pop The Noli-Fili:
Towards A Post-Enlightenment
Concept of the Nation
 
© By Floro Quibuyen

Paper read in a panel at the 1st National Conference on Literature "Localities of Nationhood: The Nation in Philippine Literature." English Department, Ateneo de Manila University. 11 February 2000.

Cabesang Tales is a powerful but neglected tale. The great movie director, Gerry de Leon, was one of the few who saw its significance. Unfortunately, it merited only a passing mention in the much-acclaimed film of Marilou Diaz-Abaya, "Rizal." The story of Cabesang Tales is a wonderful narrative of Rizalís vision of the nation. I submit that this vision inscribed in the Noli-Fili is what precisely constitutes its originality and significance.

I shall explore this concept of the nation by discussing two hitherto unstudied aspects of the Noli-Fili:

  1. Subversive tropes in the story of Cabesang Tales;
  2. The meaning of Vox populi, vox Dei in the Filiís Chapter 7, "The Friar and the Filipino."
The Mountain as Sanctuary: Basilio And A Happy Tagalog Family

The twin tropes of gubat and bundok and the loob-labas dichotomy are essential elements in the narrative of Noli-Fili. Indeed they are crucial in interpreting the thematic significance of Elias, Sisa, Basilio, and Cabesang Tales. Space constraints, however, force me to limit my discussion to the story of Cabesang Tales and his family.

In a forest enclave, near the balete tree, hours before Elias arrived to die, Sisa andher son Basilio were re-united. Basilio had earlier disappeared after the brutal murder of his younger brother Crispin in the hands of the senior sacristan and the parish priest. He had been wounded while eluding the pursuing guardia civil. Sisa had become a wandering madwoman, driven to insanity by the unaccounted disappearance of her two sons, and by her humiliating arrest and imprisonment by the civil guards. No one had known of Basilioís wherabouts, until the last chapter of the Noli shows him with a kind and happy Tagalog family living in the bosom of the mountain - Basilio had found refuge in a mountain! "High up on the slope of the mountain," Basilio was nursed and nurtured back to health by the good family.

The contrast between loob [inside] and labas [outside], the trope of the mountain as paradise - as a sanctuary of freedom, peace and abundance precisely because it is outside of the law and the power of the state - is developed in the saga of this good family, a narrative that runs from the last chapter of the Noli to the end of the Fili. This single narrative thread has not been studied because critics, as well as filmmakers, have been obsessed with the Count-of-Monte-Cristoesque Ibarra/Simoun. The story of Cabesang Tales, which Rizal introduces at the end of the Noli, and which he ends (inconclusively) at the penultimate chapter of the Fili constitutes a counter-point narrative, a deeper structure as it were, to the story of Ibarra/Simoun, which ends at the last chapter of the Fili. As with Elias and Ibarra in the Noli, Cabesang Tales and Simoun are two corollary characters whose stories constitute the dialectical progression of the central theme of the Noli-Fili as a dual critique of Colonialism/Nationalism-as-nation-statism.

The scene of a happy family living "high up on the slopes of the mountain" - conjures an image of a carefree and abundant existence in which children can play without fear (a stark contrast from an earlier scene, inside the town, during a cold night when Crispin and Basilio worked as bell- ringers in the church) and a sanctuary where the fugitive Basilio was nursed back to health. But Basilio was sad because it was Christmas eve, a time for happy family re- unions. Thus Basilioís thoughts were over Crispin and his mother, Sisa. The children of Tales, a boy and a girl (who would later grow up as the beautiful Juli, the tragic fiancée of Basilio), were playing beside the taciturn Basilio, who they try to cheer up. The grandfather [in the Fili, he is identified as Tandang Selo (Old Selo)], who had joined the three children, was solicitous to Basilio, and asked him what he wanted for Christmas. Basilio responded that his only wish was to see his little brother and mother. The old man and his grandchildren all dissuade Basilio from going back to town.

What! You are going away?" the little boy [he is Tano in the Fili] asked him. "Down there are soldiers and many robbers. Donít you want to see my firecrackers? Boom, boom, boom!" [emphasis mine]

"Donít you want to play hide-and-seek?" asked the little girl. "Have you ever played it? Surely thereís nothing any more fun than to be chased and hide yourself?"

Note the play on the contrast between playing hide and seek and the real situation of Basilio as a fugitive from the law, which was no fun at all.

Indeed the contrasts are striking. Peace, abundance, health and happiness in the mountain, outside of the state; injustice, want, madness, and despair in the town, inside the state - with these images Rizal has set up the millenial backdrop for the tragedy that is to unfold.

But the most striking contrast was uttered by the innocent little boy, which had followed the grandfatherís casual remark to Basilio that he wonít get to the town alive - "Down there are soldiers and many robbers." Not only had the boy equated soldiers with robbers, but he had also asserted the key thesis of the counter-hegemonic discourse of the revolutionary and millenarian folk traditions (one of the wellsprings from which Rizal drew): both soldiers and robbers are to be feared because both are "down there," operating inside the town, where the power and authority of the state is strongest and most manifest.

The force of this seemingly innocent remark is made clearer in the Fili, when this kind and happy family decided to leave their mountain abode to live near the town. From that moment on an inexorable chain of misfortunes ensued that ended with the whole family being destroyed, although it is not clear at the end of the Fili if Cabesang Tales had survived to fight another day.

Cabesang Tales: Tragic Saga of Family

In Chapter XI ("Los Banos) of the Fili, the innocent but ominous remark of the little boy (Tano) to Basilio - "Down there are soldiers and many robbers" - is repeated in a more knowing and sinister tone by Simoun, during a card game (when matters of state were also discussed) involving the governor- general and some friars (among them Padre Salvi, the priest who, in the Noli, had lusted after Maria Clara and plotted Ibarraís ruin, and Padre Camorra, who would be the cause of a major tragedy for Tales). Relating how he had earlier been intercepted by a band of tulisanes [bandits], who only took from him his two fine revolvers and two boxes of cartridges, Simoun said, "for me the tulisanes are the most respectable men in the country, theyíre the only ones who earn their living honestly. Suppose I had fallen into the hands - well, of you yourselves, for example, would you have let me escape without taking half of my jewels at least?"

"The evil is not," went on Simoun, "in that there are tulisanes in the mountains and uninhabited parts - the evil lies in the tulisanes in the towns and cities" (The Reign of Greed, 93; emphasis mine).

The evidence for Simounís statement (as well as the little Tanoís in the last chapter of the Noli) is the tragic saga of the family of Tales. This began when Tales moved his family - his father (Tandang Selo), wife, and three children (Lucia, Juli, and Tano) - to the borders of the town where the whole family labored to transform a thickly wooded area that they believed belonged to no one into a productive farmland. The claiming of virgin land exacted its price: the mother and her eldest daughter, Lucia, died of malaria. Nevertheless, the family persevered and the land began to reward their labors with a rich harvest.

Immediately, Talesís troubles started. A religious corporation claimed ownership of his fields and began exacting an ever increasing land rent. Another burden was added when he was appointed Cabeza de Barrangay, assigned with the thankless job of collecting taxes, and paying up for any shortfalls. Thus, Tales' dream of providing some education for his children grew dim. When Tales finally refused to pay the incredible fee of 200 pesos, he got himself embroiled in a disastrous litigation with the corporate friars (I use the term corporate advisedly) which destroyed the peace of his family, devoured his resources, and consumed his time and energy.

Undaunted by the prospect of his proverbial palayok being smashed to smithereens by the iron pot of the friars, Tales demanded justice, declaring grimly (in a line that epitomizes the liberal concept of political obligation): "I serve and have been serving the King with my money and services. I am asking for justice and he is obliged to give it to me." When the governor of the province pressured Tales to yield, his reply was: "You may do what you like Mr. Governor, Iím ignorant and powerless. But Iíve cultivated those fields, my wife and daughter died while helping me clear them, and I wonít give them up to any one but him who can do more with them than Iíve done. Let him first irrigate them with his blood and bury in them his wife and daughter!" [1]

His obstinacy and defiance cost Tales his court case and the ruin of his family. Tano was conscripted because Tales could not pay for his exemption. Then Tales was kidnapped by tulisanes, who demanded a ransom of five hundred pesos. This, in turn, led Juli to work as an indentured maid-servant for a Sister Penchang (a member of a womenís religious sodality) over the objections of her grandfather, Tandang Selo, who thought of abandoning the town and going back to the mountain. Juli left home to work for sister Penchang on Christmas day, leaving her grandfather alone to grieve over the familyís misfortunes. This was a stark contrast to the joyful Christmasses the family had had when they were living in the mountain. Because of his unbearable sadness, Tandang Selo lost his ability to speak.

Rather than cracking up like his father, Tales unleashed his fury: he exacted his revenge by killing the friar administrator, as well as the new tenant and his wife. Thus he became a wanted outlaw. Juli was later ransomed from her servitude by Basilio only to end up in the convento of the predatory and lustful Padre Camorra, from whom the only escape for Juli was suicide, which in turn drove the grief- stricken Tandang Selo to join Talesí band of tulisanes.

But this wasnít the end of the tragic saga of the family of Tales - certainly a worse fate than that which befell the Count of Monte Cristo, or, for that matter, Simoun. At the end of the Fili, grandfather, father and son would meet in a final and fatal confrontation. Talesís son, Tano, who had just returned from military service in the Carolines (a group of islands in what is known today as Micronesia - one area that has not been tapped in the narratives of Filipino diaspora), had become a member of the hated guardia civil. During an encounter between Talesí band and the guardia civil, Tano, against his will, ended up shooting down both his father and grandfather, who had both refused to shoot when they recognized him. Tandang Selo was mortally wounded in the encounter, but it wasnít clear whether Tales, who was hit while standing on a rock to warn Tano, had escaped and survived. Upon recognizing Tandang Selo, and realizing what he had done, Tano became "frightfully pale, his mouth hanging open, with a look in which glimmered the last spark of reason," as he gazed blankly at his dying grandfather: "No longer able to speak, the old manís dying eyes uttered a whole poem of grief - and then a corpse, he still continued to point to something behind the rock" (The Reign of Greed, 351). Like Elias and Sisa, Tandang Selo had returned to the forest to die.

Thus ends the story of Tales, a saga of tragedy that was inexorably set in motion from the moment Tales and his family came down from the mountain to try their luck in civil society.

What are we to make of this remarkable narrative?

Uncannily, at about the same time that the Filiís last chapter was being completed, a similar tragedy befell Rizalís family: they and over a hundred families in Calamba lost their lands to the Dominican order; Rizalís father, Don Francisco, brother Paciano, and other relatives were exiled to the island of Mindoro; the sixty-four year-old Doña Teodora was made to walk for several days to be tried in the provincial court of justice at Sta. Cruz, then capital of Laguna province. As a result of these arrests, exiles, and evictions, the closely-knit Rizal family was torn apart. Rizal himself, shortly after publishing the Fili, was arrested, imprisoned at Fort Santiago, and exiled for four years in Dapitan. Thenceforth, Rizal would never again see his father and brother. In Rizalís happy childhood, the Rizals were a prosperous family that faced a bright future; by 1892, they were a financially ruined, dispossessed, and displaced family. At the time of his execution, Rizalís parents were reduced to living in their daughterís modest home in the district of Tondo, Manila, not far from where Bonifacio resided.

Rizal wasnít exaggerating when he wrote Fr. Pastells (11 November 1892), "I see the story of my Ďnovelí unfolding itself with so much accuracy I can really say I am watching, and at the same time taking part in, the performance of my own work" (Bonoan, 1994: 139). On this level, the meaning of the Noli-Fili is clearly patent (and therefore not so interesting): one can say that the novels had simply predicted what would happen to Rizal and his family, or to anyone for that matter, who stood up against the theocratic colonial regime. That is to say, because the Noli-Fili had captured the logic of Spanish colonialism, it could predict how colonialism would respond when it was resisted. In this sense, we can say that the trope of the gubat/bundok was deployed by Rizal as a rhetorical device for critiquing the Spanish colonial system.

But there is something more than a straightforward Enlightenment critique of colonialism here, which interpreters have generally limited themselves to, e.g., Majulís "Critique of Rizalís Concept of a National Community." The meaning of this trope is much richer and more fluid: the forest/bundok as the garden of Eden is not an unambiguous state of carefree happiness, for there lurks a serpent in the garden. Likewise, in the legend of Mariang Makiling (as re-constructed by Rizal), Bundok Makiling is not always a forest of abundance and tranquillity. The goddess of the mountain which protects and nurtures the forestís bounty can also transform herself into a monstrous creature that can in an instant convert the place into a terrifying one.

In the Noli-Fili, the trope of gubat/bundok contains two layers of meaning. It can be a paradise, a place of nurturance and healing, providing the simple folk, e.g., Basilio and the family of Tales, a sanctuary from violence, hunger and injustice. But, on another level, it can also be a place where people commit suicide, as in the case of Don Pedro Eibarramendia and Eliasís grandfather, and where mothers die in terror, as in the case of Eliasís grandmother. While the forest can be a place of redemption, i.e., for Elias and Sisa, it can also be a refuge of bandits who terrorize the innocent folk of the towns, like Matanglawin or Balat, Elias's notorious uncle[2]. The gubat/bundok can therefore harbor evil; it can be corrupted if those who seek refuge in it are evil men. In other words, the gubat/bundok, as a space outside of the state, does not guarantee freedom and happiness - being in a place outside of the colonial state is not enough.

What else is needed? The answer is, interestingly, prefigured in Chapter 7, "The Friar and the Filipino." The key to this chapter is its subtitle, "Vox populi, vos Dei."

Vox populi, vox Dei

It is crucial to contrast Rizalís Vox populi, vox Dei with the much venerated Enlightenment idea of the "sovereign people"--an American invention that preceded the French Revolution.[3] Ironically, as we shall see, the idea of the "sovereign people" tends to empower the state more than the people.

What the American Founding Fathers had invented, in effect, was the idea of Vox imperium, vox populi, the voice of the government is the voice of the peole. Consider the logic of sovereignty: if the people are "sovereign," and if the government, by virtue of its being duly elected, "represents" the people - is a government by, of, and for the people - then the government has the right to do anything which it deems is in the "national interest", and anyone who opposes this can be accused of being, for example, un-American, or un-Australian, or un-Filipino.

Note that this logic both obliterates the bifurcation between ruler and ruled and emasculates the principle of political obligation.. The government does not consult the "sovereign people" when it decides on policy or embarks on a course of action: what matters to it is not so much the peopleís voice as its acquiescence. In a representative government, peopleís participation amounts to, in Marxís words, "deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in Parliament (cited in Manicas, 1989: 244; and Edwards, 1971: 73). Thus, once a government gets elected, all that the government needs in order to effectively exercise its mandate is the peopleís acquiescence, which, as we all know, can be achieved by the more effective and subtle ways of , as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman put it, "manufacturing consent."

Rizalís notion of Vox populi, vox Dei, on the other hand, maintains the bifurcation between ruler and ruled, and, thus, keeps the principle of political obligation at the forefront of political discourse [4].

Rizal, through Isagani, deploys the concept of political obligation in three ways. First, Isagani makes a distinction between power and obligation, i.e., whenever x exercises power on y, x incurs a corresponding obligation to y. This is the underlying principle of Isaganiís criticism of the friars:

The friars...by monopolizing in their hands all the studies of the Filipino youth, have assumed the obligation to its eight millions of inhabitants, to Spain, and to humanity, of which we form a part, of steadily bettering the young plant, morally and physically, of training it toward its happiness, of creating a people honest, prosperous, intelligent, virtuous, noble, and loyal. Now I ask you in my turn - have the friars fulfilled that obligation of theirs? (Derbyshire trans.)

When Fr. Fernandez comes up with the typical colonialist line that the Filipinos should blame themselves for their own defects, Isagani brings up the obligation of those who wield power over the people, and, thus, questions the very rationale of colonialism:

I will agree with you that we are defective. Who is to blame for that? You who for three centuries and a half have had in your hands our education, or we who submit to everything? If after three centuries and a half the artist has been able to produce only a caricature, stupid indeed he must be!

Or bad enough the material he works upon. [Fr. Fernandez interjects]

Stupider still then, when, knowing it to be bad, he does not give it up, but goes on wasting time. Not only is he stupid, but he is a cheat and a robber, because he knows that his work is useless, yet continues to draw his salary. Not only is he stupid and a thief, he is a villain in that he prevents any other workmen from trying his skill to see if he might not produce something worth while! The deadly jealousy of the incompetent!

Isagani also invokes the liberal concept of political obligation, i.e., a sort of contractual relationship between the ruler and the ruled, when he declares:

He who gives his gold and his life to the State has the right to require of it opportunity better to get that gold and better to care for his life. [Compare Cabesang Talesí defiant declaration (in Chapter 4): "I serve and have been serving the King with my money and my services. Iím asking for justice and he is obliged to give it to me."]

But the most fundamental sense of obligation is appealed to by Isagani when he says:

Besides the duty of every one to seek his own perfection, there is the desire innate in man to cultivate his intellect, a desire the more powerful here in that it is repressed.

In Isaganiís perspective, as far as self-realization or the fulfillment of our human potential is concerned, innate desire and duty coincide - a notion that resonates better with the Medieval ethics of St. Thomas Acquinas [ 1224 (or 1225)-1274] than with the Enlightenment ethics of Immanuel Kant [5]. In the Kantian sense, the moral force of an act lies precisely in its being willed against oneís desire or inclination. St. Thomasí more earthy ethics is based on his concept of natural law. St. Thomas distinguishes four forms of law: eternal law, divine law, natural law, and human law. He divides natural law, which is manís active "participation of the natural law", into three species: 1) the good that man pursues in accordance with the nature he has in common with all living substances, such as self-preservation; 2) the inclination he shares with animals, such as "sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth"; 3) manís specifically human inclination, such as the desire to know God and to live justly (Ebenstein, 1960: 220).

Man has a natural inclination or tendency towards self- realization, an innate desire to cultivate, in particular, his intellect. But this innate tendency towards self-realization can be "repressed" by the State or thwarted in some other ways, by oneís environment or upbringing, by the actions of other men or by oneís own perverted inclinations (for example, the inclination towards indolence). It is, therefore, oneís moral duty to struggle against these obstacles. Thus, in Rizalís perspective, when a people endeavor to bring about their fullest human development by opposing injustice and promoting the common good, they are actually fulfilling Godís will, which is the natural law - Vox populi, vox Dei.

The medieval dictum of Vox populi, vox Dei seems to have disappeared in todayís political discourse. What is usually invoked, especially in school courses in civics, is the American idea of the "sovereign people." But this notion does not have the same moral force nor does it lend itself to the same critical function as the older Latin dictum, in which the issue of justice is paramount. Indeed, nowadays, justice hardly figures in discussions in the mainstream media about social problems and social policy. For example, layoffs or retrenchments in the labor force and funding cuts in education, health and other social services, are framed in terms of "structural adjustment", downsizing, economic reform, productivity, economic rationality, global competitiveness, etc., and the question of justice is hardly, if at all, raised.

Apparently, a government which derives its authority from the "sovereign people" does not have to be constrained by questions of justice. But, as St. Augustine remarked, "Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but bands of criminals on a large scale?" (cited in Brading, 1991: 7).[6] Rizal could not have agreed more!

Vox populi, vox Dei is a fundamental principle in Rizalís moral concept of the nation, which may be characterized as an anti-statist and prescriptive concept. It is anti-statist in that it affirms the separation, indeed opposition, between the people and the state. Thus, we should not conflate Rizalís concept of the nation with the entirely different concept of the nation-state, which is based on the Enlightenment notion of the "sovereign people."

In conclusion, Rizalís vision was of the nation as an ethical community, not of a sovereign nation protected by the armature of the state. He was convinced that the road to national liberation, to freedom and justice, was not via the violent seizure of state power - wherein todayís slaves become tomorrowís tyrants - but through local, grassroots, community-oriented struggle in civil society. He had demonstrated this participatory democratic vision in his practical support for the aspirations of the village folk of Calamba and Dapitan, as well as in his envisioned community project in Sandakan, North Borneo. The Calamba struggle was defeated, the North Borneo project never took root, and the Dapitan interlude may have been an isolated case. But what if these local efforts and projects were replicated throughout the Philippines? Or, for that matter, throughout the world?


[1] Talesí peasant discourse is uncannily similar to an argument uttered by the tenant farmers in John Steinbeckís The Grapes of Wrath (1939: 45): "...itís our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if itís no good, itís still ours. Thatís what makes it ours - being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it."

[2] I do not subscribe to the common view that Matanglawin is Cabesang Tales, for two reasons. First, in Chapter 38 of the Fili, "Fatality", Rizal had introduced Matanglawin's band as having taken possession of the town of Cavite, "carrying off the arms from the town hall." Yet, later in the Chapter, Rizal noted that the ambushing band of Cabesang Tales "could not have more than three rifles." Second, in his first act of murder, in the Fili's Chapter 10, "Wealth and Want", Cabesang Tales had clearly indicated his preferred nomenclature by leaving a piece of paper beside his victim "on which was the name Tales, written in blood as though traced by a finger." It seems that in Chapter 38, Rizal was simply presuming the fact, well-known to his readers, that several bands of bandits roved the countryside. (The Reign of Creed, Charles Derbyshire's translation of the Fili).

[3] My discussion of the "sovereign people" draws on Peter Manicasí unpublished draft, "Nationalism and War" (1997), and his massive War and Democracy (1989), Chapter 6, "The Invention of Modern Democracy."
The notion of the "sovereign people" had actually been propounded by Rousseau, but the American Founding Fathers appropriated the idea and inscribed it in their Constitution to legitimate their construction of "American democracy" or representative government. Rousseau would have hated this (mis)appropriation of his idea of sovereignty, which he held to be "inalienable." In this sense the American notion of the "sovereign people" is an "American invention."

[4] The principle of political obligation is implied by the very subtitle of the 1709 book, Vox populi, vox Dei, being true maxims of government - "The judgement of whole kingdoms and nations, concerning the rights, power, and prerogatives of kings, and the rights, priviledges, and properties of the people." The author simply identified himself as "a true lover of the Queen and country." Scholars attribute the work to either D. Defoe or Lord Somers.
The phrase Vox populi appears in Websterís Dictionary, which incorrectly dates its origin to 1550. But the expression Vox populi, vox Dei is absent in the index of virtually all standard textbooks or references on political theory or the history of political thought, save for Roger Scrutonís A Dictionary of Political Thought (1982). It is glaringly absent, for example, in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought, edited by David Miller (1987). Interestingly, a BBC program on the Renaissance avers that Vox populi, vox Dei is a Renaissance expression, and that, at one time, Machiavelli had invoked it. According to Roger Scruton (1982: 488), the expression Vox populi, vox Dei "occurs in a letter to Charlemagne from the poet Alcuin [Charlemagneís mentor] in 800 and was also used by Archibishop Reynolds when crowning Edward III in 1327."
I am not, however, exactly sure where or how Rizal picked up the Medieval Latin dictum.

[5] John N. Schumacher, S.J., notes (personal communication with author) "Rizal studied the neoscholastic version of Thomistic philosophy at the Ateneo Municipal, principally through the Latin textbooks of Matteo Liberatore, S.J., perhaps the leading neo-Thomist philosopher of the late nineteenth century.We still have his textbooks here in the [Ateneo de Manila] University Archives and at Loyola School of Theology library."

[6] Note the uncanny similarity with Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka's denunciation of Africa's corrupt and repressive nation-states, "A nation is a collective enterprise; outside of that, it is mostly a gambling space for the opportunism and adventurism of power" [The Open Sore of a Continent (Oxford University Press, 1966: 121)].


Everybody is invited to discuss this article with the author on our Discussion Board.

Floro Quibuyen's book on Rizal "A Nation Aborted: Rizal, American Hegemony, and Philippine Nationalism," is available directly from:
Ateneo de Manila University Press
Belarmine Hall, Katipunan Avenue
Loyola Heights, Quezon City
P.O. Box 154, 1099 Manila, Philippines
Tel: (632) 426 59 84 /Fax: (632) 426 59 09

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created: August 20, 2000
updated: August 25, 2000
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