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Conjurings, Oaths, and the Power of Secrecy (By Vicente Rafael)
From Rizal's time to Quezon's to the present, the issue of the establishment of a true wikang pambansa has beset Filipinos. Beyond a discussion of the country's linguistic barriers and overwhelming linguistic hierarchies, this article explores the language "spoken" by Filipinos during the Spanish times-the language of the pacto de sangre. This secret language linked revolutionary Filipinos in a way that nationalists like Rizal or Quezon could only dream about, and wielded a power that frightened Spanish authorities. It is through such languages causes are strengthened, identities are formed, and ideas of nationhood are conjured.
On December 31, 1937-forty years after Jose Rizal's execution and some fifty years after the publication of his first novel, Noli me tangere-Philippine Commonwealth President, Manuel L. Quezon gave a radio address from Malacañang Palace. Speaking from what had been the residence of the Spanish and later American governor generals, he spoke of the need to develop a national language (wikang pambansa) in anticipation of the political independence promised by the United States. Tagalog, he declared, would furnish the basis of this common language of the future. Newspapers reported his speech and The Tribune provided an English translation of the Tagalog original (though not the Tagalog text itself). Ironically, Quezon's speech in translation lamented the need for translation. The president referred to the embarrassment he felt when faced with the necessity of speaking through an interpreter, thanks to the persistence of different vernaculars in the country:
Today there is not one language that is spoken and understood by all Filipinos, nor even a majority of them, which simply proves that while the teaching of a foreign language may be imposed upon a people, it can never replace the native tongue as a medium of national expression among the common masses. This is because, as Rizal asserted, the national thought takes root in a common language which develops and grows with the progress of the nation. We may borrow for a time the language of others people, but we cannot truly possess a national language except through adoption, development, and use of our own.
... We must as soon as possible be able to deal with one another directly using the same language. We need its power more completely to weld us into one strong nation. It will give inspiration and warmth to our popular movements and will accord to our nationality a new meaning to which we have never learned to give full and adequate expression. As president of the Philippines, many times I felt the humiliation of having to address the people through an interpreter in those provinces of the islands where Ilocano, Pampango, Visaya or Bicol is the language used.1
In the wake of the revolution of 1896-1902 and in the midst of American colonial rule, Quezon recalls Rizal's dilemma: how to arrive at a lingua franca capable, like the radio or the telegraph of communicating at a distance across linguistic barriers. For rather than speak directly and without delay to the people, he must rely on someone else to relay his words. On the verge of independence, Quezon as president, was still dependent on translators to reach his own people. He thus felt the weight of language, or more precisely the history of a linguistic hierarchy deeded to the Commonwealth by over three centuries of colonial rule. The failure to overcome this hierarchy meant that no common language existed that could subsume all other languages in the country. This lack is a source of shame for ilustrado leaders like Quezon. He imagines himself being seen by those he addresses as someone incapable of understanding or being understood except through the mediation of an anonymous third person, the interpreter. Unable to speak on his own, he requires a linguistic double of sorts to make himself heard. His condition, like those of other elite leaders, suggested that the national could not as yet sublate local differences. Symptomatically, the leader of the country could not directly reach across to those he led. This lack required supplementation in the form of translation which, when performed in public, only served to highlight the weakness of those on top, dependent as they were on the intercession of an other.
In Quezon's case, the sense of humiliation (hiya) did not come, as in Rizal's novels or in Luna's travel accounts, from speaking Castilian and being wrongly recognized as a "savage" or a filibustero by Spaniards. Rather, it came from speaking Tagalog, his native language, only to be taken as incomprehensible by those other natives from below. Expecting to command his audiences" attention, Quezon, we can imagine, is filled with anxiety, unable to control the transmission of his message and incapable of consolidating his place in their social lives. Instead, he comes across as a kind of familiar foreigner with his Spanish mestizo appearance uttering unintelligible words in need of a translator. Dependent on the United States for political survival, Quezon found himself just as captive to the hearing of the masses for political legitimacy. But while English enabled him to speak directly with American officials, Tagalog seemed insufficient to link him with the rest of the nation.
To address this dilemma, Quezon established the Institute of National Language (INL) with the task of developing a national language or wikang pambansa, based, as the phrase indicates, on Tagalog. As conceived by the INL, the Tagalog vocabulary would be transformed and augmented by words from other vernaculars such as Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon and so forth. More words would come from recuperating lexical items long out of use from Tagalog texts written in earlier centuries. What would emerge, it was hoped, was a new kind of Tagalog, at once more "indigenous" and full of non-Tagalog words no longer tethered to a specific region. It would be a Tagalog that could be pried loosed and transported to all parts of the archipelago by means of new dictionaries and a standardized grammar (balarila), literary works, critical essays, and so forth which were to be disseminated and taught regularly in public and private schools. The Commonwealth's dream of a common language then saw Tagalog taking on a telecommunicative power. Alienable from its original users, it would reach non-native speakers who would recognize in the language aspects of their own. As a common language, Tagalog would no longer belong only to Tagalogs. What was native to one group could be reinvented-"adopted and developed"-into a national and, retrospectively, "natural" language for others in the country. This national language that was yet to come, this Tagalog as wikang pambansa that would arrive from the future was invested with the "power...to weld us into one strong nation." Yet, it would also continue to exist in view of two other official languages: Spanish and English. Quezon continues:
The fact that we are going to have a national language does not mean that we are to abandon in our schools the study and use of the Spanish language and much less English which, under the Constitution, is the basis of primary instruction. Spanish will preserve for us our Latin culture and will be our point of contact with our former metropolis as well as Latin America. English, the great language of democracy, will bind us forever to the people of the United States and place within our reach the wealth of knowledge treasured in this language.3
For Quezon then, refashioning Tagalog into an other language-one that would serve as common currency among all Filipinos-meant two things. It entailed not only subsuming existing linguistic differences into an overarching lingua franca. It also meant maintaining Spanish and English as languages of the state and public education. The latter two would continue to be languages with which to communicate with the world outside the nation for the foreseeable future. While Tagalog as wikang pambansa would seek to put an end to the need for translation among Filipinos, Spanish and English as official languages would ensure the continuing need for interpreters when addressing state authorities and those beyond. Quezon thus ratified the endurance of a linguistic split between the nation and the state. On the one hand, the national language once it comes would allow for the progressive homogenization of linguistic differences. As with the radio, Filipino leaders would then be able to communicate directly with the people, whoever they were and wherever they might be. And they would do so from great distances, including from the safety and security of their official residence. Thanks to this common language, Quezon and others in his position need no longer worry about feeling humiliated and risk being misunderstood, or so it was thought.
On the other hand, the corollary to this notion of an emergent national language was that it would not be permitted to displace the political power of Spanish and English. Rather, the place of these colonial languages would be safeguarded to the point of being mandated by the laws of the land. The coming national language would shelter the colonial languages and so tame them for official use, turning their intractable foreigness into valuable resources. Both Spanish and English would become instruments for making "connections" to the past, to "Latin" culture and to Latin America in the case of Spanish; to "democracy", the United States, and "knowledge" in the case of English. Through a renovated Tagalog, these languages would be part of a vernacular continuum at the disposal of state institutions. Herein lies the promise of the wikang pambansa: by sublating the vernaculars, it would also preserve and harness the power of colonial languages to link the nation to the world. It would, that is, incorporate the foreign and convert it into an aspect of the nation, but a nation that, in Quezon's case, was beholden to the state. Rather than abolish linguistic hierarchy and the social hierarchy it implied, Quezon as the last ilustrado leader under colonial occupation and the first president of the postcolonial Republic, hoped for its refinement and revitalization. Seeing himself as the nexus between the nation and the state and between a colonial past and postcolonial future, Quezon sought to appropriate the power of translation. As such, he positioned himself as the privileged speaker as well as addressee of all communication in the country. That Quezon wanted to revitalize the linguistic hierarchy suggests that at some point it had been in danger of being destroyed. We saw in previous chapters how nineteenth century attempts at appropriating Castilian and rearticulating Tagalog along with all other modes of communication in the colony had the effect of making evident the uncanny power of language over social life. In both Rizal and Balagtas, for example, language brought out what was radically foreign: that which had no place in life but for that very reason insisted on lodging itself there. It was by responding to what belonged by virtue of not belonging, by seeking to translate what remained untranslatable that novel social formations emerged: nationalist figures, costumed actors, weeping Cristianos and Moros speaking in verse, subversive novels full of terrorist conspiracies, and the like. But such new developments, what we might hastily sum as the emergence of figures of modernity, could become real historical possibilities only to the extent that they engendered in turn other responses from those who found themselves addressed, whoever they were and wherever they may have been.
As I have tried to argue, it is precisely this question of address-its formulation, conventionalization, disruption, recuperation and so on-that animates the relationship between colonialism and nationalism in the Philippines and perhaps in many other parts of the world as well. "Who speaks?" is always contingent on "Who is spoken to?" Both in turn rest on the technical means with which they are asked and answered. Such technics include, but are not limited to, the hierarchization of languages and the translation practices that enable as well as disable it. In the historical contexts we have been examining, we have seen that whenever the technics of and for addressing the question of address become objects of struggle and reinvention, crisis tends to break out. Addressing an expectant nation in 1937, Quezon was no stranger to such crisis. He had fought in the latter phase of the revolution and like almost all other ilustrados and local elites collaborated with the American regime as a way of capitalizing on the promise of political independence from above while guarding against the ever present demand for social revolution from below. As the leader of the colonial legislature and later the Commonwealth, he had authorized the suppression of several local rebellions in the 1920s and 1930s.4 Quezon's wish to reinforce linguistic hierarchy occurs against the context of past and on- going challenges to it. In this chapter, I want to consider the nature of these challenges during the start of the revolution of 1896. In particular, I will address the ways by which Spanish writers and officials responded to what they thought they heard in the Filipino demands for separation.
Let us return briefly to Rizal's second novel, El Filibusterismo (1891). In a chapter called "Pasquinades."He tells the story of anonymously authored posters appearing on the university's walls a day after the petition of a student association to establish an academy for the teaching of Castilian is denied.5 We are never told about the contents of the posters which are judged by the authorities to be subversive by virtue of their presumably satirical nature and their unknown origins. Rumors quickly spread that they are the signs of a secret conspiracy. Perhaps they are the work of students in league with the bandits hiding out in the mountains, some say. Or perhaps not. In any case, their appearance unleashes rampant speculation that, as one character says, "other hands are at work, but no less terrible."(221)
The colonial police soon arrest students and other ilustrados who were known to have been critical of the influence of the Spanish friars. But rather than put fears to rest, the spectacle of their arrest incite more talk, adding to anxieties up and down colonial society. Rumors abound of an impending attack on Manila, and of German boats anchored off the coast waiting to lend assistance to such an attack. Mysterious disturbances and noises trigger panic as they are taken to mean "that the revolution had begun-it was only a matter of seconds."(219)
The appearance of the posters thus raise the specter of language beyond colonial control. They suggest an origin outside of what can be accounted for. Wild speculations seek to track the path of this mysterious origin but only further serve to obscure it. Arresting the usual suspects, authorities hope to find the source of the posters, but discover that there is always something yet to be uncovered. The posters then are significant less for their content as for what they reveal: the existence of "other hands at work... no less terrible."They give rise to the sense of unseen forces working in secret to bring about what cannot be fully known much less anticipated.
Occurring outside of hierarchy, the posters reveal something that defies revelation. It is this defiant power that draws intense interest from everyone in colonial society. That no one can resist hearing, passing on and amplifying rumors suggests something of the power of this secret as it holds everyone in thrall, endowing them with a commonality they did not previously possess. Rizal's story about the posters is most likely an allusion to the appearance in October, 1869 of anonymous leaflets at the Dominican university in Manila. The leaflets were critical of the friars and called for "academic freedom."Referring to themselves as "we indios," the authors protested the disrespectful practice of friars in addressing them condescendingly with the informal second person singular pronoun "tu" instead of the more formal "usted." And they demanded an end to racial insults. Spanish authorities construed the leaflets as signs of a growing conspiracy among liberal elements in the colony intent on launching a revolt. They proceeded to arrest a number of students, while professors and secular clergy thought to be sympathetic allies were removed from their posts. Many others who even remotely advocated reforms in the colony were placed under surveillance and their mail periodically intercepted and opened.6 Three years later on January of 1872, a local mutiny erupted at the Spanish arsenal in Cavite led by a disgruntled creole officer and two Spanish peninsular soldiers. The uprising was rapidly put down but it further stoked the currents of fear among Spanish residents convinced of the existence of imminent plots to terrorize Spaniards and overthrow the state.
Convinced that the Cavite mutiny was a prelude to a much larger revolt, Spanish authorities ordered the arrest and exile of a number of prominent Filipinos and indios who had been vocal about their calls for economic and political reforms and were critical of the reactionary and racist views of the friars. These events culminated in the public execution of three secular priests-Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora-who had been prominent figures in the secularization controversy as they called upon Spanish friars to devolve more control over parishes to Filipinos secular priests. Their execution is widely acknowledged as a milestone in the history of Filipino nationalism. As we saw in chapter II, Rizal (whose brother Paciano had been a student of Father Burgos) was moved to dedicate the Fili to the memory of the three priests and vowed vengeance on their behalf.7
The Spanish governor general, Rafael de Izquierdo, had presided over the hunt for suspected subversives, relying mostly on "rumor and anonymous communication." It seems he never doubted the veracity of such rumors which merely confirmed what he was already certain about: that a plot was afoot to overthrow the regime by killing all Spaniards and declaring independence for the colony. So it did not matter how many were arrested, exiled and executed. Imagining subversives, or filibusteros meeting in secret in the colony and in the metropole, the government had to continue seeking them out. Capturing and killing one led only to the discovery of yet other subversives and other plots. Like most other friars and Spanish officials, Izquierdo thus believed in the existence of conspiracies in advance of any evidence, "public rumors and confidential reports."8 It did not matter then that ilustrados sought to counter-act this belief by claiming their innocence and loyalty to Spain. Spanish conviction in the subterranean spread of filibusterismo across different groups in the colony yielded neither to debate nor demonstration. What was the nature of this Spanish belief in conspiracies? The word for conspiracy that commonly appears in Spanish accounts is "conjuracion" which according to the dictionary of the Real Academia denotes unlawful gatherings with the presumed aim of overthrowing the state. Aside from "conspiracy," however, conjuracion also translates as "conjuring," "the act of summoning another in a sacred name."It comes from the verb conjurar, to "conjure up," "to implore, entreat, to ask anything in a solemn manner."Additionally, it means "to bind oneself to another through the means of an oath for some end," thereby recalling its Latin origin in conjuro, "to swear together, to unite by oath."9
To understand conspiracy in the sense of "conjuracion" is to imagine previously unrelated individuals coming together in secret to take oaths. It is to think of the remarkable, indeed magical, ability of a linguistic act-the exchange of promises-to establish new forms of being in the world.10 In taking an oath, one binds oneself to others, thus forming a group which in turn gives to each of its members an identity different from what they previously had. Oaths are speech acts which bring about the very thing they refer to: in this case, a "conspiracy," from the point of view of the state, a new or alternative association from the point of view of its members. It is new to the extent that it is composed of members who, thanks to taking an oath, become other than who they previously were.
They take on the capacity to move about covertly, armed with double identities, discrete passwords, and encrypted gestures with which to recognize one another and gain access to meeting spaces hidden from official view. Eluding the comprehension of state authorities, such groups were suspected to be in touch with other sources of power. In their calculated duplicity, they operated at a tangent form colonial society.
A prototypical example of these secret associations in the late nineteenth century were masonic lodges. Though they had existed in the colony since the later eighteenth century, Filipino lodges were begun only in 1891 after other lodges in Madrid had begun to accept ilustrado nationalists into their membership. Given their liberal politics and anti-friar sentiments, members not surprisingly incurred suspicion from colonial officials. Forbidden from meeting openly, they were forced to convene at different houses, often disguising their gatherings as innocuous social events. Women pretended to host dinner parties and dances while men met in backrooms away from public view. In these moveable lodges, members took on fanciful ranks, performed initiation rituals, held elections, discussed political matters, and referred to themselves with pseudonyms usually in Tagalog while pledging themselves to the aid and welfare of every member in need. Private spaces were thus transformed into a different sort of public space, one that fell away from official supervision.11
Constituting a covert public sphere, lodges in late nineteenth century Philippines were in constant contact with other lodges in the metropole, effectively by-passing the mediation of the colonial state. Like the telegraph, lodges were telecommunicative technologies, allowing for discrete transmissions and connections among members across state borders. Regardless of their aims, such societies compelled the attention of the state not so much for what they did and said but precisely for what they held back from view. Spanish accounts by the late nineteenth century increasingly became concerned with the signs of this holding back. Yet every attempt to read those signs and assign their origin to particular figures and meanings seemed to draw officials and friars even farther away from the secret locus of imagined conspiracies. In 1896, a royal decree banned secret societies, targeting in particular masonic lodges. These were widely believed by Spaniards to be the "womb"(seno) from which separatist plots were born.12 Indeed, nearly every ilustrado nationalist had belonged at one point or another to a masonic lodge. While many members were not even remotely involved in revolutionary activities, it was the form of the lodge itself that was important.
At the very least, it furnished the ritual vocabulary and symbols used by other secret societies such as the Liga Filipina founded by Rizal in 1892 and its more radical successor, the revolutionary organization called the Kagalanggalangan Kataastaasan Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (the Most Noble and Highest Gathering of the Sons and Daughters of the Nation), or Katipunan for short (literally, the gathering) led by Andres Bonifacio. "These societies," the royal decree states, by the mere fact of being secret, are illicit and illegal, harmful in every states and the source of insidious evil in a territory like the Philippines.... It is absolutely necessary to prosecute them with diligence and constancy.... until this evil is rooted out or at least until those who still persist in the wicked enterprise are made powerless and harmless.13
From the perspective of state authorities, the mere fact of secrecy constituted a crime. Members were thought to evade recognition from above rather than seek to solicit it. Out of reach, they were able to tap into other circuits of communication beyond the hierarchy of languages. Indeed, lodges by operating under cover, served as networks for the circulation of news, money and banned books between the colony and the metropole as well as within the country itself. Placed under surveillance, members became even more secretive. For this reason, they were endowed by the state with the foreigness- and thus the criminal status- of filibusteros. They were deemed to be carriers of "evil," because of unknown intentions. Like witches, they had to be repressed, periodically hunted down and exorcized from the body politic.
In responding as they did, Spaniards felt themselves addressed by the secrecy of secret societies. They ascribed to this secrecy catastrophic possibilities: revolution, the destruction of the regime, and the murder of Spanish residents. In short, they were forced to think the unthinkable and entertain the possibility of the impossible arriving suddenly and without warning.
A month prior to the eruption of the revolution, for example, Manuel Sityar, a lieutenant in the Civil Guard, writes about the growing sense of "a formidable conspiracy against Spain (una formidable conjuracion contra Espana)."He notes a change in the faces of the indios. "Insignificant details perhaps for those who were born in another country...had made me suspicious that something abnormal had occurred, something which could not be defined, making me redouble my vigilance." He notes the existence of "an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion among the locals whose characteristics had always been those of apathy, indifference and stoic tranquility in all other circumstances. "14 In a similar vein, the journalist Manuel Sastron notes the transformation he sees among different classes of natives once news of the revolution begins to spread. An "atmosphere of pure hatred against Spanish domination,"was palpable. Natives once accommodating to a fault now increasingly refused to step aside the road and let a Spaniard pass. In certain Tagalog towns in Laguna and Batangas, natives began to greet Spaniards "with the most cruel and injurious tone: the Spaniards are pigs [castila ang babui] (sic)."15
University students having been no doubt "catipunized," (catipunados sin duda) had been writing "grossly injurious" things about Spain. Even servants had begun to talk back to their masters complaining about their wages while cocheros or coach drivers suddenly felt entitled in "harsh tones, sometimes punctuated with a few well placed blows (on their horses)," to haggle with their Spanish passengers about the fare. Even well-off Filipinos and mestizos thought nothing of cutting off the carriages carrying Spaniards, further evidence of the erosion of deference and the loosening of hierarchy.16 Meanwhile, rumors circulated of Katipunan plots to poison the Spaniards in Manila by placing toxic chemicals in their drinking water and in the food they were served at home. "What other proofs," Sastron wails,"were needed that thousands of conjured Filipinos (conjurados filipinos) were frantically seeking to gain their separation from the Mother Country, and that they were thinking of accomplishing this by beheading (degollando) all of the peninsular Spaniards?"17 The thought that equated Filipino independence with Spanish death had existed in official circles since the aftermath of the Cavite Mutiny of 1872.
It took even firmer hold in Spanish accounts after the discovery of the existence of the Katipunan by the Spanish friar Mariano Gil along with various documents relating to an uprising in August of 1896. The Spanish journalist and bibliophile, W.E. Retana, for example, reproduces a Spanish translation of a Katipunan document from 1896 stating that "our principle objective is to leave no Spaniard alive in the future Filipino Republic," and that it would be strategically useful "that we procure the friendship of these barbarians with the purpose of dispatching them with greater security and promptness once the moment of the cry of independence comes."18
In another captured document, Retana calls attention to the "monstrous" nature of a plan to kill all friars and burn them rather than bury their bodies. It would be an act of vengeance, according to the Katipunan document, for all the "felonies that in life they committed against the noble Filipinos during three centuries of their nefarious domination."19 Destined for a double desecration, friars were to be killed then left unburied by being burned. Another Spanish journalist, Jose M. Castillo y Jimenez in his account of the early months of the revolution, reproduces a similar document from the Supreme Council of the Katipunan commanding fighters to attack Manila and "assassinate all of the Spaniards, their women and children, without consideration of generation, nor parentage, friendship, gratitude, etc."20 It also orders the sacking of convents and the "decapitation of their infamous inhabitants"(degollaron a sus infames habitantes). Once killed, Spaniards were to be buried (except friars who were to be burned) in graves at Bagumbayan field, the site of public executions. On the graves of dead Spaniards, Filipino independence would then be declared.21
It did not seem to matter that none of these atrocities did in fact occur, neither the beheading of Spaniards nor their mass murder, and with the exception of very few instances, the killing of friars and certainly not their burning. Still, Spaniards like Castillo believed that these horrible crimes were about to take place. To clinch his point about the fate that awaited Spaniards, Castillo reproduces a photograph in the middle of the book that shows the association of Spanish death with Filipino independence. It is that of an apron, the sort used in masonic rituals, that was found buried along with other Katipunan documents in the barrio of Trozo just outside the walls of Manila. The apron depicts two arms, presumably belonging to a Filipino, with the right clutching a knife and the left holding aloft the severed head of a bearded Spaniard, blood dripping from its neck.22
In the midst of a secret power heralded by signs of a conjuracion, Spaniards faced not only a population "bewitched" or "catipunized" by the workings of filibusteros. They also found themselves in the midst of the most lurid figures predicting not only the imminent loss of their colony but also their lives along with the dismemberment of their corpses. The crime of revolution would begin with subtle acts of disrespect, turning into gross insults and ingratitude for the "debts owed to Spain,"23 then finally erupting into a frenzy of killing and decapitation of Spaniards. In seeking revenge and passing judgement on the putative crimes of the colonizers, the colonized would commit even greater crimes. "These are the laws of the Katipunan, their sole and criminal intention," writes Castillo, summing up Spanish sentiment.24 For the Spaniards then, revolutionary nationalism on the part of Filipinos perverted the order of things, making crimes the foundations of their laws. In doing so, it brought forth the unimaginable as the basis for what could be imagined. How do we understand this notion-the unimaginable as that which insists on shaping the imagination? How can formlessness be the basis for giving the forms and expressions with which to do justice to experience?
We might begin by revisiting one of the most persistent motifs in Spanish accounts of the revolution: that of the equation between Spanish death and Filipino independence. Manuel Sastron writes: Muere al castila y viva la independencia.
Esto y no otro fue el lema de la bandera enarbolada por aquellos insurectos... el grito de las indigenas capiteando por Andres Bonifacio y sus deleznables companeros del Catipunan, en el cual pactaron el exterminio de los espanoles, conquistadores de aquel territorio, no por la fuerza brutal sino por la dulce predicacion del Evangelio.25
In response to the "gentle" word of conquest, Filipinos can only cry "death to the Spaniard.by Bonifacio's Katipunan, they are who they are because of an oath (pacto) they have taken to "exterminate" all the Spaniards in the colony. It is as though Filipino independence, or better yet kalayaan, the Tagalog term for "freedom" used in Katipunan documents, can only come through the "medium"(medio) of Spanish death: "... La de querer obtener aquellos pueblos son independencia por media de la matanza de todos los castilas."26 Betraying Spain's generosity, Filipinos have shown a criminal lack of hospitality. This inhospitality is precisely the product of a prior promise. As members of a secret society, Katipuneros as such come into being by virtue, first of all, of the linguistic act of entering into a pact. Spanish writers repeatedly remark on the peculiar nature of this pact and the rituals surrounding it. Called pacto de sangre, or blood compact, it was thought to be the decisive event in the conversion, as it were, of passive indios and docile mestizos into fierce fighters eager to take Spanish lives. The putative desire to spill (derramar) Spanish blood begins, in the pacto de sangre, with the shedding of one's own. By the 1880s, ilustrado nationalists had developed a fascination with the history of the pacto de sangre as mentioned in sixteenth century Spanish accounts. The Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand de Magellan who landed in the Philippines in 1521 and claimed it for the Spanish crown, as well as Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first governor general of the colony in 1565, both entered into blood compacts with local chiefs as a way of establishing alliances with them. Nineteenth century ilustrados idealized these events.
They saw in them nothing less than a contractual agreement entered by equals to come to each other's aid. The renowned Filipino artist Juan Luna, depicted the scene in a painting titled "El Pacto de Sangre" in 1885 to suggest that colonization began with a pact of friendship sealed by the "mixing of blood taken from an incision in the arms" of the Spanish and native leaders.27 For Filipinos then, the ritual mixing of blood signified a promise of mutual recognition and the exchange of obligations.
In return for pledging allegiance to the Spanish king, Filipinos were entitled to be treated as "Spaniards in the full sense of the word."28 This story about the blood compact thus became an allegory about the mutual assimilation of the ancestors of one group into another. The mixing of blood meant a shared genealogy. Blood was the privileged medium for connecting colonizer with colonized in a relation not of conquest but filiation and a history of miscegenation. Though attributed to precolonial practices, the blood compact undoubtedly echoed the miracle of Christian transubstantiation, whereby Christ's body and blood is believed literally to reside in consecrated bread and wine shared by communicants during mass. By eating His body and drinking His blood, believers acknowledge their indebtedness to Christ and enter into a sacred contract with God. In the pacto de sangre, one gets a secularized version of this Catholic belief. Native and Spanish men (for no women were known to have engaged in such practices), shed their blood for each other. In doing so, they took on a new identity: no longer strangers but friends, even fellow citizens as argued by ilustrados. Hence does the blood compact, like all other vows, bring about the very condition which it signifies. However, ilustrado nationalists argued that centuries of Spanish abuse amounted to the betrayal of this ancient agreement. By refusing to recognize Filipinos as fraternal equals, Spaniards broke their part of the deal. In the face of this injustice, Filipinos felt justified in reneging on their promise. They would continue to perform what they construed to be an indigenous custom but this time in secret and only with one another to the exclusion of Spaniards. In this way, the pacto de sangre became an integral part of the initiation rituals of the secret society, Liga Filipina, and its revolutionary successor, the Katipunan.29
In Filipino nationalist historiography, the pacto de sangre tends to be regarded as a relatively minor part of the rites of passage that allowed one to join the Katipunan. Other aspects of the initiation rituals have attracted more attention, such as the formulaic interrogation of candidates about the past and present conditions of the country-that it was once highly civilized and prosperous, then fell into poverty and backwardness with the coming of Spain, but will rise up again with the revolution. Trials by ordeal, the ceremonial concealment and revelation of the symbols of the Katipunan, and the sermons preached by the presiding brother are other aspects that have been described by scholars.30 The pacto de sangre occurs at the end of the initiation ritual. An incision is made with a knife on the left forearm of the initiatee and with his own blood he signs an oath pledging to defend the country to the death, to "keep all secrets and follow the leaders blindly, [and to] help all the brothers in all dangers and needs."31 Variations of these rites existed in different places, but its basic structure remained the same through the revolution against Spain and later against the United States in the early twentieth century. In Filipino nationalist historiography then, the blood compact came across as a relatively benign oath that had little to do with addressing the Spaniards.
For Spaniards, however, the pacto de sangre took on enormous significance. It was no less the "ancora de revolucion," the very means for "fanatizando" the masses. By taking the oath, they were driven to hate the "white race."Thanks to this "horrible pact,"the native populace had turned mad (enloquecido), taking up arms against "la Patria."32 Where Filipinos saw the blood compact as a means of pledging oneself in common cause, Spaniards like Castillo imagined the moment of incision to be a kind of "hypodermic injection" (injeccion hypodermica) that corrupts the blood and poisons the heart. Fanaticized, the Filipino "vive en una convulsion eterna, en un delirio permanente; duerme sonado en la ejecucion de sus crimines, despierta en el hervor de la sangre de sus victimas; no teme a la muerte, ni al castigo, ni a la ley, ni a la conciencia, ni a lo humano, ni a lo divino, porque su juramento es vencer o morir..."33
By entering into a blood compact, the Filipino becomes possessed. The oath turns him into a monstrous figure. Unable to control his own body, he lives in a state of "permanent delirium." He thus exceeds the boundaries of nature and culture; and because he fears neither death nor the law, he exists outside of the human and the divine. He is therefore beyond social recognition so that it would not even be possible to speak of a"he" but instead of an "it."For to make the pledge is to become an agent of a power that outstrips social conventions and political control. Judging from the breathless prose of Castillo-the hyperbolic piling on of images, the stringing of negations that he is unable to consolidate into a single image-it is also a power that is beyond the pale of linguistic description. Its negative force-neither afraid of death nor punishment, nor law, neither human, nor divine, etc.-just keeps coming with no end in sight. Lurid images conjured up by the writer fail to bring this power under control, narrative or otherwise. By eluding representation and disclosure, this power instead brings the writer to reiterate the very vow that carries its force: "vencer o morir."
Beyond articulation, this covert power nevertheless demanded to be heard. It compelled the attention of Spaniards and Filipinos alike, though for different reasons. For just as the Spaniard dreaded what they saw in the "terrible curse-(terrible juramento) of the pacto de sangre, Filipinos who joined the revolution enthusiastically took to it. In this sense, the blood compact as it did in the past, brought together the colonizers and the colonized. They found themselves through their enmity sharing something in common: a fascination with the ability of language to bring forth a power that escapes full articulation in the sense of the full disclosure of its origin and meaning. But by defying such attempts, it is also a power that makes articulation itself possible- articulation in the sense of connection and transmission that we have seen in the case of the telegraph, the lingua franca and the comedya. The oath linked Filipino fighters together in the expectation of a future they could barely begin to imagine. This current of expectation in turn created an experience of fraternal solidarity among men (and the small number of women) from different classes and regions. But where the Spaniards were concerned, the oath transmitted a message whose meaning they could neither absorb nor accommodate.
We can see another moment of this secret power at work if we return to the photograph in Castillo's book we cited earlier. The "horrible apron"(horrible mandil) found among Katipunan documents depicts a pair of arms holding the severed head of a Spaniard in one and a knife in the other. On the same page below this photograph there appears the picture of another knife. Its handle bears the Katipunan symbol and the Tagalog word taliba or guard. The caption below the picture says that the knife was used for making incisions on the arm of prospective Katipuneros during the blood compact. By force of association, the writer and reader are led to think of the two knives as if they belonged together. That which decapitates the Spaniard in one photograph becomes the one that cuts the Filipino's arm in the course of the ritual. Following this logic, it would be possible as well to assume that the arm that appears on the apron as the arm that had been cut by the knife that appears below. Of course, the two knives are not the same, exact instrument. They remain objectively distinct. But by way of juxtaposition, which we can think of as a method of articulation, one thing is connected to another, leading the reader to imagine an equivalence between the two. It is like the cinema where the technique of montage brings previously unrelated and distinct objects and scenes together to form a narrative whole. Seeing two things together within a common frame, we think they must somehow belong together, where "must" here implies the workings of faith: we believe they belong together in advance of any explanation or knowledge of the actual facts. What actually connects the two images, however, remains invisible and nowhere explicit in either the photograph or the text. Yet, it is a force that is undeniably at work, shaping not only what Castillo sees and writes but our reading of his book as well.
Such a force makes possible the thought, for example, that the knife is a ritual object that connects not only Filipinos with one another by virtue of the pacto de sangre, leading them to form new identities by joining secret societies. The knife is also a kind of transmitter that allows "catipunized" Filipinos to communicate with Spaniards no longer as subordinate subjects but as agents of the latter's death. The knife can be thought of then as an instrument for realizing the oath in that it is itself, like all ritual tools, a kind of "congealed language."34 As an integral part of the pacto de sangre, it, too, is a kind of speech that links men together in common cause. For the Spaniards, however, the knife as part of the oath is a medium for communicating Spanish death. It speaks of destruction, not solidarity. The knife appears in these contexts as a powerful instrument for articulating messages, however conflictual and unsettling. It also acts to connect men both as friends and as enemies. Yet, as with every communicative media, the source of its power, that which endows it with the capacity to makes possible such articulations, remains unseen. It is a power that persists and insists in the world, but as a secret, withdrawing at the very moment when its agents are seen and its effects are felt. As secret, it is a power that always remains to be seen even as it makes possible the arrival of what is given to be seen. Spaniards learned about Katipunan plots and the pacto de sangre from captured documents and confessions (declaraciones) coerced from captured Filipinos. In the available sources, these confessions all appear in Castilian even if they may have been elicited in other vernacular languages.35
Additionally, they are paraphrased so that the captive's speech never appears in the first person singular but always in the third person, as in "he said that he..." As with the Catholic ritual of confession, the language of the Katipunero is translated and made to appear within the linguistic and juridical terms of colonial authority. The voice we hear in these declaraciones seem filled with the language of the law, ordered to reflect not so much the singularity of the speaker-his accent, intentions and interpretations of events-as the capacity of colonial authority to capture and contain that singularity. In this way, whatever the speaker revealed could be contextualized and domesticated in ways readily accessible to official interlocutors. Or so it was hoped. Complications developed almost immediately. Whether they quoted captured revolutionary documents or wrote about the confessions of captured Filipinos, especially the celebrated confession of a Katipunero to a friar which led to the discovery of the Katipunan, Spaniards invariably heard themselves addressed. Yet, they could barely account for what came through.
Though the confessions and documents were translated into Castilian, they communicated a message that surpassed what Spaniards could understand. The most significant example is the phrase "pacto de sangre."Though in Castilian it exceeded Spanish comprehension. For what they heard in this phrase was a kind of death sentence. In effect, it said, "your death is our freedom." We can rephrase this into the simplest of formulas: "Filipino freedom=Spanish death."The that connects one term to the other also establishes a relation of substitution between the two, to wit: freedom for death. The sign is neither Castilian nor Tagalog. As with other diacritical marks, it is not a word but makes possible the legibility of words as they are ordered into discourse. Such marks are indispensable supplements of language even if they are themselves non-discursive. They work to connect and articulate even if they themselves escape articulation. Similarly with the word "for" in "freedom for death" by connecting words and phrases, it allows for predication and the transmission of meaning while remaining itself freed of reference.
We can think of these marks as analogous to the copulative action of the pacto de sangre. The oath, as we have seen, consists of a set of linguistic acts that join together disparate peoples and thoughts and so allows for the utterance of, among other things, such impossibilities as "freedom for death."The key tool that enacts this joining is the knife used to make incisions on the forearm. By leaving a permanent mark on the body-"branding" it, as one historian shrewdly puts it 36-it alters the person's identity. He becomes and belongs to someone else: no longer a dock worker, a peasant, a student or a local bureaucrat, but a revolutionary fighter dedicated to the movement. It is a sign that one has taken a vow. As a sort of signature or brand, the incision then is like a piece of writing that marks one as the carrier of a promise: to kill or be killed for the sake of the nation's freedom. From a docile indio or a reformist ilustrado, one becomes through the pact and the mark it leaves behind, a new and therefore foreign presence in colonial society. Being new, one is yet to be assimilated and remains unassimilable so long as one is seen to be a medium for transmitting the impossible message, "Filipino freedom for Spanish death." Hearing the news of their coming death, the Spaniards panic.
They hunt down suspected fighters only to realize that thanks to early successes of the movement, people are eager to take the pacto de sangre and more and more fighters emerge. "Buscando en medio habil que facilitara la conjura," writes another Spanish official in a letter to the Ministerio de Ultrama, "fomatizaron por medio del pacto de sangre, haciendoles jurar guerra a muerte a los espanoles, practicandolos una incision en el brazo izquierdo, y con la sangre que de ella brotaba, debian firmar y firmaban el espantoso juramento."37 What is frightening (espantoso) about this promise, of course, is that it brings with it a contract to murder Spaniards, or so the latter think. Like the ancient practice of mixing blood to seal an agreement, here blood is drawn and used as ink to sign an oath. One's body is marked and leaves behind, in turn, its own mark with its blood. The signatures in blood and their copies still survive, preserved in the Philippine National Archives.38
Long after their original signers have disappeared and are barely remembered, their traces still persist. They are there to be read as part of a larger historical moment whose effects continue to be felt today. As with all marks, signatures survive the moment as well as the context of their production. That is, they live on beyond the death of their signers and the passage of time. Signatures in this sense connect their signers to a future beyond the latter's death, a future which to be sure they can neither control much less anticipate. But by signing an oath, they also evince a trust and a belief in this coming future even and especially if it exceeds what they can know. This is perhaps what is meant by one side of the equation implied by the pacto de sangre."Freedom" for Filipinos connotes a future, an afterlife, if you will, where one's traces will survive and will be inherited by those who are yet to come, though there is no guarantee what form this survival will take. But the other side of the equation meant precisely the opposite to the Spaniards. "Death" implied no future as such. No life and no afterlife, for even their corpses, as they believed, would be dismembered and left unmourned.
This was the substance of the horrible oath they heard, the terms of the contract to which they could not affix their signatures much less control the wording of the agreement. For unlike the history of Christian conversion predicated on the control of translation, the revolution expropriated the colonial legacies-Christian rituals, Castilian words, for example-and converted them into a message that Spaniards could translate but could not understand. They were faced with a term in their own language, pacto de sangre, that when uttered by the revolutionary fighter exceeded what they could recognize and recuperate. The revolution coursing through secret locations radicalized the very terms of translation in ways that terrorized those on top of the colonial regime.
We can begin to understand the Spanish obsession with the blood compact as distinct from yet clearly related to the interest of Filipino nationalists. Both were drawn, as we have seen, to a secret power which was the very power of secrecy, the power of what defies disclosure and representation even as it solicits belief. Various attempts at localizing and containing this power in such loaded figures as the "filibustero,""Rizal","Balagtas," and so forth were apt to fail, even if their failure produced important and long lasting effects. To call this power "translation,"or the "untranslatable,""telecommunication,""the colonial uncanny," or the lingua franca, as I have sought to do, or even at its most extreme, the power of death, is only to hint at its workings rather than define its nature, trace its source and fix its meaning once and for all. As an envoy of this secret power, the pacto de sangre no doubt had a magical effect, conjuring up secret societies and new identities while delivering a message of terror that seized the attention of Spaniards. For the performative capacities of the oath could not, as the Spaniards realized, be fully represented and appropriated, not even by the Filipinos themselves who could only act as its agents. The former saw in this promise a diabolical curse that prophesied the end of their rule and the obliteration of their lives. The latter, the prospect of kalayaan, of freedom whose coming would sweep away the colonial regime and bring a future open to all sorts of possibilities. Such possibilities included the prospect of a social revolution that would demolish not only Spanish privileges but all sorts of social inequalities in the nation, including those on which elite influence rested. It is this other possibility of a social revolution and the coming of justice which the pacto de sangre promised but is yet to be realized.
The secret power that surpassed linguistic and social hierarchies made possible oaths and conjurings that frightened Spaniards while mobilizing the revolution of 1896. The future of that revolution, however, was foreclosed not by Spanish actions, which proved ineffective, but by the re-colonization of the nation first by the ilustrado- dominated First Republic in Malolos, and subsequently by the United States and its ilustrado successors: Quezon's Commonwealth and The Republic of the Philippines. But the call to justice, periodically issuing from sources that we can never fully locate in languages beyond what we are capable of speaking and often at the fringes of what is socially recognizable, remains to be heard. And as with the early generation of nationalists, the call issues forth in languages that demand to be translated, at times threatening revenge, while conjuring the coming of what remains to be imagined.
*From Bulawan 10, a publication of The National Commission for Culture and the Arts