Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Reynaldo Lleto's Pasyon and Revolution Revisited, a Critique

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Reynaldo Lleto's Pasyon and Revolution Revisited, a Critique

Article excerpt

The publication of Reynaldo lleto's Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910 in 1979 produced a sea change in Philippine historiography. lleto's work shifted the focus of historical research on the country, and above all on its late-nineteenth-century revolution against Spanish imperial control, from the writings and actions of individual members of the elite to the perceptions and revolutionary participation of the lower classes. Virtually all subsequent research in Philippine history has been written in the light of Pasyon and Revolution. Reference to lleto's conclusions is de rigueur in a field of studies whose subject matter ranges from the pre-colonial structure of the barangay, or village, to the economic policies of the 1965-86 regime of Ferdinand E. Marcos. Benedict Anderson expressed the consensus of academic opinion when he wrote that "Ileto's masterly Pasyon and Revolution ... is unquestionably the most profound and searching book on late nineteenth century Philippine history" (Anderson 1998, p. 199nl9). Despite the pre-eminence of Pasyon and Revolution in Philippine studies, however, no one has comprehensively examined the premises, source material and conclusions of Ileto's work. This article aims to fill that gap.

Through a detailed examination of Pasyon and Revolution, I show that Ileto's project of reconstructing the ways in which the lower classes of the Philippines in the late nineteenth century perceived the world and their role in it failed to achieve its goal for several reasons. Ileto never clearly defined what class or classes constituted his amorphous analytical category, "the masses". He ignored the fact that his source material was accessed through performance. Ileto read his sources as texts, in an elite manner, and reconstructed categories of perception with no demonstrable relationship to peasant or working class consciousness.

I further argue that consciousness and perception, even when carefully reconstructed, cannot in themselves explain dramatic historical events such as the Philippine Revolution of 1896-98. To understand the causes of that revolution and to account for the participation of the lower classes in it, we must give explanatory primacy to objective historical events and to the changes in the relations of production in the nineteenth century Philippines. These changes shaped consciousness and transformed the ways in which people perceived the world.

Pasyon and Revolution Revisited

Scholars have explained the Philippine Revolution as one inspired by the ideas acquired by the ilustrados, members of the colony's largely Chinese-indio mestizo elite, during their education abroad. These ideas led to the spread of freemasonry in the Philippines and, in turn, gave revolutionary inspiration to a lower-middle-class clerk, Andres Bonifacio. Bonifacio founded the Katipunan, a separatist secret society, and thus launched the revolution against Spain. Control of the revolution eventually passed to Emilio Aguinaldo, who had Bonifacio tried and executed. Traditional scholarship saw the succession in revolutionary leadership from Bonifacio to Aguinaldo as either regrettable but necessary, or as the usurpation of the reins of the revolution on the part of the upper classes. (1)

In Pasyon and Revolution, Ileto studied the ideas and events of the revolution in a different manner, by examining the history of Tagalog lower-class movements from 1840 to 1910. This was a time punctuated by both millenarian peasant uprisings and revolutions against Spain and then the United States. Earlier scholars had treated these peasant uprisings as separate, local events, with no serious connection to the Katipunan or to the Philippine Revolution. Ileto argued that, by looking at these events as they would have been perceived by the masses, (2) we could see that the seemingly unconnected and irrational uprisings of the peasantry formed a coherent whole, seamlessly interwoven with the Philippine Revolution. …

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