The Black Hole of Zamboanga History
By Antonio Enriquez
My hometown Zamboanga is no longer the “city of flowers”; it is now the city of bombs, kidnappings, terrorism; it is no longer “un rinconcito de España” — a little nook or corner 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 and rooted by the Spanish language three and a half centuries ago. It is now so corrupted by migrants from the Visayas and Luzon, impregnating Chabacano with their own curious tongue.
Take this song “Zamboanga Hermosa,” which your romantic hearts had likely fluttered and perhaps in their romantic mood sung before:
“Las bellas dalagas, que sen hermosean, tu deliciosa ciudad.”
Presently, however, this line would be written and sang thus:
“Maga bonita dalaga, que ta hace guapa contigo, el di tuyo ciudad.”
Por fabor, notice the alien words “maga,” the singularity of “dalaga,” and the missing beautiful to the ear Latin word “hermosean.”
Indeed how crude, how awkward it is; how like a stranger’s speech, an alien tongue; painful and miserable to the ear. As recent as the 1940s, our old folks wouldn’t recognize it, if heard, this line, as belonging to their mother tongue Chabacano, and see it as nothing but gibberish.
You may recall the sham peace agreement (MOA) between the Philippine Government and the MNLF in Malaysia, or was it in Indonesia, a couple of years back? If there’s anything which could be a model for a comic play, an opera bouffe, it is this shameful, anomalous peace agreement. No doubt sychronized and orchestrated by both the Philippine panel and the MNLF, it was secretly and quickly signed — this peace agreement.
So, the next morning, the mayor of Zamboanga City, Celso Lobregat and the Zamboangueños were jolted and shaken into grief and disbelief. For they woke up under a grey, heavy-cast sky with their century old City Hall, built in 1907, and even the Mayor’s antique, wooden house gone: they now belonged to the MNLF, given up to the Moro rebels, without the cautiousness of a virgin and the perseverance of an old maid, through the anomalous, impetuous peace agreement signed and orchestrated by our Philippine panelists.
Of course, the Christians and the Moros of Zamboanga, whose ancestors had lived for centuries in peace, before the coming of the Spaniards and the Americans, rose sonoriously in protest, and you know what came to past. The Philippine Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional; nobody has any right to give away a chunk of Philippine soil, it said, as if it were Graham crackers or lemon candies.
Now, this was some time after the sham peace agreement. It was before the end of that year, we were at an informal dinner given by Mayor Lobregat at Alavar’s Seafood Restaurant, Zamboanga City, where, any day, one can have the delicious curracha steeped in coconut milk and the best homemade bagoon. I think Frankie Sionil Jose was with us, Ateneo de Zamboanga , if I remember right, had invited the novelist for a lecture. I asked the Mayor what was the Philippine peace panelists’ reply to his complain that Zamboanga City Hall and his own antique, wooden house were included in the MNLF jurisdiction and territory. One of the panelists … I can’t recall his name now, said: “I didn’t know, Mayor Logregat, that your City Hall and your old, antique house were inside the jurisdiction and territory of the MNLF ... that we signed.”
Either he was lying outrageously, this honorable member of our Philippine panel, or had failed miserably in his geography class.
A couple of decades ago, before writing Samboangan: the Cult of War, I became ambitious, I said to myself I’d write the great Zamboanga novel, which I believe is the ambition of all Zamboangueño writers, or should be. Now, I realize that I should have chewed my words first, before swallowing it. Because horror of horrors, I was to find out that there is little or no data available, or enough sources, I couldn’t find a single book passionately devoted to the history of Zamboanga; though there is even a history book of the tiny island of Camiguin, of the mountainous province of Bukidnon, or of a small town like Dapitan.
Many of the Zamboanga ancients who would have known through the more ancient ancients of our history, had long ago kicked the bucket, so to say. No one in their time unfortunately thought to interview them, nor in their time to interview their progenies, no one in their time thought then of recording the past, not just in songs and dances and verses — and fill the empty, huge black hole of our Zamboanga history.
Here is a sample of a gap, a black hole in Zamboanga’s history: it was the war between the Zamboangueño rebels and the Spanish garrison at Fort Pillar from March to May, 1899. Nothing of the Zamboangueño revolt is mentioned and recorded in Philippine history by either Filipino or foreign historians and chroniclers, that it seemed there was no revolt at all in this part of the archipelago; nor was mentioned the surrender of the last Spanish governor general of the Philippines, Diego de los Rios, former governor of Cebu, to General Alvarez and the Zamboangueño rebels and patriots; nor the lowering of the Spanish flag from the bastion of Fort Pillar; nor the grand banquet given by the last Philippine Spanish governor general to Alvarez and the Zamboanga War Commission before being expatriated to Spain.
If the gap was filled, it was done piece by piece with hypocrisy and imprudent error. Listen to this, and I quote: “… Dewey scorned the torpedos and swept away the Spanish Galleon in Manila Bay …” Had Admiral Montojo torpedos in his Spanish Armada, for that matter were there torpedos at that time, of what we understand are torpedos today, particularly in Manila Bay, on May 1, 1898?
This blatant gap and hypocritical 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 modern literature. Have you paused long enough to reminisce the work of Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider? Or of Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop?
But a question maybe asked: Why not just look back, way back before, and write history as one normally does? Because literature as we know it always seeks the truth, not the facts; it fills and synchronizes the gaps in between through words and imagination; and uncovers the mysteries that clatter and smudge history. Striking the frail and faithful heart — not the mind. And armed with an imagination as quick and fertile and strong as a child’s, to fill up the black hole of Zamboanga history and discover the unseen, the invisible facts.
For, damas y caballeros, who would remember decades later the history book he has read? the dates he has memorized? But cannot and will not forget Ernest Hemmingway’s Farewell to Arms, or Jose Rizal’s Noli Mi Tangere!