of what the rule of law is supposed to be. The next step for such perverted behavior is to capture the Golden Fleece− the presidency. Then comes, dictatorship.

A shame to be proud of?

Relished by many as the country’s “Punisher,” Duterte makes no qualms of his admiration for the Marcos dictatorship as the perfect model of authoritarian rule while at the same time bewailing everyone not to mess up with the Constitution. Pure admiration, however, is the easiest part; making it work is the real test. Duplicating the Marcos blueprint, of course, is fatal for as the saying goes, nothing grows under the Banyan tree. If Duterte were to plot the direction of dictatorship in this country, let me remind him that the framers of the 1987 Constitution, wary of another emerging dictator coming in our midst, fashioned the present martial law powers with intricate safeguards that could surely stop him dead on his tracks. This I’m most confident about.

But for all the constitutional antidotes against a repetition of the Marcos regime, the quirks of history convinced me that indeed it would be very difficult to stop a much determined tyrant from imposing his will. And this what makes Rodrigo Duterte’s bid for the presidency so dangerous.

I don’t know if you feel it, but I feel it and the mention of Rodrigo Duterte’s name alone, even in subterranean whispers, give me shivers down my spine. Duterte, who has been mayor since 1988, has flaunted more than 1000 victims of apparent death squad executions. And that is not all. In his recent interview with Rappler, Duterte threatened criminal suspects anew: “Kapag naging presidente ako, magtago na kayo. Yang 1,000 it will reach 50,000. I would kill all of you who make the lives of Filipinos miserable." If he were to make good of his promises of law and order and the speedy eradication of corruption from top to bottom, it is not hard to imagine that we would soon be having a ‘revolutionary government’ under a Duterte presidency. Seriously, nothing is “carved on tablets of imperishable stone, “not even the supreme law of the land.

I have not read any of his statements on how he would go about imposing dictatorial rule with the 1987 Constitution firmly in place. Duterte is a lawyer by profession, but certainly not of Mr. Marcos’ caliber. All he has at the moment is the Marcosian daring. My surmise is that he would call for a constitutional revision to carry out his planned dictatorship under a revolutionary scheme, then a shift maybe to federalism when the dust settles.

Duterte the revolutionary, hah!

Change. The nation is whirling with change and the first shoot-to-kill victim would be the fundamental law, the 1987 Constitution we hold dear. Being a ruthless violator of the Bill of Rights, Duterte would not allow himself to be imprisoned by any constitution like Mr. Marcos’ martial law in 1972. For a time, Marcos too toyed with the idea of a revolutionary government but had to scrapped it altogether as he didn’t want to look like he violated the Constitution.

In his book “Leaders: From Marcos to Arroyo,” prolific writer and political firebrand Bono Adaza pointed out that this was Ferdinand Marcos’ “grand and tragic mistake.” Instead of a revolutionary government, Marcos, for all his creativity and brilliance, chose in the end to go along traditional channels to institute his daring reforms. “Martial law is a prisoner of the Constitution,” wrote Adaza in one of the chapters of his magnificent book. “You must always act within the provisions of the Constitution. What Marcos should have done was to declare a revolutionary government because under it, the government is the law and the leader is the law giver.” (Adaza 2009) Marcos, however, was a meticulous person; he wanted to be remembered as one who respected the Constitution thus he had to find a way to pull off his biggest political extravaganza. But for a self-confessed ‘berdugo’ like Rodrigo Duterte, his cards lay openly on the table. Imposing a dictatorial regime is no secret, in fact, it could very well be the centerpiece of his program of government. Scary? Yes, because he would replicate the Davao experiment and apply it on national scale. How’s that for a president or worse, for a law giver? Clearly, it is easier to run a revolution than a constitutional government.

For those who are not comfortable with Duterte’s ways of leadership, the ruthless mayor of Davao has consistently issued a disclaimer during his interviews: "I don't want to be president. I don't want to kill people. So don't elect me as president."

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Philippine government to investigate Duterte for his possible role in extrajudicial killings in Davao City over the past decades. But nothing has come out of it. One really wonders as one harks back to the pages of the Bill of Rights, especially the constitutional presumption of innocence. For as one looks at the present political landscape, the feeling is almost one of utter despair. The people are no longer willing to defend, much less assert, their liberties protected by the Constitution. More than Rodrigo Duterte, I’m much more afraid of those who will cast their lot on him; desperate citizens who would be willing to march with him to the ends of the earth in search of the promise land.

If only our sense of patriotism awakes, then something can be done to head off the whirlwind. Eternal vigilance, let us not forget, is the price of freedom! Still and all, I wish him luck.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Vignettes from the Past—Salvador “Doy” Laurel

“One has to wait for the darkness of the night”, uttered one Chinese philosopher of yore, “to realize how splendid the day has been!” Gazing at the political circus heading to the 2016 elections where windbags, wimps and thieves dominate the show, a huge question mark looms over the political horizon: Where are the grandees of the yesteryear? Sadly, they are no longer around because great leaders, like it or not, come in a torrent or they don't come at all.

Today you look around you simply want to puke in utter disgust. Many of our politicos at present do not have what it takes to be leaders. All they have going for them is that they are popular and they are very good at casting voodoo spell on the masses.

But times have changed. Gone are the days when political leaders possessed the kind of integrity that could mount on granite; leaders of vision and substance, men who cared, men who would readily give up their ambitions, even their lives for the country.

Speaking of great leaders, November 18 marks the 87th birth anniversary of one of the inimitable statesmen of the golden days, the chivalrous Batangueño gentleman Salvador “Doy” Laurel, who was Vice President of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992. But before his iconic display of selflessness in 1985 when he gave up his presidential ambition to unite a divided opposition at the senescent of the Marcos regime, Doy Laurel too graced the gilded halls of the Senate in 1968. This was a time, that glorious moment in our political history when the crass of materialism and opportunism had not yet taken over the nobility of public office. Doy Laurel, a first-timer in politics, trudged by and distinguished himself on a par with the political giants of his time such as Lorenzo Tanada, Jose W. Diokno, Emmanuel Pelaez, Arturo Tolentino, Jovito Salonga, Ambrosio Padilla, and many others who were almost as brilliant and prodigious.

Novice with a cause –social justice

While politicos of today are propelled to public office despite the lack of outstanding academic achievement, appreciable experience or any earth-shaking contribution to society, leaders of the old could jerk your jaw in any direction with their impeccable pedigree. And the same is true with the young barrister, Doy Laurel, when he plunged into politics in the late sixties.

Capped with a law degree from UP and a doctoral degree from Yale University, Doy was a renaissance man who showed a social conscience at the outset of his public life, quite rare for politicians of his stature (if any) these days. For his groundbreaking free legal aid work which greatly benefited the poor and the unwanted, Doy crashed the headlines and earned the cognomen of “Mr. Public Defender.” Soon came the founding of the Citizen’s Legal Aid Society of the Philippines or CLASP, which later on became a nationwide organization of legal aid lawyers, the first of its kind in the country– the mother of what we now call the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).

Still and all, Doy had the gnawing realization that even though the poor could get a lawyer’s services for free, the law itself did not help them enough to afford the high cost of justice. It was then that Doy Laurel switched his talent and decided to run for the Senate.

On the stump, Doy, a known orator even in his UP days, aroused the crowd with effortless ease: “Let me carry on this crusade for justice in the halls of the Senate! Help me bring down the high cost of justice! Help bring justice within the reach of the poor.”

Such was his battle cry, the ‘cause’ that catapulted Doy to the Senate. Again, this was the 1967 Senatorial Elections when contenders for public office were men of eloquence, ideas and dedication to the cause of the people.

Benjamin of the Senate

From the very start, despite being an administration candidate, Doy Laurel emerged as an independent senator of the realm because he adhered to no party line, not even his own party’s. To set off the mood, Doy rose in the session hall to make his maiden speech entitled “Crisis of Confidence,” a soaring indictment asking all government officials to “change or be changed” or else reap the “gathering whirlwind” of the people’s wrath. The people around Ferdinand Marcos were stunned, as was the president. But Marcos held his peace and it was Imelda, ever the precocious First Lady, who said: “I told you so, I warned you that fellow would be troublesome.”

Once in the Senate, Doy focused on all kinds of reforms– penal, judicial and land reform, even government reorganization. But the one closest to his heart was his cause, the fight for social justice. In keeping with his campaign promises, Doy authored bills that would eventually be enacted into laws popularly known as “Justice for the Poor Laws,” or simply “Laurel Laws.” For the next three years of his term, Doy Laurel was consistently awarded “Most Outstanding Senator of the Year” by the press. Then the unthinkable happened. Martial law was declared and Congress was shut down.

Wishful thinking?

With the passage of time, Salvador “Doy” Laurel stands taller still in the Pantheon of Filipino leaders. And now that the election is nearing, I envy our elders because they get to live during the times of the immortals. I pity that the youth today can no longer or even dare to look back when public office homed the most capable and willing. Amidst our candidates’ crisis in qualification and character, we willingly fall into pit hole full of self-proclaimed thieves and berdugos, messianic foundlings, poor and weakling copycats of their political parents and grandparents and opportunistic family dynasties out of sheer desperation. But we should despair not because the power to change lies on that ballot.

Ah, if only this nation can unite following a fictional romantic noontime series on the idiot box, then maybe we can also have that time to examine and follow the next set of leaders we will elect on 2016.

Photos courtesy of Raffy Sanz, Salvador H. Laurel Archive

NB: On the occasion of Dr. Salvador H. Laurel’s birthday on November 18, the website has been re-launched to commemorate his life, his advocacies, his faith in our people, his love for the country and his great belief in the Filipino youth.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Salvador H. Laurel—“Mr. Public Defender” (Part 2)

Sworn to serve the poor

The trial by publicity surrounding the celebrated Laurel-Silva case must have turned the tide of Atty. Laurel’s promising and blissful career. His lifelong advocacy began with a phone call from Bulacan Represenative Teodulo Natividad who—mired in congressional inquiry of police brutalities—was torn one morning by the plight of a young couple who were mauled by Parañaque policemen. “Please,” he implored Atty. Laurel, “take the case for the prosecution.” Feeling that every word was exiting in crutches, Atty. Laurel accepted the case for free. By sheer happenstance, however, word leaked out to a newspaperman, who used the item for his staid column.

The same morning that the story came out, Atty. Laurel received another phone call— this time from Justice Roman Ozaeta, president of the Philippine Bar Association (PBA). “Allow us to help you,” said Justice Ozaeta to the young barrister. “Let the prosecution of erring policemen be a public service of our group.” By some extraordinary act of fate, Atty. Laurel once again, said yes.

As Atty. Laurel’s popularity began to soar, he later found himself swamped with a dozen of similar cases referred by the PBA involving pauper litigants. At times, penniless clients went directly to him, begging for free legal assistance. Suddenly, he was very much involved with legal aid. And the more he plunged himself into the plight of the poor the sooner he realized that many people suffered in silence because they could not afford the services of a lawyer. He promised to do something about it. But he needed all the help he could get. Atty. Laurel then visited Justice Ozaeta to raise his concerns. There he suggested the formation of a legal aid committee composed of lawyers who must not only be brilliant, but one with guts, and must be non-political. From thence, the Citizens Legal Assistance Committee (CLAC) was born.

In accepting the chairmanship of the PBA anti-crime body, Atty. Laurel said thusly, “I shall do my best.” Early on, one could already predict that the young Laurel had the imprint of an exceptional leader just like his idol, the illustrious wartime president and former (acting) chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, Jose P. Laurel. He also showed social conscience, quite rare for a man of his stature and prestige. But no matter how resolute he was at that time, he needed still a helping hand from his fellow civic-minded compañeros in order to push his advocacy: “It is high time that we in the legal profession should stand up as a man and fight criminality in all forms, especially crimes committed on helpless citizens by those in the police forces,” Atty. Laurel seethed.

In a matter of weeks after the nascent of CLAC, the Laurel Law Office in Intramuros had been inundated with hundreds of request for free legal assistance. There is, however, one remarkable case among the pile of cases referred to CLAC that had societal implications even to this day: the case of Parisio Tayag. This case, by all accounts, had truly put CLAC on the map at a time when the bogey of police brutality was very much in the saddle. Again, our protagonist Atty. Laurel personally handled the case from womb to tomb.

Murder in Dinalupihan

Parisio Tayag was a destitute man working as a bus driver in Dinalupihan, Bataan. One day, as he was driving along barrio Luacan of said town, his bus bumped into a passenger jeepney, causing a small dent on in its rear fender. The town policeman, no less than Dinalupihan’s chief of police who also happens to be a close friend of the jeepney owner, came to investigate the incident. After a cursory look at the jeepney’s railing, he demanded a paltry sum of three hundred pesos from Tayag, allegedly for the repair of his friend’s vehicle. Tayag, unmoved, told the policeman that he was not at fault and that the jeepney driver did not even have a license to start with. He then instead offered everything he had in his pocket: ten pesos. One word led to another and in a heated exchange that seemed unending for a time, the policeman finally relented and returned his license without cost —or so he thought.

Two days later, at around five o’clock in the afternoon, Tayag was seen running for his life as he raced away from the municipal building towards the town plaza. Apparently, earlier that day, Tayag went to Dinalupihan municipal hall to find out for sure whether his case was really settled. Due to something only those present inside the hall could fully attest, Tayag was then seen drawing his “balisong” against the police chief who also aimed his gun back at him. Moments later, hot in pursuit were six policemen. Then, a volley of shots rang out. When the arsenal smoke finally settled, Tayag was seen lifeless: two bullets from police guns pierced his legs; another two bullets entered his back, traversed his lungs and the heart, and exited from the middle portion of Tayag’s breast.

Strangely enough, the drama did not end there. Lucila, the victim’s widow, had to endure everything she witnessed on that fateful day. In one snap of grief, Lucila, the young mother of six, lost her mind and the baby she was carrying in her womb. She was eventually admitted to a mental hospital leaving her children under the care of their grandparents.

Atty. Salvador Laurel, representing CLAC, took up the cudgels for Tayag’s orphaned children and rendered his services as a private prosecutor. He went all the way to Balanga, Bataan to personally handle the case from preliminary investigation up to the trial. Atty. Laurel vividly recounted the highlights of this case:

I was counsel for the offended party; the Tayag children, orphaned when their father was killed, and the mother went mad. I argued that there was no need to gun Tayag down. Six policemen could have easily cornered one man. The trial was news because CLAC had come to the aid of five orphans who would otherwise have been helpless in securing justice. I appeared personally at the trial; the six policemen were convicted. The case was given prominence in the Free Press Magazine and more people heard of CLAC.

As it was, the court convicted the six policemen—‘sworn guardians of the law’—for murder.


The Parisio Tayag case gained prominence through the media, and more people took notice what CLAC had been doing through the years. Soon CLAC saw the imperative of organizing a bigger legal aid team as more cases poured in that needed free legal assistance. CLAC originally started with only ten lawyers: Crispin Baizas, Jose Y. Feria, Juan T. David, Gonzalo W. Gonzalez, Juan Luces Luna, J. Antonio Araneta Alberto M. K. Jamir, Francisco Ortigas Jr., Angel C. Cruz and Salvador H. Laurel. Albeit they were among the brightest and courageous breed of lawyers in the legal profession, CLAC did not simply have the wherewithal to handle hundreds of cases piled up on its table. Nor could they have possibly foreseen the impact of their advocacy in the Philippine justice system. Atty. Salvador H. Laurel recalled:

I found out that 94% of the cases filed by poor people in the fiscal’s office were dismissed because the complainants could not afford a lawyer. Imagine, 94%! The complaints of the poor against criminal abuse were mostly thrown out for lack of counsel. That was an explosive situation! It affected me a lot. I was appalled!

Finally, owing to the gravity of the problem, Atty. Laurel saw the need to expand CLAC into a nationwide network of legal aid lawyers. I Informed Justice Ozaeta that what we were accomplishing in the CLAC was just a tiny trickle compared to the magnitude of the problem. What we saw was just the tip of the iceberg. It was a huge problem because it was nationwide. I urge Justice Ozaeta to let me organize CLAC to make it nationwide, and he consented.

The result was the 1967 rebirth of the country’s premiere legal aid organization; from CLAC, the group metamorphosed into a non-stock, non-profit corporation known as Citizens’ Legal Aid Society of the Philippines or CLASP. Inspired by Atty. Laurel’s deep-seated commitment with free legal aid, more volunteer lawyers throughout the country joined CLASP in its quest for justice for the poor. By the end of the first year (1966-1967), CLASP had 52 chapters with 750 lawyers under its wing; marking a prodigious output in the history of the organization. Consequently, other legal aid organizations in the country surfaced after CLASP, especially during the dark days of martial rule, but for the record, CLASP was the first. “If every lawyer in the country would only handle one case for an aggrieved litigant, “lamented Doy Laurel in one of his speeches, “that would go a long way in restoring the faith of the poor in the administration of justice.”

Soon there was a nationwide clamor urging Atty. Laurel to bring the cause of justice to the halls of Congress. Indeed, new laws were needed to provide free legal aid to the poor. Atty. Laurel got elected to the Senate under CLASP’s platform—justice for the poor and the oppressed— garnering the third highest number of votes in the 1967 senatorial elections. A decade later, his efforts were greatly rewarded when the International Legal Aid Association (ILLA) capped him as the Most Outstanding Legal Aid Lawyer of the World for 1976. Cited was his pioneering work in legal aid as Chairman of CLASP and his having authored five (5) “Justice for the Poor Laws” or simply, the Laurel Laws, while in the Senate.

And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.


Joaquin, Nick. Doy Laurel In Profile. Lahi, Inc. 2012

Berbano, Teodoro. “The CLAC in Action”. Graphic. June 14, 1967

“CLAC Winds Up Inquiry Into Driver’s Slaying”. The Manila Chronicle. June 1, 1967

Asa, Leon L., “Remembering the Late Former Vice President Dr. Salvador “Doy” H. Laurel”. The Lawyer’s Review. March 31, 2004


Arrieta, Abundio, Marbella, Winston, Monico, Jacob, Oliveros, Jose. Interview by the author, electronic recording, Makati. Philippines. September 2014

Photo credit: Salvador H. Laurel archive

Friday, October 9, 2015

Salvador H. Laurel— "Mr.Public Defender" (1)

In a litigious culture such as ours, lawyers are often seen as the repository of wit and intellect. But in most cases, this notion appears to be false. Today, courtrooms are plagued with a good number of half-witted tawdry attorneys lurking around the halls of justice, preying on clients for alms. What is so frustrating is the fact that most of these grammatically unsound lawyers belong to the public defender’s office of the government. Yes, they are tasked to handle cases of non-paying clients, or what we call “pauper litigants.” Most of these cases involve criminal abuses that are eventually thrown out either for lack of counsel or in a situation where the indigent is the accused─ imprisoned because of ineffective counsel. But there are exceptions of course: dedicated public servants who committed themselves early on to help the poor, those who could not afford the services of a lawyer.

Atty. Salvador H. Laurel —highly educated with a law degree from the University of the Philippines (UP) and a doctoral degree from Yale University —was no ordinary lawyer in the sixties. He had already an established reputation as a trial lawyer before he was fished out of his lucrative corporate practice. Over time Atty. Laurel had lived up to his lawyer’s oath and become the leading public defender of his day. Not too long, renowned columnist Emil P. Jurado hailed him as “Mr. Public Defender,” a moniker he earned for his undying advocacy to help poor litigants in their fight for justice.

Implicit in the due process clause of the Bill of Rights─ the right to be heard─ is “the right to counsel.” In hindsight, Atty. Salvador H. Laurel’s quiescent legacy best exemplifies what the Constitution really means when it elevated “the right to counsel” in the hierarchy of constitutional rights─ zealous legal protection sans pecuniary considerations.

The Banjo Laurel case

His first taste of the limelight as a lawyer came during the celebrated “Laurel-Silva” trial in the mid-60s. It was said that this celebrated case held the public and the print media in captivity for nineteen (19) consecutive days. The uproar of the vicious throng inflamed by the media then could be attributed to the fact that this was no ordinary crime for it involved the scion of one of most respectable political clan in the country— the Laurels of Batangas.

On trial was Atty. Laurel’s nephew, Jaime “Banjo” Laurel, son of Speaker Jose B. Laurel. The case stemmed from a woman named Erlinda Gallegos-Laurel whose lifeless body was found in her apartment riddled with gunshot wounds. Slumped over her was Amado Silva─ her lover─ also with a gunshot wound on his temple. Initially, the findings of the police investigation ruled that it was a clear case of a “murder-suicide”: the victim Erlinda Laurel was shot to death by Amando Silva, who in turn fired the gun on himself. Case closed? Not quite, because a month later, another team of police investigators took over the case and submitted a different report. This time, the crime had morphed into a case of “murder-parricide” and the alleged perpetrator of the crime was no other than victim’s estranged husband, Banjo Laurel.

Atty. Laurel handled the case through and through; from the preliminary investigation up to the trial. When the case was brought to court, it landed on the lap of Judge Jesus P. Morfe of the Court of First Instance (now Regional Trial Court) Manila—a well-known stern magistrate and a true man of law. At the courtroom, a crowd of spectators and news reporters gathered to witness the big event during the first stages of the trial. Though the case dragged on for almost two years, the public remained fascinated until its end.

The Star Brightens

It can be said that the limelight accorded to the “Laurel-Silva”case was largely because of the sterling performance of defense’s lead counsel. The impeccably dressed barrister who consistently won the room was unquestionably, a rising star in the legal profession. Armed with his innate articulate audacity, Atty. Laurel shattered the prosecution’s case that accused Banjo Laurel was behind the crime. Piece by piece, Atty. Laurel pointed out the glaring contradictions of the prosecution’s witnesses. His preparation for the case was astounding. Determined to prove that the prosecution’s evidence were fabricated, he meticulously poured over voluminous pages of documentary evidence along with the testimonies of 28 witnesses and 66 exhibits. Finally, the chicken has come home to roost. After a detailed examination of the expert witness (from the National Bureau of Investigation) by the defense, it was later revealed that the blood-stained bullet imbedded in the ceiling of the crime scene was consistent with the trajectory found in the head of Amando Silva. Simply stated, the physical evidence also proved that based on the relative positions of the bodies of the victims, it would be contrary to evidence to rule out murder-suicide as the nature of the crime.

The incontrovertible physical evidence alone showing a clear case of murder-suicide could have already won plaudit for the young inquisitor. Certainly, physical evidence is regarded as conclusive and the strongest evidence in a criminal trial because for one─ it simply cannot lie. But the lead defense counsel went further. During one of the grueling cross-examinations, Atty. Laurel proceeded to attack the testimonial confession of the prosecution’s principal witness. In what could be considered as the denouement of the trial was Atty. Laurel’s probing questions to the prosecution’s principal witness. It was a feat when the young barrister shook the perplexed witness on the stand, forcing him to retract his confession in open court. Worse, the witness even admitted in “sickening detail” how he was coerced and tortured by police investigators; how he was forced to lie.

With the prosecution’s case dashed to pieces, Atty. Laurel’s legal prowess had ultimately sealed the case in favor of the accused. The trial court eventually acquitted Banjo Laurel and his co-defendant.

To be continued...

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Story of Primitivo "Tibo" Mijares (Part2)

Rendezvous with history

Mijares started off on the right foot upon his arrival in San Francisco. There, he secretly contacted the Philippine News editor Alex Esclamado and told him about his forthcoming defection from the Marcos government. In a matter of time, anti-Marcos activist Steve Psinakis joined the fray, and together they outlined a plan in preparation for Mijares’ explosive somersault. On February 20, 1975, Mijares finally made his rendezvous with history. He announced, through a press conference in San Francisco, that he was renouncing his former way of life, and that he was formally defecting from the martial law regime of the ruling duumvirate. The “conjugal dictators” got further kicking when Mijares castigated Marcos and pointedly explained how he planned the imposition of martial law because he never intended to relinquish power since day one. Naturally the American press loved such tales. And from there, Mijares’ story blew out of the water. The buck would have stopped there, but as it was, Mijares got an invitation to appear as star witness for the Congressional House International Relations subcommittee chaired by Congressman Donald Fraser (D-Minn.). This move sealed Mijares’ fate.

Malacanang was rattled. Obviously, this one-time press censor chief knew too much, and so Marcos’ thugs frantically sought to prevent his appearance before the U.S. Congress. At that time, the Movement for Free Philippines (MFP) headed by Raul Manglapus was lobbying against U.S. economic and military assistance to the Philippines. By allowing Mijares to testify on the human rights violations and other abuses would result in a reduction of American support for the dictatorship. The cover-up was now in full swing.

First bribe attempt

Based on Mijares’ affidavit, as recounted in his book Conjugal Dictatorship, a phone conversation detailing the first bribe offer allegedly took place on the night of June 16, 1975, a day before his scheduled appearance in the Fraser committee. By then, he was already in a downtown motel somewhere in Washington when he received the call from Manila. Surprisingly, on the other end of the line was his good friend Secretary Guillermo De Vega. By Mijares’ account, here’s what happened.

SECRETARY DE VEGA: “Tibo, gusto kang makausap ni Sir.”

PRESIDENT MARCOS: “Tibo, puede bang huwag ka ng sumipot sa Komiteng yan? Alam mo, marami na tayong prublema dito. Baka madagdagan mo pa. Mabuti pa at bumalik ka na agad sa San Francisco.

MIJARES: “But sir, there is no way I can back out now. I have already placed myself under the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee.”

PRESIDENT MARCOS: “Here is Gimo (Secretary De Vega) and he has something to tell you.” (Then transferring the telephone to Secretary De Vega.)

SECRETARY DE VEGA: “Tibo, bumatsi ka na dyan and Trining will arrange for you ‘cinquenta’ in San Francisco.”

MIJARES: “Mogs, (a nickname I use in addressing Secretary De Vega) hindi na puede. Nasabi ko na sa Komite na nandito na ako sa Washington. I have to testify.

SECRETARY DE VEGA: “Yung figure ay libo. And you will get another Fifty when you leave the United States. Since you may not want to come home to Manila, you may want to go to Australia to be with your sister. Will send you another Fifty upon your arrival there.

MIJARES: “Salamat na lang, Mogs. Pero inde kita puedeng mapagbigyan.

SECRETARY DE VEGA: I will not accept your negative answer now. Pagaralan mong mabuti iyan, Tibo. You know very well that, if you testify that would mean a Declaration of War on your part against us here.” (Italics mine)

MIJARES: “I realize that, and you can be sure I will act accordingly, Goodbye, Doc.”

SECRETARY DE VEGA: “Sigue na, Tibo. Take care of yourself. Trining (Ambassador Trinidad Alconel) will contact you.

As the story goes, the “cinquenta” had already been deposited in a San Francisco branch of Lloyds bank of California in the names of Mijares and Ambassador Trinidad “Trining” Alconel, Philippines’ consul general in San Francisco. To ensure that Mijares could not withdraw the money on his own, Alconel instead opened a joint account in their names.

The next day, two hours before he took the witness chair, Mijares received another call from Alconel imploring him not to testify and that the money would be on hand in San Francisco. But Marcos’ former confidant stood firm, and declined the offer.

Appointment with history

Mijares didn’t have to spell it out: he had the ammunitions to destroy Marcos. “Let me trace the origin and pattern of this new tyranny in Asia,” Mijares told the panel in his opening remarks on the day of his appearance before the Fraser committee. In Sterling Seagrave’s well-documented book titled, “The Marcos Dynasty,” (1988), Mijares was said to have emitted a torrent of scorching words against Mr. Marcos and his New Society during the hearing, to wit:

…the reasons used by Marcos in imposing martial law were deliberately manufactured…with a series of deliberately contrived crises…Marcos made the people lapse into a state of paralysis…Then he wove a labored tale of national horror which eventually enshrined as a gospel of truth in the martial law proclamation…Marcos plotted to place his country under martial law as early as 1966, having decided then that he would win a reelection in 1969 “at all cost.”

…Having proclaimed martial law, he proceeded to bribe, coerce, and/or intimidate the Constitutional Convention members into drafting a new charter dictated by him.
A dictatorial regime as it is, the martial law government of Marcos has become all the more oppressive and corrupt in view of the meddling of his wife who has turned martial regime into a conjugal dictatorship.

Aside from plundering an entire nation, the conjugal dictatorship is likewise misappropriating the various items of U.S. assistance (military, economic, cultural, etc.) to the Philippines to entrench itself in power and for personal glorification.

Second bribe attempt

Reaching the point of no return after hitting the spotlight, Mijares filed a formal request with the U.S. government for political asylum. With all this going on, Mijares kept his lines ostensibly open for more negotiations with Malacanang. Just hours after he testified in the Fraser committee, another call came in: the hush money had just been doubled. He then placed a call to Malacanang to confirm about it— directly from the horse’s mouth. Gimo de Vega confirmed the $100,000 bribe only if Mijares would recant his testimony and not to publish the book he was writing. “Look Gimo,” Mijares said after the usual pleasantries, “I am willing to leave the United States and stop publication of the book, but the $100,000 offer is not worth it. I expect to make more than that just from the publication of my book. I am willing to accept $250, 000.” Unknown to De Vega, the whole thing was a set up. Much earlier, Mijares and Psinakis sought the help of a journalist from Washington and told him that they wanted someone, a credible independent party, to witness the conversation. And so a California lawyer was sent in to join them. Unfortunately, Marcos was “indisposed” at that time, and it was De Vega who dealt with them. “I am sorry, Tibo. I am not authorized to go above $100, 00. I must take this up again with the President. Only he can authorize a higher payment,” De Vega ruefully replied. (By way of postscript, Secretary Guillermo De Vega would later end up dead right in his Malacanang office under some mysterious circumstances.)

The second bribe attempt was exposed by famed Washington reporter Jack Anderson in an article that was released on July 14, 1975 in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Marcos came out with guns blazing. He denied the charge. Discrediting Mijares’ reputation, of course, was easy. It was no secret that Mijares left a trail of petty extortions, bounced checks and bad debts wherever he went. And so to limit the damage, rumors began to circulate, among others, that he absconded with government funds (which he did by the way) and that he was paid $150, 000 by the Lopezes to join the anti-Marcos exiles.
Meanwhile on April 27, 1976, the much-awaited book “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos” was released in the United States. But the book, according to Seagrave, never saw the light of day as it was systematically plundered on every bookstore and public institution in the United States, including the Library of Congress. Nonetheless, apart from Mijares’ damaging testimony, Conjugal Dictatorship spawned another great deal of embarrassment to the Marcos regime. This was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Eight months later Primitivo Mijares disappeared —never to be heard from again.


Mijares was reportedly last seen at the San Francisco Airport on January 7, 1977, in the company of a certain Querubin Macalintal, a confirmed intelligence agent of the Philippine government. A story is oft-told that he had boarded a plane in San Francisco and was probably thrown into the Pacific Ocean since no witnesses could attest that he disembarked in Honolulu. But for Reuben Canoy, author of “The Counterfeit Revolution: Martial Law in the Philippines” (1990), such rumors are unfounded, for disposing a man aboard a jet liner mid-air, he said, cannot possibly be done without being noticed by crew or passengers. And so what happened to Primitivo “Tibo” Mijares? It is widely believed, however, that he landed in the Philippines and was subsequently murdered by Marcos agents to prevent the conclusion of the investigation.

After so many years, Steve Psinakis, one of the witnesses of the second bribe attempt, and author of “A Country Not Even His Own” (2008) painstakingly pieced the puzzle on Mijares’ eventual disappearance. Although he was cock sure that Marcos masterminded the cover-up, Psinakis did not discount the possibility that all along Mijares was playing both sides against the middle. In his memoirs, Psinakis wrote: “The investigation (referring to the U.S. Justice Department investigation) also revealed that after his February 1975 defection, Mijares did, in fact extort money from Marcos by feeding him imaginary information for which Marcos was ignorant enough to pay considerable sums. While Mijares was still receiving money from Marcos, he was at the same time lambasting Marcos in the U.S. press, causing the Marcos regime irreparable damage. It is no wonder the only natural conclusion is that Marcos had his vengeance and did Mijares in.”

All told, was Primitivo Mijares a credible whistleblower? “The point that should be grasped is not whether I am a good or bad man, but whether I tell the truth about the martial law regime in the Philippines.” Those are the precocious words of Tibo Mijares, not mine. Warts and all, the book Conjugal Dictatorship has left us too many gaps to be compelling. Maybe—just maybe— all the details that Mijares recounts are true but there is a larger truth left unsaid somewhere in the pages of Conjugal Dictatorship and that, we have to unfold.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Story of Primitivo "Tibo" Mijares(Part 1)

Primitivo Mijares will always be known for his opus “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos,” a magnum that delivered a serious blow to the strongman rule. The book, published under strenuous circumstances in the United States on April 27, 1976, chronicled in great detail the truth about martial rule in the Philippines. In it, Mijares gave his readers what they wanted, an insider’s view of the shenanigans and corruption of the Marcos regime to which he claimed he was privy about—the fabrication of the 1973 referenda results, the faking of the Marcos war record, the systematic full scale seizure of government and some of the largest businesses, all this and many more. But the juiciest parts of Conjugal Dictatorship, of course, are the gossips. With obvious exaggeration and bitterness of a disillusioned journalist, Mijares wielded his trenchant pen with gustatory relish, and consequently opened up the Pandora’s Box of rumors on the private lives and loves of both Marcos and his wife, including the president’s amorous escapades every inch of the way. Needless to say, Marcos’ enemies have had their field day merchandising Mijares’ “political pornography” as solemn truth.

Just exactly who was Primitivo Mijares in the inner igloos of power? Before his defection from the Marcos regime in 1975, which he did while on a special mission to the United States to invite “steak commandos” home, Mijares was Marcos’ chief propagandist and press censor. Once upon a time, Mijares was said to be among the chosen few who could walk in and out of Marcos’ office almost any time even without an appointment. But by some mysterious act of fate, Mijares vanished from the face of the earth just eight months after the release of Conjugal Dictatorship— he has not been seen since.

“Dark ages” of Philippine press

In any kind of revolution—whether from the left or from the right—free press becomes the primary victim of control. In the experience of the world, a free press cannot survive a dictatorship; both cannot co-exist, and the reason for this startling contradiction is that “truth” cannot co-exist with dictatorship. That everyone knows. And so it was in the Marcos “revolution from the center.”

Prior to martial law in 1972, the Philippine press was looked upon— nay envied— by journalists of neighboring countries as the “liveliest and freest in all of Asia.” Free indeed, but it was also free-wheeling like a runaway dervish. Things changed dramatically on the night of September 22, 1972. Along with the subversives and anti-Marcos politicians, prominent journalists too were herded by teams of military men to the stockades. Simultaneously, “sequestration notices” were tacked on the doors of publishing houses, radios, and TV stations. By nightfall, the next day, then Press Secretary Francisco “Kit” Tatad rang the death knell of democracy as he appeared through government-controlled TV and radio stations announcing that martial law had just been declared. They never flinched— the eyes of President Marcos— when he assured his countrymen not to worry because democracy would be restored in a year or two. But for writers and journalists of that period, Proclamation No. 1081 sounded like a slow and solemn drumroll beating out as in a funeral dirge the gradual demise of press freedom. Then began what historian Charles McDougald described as the “dark ages” of the Philippine media.

Architect of press censorship

With the “death” of democracy in the country, from its ashes rose the New Society and the “conjugal dictators’’ were to be its rulers. Before martial law, no government permit or license was necessary as free expression was guaranteed by no less than the Constitution. Consequently, with martial law now in place, Marcos understood the importance of media to disseminate his propaganda. And so he took stock in designing measures—“thought control “measures— one after the other that would keep everybody in line.

Ever the methodical politician, Marcos virtually controlled the media industry from womb to tomb: ownership, censorship and licensing. During the first few days of the martial law regime, the task of strict censorship fell into the iron hands of the military through the Office of Civil Relation. But with the creation of the Department of Public Information (DPI), the task of censorship and licensing was later transferred to Mass Media Council and the Bureau of Standards for Media. Later on, Marcos yielded to military demands that soldiers share with DPI media control, and created the Mass Media Council (MMC), headed by DPI Secretary Francisco Tatad and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. But this was a short-lived solution as Tatad and Enrile often clashed on jurisdictional issues over their turfs. More than this, Marcos had another problem. Despite the regime’s effort to create a semblance of press independence, all is not well under the watchful eyes of the international media. Against this background, Marcos eventually came under attack by the World press on the issue of press freedom. He had to find a way to show gradual “normalization” and to restore the credibility of the Philippine press by showing that free expression was as vibrant as ever even under authoritarian rule. Martial law, Philippine style after all, as Marcos proclaimed to the whole world, was a “smiling” martial law.

Marcos then turned to his consigliere on media affairs with one pressing concern: he wanted to phase out the MMC. He wanted a different system of press gag that would make him look good to the international media. He wanted “media people themselves to police themselves.” Thus, Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 191 supplanting all quondam censorship bodies and in their stead sired the notorious Media Advisory Council (MAC).

The blueprint for the creation of a self-regulatory civilian media entity came from Primitivo Mijares and presidential assistant, Guillermo “Gimo” de Vega. Tibo, as friends used to call him, was a lawyer by training and president of the National Press Club (NPC) and chief editorial writer of the Daily Express— a newspaper known to be Marcos’ mouthpiece shortly before martial law was declared. MAC, as intended by its architects, would control all political news and propaganda during the upstream of the New Society. As it was, MAC had an all-encompassing authority to regulate all forms of mass communications—from dailies and broadcasting stations to films, billboards, and signs or displays on pushcarts or store windows. Under Mijares’ chairmanship, MAC emerged as the monolithic entity of the Marcos regime in the field of censorship; expectedly, with its broad powers, MAC also became a hot bed of graft and corruption.

The fallout

But for a “highly intelligent man of ambiguous morals,” Mijares knew how to navigate the labyrinth of power with his mighty pen in tow. He could be as good or as evil as the occasion demanded. Shortly after he assumed the position as chairman of the Media Advisory Council, right off, his friends began noticing striking changes in his lifestyle and spending habits. Soon, Mijares came under fire from the media industry, especially from the influential publisher of Bulletin Today, Hanz Menzi, who personally asked Marcos to abolish MAC. Sometime in 1974, the Broadcast Media Council and the Print Media Council came into being, with Teodoro Valencia and Menzi heading the two bodies, respectively.

Previous to this, however, Mijares was about to face serious criminal charges for bad debts, rubber checks, petty extortions and misappropriation of funds belonging to the National Press Club. Those accusations though unproven in court would stick with him to the very last even if he had angels on his side. That was his first biggest blunder. This was not to be, however, the proximate cause for his virtual disappearance. It became worse when Mijares clashed with the vengeful Kokoy Romualdez, younger brother of Imelda. “You will see what will happen to you. I will tell this to my sister,” Romualdez seethed. This happened after Mijares rashly accused Romualdez of cheating the Lopez family over a business deal involving the Manila Electric Company. At this point, Mijares began to fear for his life. Right around this time, Marcos was under pressure from the U.S. Congress to release some of his high- profile political prisoners to clean up his image. Witting or unwittingly, Marcos sent Mijares and other propagandists to the United States as Imelda’s advance party to lure Filipino exiles home. More than the prospect of a criminal prosecution for the NPC-MAC fiasco, foremost in Mijares’ mind was his defection from the Marcos regime and to apply for political asylum.

And so, off he went to America. Whatever happened to him here— how he tried to outwit the conjugal dictatorship of his master and how he failed and vanished are what will be revealed later.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Grace Poe’s Unnatural Citizenship

"Public office is a public trust..." —Art. XI, Sec. 1 of the 1987 Constitution

Writing for the majority in the case of Labo v. COMELEC, Justice Isagani A. Cruz said: “Philippine citizenship is not a cheap commodity that can be easily recovered after its renunciation. It may be restored only after the returning renegade makes a formal act of re-dedication to the country he has abjured and he solemnly affirms once again his total exclusive loyalty to the Republic of the Philippines.”

Is Grace Poe a worthy returning renegade to seize the highest office of the land?


It is true that Senator Grace Poe, one of the possible frontrunners for the 2016 presidential elections, did reassume her status as a Filipino citizen by repatriation in 2006. But what most people don’t know is that after her 2006 repatriation, she deliberately played it safe and held dual citizenship until 2010, or four years thereafter. (Grace Poe, then, was both a Filipino and a U.S. citizen.) This she did when President Benigno Aquino III appointed her as chairperson of MTRCB. Under RA 9225 (otherwise known as the “Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act”) potential appointive and elective officials are not only required to take their oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines but must also expressly renounce their foreign citizenship. The rule is, to qualify for public office, they must only have one citizenship and that is Philippine citizenship, no less. And so Grace Poe brandished the coup de grace only in 2010 by executing an affidavit explicitly renouncing her allegiance to the United States of America which in effect forfeited her naturalized American citizenship too.

Natural-born citizens and repatriation

In a long line of cases decided by the Supreme Court, repatriation has been defined as the reacquisition of lost citizenship and not the acquisition of a new citizenship, one who is repatriated regains the level of his original citizenship. In the case of Grace Poe, if indeed she is a natural-born Filipino before her naturalization in the U.S., case law on the subject says that she is deemed never to have lost her “natural born” citizenship.

The rules under the Constitution are fairly simple: “Natural-born citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire of perfect their citizenship…” Clearly, we follow the principle of jus sanguinis (or the right of blood) wherein a person follows the citizenship of either Filipino blood parent. But what happens when a child is born in a country that adheres to jus sanguinis but whose parents are completely unknown? Grace Poe perfectly fits the bill. (Note that while she was adopted by FPJ and Susan Roces, adoption does not confer citizenship on her.)

This is a gray area in constitutional law and I have yet to do my research on whether a ‘foundling’ can be considered a natural born citizen. In fact, even the renowned former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, in his regular column with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, had to apply principles of international law to justify his thesis that Poe is a natural-born Filipino. But customary international law, while recognized as “part of the law of the land” by virtue of the doctrine of incorporation, does not, however, stand on the same level as the Constitution. In our jurisdiction, the Constitution is primus inter omnes, the supreme law of the land from which all other laws must bow.

Misplaced legal presumptions

Most legal experts and luminaries, echoing in part CJ Panganiban’s view, have added arguments holding that by default, Grace Poe is natural born citizen and thus qualified to run for president.

Relying heavily on “legal presumptions,” weight is given to the fact that she was a former MTRCB chair, and presently a senator and that no one pointed an accusing finger questioning her citizenship. Therefore, unless proven otherwise, Poe enjoys the legal presumption in her favor. “Unless proven otherwise” is of course directed to VP Binay, also an aspirant for the 2016 presidential elections. Under this view, the burden of proving that Poe is disqualified to run for the presidency lies on the shoulders of the person assailing Poe’s citizenship. But for one, this is a dangerous precedent when what is at stake is the highest position of the land. Needless to state that in the hierarchy of constitutional departments, the presidency is no ordinary public office. Because such office is infused with public interest of the highest kind, it would be foolhardy to rely mainly on “presumptions” on matters concerning qualifications—especially issues concerning indelible loyalty to the Republic.

Certainly, it would be illuminating if our so-called legal luminaries could have at least reconsidered their position based on a 1967 Supreme Court decision on the subject. Any law student worth his salt would have read the case of Paa v. Chan where the Court said: “It is incumbent upon a person who claims Philippine citizenship to prove to the satisfaction of the Court that he is really a Filipino. No presumption can be indulged in favor of the claimant of Philippine citizenship, and any doubt regarding citizenship must be resolved in favor of the State.” Need I say more?

At first blush, I would have also given her the benefit of legal presumption under customary international law had she remained loyal to her motherland whatever the cost. (Here, I would have to praise Filipino exiles and “steak commandos” in the US during the martial law years.) But Poe’s former allegiance, her being a naturalized U.S. citizen, and a deliberate holder of dual citizenship for four years, changed everything.

Convenience or conviction?

Was it for convenience or conviction that Senator Grace Poe renounced her American citizenship in 2010? As they say, your guess is as good as mine. Assuming she wins the 2016 presidential elections, are we ready to accept a president, a commander-in-chief, who is a former alien, a naturalized citizen of America? It is my view that there is a real distinction between a “natural born” and a “repatriated citizen” when it comes to textually committed constitutional qualifications for all those who want to be president, vice president, senator or district representative. Our forefathers, the framers of our past and present constitutions could not have thought otherwise. This standpoint, to my end, is concretized in these words of President Manuel L. Quezon, “I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans.” Or a former naturalized American? I also could not have thought and preferred otherwise. Indeed, in life, sometimes what is constitutional can be more dangerous than what is unconstitutional.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Wall of Separation"

This is a hot issue that has bothered me for quite sometime. Iglesia ni Cristo's (INC) misplaced invocation of the principle of separation of church and state has been pinching at my “constitutional” nerves like the devil’s pitchfork, challenging me to write my thoughts down. Contrary to popular belief, I have said it before in my Facebook post and I say it again here, this doctrine came into being in order to protect the Church from undue intrusion by the state, NOT VICE VERSA.

The provision (Article 2, Section 6) in “The Declaration of Principles and State Policies” under the 1987 Constitution that says that the separation of church and state shall be inviolable is no more than a flagship provision for non-establishment: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”If one would carefully examine the text of the Constitution, the thrust of the principle is strictly geared towards the state and not the church. In other words, the “wall of separation” is a limitation directed upon the State and its institutions, primarily Congress. The non-establishment clause found in the Bill of Rights undoubtedly cautions the state not to pass laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” In this sense, the Church, therefore, cannot violate the separation because it cannot pass laws other than church laws or policies. The Church and its minions, of course, cannot dictate state law or policy; but this does not mean that the Church shall have nothing to say on the conduct of government. The bottom line, said a noted Filipino constitutionalist, is that “neither side may legislate for the other.” (Bernas, 1999)

This is my understanding of what separation of church and state is all about. Apparently, INC’s invocation of the principle is inapplicable in the present scenario.

When DOJ Secretary De Lima ordered an investigation on the alleged kidnapping of Samson, who has filed a serious illegal detention complaint against several INC leaders, she acted within the bounds of law and not because she favored or preferred one religion over another. If it were the other way around, she would be violating the Constitution as her actions would be construed as “state action” under the law. In simple terms, if De Lima would ignore the criminal complaint would give others- those not belonging or no longer belonging in this flock- a valid cause to raise this separation doctrine. The idea that she might have violated the “wall of separation” seemed far-fetched because what is involved is a possible violation of the Revised Penal Code, and the parties happened to be citizens of the Philippines and not as flocks of a cultish congregation.

The better view, however, is to examine the issue from a different angle: the INC’s battlecry of separation of church and state is nothing more than a short-hand expression of freedom of speech, and to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. Though these fundamental rights of the people are guaranteed by no less than the Constitution, the exercise of these rights are not absolute for it may be so regulated that it shall not be injurious to the equal enjoyment of others having equal rights, nor injurious to the rights of the community or society. (Primicias v. Fugoso)

Photo credit: CNN Philippines

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Domingo Franco

Faceless martyrs have long fascinated me. While tapping out this article, I’m looking at an old photo showing thirteen valiant men, standing in a row about eight feet apart from each other, facing the firing squad. That was the “killing fields” of Bagumbayan in the early morning of January 11, 1897. On that day, El Supremo of the revived La Liga Filipina, and twelve of his compatriots sprawled on the ground, “kissing the soil of their beloved country” for the last time.

It is said that a nation without heroes is a sad nation. True, because without heroes there can be no inspired leadership among our people and that makes our nation even sadder. But what difference does it make if we, as a people, limit ourselves with historical bywords like Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo and other towering figures of the Philippine Revolution? Sadly, as I look around the corridors of heroes, there are still many unknown patriots that deserve the sidelights of history. One such obscure figure that needs illumination is— Domingo Franco. His name is not a byword in Philippine history. Nor was he even mentioned in our history textbooks except that fact he was one of “The Thirteen Martyrs of Bagumbayan.”

Who was Domingo Franco?

Scantily, history tells us that Domingo Franco was a native of Mambusao, Capiz, who later rose to become a highly successful leaf tobacco businessman in Manila. With the emergence of Masonic societies in the Philippines, Franco, together with his friend Numeriano Adriano joined the seminal Filipino Masonic Lodge Nilad in 1891. The great Mabini, on the other hand, joined the Lodge Balagtas. Franco took the symbolic name “Felipe Leal” (Loyal Philip) and was said to be the man in whom Rizal and Mabini reposed “the greatest confidence.” True to form, it was Franco who courageously received the first shipment of Noli that was sent by Rizal, clearing the “contrabands” in the Customs to avoid confiscation, and took care of distributing them.

The revived La Liga Filipina

After Rizal’s disengagement from La Solidaridad, he went on to challenge Mother Spain in the home country and launch La Liga Filipina—a front organization of the movement for reforms and unification of the Filipino nation. Upon Rizal’s return to Manila in June 1892, it was Franco, along with Timoteo Paez, who organized that historic meeting at the Onjunco house in Tondo where Rizal proposed the idea of La Liga. Three days later, however, Rizal was arrested, and the Liga was quickly dispersed.

The paragon reformist that he is, a year later, he and other patriots sought the revival of Liga; not only to carry on the goals as formulated by Rizal but also to raise funds for Soli. Soon, Franco was elected President of the revived La Liga Filipina and Mabini became Secretary of the Supreme Council. In charge of recruitment in the outskirt provinces was no less than the supreme revolutionist from Tondo, Andres Bonifacio. Altogether, they ran the gamut of the organization, from vice to virtue, from opposing views to winged innocence.
Rise of Katipunan—fall of La Liga

Rizal’s deportation to Dapitan, however, signaled the coming of revolutionary radicalism. For Bonifacio and the working class, the time for armed revolution had come. And so, although he was one of the active members of the revived Liga, in truth, Bonifacio balked the idea of having to use Liga as an instrument for raising funds to support reformist ends. To him, the Spanish masters could no longer be won by words. Franco and Adriano, of course, disagreed. And so, the organization splintered into two factions: the Cuerpo de Compromisarios, composed of moderate ilustrados, who still wanted to carry on openly seeking reforms without bloodshed, and the Katipunan, the plebian base of La Liga, which already believed that reforms were no longer possible except by secretly preparing for violent upheaval.

At this stage, we could say that Bonifacio was indeed an excellent organizer, but he just wasn’t good at keeping secrets, at least not for too long. A month later, the Katipunan was discovered, and many were arrested. One of them was Antonio Luna, the chemist who later became a famous revolutionary general. It was Luna who admitted to the authorities, wittingly or unwittingly, that Rizal’s La Liga was the parent organization of the Katipunan.

Path to martyrdom

Two weeks later, first to be arrested was Domingo Franco, a non-Katipunero. It was said that Franco was arrested in his office while playing with his six-year-old daughter, Conching. There, his elbows were tied up behind his back, shoved him into a horse-drawn rig and paraded him all the way to the dungeons of Fort Santiago. For several weeks, Franco endured all forms of torture while confined in a small cell. He was chained, flogged, and given the water cure. But Franco, the “Felipe Leal” of his compatriots, remained loyal to the end and never confessed to authorities the ‘truths’ they wanted to hear.

Just twelve days after Rizal’s execution, Domingo Franco, with twelve others, calmly faced the Spanish firing squad in Bagumbayan. Like Rizal, they too suffered humiliation at the hands of the colonizers even unto death. Their lifeless bodies were unceremoniously piled up to on a horse drawn cart and dumped them in an unmarked grave. To this day, the remains of the “thirteen martyrs” have not been found.

Franco’s legacy

Domingo Franco never thirsted for office, power, and the chance to make history. But without Franco and his paisanos, La Liga would have been almost dead at birth after the arrest of Rizal; it was them who resuscitated Rizal’s vision to work for reforms. Without the revival of La Liga, Bonifacio would not have had a front organization to disguise the work of the Katipunan; consequently, without the Katipunan there would not have been a revolution and no Philippine Republic to begin with.

Not much has been written about Franco, even historians of today have failed to highlight his contributions, and the travails he went through just to support the seemingly impotent propaganda movement at the turn of the century “One of the tasks of grateful generation,” as one Filipino statesman sought to remind us, “is to give due recognition to all our heroes, especially those who are unsung.” Thus, it is fitting after more than a hundred years to remember a genuine patriot like Domingo Franco— one of the unsung heroes of the Philippine Revolution.


Celia Diaz-Laurel. My Lolo Domingo Franco. Philippines, 2011.

Agoncillo, Teodoro. The Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan. Quezon City: UP Press, 1956.

Photo credit: The Pinoy Pulse

Carlos P. Garcia in Retrospect

The nation was stunned in tears, with uncertainty afloat. On March 17, 1957, dubbed as the “blackest day in our history,” presidential plane christened as “Pinatubo,” bound for Manila, crashed in Mt. Manunggal just fifteen minutes after it took off in Cebu. President Ramon Magsaysay, the most likable of the towering political figures in the 50s, was killed and so was the entire complement in the plane save one. His vain death—which deserves a story of its own, for whatever it was purposed, was as widespread as his humble rise to power. Ultimately, his death had a profound impact on the masses not only because Magsaysay was their ‘savior,’ but he was also perceived to be one of their own.

But reality had to set in soon, no matter how dreadful. The next day, before a rapt and morose audience, a new president was sworn in to take over the reins of government for the remaining eight months. Against this background, the Herculean task fell squarely on the shoulders of Magsaysay’s subaltern— Vice President Carlos P. Garcia.

In the “Guy’s” shadow

Carlos Polistico Garcia was not a charming politician. That was the truth. Small, dark-skinned, curly-haired fellow, almost Moorish in appearance, Garcia lacked Magsaysay’s charm that had enthralled the hoi polloi to his side. Nor was he able to mesmerize the masses with bombastic oratory, create dramatic pauses and raised hubbubs. Though he always thought and spoke on his feet, Garcia’s poetic prowess was clearly overshadowed by Magsaysay’s magic. It was said that had Magsaysay lived to run for a second term, Garcia would have been replaced as his running mate with a better vote-getter candidate. Not that Garcia was unaware of these criticisms early on—quite the contrary. He found his supposed weaknesses to be his strength.

In a broader sense, it is not easy to classify Garcia. He had the mind of a chess grandmaster, eager to take challenges, grapple with facts through calculated moves, rather than a populist’s mesmerized by abstractions with their what ifs and wherefores. This was clearly demonstrated when Garcia, the seemingly uncharismatic candidate, confounded his opponents by winning his own presidential mandate in 1957 with apparent ease. All the same, if Garcia was ever anything, he was a nationalist.

Garcia’s politics

Born on November 4, 1896 in Talibon, Bohol, Carlos P. Garcia belonged to a middle-class family who valued education more than anything else. After high-school, he went on to pursue a preparatory law course in the prestigious Silliman University, and Philippine Law School where Garcia obtained his Bachelor of Laws degree. After placing first in the 1923 bar examinations, Garcia had a brief stint teaching law until politics caught up with him.

Elected representative of the third district of Bohol for six years, Garcia had gone the opposite path and became the provincial governor of Bohol for three successive terms. Then the turning point came when both Quezon and Osmeña, Nacionalista bigwigs at that time, drafted him to run for senator in 1941, and he won. His jubilation, however, was short-lived when the Japanese invaders arrived in the Philippines. Instead of collaborating with the enemy, Garcia went up the hills and fought the Japs as a leader of a guerilla force.

Garcia’s service in the trenches served him well when he resumed his political career after the war. While a senator, Garcia’s nationalistic fervor enabled him to function well as chairman of the Senate committee on foreign affairs advocating claims for reparation and war damages. He too was instrumental in opposing the “No money, no parity” policy that was being pushed by the Liberal Manuel Roxas. This was a brilliant move, and Garcia rapidly made himself one of the top honchos of the Nacionalista Party (NP). But the odds were stacked against him, at least momentarily.

After being elected three times to the senate, Garcia was tapped by NP as Magsaysay’s running mate for the 1953 presidential elections. Magsaysay was a true blue Liberal but jumped off to NP after disagreements with his erstwhile boss, President Quirino. Both won overwhelmingly. After Magsaysay’s death, Garcia completed his term and then won his own presidential term in the same year.
The nationalist president
Wafted by the winds of nationalism fanned by the likes of Recto and Laurel, Magsaysay was no match to Garcia’s fierce devotion to the ideals of being a true Nacionalista—“Country above all else.” For Garcia, the espousal of nationalism requires the convergence between words and actions; between theory and practice. In his own words, Garcia lamented so poignantly that, “A President must be deedless in words and wordless in deeds.”
The meaning was fairly simple: deeds must be louder than words and not otherwise. That was Garcia’s credo.

“Buy Filipino”

By the time Garcia became president, the specter of American colonialism was still very much in vogue in the country. But Garcia, an avid admirer of Quezon, would have none of it. More than his accomplishments in the realm of foreign affairs, Garcia’s name became synonymous with “Filipino First” policy, a nationalist policy that encouraged Filipinos to inculcate the much-needed national pride. In a word, Garcia’s economic nationalism gave preference to Filipinos over all other foreigners in the acquisition of land, capital and in the operation of business in the country.

Under the Garcia administration, almost all banks were in the hands of Filipinos; local industries began to flourish and landed estates exchanged hands. True to his ideals, Garcia espoused the policy of import controls by making sure that dollars were well used for economic needs of Filipino entrepreneur. As a result, by assisting new entrepreneurs to get dollar allocation, Filipino enterprises developed, which in turn led to the establishment of many Filipino-owned companies.
Of course, this did not sit well with foreign businessmen such as the Americans. They swear never to allow a nationalist like Garcia to win another election. He had to be stopped at all cost. Corruption charges then were hurled against Garcia, some even mocked him as a draconian fascist, but nothing came out of it. And so Garcia lost his re-election bid to Diosdado Macapagal, the Liberal populist candidate whom the Americans supported in the 1961 elections.

Carlos P. Garcia was tested by fate yet he faltered not. In fact, in so brief a time, his achievements as a “presidential caretaker” and later on as the president himself, became more significant than the bigger shoes he had to fill in. This month, we commemorate his death and celebrate his life – veneration duly accorded to a man who may not have saved a president from a plane crash, but who has saved the country from a similar downfall.

Monday, June 15, 2015


The year was 1968. President Marcos, a brilliant politician by all accounts, was nearing the end of his first term, and would surely run for reelection the next year. But there was a hitch. A young and ambitious senator, one of the rising stars of the opposition party was about to expose Marcos regime’s “secret military operation” to recover a lost territory, now unjustly occupied by Malaysia. “Tell your cousin Ninoy to stop spreading the rumor that the Philippines will invade Sabah,” President Marcos warned Senator Eva Estrada Kalaw as soon as news reached the Palace. Surprised with the remark, she meekly tried to defend him, but to no avail. “Tell him he is a congenital liar,” the president shot back.

Meanwhile, in the Senate that evening, the solons were having their usual debates when Senate President Gil Puyat banged the gavel for a recess and announced for them to assemble in his room. There, he apprised them of a national security matter: the possible sneak invasion of Sabah. “Shall we discuss it in private or bring it up on the floor?” he pushed. Probably unaware of the serious implications of the issue before them, all of the senators agreed: Ninoy shall take the Senate floor.

The following morning, the so-called “Operation Jabidah” crashed the headlines. “Open the ‘Bulletin’ and see if I’m a congenital liar,” Ninoy bragged to his prima over the phone. Obviously, the opposition Liberal Party (LP) lost no time in making political capital of the incident. LP leaders took turns on the Senate floor to lambast President Marcos and demand investigation of the massacre. Throughout the country, Muslim students took their indignation to the streets, crying out justice for the deaths of so many young Muslims in Corregidor. The demonstrations, led by then UP political science Professor Nur Misuari, went as far as Malacanang Palace and Congress chanting to the choruses of “Alahu Akbar!” urging Muslim youth to unite. Thus began that infamous episode in modern Philippine history dubbed as the Jabidah massacre.

A stab at diplomacy

After persistent diplomacy to take back Sabah from Malaysia in the early sixties, President Diosdado Macapagal finally forced the issue upon the international community. And so, under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), a referendum was held over Sabah. The locals, however, voted to join the Federation of Malaysia despite strong objections filed in the UN by Indonesia and the Philippines. It was an inconclusive election, to say the least. But as it was, the US government had spoken in favor of the outcome of the referendum, officially sealing the fate of the Philippine claim to Sabah.

Furious at leaders in Malaysia, the Philippines severed diplomatic ties with Malaysia, a hiatus that lasted until President Marcos re-established relations during his term. But President Marcos had a different agenda on the table. Unlike his predecessor, one of the notable facets in the President’s character was deep secrecy; he played his foreign policy cards close to his chest. As a result, by feigning peaceful intentions with Malaysia, President Marcos bid his time well in preparation for the grand adventure. Indeed, as they say, politics is drama, politics is theater.

Project Merdeka (Freedom)

It was against this background of general frustration that the covert operation codenamed “Operation Merdeka”—the recruitment and initial training phase—was hatched.

The original idea was to destabilize Sabah by sending as many Filipinos there so that when a referendum was held among the Sabahans, the majority would have the numbers to claim the province as part of Philippine territory. Since workers in Sabah were predominantly Filipinos with ties to the motherland or Moros, who paid homage to the Sultanate of Sulu, President Marcos believed that the locals would prefer sovereignty of the Philippines to that of Malaysia. From there, the Sultanate of Sulu, the rightful heir of the disputed land, would deliver the resource-rich territory to the Philippines.

To carry out his plans, President Marcos tapped the services of an air force major, a fighter pilot, by the name of Eduardo Martelino. A visionary in his own right, Martelino had written a book advocating the unification of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia into a single state to be called “Maphilindo.” As it was, Martelino proposed to send a commando unit to Sabah for the purpose of fomenting unrest and starting a civil war. Once the fighting ensued, the Philippines would then come in on the pretext of protecting the interest of Filipinos living there.

Named after Martelino’s first Muslim wife, camp Sophia was set up as a secret training camp in Simunul, the rustic island-town of Tawi-Tawi, where the first Arab missionary Makhdum had built the first mosque in the 13th century. Martelino, alongside Lt Eduardo Batalla, trained close to 200 young Muslim men—Tausugs of Sulu and Sama of Tawi-Tawi. What lured the young men to Martelino’s invasion project was the promise of being part of an elite unit of the Armed Forces after four months of intensive training.

But sometime in February 1968, the Muslim recruits were informed that they had to undergo “further specialized training,” and that they would be transferred to Corregidor—noted to be Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s last stand during the Filipino-American resistance where he delivered his oft-quoted “I Shall Return” speech. From Simunul, the troops, numbering around 135 to 180, sailed for two days and one night on board a Philippine Navy vessel bound to Corregidor. This signaled the end of “Operation Merdeka” and the beginning of “Operation Jabidah.”

The Jabidah Massacre

Legend has it that the name “Jabidah” refers to a beautiful princess in Moro folklore. But like the pilgrim who spent the night with a beautiful queen who they thought was Nefertiti, the Muslim trainees too were in for a surprise. When morning came, and the veils were opened, the legend turned out to be a hideous woman of the night—a horror tale.

In the new island fortress, Martelino formed two commands that would separate the Tausugs from the Sama trainees. The “Sadlupan” command was composed of the Sama, and the Tausugs, on the other hand, belonged to the “Subangan” command. It appears, however, that the military officers despised the Tausugs because they were obstinate, always complaining at every turn, but they favor the Sama, gave them their allowances and would treat them fairly well. Thus, during their stay on the island, the Sama recruits were merely confined to one area while the Tausugs were kept elsewhere under rigid schedule. And so, the Jabidah planners decided that the Tausugs would be the first wave of Muslim commandos to invade Sabah. At this point, the recruits were informed what their true mission was. All along they thought that they would only be part of a peace-keeping force to be assigned in the Muslim areas. When they were told that their mission was to infiltrate Sabah and stir up an uprising there, right off, the Tausugs trainees got angry. They were sprawled all over, numb and dispirited at the revelation. The situation was complicated further by the non-payment of the P50 monthly allowance, a promise made by their superiors in Simunul.

Then something happened. Some immediately wanted to leave Corregidor and be returned home. When the Jabidah progenitors prevented them from leaving, the Tausugs mutinied. For some reason, they had to be disarmed— they had to be silenced.

The story is oft-told that one night, the rebellious trainees were taken out of the barracks in groups of twelve. At a nearby remote airstrip, they were instructed to proceed farther on while their escorts, armed with guns, stayed behind. When asked by one of the survivors, Jibin Arula, where they were supposed to go, the answer he got was a volley of shots. Arula dropped to the ground, rolled over the edge of a cliff at the far end of the airstrip and threw himself to the sea. Although shot in the knee, Arula managed to stay afloat for many hours, feigning death. He swam across several miles of Manila Bay, and the next day, was rescued by a Cavite fisherman who brought him to Governor Delfin Montano.

From there, the garrulous opposition Senator Ninoy Aquino Jr., a journalist by profession, picked up the story. After hearing Jibin Arula’s story, he hurriedly called for an urgent press conference. From the moment Ninoy opened his mouth, the Muslim leaders who flanked the press conference listened gape-mouthed as he unveiled the massacre that allegedly happened in Corregidor. It was definitely one of the biggest snares of Marcos’ reign and the itch, they say, that started it all.

Decades later, amidst the killing of the 44 Fallen SAF heroes, the assertion of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the desire to alienate Mindanao and make it a separate entity from the Philippines, and the seemingly unending war between Muslims and Christians, allude to the Jabidah massacre is almost impossible. When however, the air clears and dust has settled, the intention that led to Jabidah, not to its failed mission, nor the itch that ignited the Muslim-Christian rift, remains valid: Sabah is ours. And Marcos’ operation to assert our right over it, no matter how it failed, is definitely not a hoax.

Photo credit: Xiao Chua

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Past Denied 2

The seminal boil of resistance was lanced in the “Battle of Mactan” and with it came the moral of the story that no matter what the odds, freedom is always worth fighting for.

Legend has it that Lapu-Lapu and his men simply fought with arrows and bamboo spears; but they fought with great heroism. Their sense of nationalistic pride, love for freedom, had put the foreign invaders to rout. Thus, the battle ended with the Spaniards fleeing back to their boats, leaving their beloved captain — their “light, mirror, and comfort”— to die on the rocky shore.

This resistance was to be reaffirmed many times over when the Spaniards returned in force to colonize the archipelago, especially in Muslim fiefdoms.

Prelude to colonization

As it was, Filipinos of 1521 were not yet Filipinos but indios, Moors or heathens. When the Spanish fleet, led by the heavily bearded Portuguese dreamer and explorer Ferdinand Magellan, reached Samar (and later Cebu), the Philippines then was just an archipelagic cluster of tribes. The notion of state, or region, or common worship or civilization was alien to the natives. Armed to the teeth, each wary of the other, the natives were seemingly preoccupied with sailing the short seas for livelihood, and also to fight.

The excellent chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, who accompanied Ferdinand Magellan’s 1521 expedition in Las Yslas Filipinas, describes the islanders (Samarenos) thusly:

“They have holes in their ears so large that they can pass their arms through them. Those people are caphri, that is to say heathen. They go naked, with a cloth woven from the bark of a tree about their privies, except some of the chiefs who wear the cotton cloth embroidered with silk at the ends by means of a needle. They are dark, fat and painted. They anoint themselves with coconut and beneseed oil for protection against the sun and wind. They have very black hair that falls to the waist, and use daggers, knives and spears ornamented with gold, large shields, fascines, javelins and fishing nets that resemble rizali and their boat are like ours.”

Like politicians of today, the conquistadors too encouraged ignorance. With a country splintered into 7000 islands, the Spaniards must have thought that they could easily rule and exploit the entire archipelago in no time. To make sure that they could lay down their colonial intentions smoothly, the Spaniards saw to it that any kind of unity among the natives was to be avoided at all cost. Necessarily, any effort at coming together was to be discouraged.

In search of paradise

After Magellan’s fateful expedition, the strident wind of colonization began to sweep the country. It was certain that the invaders would return, but the natives were clueless what their real intentions were. And so the Spaniards were back but with a different twist.

Under the common of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the Spanish fleet landed in Cebu around 1564. The Spaniards, despite being outnumbered, wasted no time to begin the process of colonization. Using the banner of Catholicism as a tool for subjugation, the colonizers launched a massive military campaign. Worse atrocities were committed to these malleable natives as part of the Spanish Crown’s colonial efforts. The burning of houses, the wholesale looting, and the desecration of the dead in search of gold, were methods used by the Spaniards, not only to force submission from the natives, but also as means to survive in a desolated island. Some of the natives fled, leaving their villages in ruins while others stood their ground only to surrender their freedoms out of fear later. With the disappearance of the old barangays, the Spaniards formed the first Hispanic settlements in Cebu. For three years or so, the Spaniards maintained a main base there while desperately awaiting reinforcements from Spain.

As days dragged into months, and months into years, the Spaniards grew restive, quiescent in a way. With nothing left to plunder and to support them, the restless invaders decided to jettison Cebu. Soon they figured a nearby island that was reported to have abundant food supplies, mainly rice. And so off they sailed to Panay.

Like the natives of Cebu, the Pintados of Panay fiercely resisted the conquistadors, but the colonizers once again prevailed by applying the same level of violence towards the people. Wherever the Spaniards went, villages were looted and burned to ashes. For even with a small military contingent, some of these jingoistic Spanish soldiers were in fact veterans of the Spanish wars. Obviously, these colonial incursions had certainly spurred a “culture shock” among the local population. For the first time, natives would face Castilians as aggressors, puissant and armed, which completely kept them off guard even before the battle began.

Although only a few barangays were virtually conquered, half of Panay’s population perished during these incursions.
The northward expansion

After establishing a new base in Panay, another island far north lured them. This time, the Spanish conquistadors vowed to conquer Manila, a place reported to have large settlements of Bornean Muslims. Quickly, the conquistadors consolidated its forces by putting up a coalition of Visayan allies, mostly fighting men from Cebu and Panay. Recruitment of mercenary soldiers was easy. Spaniards knew for a fact that Visayans were hostile to Manilans because they thought of them as incorrigible barbarians— “Muslims.” This was to have a profound impact on the Christian-Muslim relationship in the future.

With the aid of 1,500 Visayan auxiliaries, the small band of Spaniards decided to move to Manila. The year was 1570.

The northward expansion was, in fact, a vital strategy to complete the process of “possession” and “conquest.” Indeed, if Manila could be taken over by Spaniards, the next logical step would be the “conquest” of Luzon and much of the archipelago. Owing to Manila’s large settlements, soon to follow was the establishment of a unique Spanish colonial institution— the encomienda; a complex political structure employed by the regime to exact tributes and labor services from the indios.

Part III will tackle the beginning of the Moro Wars; the Spaniards versus the Borneans and beyond.


O.D. Corpus, The Roots of the Filipino Nation, Vol. I, Quezon City: UP Press, 2010

Abraham “Abet” Iribani, Give Peace A Chance: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Talks, Magbasa Kita Foundation, 2006

Teodoro C. Benigno, “A Dip into the Deep Past,” Here’s the Score, Philippines Today Inc., 1990

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Past Denied (Part 1)

The coming of Islam in the archipelago is an epic tale. And it is a tale we must unfold to better understand the Moro struggle in Mindanao. While Filipinos today take pride that the Philippines remain to be the only Christian nation in Asia, such fact could not have been true had the colonizers arrived a little late. Were it not for the quirks of history, majority of the people today would be worshipping in mosques instead of Catholic cathedrals.

It is undeniable that the advent of Islam antedated the arrival of the Spaniards by two centuries. And so when the great Magellan thrust his Cross in Cebu in 1521, many of the islands had long been under the Crescent. It was only a matter of time before the rest did. But the conquistadors came right on the dot. What could have been a simple expedition in search of spices and lowly peppers became Spain’s iron grip on the spread of the Islamic faith throughout the archipelago.

The coming of Islam

Islam first landed on the shores of Sulu in the early part of the 13th century. Located in the most nearly central position of any island in eastern Malaysia, Sulu stood to gain immense commercial advantages more than any of the scattered islands in the archipelago. Travelling from the Middle East to the Orient, Arab traders from Malacca brought the religion to the area as part of their mission to propagate Islam and to find a new home.

Historians are one in saying that the first Arab missionary to visit the Philippines was Karim Al-Makhdum. Coming from Malacca in 1380, Makhdum established the first Islamic mosque in Simunul, the tiny island in Sulu. From there, Islam began to send branches towards the outskirts of Sulu and beyond. Later on, in 1540, with Islam firmly in place, the Muslim communities in Sulu established the first Sultanate in the archipelago with the messianic Shariful Hashim Abubakar as its progenitor.

The arrival of Islam had indeed brought tremendous changes in the life of the people, especially in their culture. With Islam as the foundation for the establishment of a new superstructure, the scattered datuships or barangays were consolidated into one political entity—the sultanate.

Along with the Islamic schools and the introduction of the Shariah, Islam also enabled the people to feel that they were members of a community larger than their barangays—the Muslim Ummah. Instantly, the new religion blended with pre-Islamic socio-cultural practices of the local population, which even strengthen their ties as a community. By this time, the native Muslims began to see the world differently. Islam did not only give the Muslims a sense of purpose but also a unique identity that would spur fierce resistance against Spanish attempts to subjugate them.

The first quarter of the 16th century saw the spread of Islam in mainland Mindanao. From the mouth of the Pulangi River, the historic Shariff Kabungsuan arrived and founded the Sultanate of Maguindanao. A century later, Islam reached the Lanao areas and had moved further towards north of Luzon. As a result, progressive Muslim settlements sprung in Manila under Rajah Soliman’s tutelage. But his reign was merely an ephemeral episode. Shortly before Islam began to take roots in the region, the colonizers arrived and crushed them.

The bygone period

The winds of change were now blowing all over the archipelago, shaking if not shattering the peaceful coexistence of the people. Except for occasional wars between feuding factions, relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities were generally peaceful. This was the situation when the Spaniards took “possession” of the islands in the 16th century.

The historian O.D. Corpus in his magnum opus, “Roots of the Filipino Nation,” observes that when the Spaniards came, they brought with them such version of Christianity “with the fire of the fanatic Hispanic branch.” The coming of Islam two centuries ago, however, spells the difference. “Christianity came to the islands as part of an aggressive mission of conquest,” write Corpus. “Islam was brought by the individual efforts of men who came looking for a new home and, because they could not live well without their religion…” Spain’s campaign against Islam has historical and traditional origins. Fresh from the war to recover Granada from the Moors (Muslims of North America) in 1492, they crossed the Pacific Ocean only to meet, once again, their ancient nemesis “halfway around the world from the arena of their earlier conflict.”

When the volley of cannon from the fleet led by the flagship Concepcion reverberated to announce that Christianity had indeed set foot in the archipelago, the message was loud and clear: the Spaniards came not to proselytize “love” and “peace” among the Moors or heathens, but to introduce Christianity through massive military campaign. Like a wolf clothed in sheep’s fur, the thrusting of the Cross, pierced itself onto the once peaceful Mindanao terrain, symbolically ripping its virgin crust and unadulterated layers and forcing out native blood from its wounded limbs. War has ensued.

Note: Part 2 will discuss the Moro wars against Spain and the coming of the Americans.

O.D. Corpus, The Roots of the Filipino Nation, Vol. I, Quezon City: UP Press, 2010