OPINION: Eventually, history catches up

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Apr 04 2020 12:42 AM

After an indeterminate span of time, we Filipinos would have had to learn more definitively about ourselves and our history anyway, just the same. Eventually, that is. But how much longer such unhampered flow of knowledge would have had to wait? Events did occur that shortened what would have been an undeterminable span of waiting for us to learn about our history. 

There is evidence for the claim that much of what we came to know about ourselves and our history, eventually, were from ensuing history textbooks and official public documents not generally available to the public before the 1900s. And when all these came about, they were in public circulation. Such advent came soon after May 1, 1898. An existing but ill-funded and deprived educational system became truly, universally public as a covert act of American colonialism.

Am I approaching the matter of when Philippine history became generally available to Filipinos with simplicity? Sequentiality, in the manner by which that my thoughts are guided, deal with verified logical order of dated occurrences. My opinions remain open to contrary arguments, though. I am ever ready for corrective edification and for self-improvement.

There were two American-initiated occurrences that stand out for me, among others that perhaps provided the foundations for what was to become our legendary ‘love affair’ with the United States! I happen to hold the view that both instances bolster the claim that Filipinos eventually came to know more definitively and widely of themselves and their history because these events came to pass, when they did. They are: 

One. The census taking (headcount and accounting of national resources and totality of individual circumstances) which was implemented by the Philippine Commission (the executive and legislative body then administering America’s newly acquired territory). 

Two. The publication of the monumental 55-volume “The Philippine Islands - 1493-1898” by Emma H. Blair and James A. Robertson (“B&R”). These two American scholars have put together what is accepted as the “single greatest contribution to Philippine historiography.” The compilation, transcription and translation from primary sources encompassing the three centuries before America came into the life of the Filipino. 

The authors of Philippine history textbooks for schoolchildren nationwide drew their materials from the academic labors of “Blair & Robertson.” The scholarship and erudition blazed by “B & R” contributed mightily towards knowledge about the Philippines by providing more information than was ever known anywhere else before. In fact, students of elementary Philippine history to this day continue to be beneficiaries of “B&R.”

Having had the opportunity to cite the Philippine Census of 1903 as a source of last week’s essay on cholera and coronavirus, I would like to devote the balance of our space this weekend to sharing complementary opinion. 

The gathering of relevant information, whether archival or intelligence, census-taking included, was in fact an aid to the neo-imperialism that America found herself engaged in towards the final stages of the 19th century. The Census of any country, after all, is always a tool for effective governance. 

To be fair about it, there have been some head counting done during Spanish times. Unfortunately, these utilized unsystematic procedures as to be slapdash and attended by much ‘guestimates.’ For the most part, these reports rendered by Friars were based upon number of tributes and/or cedulas issued. But the Philippine Census of 1903 was undertaken in accordance with the established high standards of American Census system, already honed from its very first political exercise in 1790.

The US Congressional mandate called for a “full report for all inhabitants, of name, age, sex, race or tribe, whether native or foreign born, literacy in Spanish, native dialect or language, or in English, school attendance, ownership of homes, industrial and social statistics, and such other information separately for each island, each province and municipality or other civil division.”

The US Bureau of the Census published the report of the Philippine Census of 1903 in 1905. The four volumes contained 3,044 pages. The contents were: Volume I: Geography, History & Population; Volume II: Population; Volume III: Mortality, Defective Classes, Education and Families & Dwellings; and, Volume IV: Agriculture, and Social and Industrial Statistics. The Section on History, pp 309-388 was written by T.H. Pardo de Tavera, who was then a Member of the Philippine Commission. Maps, diagrams, photographs and other illustrations were part of every volume.

Nothing so comprehensive about the Philippines has ever been accomplished before. Too, markedly so, nothing ever experienced by local ‘principales’ who were then occupying positions of political importance. The promised American tutelage of democratic self-governance was much in evidence. 

The Philippine Census of 1903 had to be a seminal political event. To launch the activity, the month of January 1903 was devoted to simultaneous nationwide meetings of all municipal mayors in their respective provincial “cabeceras” (capitals) for orientation and instruction. Newly appointed Filipino provincial governors and mayors were commissioned to be supervisors, special agents and enumerators. No such national gathering has ever been convened before. No such concerted nationwide activity has ever been so prominently announced and implemented. 

The fact that Filipinos were to handle, from the ground level, and be responsible for data gathering, a public event without Friar interference, must have had, in the least, a subliminal message that the fate of the Motherland was now passing unto Filipino hands.

Without as much as pompously designing it to be so, both events---the Census and the “B&R”-- might as well have been irreducible ingredients of America’s calculated seduction of the Filipino psyche. Without as much as declaring it to be so, the events might as well have been intimations of President William McKinley’s “Benevolent Assimilation” and “Policy of Attraction.” 

Did seduction become addiction? Questions linger and beg for an answer. Did America shorten that indeterminate learning curve thus hastening the Filipino knowing more about country and self? Did America induce the Filipino to catch up with his own history?


Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.