In a recent post, Dale Asis raised the question: “Why does history matter? Who cares about the Philippine-American War? So what? Why dig up the past anyway?”
These questions made me think about this recent article, “The Past as More than Prologue: A Call for Historical Research” (http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1072347) which proposes ways how to use historical thinking with a critical approach to current issues. Yes, taking on “knowing the past” could be challenging. But I think we can’t fully appreciate how far we’ve come today without knowing the past. We always need to make connections between the past to the present.
I have taken for granted what my Filipino ancestors endured in the hopes of a greater, more advanced society. Even as I engaged in various forms of social justice and activism over the years in California, Illinois, and DC, I have allowed media and textbooks shape what my history is or isn’t. There is no brief mention of the Philippine-American War in my kindergarten to 12th grade (K-12) public school textbooks. This puts the burden on each new generation of youth to uncover their hidden histories.
How could 100-year-old events possibly be relevant to our lives today? Historical approaches allow us to uncover real events that happened with real people in the past and to build them with new meaning. We could draw from the past by citing specific events such as the massacre in Balangiga, Samar. In 1901, the town of Balangiga was the site of the bloodiest confrontation of the Philippine–American War. Over 48 members of the US 9th Infantry were killed by the townspeople of Balangiga, Samar Island. Filipinos regarded the attack as one of their bravest acts in the war. However, the US retaliation against the townspeople was fierce. US Commanding Officer Gen. Jacob H. Smith said: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me… The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.” He ordered the mass murders of all men over the age of 10 on the island. The spread of disease among local communities in Samar was so severe that it led to more deaths as food, trade, and supplies to the island were cut off. The US retaliation was intended to starve the revolutionaries into submission.
Why does Philippine President Duterte mistrust the US? My hunch is that it stems from the profoundly intentional, hurtful, and irreversible acts of violence that the US inflicted on the Philippines over 100 years ago. In this perspective, the Philippine-American War and the rebellion in Balangiga are cast in a fresh light; the past provides new meaning to the present. We may disagree with many or all of Duterte’s policies. Still, the historical significance of the Philippine-American War has remained present in the social conscience of the Filipino people, though maybe not explicitly but in subtle, nuanced ways. Historical approaches allow us to connect unresolved tensions (often disruptive and violent acts) from the past and bring a new perspective to current events. We always need to make these connections between the past and the present.
Please join the Committee on Pilipino Issues (CPI) and the Bayanihan Foundation in the last two workshops discussing Philippine history and its relevance to current events. The workshops will be held on November 3 and November 17, 2016 – from 6 PM till 9 PM at DePaul University Arts & Letters Building, 2315 N. Kenmore Ave. Room 101 Chicago.