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UNFILLED HISTORY: ZAMBOANGA LA BELLA

by Antonio Enriquez

Apocalypse, disaster, and imagination our subject now is nothing new for those of us from my hometown, Zamboanga. Weve even improve on that: apocalypse not just along the level of supernatural dooms day, on divine prediction and supernatural interference, but weve improved it along its signifying human error and evil. Disaster too, weve improve on that, since ours is man made, not what you have here in Manila: natural disaster. Also imagination, we have improved on that too, the imagination that has become the sole prerogative of the military during martial law of the Dictator Marcos. My hometown Zamboanga is no longer the city of flowers it is a city of stray bullets and bombs. It is no longer un rinconcito de Espaa, a little nook of Spain rather it is as our national hero Rizal wrote in La Ultimo Adios, --- nuestro perdido Eden/ our lost Eden or Paradise. We even no longer have the purity of our mother tongue Chabacano, spawned by Spanish three and a half centuries ago. It is now so corrupted by migrants from the Visayas and Luzon, impregnating Chabacano with their own mother tongue. Take this song Zamboanga Hermosa, which had fluttered your romantic hearts, and perhaps resonated in your hearts: Las bellas dalagas que sen hermosean, tu deliciosa ciudad. But now, this line, amigos, would appear thus: Maga bonita dalaga que ta hace guapa contigo, el di tuyo ciudad. Notice then, for a moment, the alien words maga, the singularity of dalaga, and the missing, delicious to the ear word hermosean. Yaks! Indeed, how crude, awkward the vulgar line sounds; like an alien tongue to the ears of Zamboanguenos; indeed, painful and miserable to the ear. In 40s, if Im not mistaken, our old folks wouldnt recognize it, this line just mentioned, it as belonging to their mother tongue, and could only see it as nothing but gibberish. Some time ago, a student from Southwestern Mindanao, taking his doctorate degree (?) in a prestigious Manila University, in his thesis on Zamboanga, imprudently developed this theme: that the Moros aided our unsung patriot and hero, General Vicente Alvarez, who lead the Zamboanga rebellion against Spain, betrayed by his own compoblanos to the Americans. The

revolution of 1898 and 1900, it was. But, in fact, the contrary is true: the Moros led by Rajah Muda Mandi was loyal to Spain in that Zamboanga insurgency of 1899, and was an American collaborator. As Datu Mandi, and the traitor Alcalde Midel, were called Americanistas, and both (Mandis collaboration here doubtful) shamefully swore to deliver the rebel patriot General Alvarezs head to the Americans, to Commander Very of the US Castine. And this blatant lie and error passed the board of readers, whose expertise in Mindanao history becomes questionable by this flagrant ignorance, and thus, through the readers ignorance, naivite, the student got his masters in history. The harm isnt that a student got his masters degree/University readers ignorance and pretention to-know , rather that this error, shamefull falsehood, has passed on to students, teachers, readers, and the general public. Indeed, the manuscript is now being used as a reference book in some schools, colleges, even universities. Let us leave it now and go to a more blatant error, one may even exaggerate a bit by calling it a progeny of evil, which happened quite recentlyand its is still very fresh in my mind, and yours. Recall, my friends, the sham peace talk between the Philippine Government and the MNLF in Malaysia or was it in indonesia? If theres anything that imitates and pretends to be an opera bouffe, it is this peace talk. Which, very quickly orchestrated was the signing of the peace talk agreement by the Philippine panel and the MNLFs. So, what happened because of this shameful quickness and orchestration? This was what happened: when the next morning the mayor of Zamboanga, Celso Logregat and Zamboanga folk woke up, they were jolted to into a shock and disbelief. They indeed woke up with their over-acentury- year old City Hall, 1907, and even the Mayors antique house gone, cast away from them; for these structures, solid and seemingly indestructible, now belonged, sink and all, as the expression goes, to the MNLFs, given up to the Moros, Muslim rebels, without the caution and discretion of a virgin, nor, mind you, the perseverence of an old maid. Of course, the Christians and Moros (Zamboanga) rose in protest, and you know what came to past. The Supreme court declared it unconstitutional; nobody has any right to give away a chunk of Phlippine soil, it said, as if it were Graham crackers or Ginger biscuits with or without coffee. This was some time after the sham peace talk. We were at an informal dinner, at Alabars, where any day you can have the delicious curracha steeped in coconut milk. I think Frankie Sionil Jose was with us, Ateneo de Zamboanga had invited him for a talk On an aside, between coconutmilk steeped curracha and stewed locon/large shrimps I asked the Mayor what was the panelists . agreement. One of the panelists I cant remember his name, said: I didnt know, Mayor Logregat, that your City Hall and your old, antique house were inside that area. Either hypocrisy or the shameless panelist had failed his geography class.

But the greatest blow struck Zamboanga way, way back when the Wright brothers invented the airplane. How? you may ask. O yes, how it seemingly had made her glory and beauty disappear before our eyes? Certainly, not through nature or divine intervention, but through mans invention. Because the airplanes, their invention, displaced the water or sea transportation, crossing Zamboanga and Basilan Strait. Allow me to cite a rare information I found during my research on Zamboangas history, which I engaged in to write a historical novel, anchored on the Moro piracy and the punitive campaign of Gov. Gen. Corcuera against sultans Kudarat of Maguindanao and Bungsu of Sulu. In my research, I found a book, Sailing the Sulu Seas by Vice-Admiral David Potter, then a lieutenant during the U. S. invasion of Zamboanga; he wrote: Furthermore, and perhaps a more important thing in the eyes of the American higher command, it [Zamboanga] was the point of all others, barring only Manila itself, where the Philippines came in contact with the outer world. Through Basilan Strait, which separates Mindanao from the not inconsiderable island of Basilan, twenty miles to the southward, British, German, French, and Japanese vessels passed in appreciable numbers. Whenever streamers from Hong Kong, Chefoo, Saigon, or Nagasaki, visited Manila, and thence proceeded to Australia or New Zealand, to New Guinea or New Caledonia, they passed through Basilan Strait into the Moro Gulf and on into the Celebes Sea. All such vessels came within a mile of Zamboanga even if they did not stop there .

And so, as I said, couple of decades ago, I became ambitious. I said to myself Id write the great Zamboanga novel. Now, I realize that I should have eaten my words first, shake the nuts in my screwy head, before even thinking of writing it. Because horror of horrors there was little or no data available, I couldnt find a single book devoted to the history of Zamboanga; though there is even a historical book on a little island of Camiguin; certainly and surely, of less importance than Zamboanga, historically speaking, that is. Many of the Zamboanga ancianos/ancients who would have known through the more ancient ancient of our history, sort of first hand, had, without putting their memoires in print, of whatever form kicked the bucket, long ago. No one, unfortunately thought to interview them extensively, and in writing record the past, not just in songs and verses and fill the huge empty, black hole in our history. Here is a sample of an hiatus in Zamboangas history: the war between the Zamboanggueno rebels and the Spanish troops at Fort Pillar- March to May, 1899. Nothing of the insurgency is mentioned in history, by Filipino and foreign historians, that it seemed there was no rebellion at all in Mindanao, nor was mentioned the surrender of the last Spanish governor general of the Philippines, Don Diego de los Rios, to the Zamboangueno patriots, nor the lowering of the Spanish

flag from Fort Pillar. If the gap was filled, and this very much later, and very insignificantly, it was done gradually, and as if on tip-toes, piece by piece/piece meal with hypocrisy and grievous error: Listen to this and I quote, Dewey scorned the torpedoes and swept away the Spanish Galleon in Manila Bay Had Admiral Montojo torpedoes in his Spanish Armada, the kind we understand them today? for that matter were there torpedos at that time, particularly in Manila Bay, on May 1, 1898? This hiatus and erroneous historical declarations can be set right and at best rectified through literature. It could be righted by the writing of the historical novel, even through apocalyptic literature. Have you paused to reminisce the works of Katheerine Ann Porters, Pale Horse, Pale Rider? Or of Willa Cathers in Death Comes for the Archbishop. A question may be asked: Why not just look back and write history? Let me answer this, as humbly and clearly as I can, Because literature as we see it seeks the truth, not the facts; it fills and synhronizes the gaps through imagination; and uncovers the mysteries that clatter history. Striking the heart not the mind. And armed with an imagination as quick and fertile and strong as a childs, to fill the black holes of history and discover the unseen, invisible facts. For who would remember decades later the history book he has read? but cannot forget Ernest Hemmingways For Whom the Bell Tolls, or Jose Rizals Noli Mi Tangere!

Historical novel, anyone?

End

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