Source: http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2006/sept/17/yehey/top_stories/20060917top3.html (Link not working)
By Augusto V. de Viana
THE recording and writing of history is not an exact science. One’s perspective may also affect its writing. The Americans, for example, called the Filipino-American War the "Philippine Insurrection" as if they owned the country through the Treaty of Paris. The Filipino-American War was actually a continuation of the war for independence. It took years before the US Library of Congress renamed the Philippine Insurgent Paper the Philippine Revolutionary Records.
As the government agency for propagating Philippine history, the National Historical Institute corrects myths, misconceptions and factual mistakes. This is not an easy task, because it involves not only intensive research but diplomacy on touchy issues and sensitivity to local pride.
One such issue involved the authenticity of the Code of Kalantiaw. From its supposed discovery early in the 20th century, Rajah Bendahara Kalantiaw and his Code became a source of pride for Filipinos in general and the people of Aklan in particular. The Code seemed to show that the Filipinos had a lawgiver who was an equivalent of Hammurabi or Solon.
Kalantiaw was celebrated in Philippine textbooks. The President of the Philippines created a special award, the Order of Kalantiaw, for retiring members of the Supreme Court. A shrine in Aklan was built in Kalantiaw’s honor.
The dissertation of William Henry Scott, defended at the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School in 1968, cast doubt on Kalantiaw and his Code. An empiricist, Scott proved that the sources for Kalantiaw and his Code were faulty. His findings were adopted by the National Historical Institute, which asked the Office of the President to withdraw the Order of Kalantiaw. Aklan was not happy with the decision and its Sangguniang Panlalawigan proposed further studies involving Chinese, Japanese and Arabic sources.
The NHI convenes round- tables to settle some of these historical disputes, evaluate materials, invite the disputants to present evidence and come up with a conclusion. The institute has asked the services of lawyers, especially former members of the Supreme Court and the Office of the Solicitor General, to help resolve historical questions. A historian often advises the panels.
In 1996 a roundtable, chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Emilio Gancayco, met to determine the site of the first Mass in the Philippines. Gancayco was assisted by the lawyer Bartolome Fernandez and Dr. Ma. Luisa T. Camagay as history adviser. The site of the first Mass was a contentious matter between Limasawa and Butuan as both claimed having hosted the event.
In 1976 an earlier panel convened to settle the matter but politics intervened. The First Lady Imelda Marcos appeared at one of its meetings. The official position was that the first Mass took place on the island of Limasawa in southern Leyte. Actually Mrs. Marcos did not try to influence the decision of the panel which ruled in favor of Limasawa.
To dispel accusations that the NHI was forced to rule in favor of Limasawa, another panel was convened in 1996. It also gave the nod to Limasawa. The panel based its findings on the word-for-word translation and analysis of Antonio de Pigafetta’s chronicle of Magellan’s voyage. The Butuan side refused to accept the findings and vowed to present more evidence.
Other roundtables were convened to settle the issues of where and when the first cry of the Philippine Revolution took place, where the Philippine flag was first raised in Mindanao and where the blood compact between Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi took place. On the "first cry," the official stand was based on Teodoro Agoncillo’s research that it took place on August 23, 1896, at Pugad Lawin.
Other places that claimed the site were Balintawak, Kang-kong, Caloocan and Bahay Toro. The dates also conflicted: August 23, 24, 25 and 26, 1896. An earlier panel upheld August 23, 1896, and Pugad Lawin as the date and place of the "first cry" of the Revolution.
In 2001 Justice Gancayco again headed a panel to settle the place and date of the unang sigaw. The panel had Professors Bernard Karganilla and Doroteo Abaya of the University of the Philippines and Dr. Rene Escalante as adviser. After the resource persons, the group reaffirmed August 23, 1896, and Pugad Lawin.
In 1999 the National Centennial Commission proclaimed that Butuan was the site of the first flag-raising in Mindanao and that it took place on January 17, 1899. The flag was raised at the town square, attended by Filipino patriots led by Wenceslao Gonzales. To commemorate the centenary of the event the commission had the town square refurbished and built a hundred-foot flagpole.
The claim was contested by Surigao and Cagayan de Oro. To settle the matter a roundtable panel, headed by former Supreme Court Associate Justice Camilo D. Quiason, was convened. It heard the presentations by the three cities.
Representatives from Cagayan de Oro said that the Philippine flag was raised by Filipino patriots in their place on January 10, 1899. The spokesmen from Surigao presented evidence that the flag was raised there as early as December 26, 1898. Though it was said that the flag was observed flying "without any fanfare," the panel ruled in favor of Surigao. The National Historical Institute installed a marker recognizing Surigao.
The most recent panel was convened in 2003-05 to pinpoint the site of the blood compact between the Boholano chieftain Sikatuna and the Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Tagbilaran City claimed the honor but this was contested by the municipality of Loay.
Judge Nestor Ballacillo of the Solicitor General’s Office headed the study. Its members were Solicitor Edgardo Sison of the Office of the Solicitor General, Manila Times Publisher Fred de la Rosa and Dr. Ricardo T. Jose as adviser.
The panel heard the representatives from Tagbilaran and Loay, both claiming to be the site of the compact. The panel continued its work in 2005 with the help of experts from the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority and the UP Department of Geography who could talk about geography and cartography.
By comparing historical documents with archival and modern maps and by going personally to Tagbilaran and Loay, the panel concluded that the Blood Compact took place at sea at Hinawanan Bay off Loay in March 1565. The NHI installed a historical marker at the Hinawanan Bay shore in March 2006 to commemorate the site of the compact.
Another historical error corrected by the National Historical Institute was the site of the first shot of the Filipino-American War. Traditionally it was believed that the shot was fired by the American sentry, Private William W. Grayson, on February 4, 1899, at the San Juan or Pinaglabanan Bridge.
Dr. Benito J. Legarda’s research, however, showed that the first shot of the war took place not in San Juan but in Santa Mesa, Manila, at the corner of what is now Silencio and Sociego streets.
Dr. Legarda based his findings on the Philippine Revolutionary Records which mention the vicinity of Blockhouse No. 7 in Santa Mesa, one of the Filipino outposts before the American lines, as the site that heard the first shot. The old water main mentioned in the Records is found nearby. After adopting Legarda’s findings, the institute installed a new marker at the corner of the two streets and removed the old one at San Juan Bridge.
Various issues have yet to be resolved by the National Historical Institute. Among these are the first Mass in Luzon; the question of Miguel Malvar being the second President of the Philippines; and whether Rizal’s celebrated retraction was genuine or a forgery.
Not all people and places are pleased with the correction of history. Education officials, teachers, textbook writers and publishers have to be informed. It is expensive to rewrite textbooks, change addresses and build new markers. Local officials are offended when they lose the place of honor. There could be resistance from parties who bristle at the findings. At one time the Institute was asked to show more sensitivity when rewriting history.
The issue of who and what is first and last, i.e. first Mass, first cry, last general to surrender etc. is fluid. Historical research may turn up information that could debunk conventional fact. Admittedly the Institute has solved only the "what’s" of history. Though historical accuracy and correction are desirable, what is more important is the overall impact or importance of a singular event to history.
The author is chief history researcher, National Historical Institute.