To the writer behind the mustache, Plaridel

August 30, 2012

Dear Mr. del Pilar,

If this space would be used to paint a picture of you as a hero, it would be very easy to fill this blank sheet with the basic information supplied by Google, a search engine in the World Wide Web (It’s a totally different world, far from the scene created by the Spaniards). But to describe you as a leader and a writer is a task beyond the freedom of speech, which you yourself championed, shall allow.

Now here comes the challenge of re-introducing you in this age without sounding like a blinded biographer, where history’s best place seems only in a book; and great men and women rest on coins and statues. One-hundred and sixty-two years is too wide a gap of our generations. You were born during the time of Spanish colonialism, and died before the Revolution. Yet being the man who lived in-between was never a hindrance for you to stand up and make a difference.

Weren’t you one of those intelligent and courageous propagandists who symbolized the ideal Filipino? You must have surely captured a lot of girls with your magnificently curled and stiffened moustache. Weren’t you part of the upper crust of the Philippine colony, well-educated and a lawyer in profession? Mr. del Pilar, you surely had enough to live in comfort. Reforms could be the last thing on your mind, but you chose to side with the masses. With your “pen,” you defended the poor against the abuses of the authorities.

It is fascinating to know that you being a journalist won over you being a lawyer. Because being a journalist, you said, is a better opportunity to be of service to your oppressed country. Maybe you thought that there could be no justice even when there’s a presence of law, and justice sought could be achieved outside the confines of hollow courts.

When you founded the first native daily newspaper in the Philippines, Diarong Tagalog, in 1882, you desired to propagate democratic liberal ideas among the farmers and peasants. To champion liberalism in a powerless land meant possessing extraordinary courage and determination, yet you were brave as you were. If only you are alive today, you would probably say that too little has changed.

While you were in Spain, miles away from your Motherland and family, you never forgot your duties. Heading the political section of Hispanic Filipino Association of Madrid, you agitated reforms from Spain to your beloved country. Under your editorship, La Solidaridad strongly promoted active participation for Filipinos in the affairs of government; wider social and political freedoms; equality before the law; representation; and freedom of speech, of the press and of assembly. Even after the Soli, as we call it now, ceased to publish in 1895, you did not give up in your patriotism as your political works circulated in Manila and neighboring provinces.

There was no other choice left, you thought, as you vigorously affirmed your conviction: “Insurrection is the last remedy, especially when the people have acquired the belief that peaceful means to secure the remedies for evils prove futile.” And your words inspired the great revolutionary organization.

Will you still suggest the same thing today? What has changed 116 years after you rejected the assimilationist stand?

Philippine journalism hails you, Mr. del Pilar, as its forerunner. Today, most journalists operate with a “tell it as it is” style of reporting, with limited news analysis, and as a gatekeeper of information supplied from outside. You were, in contrast, a statesman-journalist. You supplied the information and expected nothing from outsiders; rights, liberty, and happiness, you said, are conquered. You were a leader.

Technological advancements and the needs of the times may alter the way journalists work today, but as long as the standards of truth, fairness and impartiality are anchored on our democratic principles, the world isn’t too bad at all, right?

You were the most prolific, indefatigable writer. No other Filipino writer could equal your body of work as far as richness in information and fearlessness in journalism are concerned.

But were you just the journalist gone astray, as the Spanish friars once claimed? Were you too occupied with your ideals? Was your pen too sharp and your goals too far-fetched? Most of the time it appears, you knew what you stand for.

Plaridel was your nom-de-plume, a simple anagram of your surname. But the simple pen name was signed countless times in works against social injustice, bigotry, hypocrisy, and racial discrimination. Beyond the militant and progressive themes you chose to progress, you aroused the consciousness of the masses through your mastery of our native language. You were gifted with the common touch, with ready audiences for your lucid and forceful Tagalog works in the cockpits, the plazas, and the most common places. You were, in effect, the spokesperson of the masses.

Plaridel has given birth to a lot of legacies today — a journal, a college in the University of the Philippines, a college publication, and even a town in Bulacan, all called under your pen name.

The pen still holds its power. We hope we can still use it the way you did.

One-hundred and sixty-two years is certainly not the end, Plaridel.