Re-reading Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution



“ANG hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan” is a well-known Tagalog proverb about overcoming historical estrangement. It teaches the value of humility and gratitude — two virtues enkindled by looking back to where we came from and appreciating our roots. If not for those moments, events, people, turning points that preceded us, there wouldn’t be a “we” that could do that appreciation at all. One of the greatest turning points in Philippine history is the 1896 Philippine Revolution.

The historiography of the 1896 Philippine Revolution can be generalized in the following ways: macro and elite perspective, focusing on economic changes, the march of progress, nationalism, influx of Western liberal ideas, and activities of the educated class in urban areas; on the other hand, there is the history-from-below perspective, focusing on how the masses, composed of uneducated and peasant classes, perceived the revolution.

To let the masses speak is the mission of Reynaldo Clemeña Ileto in Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910. To let the masses speak is letting them speak in their language. The earlier historiographies of the 1896 Philippine Revolution have often relied on sources written in English and Spanish by the ilustrados (the educated class). Ileto doesn’t doubt the general reliability of these sources in enabling “the narrative to be told” — but language is not a neutral tool.

Consulting sources from just the ilustrados and using categories of meaning coming from certain ideologies would result in narratives and notions of nationalism, independence, and revolution that are biased to the perspectives of those sources and ideologies. In turn, this would silence the multiple perspectives present in every issue and event. And oftentimes, the perspectives that get silenced are those coming from the marginalized in the production of knowledge, including historical knowledge. Pasyon and Revolution is Ileto’s attempt to let those multiple perspectives speak.

Ileto wanted to consider the 1896 Philippine Revolution “from within, that is, from the perspective of the masses themselves insofar as the data allows it.” He believes that the action of the masses can only be meaningful if “it is integrated into a system of unconscious thought.” To access the realm of the unconscious of the masses, Ileto found the pasyon a useful tool.

First published in 1814, the pasyon is a poetic narration of the passion of Christ; however, the version used by the peasants was not only about the story of Christ but covers the entire Bible—from creation to last judgment. Literature censorship was enforced in the Philippines during that time, but among some few literature, the pasyon was widely used “not only during Holy Week but also on other important times of the year.” Hence, Ileto considered the pasyon as very influential in shaping “the folk mind.” And it had a large impact because “it co-opted most of the functions of traditional social epics.” Because of its wide availability, the pasyon, Ileto argued, provided a vocabulary and medium “for venting ill feelings against oppressive friars, principales, and agents of the state.”

The pasyon also shaped the theory of change of the rural folk. But Ileto didn’t claim that the peasants made a one-on-one correspondence between what they were reading and what they were going through. The pasyon just made the masses “culturally prepared to enact analogous scenarios in real life in response to economic pressure and the appearance of charismatic leaders.”

Using the pasyon, Ileto interpreted the actions of the masses, the rituals of their revolutionary organization, the Katipunan, led by Andres Bonifacio. He found that the Katipunan used images and vocabulary similar to the pasyon in its publications and rituals.

Ileto also challenged two notions about the revolution: 1) the analogy that Filipinos seeking independence is like a mature child seeking independence from his mother; and 2) that Filipinos were looking to change their situation in terms of an ideal situation in the future rather than as a way of regaining what they lost in the past.

To address the first one, Ileto referenced a Tagalog poem by Procopio Bonifacio, the brother of Andres Bonifacio. Its first stanza called Spain a mother; it’s asking her forgiveness because they [the Filipinos]will now separate from her. However, this separation isn’t because they have already reached maturity but because of Spain’s neglect and lack of motherly care. The independence being sought then was from a mother inimical to one’s growth.

And to tackle the second one, Ileto argued that reflecting on the past was important for the masses. He showed this through the rituals of the Katipunan, which included asking the following questions of neophytes: “1) What was the condition of the country in early times?; 2) What is her condition today?; 3) What will be her condition in the future?” Through these questions, the Katipunan was able to impart what must be done and that is, “to recover the country’s condition of…freedom and independence.” True to the Tagalog proverb that opened this column, the masses were looking back to where they came from, in order to reach their destination. The path to independence begins by overcoming historical estrangement.


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  1. Amnata Pundit on

    The best way to overcome our estrangement from our past is to change our name from the Philippines to Maharlika, change our westernized colonial or slave names back to our original names like Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali (in my case Amnata Pundit) and to adopt the Filipino Ideology of maka-Diyos, maka-Tao, maka-Bayan. Excellent article.