Kalayaan, vol. I, no. 1

At about this time of the year, one hundred years ago, an 8-page newspaper, subversive in every way, came out with its maiden issue. Its name was Kalayaan, the newspaper of the Katipunan.

Its date of publication was January 18, 1896 even if it was circulated only in mid-March.  It had taken 2 months to finish the printing  of 2000 copies because there were not enough letters to allow a simultaneous printing of the pages.  Its place of publication was Yokohama Japan even if it was published in Manila.  Its editor was Marcelo H. del Pilar even if the ailing writer who was abroad at that time knew nothing about the paper.

The Kalayaan is credited with having made possible the phenomenal expansion of the Katipunan membership, just in time for the outbreak of the revolution in August 1896.  Yet, the Kalayaan never went beyond volume one, number one.  The paper was discovered and destroyed by the Spanish authorities before it could distribute issue no. 2.

Was Dr. Pio Valenzuela, who served as its publisher,  exaggerating the role of the newspaper in the revolution when he wrote in his Memoirs: “In four years (of the Katipunan’s existence), there were only 300 members due to the absence of a good means of propaganda, but from the middle of March, when the first issue of the Ang Kalayaan appeared, to August 1896, or a period of five months, the membership increased to 30,000.  This was due to the effect on the people of reading the review.”

I do not believe so.  I think it is conceivable that the publication of the Kalayaan would have indeed created the kind of impact on the Filipino consciousness that Dr. Valenzuela claimed for it at that time.

It was a time of severe censorship.  The Spaniards were getting paranoid about the situation in the colony.  Yet, the most strident criticisms against the regime were appearing only in Spanish, on the pages of La Solidaridad, the Filipino expatriates’ journal which was published in Madrid from 1889 to 1895.  One or two copies of every issue found their way to Manila, and we may assume these were circulated only among a very narrow circle of educated Filipinos.

The Kalayaan made its appearance on such a stage.  Written completely in Tagalog, it became the voice of the non-Spanish speaking masses.  As an underground paper, it spoke of resistance and revolution, using a language that the friars had previously appropriated as a medium of piety and obedience.

We can visualize our ancestors, huddled in their homes around a kerosene lamp, intently listening while someone who can read recites Bonifacio’s primal piece  Ang Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa.  Or perhaps, more realistically, we can imagine a precious copy of the Kalayaan, meticulously folded and reverently passed on from one sympathizer to another.  Those who could read would read it, over and over; those who could not would handle like it a talisman.  They would gently place it under their pillows in the night, the same way the Huk rebels of a later time did with the few guns that circulated among the members, each time recreating their elemental connection to a community greater than them.

The first and only issue of the Kalayaan was not much of a newspaper, if by this we mean a source of news.  There was just one solitary news item in that issue – a report “describing the cruelty perpetrated by the priest of San Francisco del Monte and the Civil Guards against a poor barrio lieutenant” written by Dr. Valenzuela.

The editorial was an old one written by Marcelo H. del Pilar for the Solidaridad, which the young Emilio Jacinto (the paper’s real editor) had translated into Tagalog, making sure that the translation would resonate the music of del Pilar’s own Tagalog .  There were two articles by Jacinto, one taken from the book Las Ruinas de Palmira, and another one openly advocating revolution  as the only recourse open to the people in their quest for liberty.  And finally, there was Bonifacio’s poem.

The Kalayaan stands out not so much as a symbol of an independent press (which it also is) but as a testimony to the revolutionary recuperation of a native language.  It is true that the idiom of resistance  of all previous revolts had been the local languages.  But I think that the Kalayaan represents the first time a local language was ever used to write the message of resistance and revolution.  Through it, the revolution would breathe not only with every spoken word, but would assume the more durable life of the written text.  Henceforth, written Tagalog would no longer be recognized solely as the medium of piety and subservience, but would also become the vehicle of autonomy and self-esteem. In this, I believe, lies the real historical significance of Kalayaan.

Colonialism, the Palestinian scholar Edward Said reminds us in the book Culture and Imperialism, not only takes over a people’s land; it also erases its history, re-draws the boundary of the land, re-names everything, and revises the landscape so that it will no longer look strange to the occupying power.  That is why, he said, the first goal of colonial resistance has always been the recovery of history and of identity, and the “almost magically-inspired, quasi-alchemical development of the native language.”

Kowing this,  it is difficult to remember the centenary of the Kalayaan without somehow feeling sorry for the way we have failed to develop a national language that would permit us to reclaim our history, assert our identity,  and finally seize our destiny.


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