PALE HORSE, PALE RIDER
by Antonio Enriquez
Apocalypse, disaster, and imagination – our subject now -- is nothing new for us in my hometown Zamboanga. We’ve even improve on that: apocalypse not just along the level of supernatural dooms day, on divine prediction and supernatural interference, but we’ve improved it along its signifying human error and evil. Disaster too, we’ve improve on that, since ours is man made, not what you have here in Manila: natural disaster. Also imagination, we have improved on that too, the imagination that has become the sole authorship of the military during martial law.
My hometown Zamboanga is no longer the “city of flowers” it is a city of “stray bombs.” It is no longer “un rinconcito de España,” a little nook of Spain — rather it is as our great poet said, “nuestro perdido Eden,” our lost Eden or Paradise. We even no longer have the purity of our mother tongue Chabacano, spawned by Spanish three and a half centuries ago. It is now so corrupted by migrants from the Visayas and Luzon, impregnating Chabacano with their own curious language. Take this song “Zamboanga Hermosa,” which your romantic hearts had fluttered and perhaps sung before:
Las bellas dalagas que sen hermosean, tu deliciosa ciudad.
Presently, this line would be written or sang thus: Maga bonita dalaga que ta hace guapa contigo, el di tuyo ciudad.
Notice the alien words “maga,” the singularity of “dalaga,” and the missing, delicious to the ear word “hermosean.”
Indeed, how crude, awkward it is; like an alien tongue; painful and miserable to the ear. As close as the 40’s, our old folks wouldn’t recognize it, this line, as belonging to their mother tongue, and see it as gibberish.
Not too recently, a student in a Manila University wrote his thesis on Zamboanga’s history, and imprudently developed this theme: that the Moros aided our unsung patriot and hero, General Vicente Alvarez, who fought the Spaniards and was betrayed to the Americans. It was in the revolution of 1898 and 1900. When in fact the contrary is true: for the Moros led by Rajah Muda Mandi was loyal to Spain in that Zamboanga insurgency of 1899, and was an American collaborator. Thus, Datu Mandi with the traitor Alcalde Midel were called Americanistas, and both shamefully swore to deliver the rebel patriot General Alvarez’s head to the Americans, to Commander Very of the US Castine. And this blatant lie and error passed the board of readers, and the scholar got his masters in history, and it passed onto scholars, teachers, readers, and the general public. Indeed, the manuscript is now used as a reference book.
And a more blatant error, one may even say a progeny of evil, happened quite recently—as it is still very fresh in our minds. You may recall the sham peace talk between the Philippine Government and the MNLF in Malaysia, or was it in indonesia? If there’s anything that could be made into an opera bouffe, it is this peace talk. Very quickly and orchestrated the Philippine panel and the MNLFs signed the peace talk agreement. So, the next morning the mayor of Zamboanga, Celso Logregat and her people were jolted to into a shock and disbelief. For they woke up with their over a century year old City Hall, 1907, and even the Mayor’s antique house gone; they now belonged to the MNLF, given up to the Moros, without the cautiousness of a virgin nor the perseverence of an old maid, through an agreement signed by our Philippine panelists.
Of course, the Christians and Moros (Zamboanga) rose in protest, and you know what came to past. The Supreme court declared it unconstitutional; nobody has any right to give away a chunk of Phlippine soil, it said, as if it were Graham crackers or Ginger biscuits with or without coffee.
This was some time after the sham peace talk. We were at an informal dinner, at Alabar’s, where any day you can have the delicious curacha steeped in coconut milk. I think Frankie Sionil Jose was with us, Ateneo de Zamboanga had invited him for a talk —— On an aside, I asked the Mayor what was the panelists reply to his complain that City Hall and his own house were included in the MILF territory. One of the panelists … I can’t remember his name, said: “I didn’t know, Mayor Logregat, that your City Hall and your old, antique house were inside that area.”
Either hypocrisy or the poor panelist had failed in his geography class.
But the greatest blow struck Zamboanga when the Wright brothers invented the airplane, which is now making her disappear before our eyes, not through nature or divine intervention, but man’s invention. Because the airplanes displaced the water or sea transportation crossing Zamboanga and Basilan Strait. Allow me to cite a rare information I found during my research. Vice-Admiral David Potter, then a lieutenant during the U. S. invasion of Zamboanga, said:
“Furthermore, and perhaps a more important thing in the eyes of the American higher command, it [Zamboanga] was the point of all others, barring only Manila itself, where the Philippines came in contact with the outer world.
Through Basilan Strait, which separates Mindanao from the not inconsiderable island of Basilan twenty miles to the southward, British, German, French, and Japanese vessels passed in appreciable numbers. Whenever streamers from Hong Kong, Chefoo, Saigon, or Nagasaki, visited Manila, and thence proceeded to Australia or New Zealand, to New Guinea or New Caledonia, they passed through Basilan Strait into the Moro Gulf and on into the Celebes Sea. All such vessels came within a mile of Zamboanga even if they did not stop there ….
A couple of decades ago I became ambitious. I said to myself I’d write the great Zamboanga novel. Now, I realize that I should have eaten my words first, shake the nuts in my head, before even thinking of writing it.
Because horror of horrors there was little or no data available, I couldn’t find a single book devoted to the history of Zamboanga; though there was a historical book on a little island of Camiguin. Many of the Zamboanga ancients who would have known through the more ancient ancients of our history, sort of first hand, had long ago kicked the bucket. No one unfortunately thought to interview them and in writing record the past, not just in songs and verses — and fill the huge empty hole in our history.
Here is a sample of an hiatus in Zamboanga’s history: the war between the Zamboanggueno rebels and the Spanish troops at Fort Pillar- March to May, 1899. Nothing of the insurgency is mentioned in history, by Filipino and foreign historians, that it seemed there was no rebellion, nor was mentioned the surrender of the last Spanish governor general of the Philippines, Don Diego de los Rios, to the Zamboangueno patriots, nor the lowering of the Spanish flag from Fort Pillar. If the gap was filled, it was done piece by piece with hypocrisy and grievous error: Listen to this and I quote, “…Dewey scorned the torpedoes and swept away the Spanish Galleon in Manila Bay …” Had Admiral Montojo torpedoes in his Spanish Armada, the kind we understand them today? for that matter were there torpedos at that time, particularly in Manila Bay, on May 1, 1898?
This hiatus and erroneous historical declarations can be set right and at best rectified through literature. It could be righted by the writing of the historical novel, even through apocalyptic literature. Have you paused to reminisce the works of Katheerine Ann Porter’s, Pale Horse, Pale Rider? Or of Willa Cather’s in “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”
A question may be asked: Why not just look back and write history? Because literature as we see it seeks the truth, not the facts; it fills and synhronizes the gaps through imagination; and uncovers the mysteries that clatter history. Striking the heart — not the mind. And armed with an imagination as quick and fertile and strong as a child’s, to fill the black holes of history and discover the unseen, invisible facts.
For who would remember decades later the history book he has read? but cannot forget Ernest Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, or Jose Rizal’s Noli Mi Tangere!