Engaging in history’s “what ifs” is a delectably intellectual form of amusement. I find it to be so. Let us indulge.
Flights of fancy you might say, but the exercise is also edifying. Soberingly so. Indeed, pursuit of a “what if” in the life of the nation develops an understanding and appreciation of a past that is beyond alteration. History can be harsh because it is unmoving, although subject of course to elements of “sayang” (what a pity) or “mabuti na lang” (good/glad it happened.)
History explains what and why we are. That is, of course, if one is disposed to learning and absorbing the past, without resorting to pontifications of half-baked and half-understood vignettes of history. No one really wishes to be categorized as an “opinionated ignoramus.” Nonetheless, it looks as though that season is upon us!
Let us now take, for instance, the ‘Norte Americano’ conquest of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. That is our “What if” for the day.
What if Commodore George Dewey abandoned Manila Bay after having pummeled and sank Admiral Patricio Montojo’s decrepit Spanish flotilla? Mission accomplished, end of the Spanish-American War!
Dewey returned home to San Francisco via Mirs Bay in HongKong, never to return. Hello and goodbye, America!
The highly realistic likelihood is that there would have been no entity today, among the world’s family of nations, such as the 7500-island archipelagic country that is known as the Republic of the Philippines, had Dewey sailed away! (Please go through that sentence once more, slowly! Absorb, understand and proceed.)
With colonial Spain out of the picture, what she had faithfully kept whole for all of three centuries and three decades, “Las Islas Filipinas,” was now primed for partition and disintegration! The political realities of the day! At that juncture of our history, the hovering predatory colonial interests were in earnest readiness for an island grab or two, (or even three, etc.) should the grabbing be good. And it was getting really good!
Here is a capsule situationer: The Germans had a battleship crisscrossing the waters fronting the Intramuros, even menacingly teasing Dewey, spoiling for a fight. (The United States of America had yet to become a world power.)
The Japanese had military observers embedded with the Philippine revolutionary troops of Aguinaldo, their territorial expansion an avowed objective. Perhaps, also making a sales pitch for Japan-made military armaments. (A certain Lieutenant Manuel L. Quezon interfaced with the Nippon operatives, his memoirs said so.)
The British had always been in the Southern backdoor primly ensconced as the White Rajah! In the meanwhile, the leadership of the Luzon Filipinos from the adjacent environs north and south of Manila were slaughtering each other, the revolution threatened with serious personality conflicts, envy, covetousness and jealousies.
Negros Island in the Visayas was ready for its own independence, already with a written Constitution to boot. Of course, the overseas Chinese had always been in the nooks and corners of the trades and of commerce all over the islands. (Who knows, my beloved Samar may have emerged as the bastion of a politico-religious, nationalist cult of untamed bandit/zealots known as Pulahanes!)
Without much doubt, the survival of the islands as an undivided unitary entity under Spain, but now without Spain, was no longer viable.
Japan had just taken possession of our northern neighbor Formosa (now, Taiwan)) a few years earlier. The Rising Sun was aching for more colonies, for sure eyeing Luzon. Germany still had presence in neighboring Micronesia and likewise, wanted more. Much of Mindanao, all of Sulu and Palawan were the natural extensions of the British Straits Settlements, abutting our Sulu Seas.
Without the presence of the “Norte Americanos,” the Philippine islands would certainly have been parceled and pieced out, a natural consequence of the politico/colonial vacuum created by the defeat and eradication of Spain.
If Filipino nationalism and patriotism were to be accented by pride and fervor over the present day conformation of our archipelagic Republic and over our national metes and bounds as they are Constitutionally defined and delineated, there has got to be a solemn understanding, acceptance and recognition of why this is such and how it came to be so.
Why are we the Republic of the Philippines, as we know and revere, today. History provides us with the answer. Its counterpart “what if” provides us with the conceptual consequence of what might have been, had it been otherwise!.
I am certainly not qualified to assign a graded degree of gratitude for this historical happenstance. Reasonably, that is a personal reckoning for every citizen. Perhaps, even an individual patriotic duty to express. Or, not to express!
I can, however, posit the question that begs to be asked. Should we not be glad that Commodore Dewey stayed, with President William McKinley kneeling and praying for divine guidance? And in the process--warts, scars and all, flesh and blood, pain and pleasure
--America kept all of the Philippine Islands whole, nurturing the birth of our Republic?
Life has always been a trade off. The real deal could sometimes be hidden in the bargain!
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.