Sitting in Darkness: Americans in the Philippines
by David Haward Bain
Houghton Mifflin, 464 pp., $24.95
Revolution in the Philippines: The United States in a Hall of Cracked Mirrors
by Fred Poole, by Max Vanzi
McGraw-Hill, 357 pp., $18.95
The Philippines After Marcos
edited by R. J. May, edited by Francisco Nemenzo
Croom Helm (London and Sydney), 239 pp., £17.95
The view from the small church in Calamba, a village about fifty miles south of Manila, is spectacular: on one side is a large lake called Laguna de Bay, on the other is Makiling, a sacred mountain with many caves which peasants believe to be the portals of paradise. Between the mountain and the lake lie the rice fields of Luzon, a relatively prosperous region, traditionally hospitable to rebels and bandits, including some now fighting against the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos.
The church itself is unremarkable—it is more like a ramshackle town hall. The walls inside are covered with murals depicting scenes from the Passion, the usual thing in Philippine churches. But there is one peculiar twist: “Christ” is a dapper little man with a mustache, wearing a dark suit, cut in the nineteenth-century European style. And instead of being nailed to the cross on Golgotha, this Christ is executed by a Spanish firing squad in Manila in 1896. He is Dr. José Rizal, a medical doctor and nationalist writer, worshiped by many as a Filipino messiah.
His twelve apostles, all depicted on the church wall, are fellow nationalists and revolutionaries who fought against Spanish rule at the end of the nineteenth century. There are the Fathers Burgos, Gómez, and Zamora, native priests who challenged the power of the Spanish friars. They were publicly garroted for their alleged leadership of an anti-Spanish mutiny. There is Andres Bonifacio, a warehouse clerk from the city of Tondo (now part of Manila and one of the worst slums in Southeast Asia), who founded the Katipunan, a secret society dedicated to violent revolution. (Imelda Marcos would later use the society’s initials, KKK, to lend an aura to one of her “people’s development” projects.) There are Marcelo H. Del Pilar, the brilliant propagandist for reforms, and Apolinario Mabini, the main political thinker behind the Philippine revolution. (Their names now grace the two streets in Manila collectively known as the “strip,” the center of go-go bars, massage parlors, child prostitution, and VD clinics.) And there is also Ferdinand Blumentritt, an obscure Austrian schoolmaster, who never set foot in the Philippines, but who owes his holy eminence to his lifelong position as Dr. Rizal’s intellectual pen pal.
This particular church dedicated to the worship of Rizal—there are many others like it—is called the Iglesia Watawat ng Nahi, Inc., or Banner of the Race, Inc. It was founded in 1936, when American colonizers required all organizations to be incorporated. The founder, Arsenio de Guzman, claimed to be a new Rizal with the power to lead his followers to the land of promise. A church pamphlet explains that the sect was “purposely organized for the Filipinos to have a Christian religious sect of their own, independent of foreign domination.” Rizal, the same pamphlet informs us, was sent to earth as a “Malayan Avatar who was appointed by Divine Power and ordained to earth in this new cycle to redeem His people from …