eK! is electronic Kabalen, a web-exclusive Kapampangan journal of ideas

jun sibug
paterno 'jun' c. sibug jr LATELY THERE has been a resurgence of interest by Pampangos in the history of the province and their prominent citizens and heroes. Cultural revival likewise has been in equal tandem with this movement. The establishment of cultural centers and museums in both Pampanga and Tarlac has brought about this revival. Town histories have been revised, biographies rewritten, and literary works rediscovered. Some books, mostly grammar and dictionaries, have been translated from Spanish to English. It has been a very laudable undertaking, to say the least. But it has not been a sterling accomplishment, as there have been obvious errors and seeming haste to get every literary work translated and published. Errors have not been minimized, not because of too much caution, but the lack of it. There has been a seeming competition where cooperation is direly needed. Over reliance on encyclopedic books translated by early American colonizers dominates most sources. Historical accounts are mostly a patchwork of plagiarized materials and conjectural opinions. Collegial effort is nowhere to be found.

A good example is that story about a prominent citizen of the town of my paternal ancestors. At least two articles appeared in the Singsing magazine published by the Center for Kapampangan Studies and another in the Sunstar newspaper of Pampanga, narrating the life of this illustrious man from Pampanga. The articles were written by no less than the director of the Center for Kapampangan Studies named Robby Tantingco. On previous articles written by the same author I have called his attention on some erroneous claims and conjectural accounts he made in writing his stories. Likewise on many occasions he has dismissed my contentions as unfounded and claimed that his "presumed errors are collateral damages" in the writing of history. It is not my intention to malign anybody's reputation. I feel that an institution or, in this case, a writer who has engaged in the public arena of journalism and history owes his readers an apology and correction for his errors and not dismiss them as mere "collateral damages," as though the reading and writing of our history is a war being fought. What a writer says is his business if fiction is his medium. History is another matter. Claims that do not have factual basis may be bordering on blatant distortions of events and irresponsible journalism.

I am referring to the story about Don Monico Mercado of Sasmuan, Pampanga. Let me give a brief biographical background of this revered son of Sasmuan. Don Monico was born in Sasmuan, Pampanga on May 4, 1875. His parents were Romulo (Capitan Obung) Mercado and Simona del Rosario. Mariano Mercado and Catalina Limpin were his paternal grandparents. He is familiarly called by his cabalens  as "Apung Moning."

Nothing is known about his Primaria  schooling, but it is highly likely he studied under Cirilo Fernandez and Augusto Layug in Bacolor, then capital town of Pampanga, not too far from Sasmuan. He studied his Segunda Enseñanza  under Sr. Vicente Quirino in San Fernando. Later he went to Manila and enrolled at San Juan de Letran where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree. He continued his studies at the University of Santo Tomas, obtaining the degree of Licenciado en Canones y Teologia  and Profesor de Segunda Enseñanza.  In 1903 he garnered the title of Abogado  after passing his exam before the Supreme Court. He later joined Rafael Palma as his law partner.

The Mercado family is well known and respected in the town of Sasmuan. The family is counted among one of the richest. The largest areas of fishponds belonged to the Mercados. The family fortune grew even more under the American regime. The family acquired an inter-island vessel, locally called casco,  with a net tonnage of 34 tons. They were also awarded a forest timber license. Romulo Mercado served in various capacities in the local government. He was Juez de Paz  and Capitan  of the town. Don Monico himself is counted among the country's revered heroes, having joined the revolution against Spain, fighting together with another well known Pampango hero and literary artist in the person of Crisostomo Soto. He represented the first district of Pampanga in the first Philippine Assembly twice under the American regime.

In the legislature he was a member of four committees which included Internal Government, Agriculture, Lands, Forestry and Mining, and the powerful Appropriations Committee chaired by Manuel L. Quezon. The members of this committee included Felipe Agoncillo, Pedro Paterno, Leon Ma. Guerrero, Rafael Palma, and Fernando Ma. Guerrero.

After his stint in the Philippine Assembly he was appointed as one of two superintendents tasked with organizing the Bureau of Agriculture. He drafted the tentative constitution and bylaws for the provincial agricultural societies together with his American co-superintendent. These drafts were written in both Spanish and English and were also translated into the several major dialects of the country. His American partner would later write in his memoir, "A prominent Filipino has been assigned to go with me and assist in the work, Hon. Monico Mercado, a lawyer and ex-delegate to the Legislature from Pampanga. He is well educated, speaks Spanish and English, has an automobile (a fine French car), and knows the islands and the people quite well." In July 1914 they organized the first Provincial Agricultural Society in Tayabas. By the end of the year there were at least 150 municipal agricultural societies organized. Their work was highly praised and commended by the government and officials in Manila. This was one of Don Monico's major works in the national government. After distancing himself from politics he devoted most of his time to the practice of law, philanthropy, and literary works. Only one of his literary works will be mentioned here. I will discuss the rest in another article.

Mr. Tantingco has embellished the life story of Don Monico Mercado with spectacular color and interest by establishing unverified kinship with our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Mr. Tantingco, in an article entitled "No Way to Treat Our Heroes" under his Peanut Gallery column, wrote: "Monico Mercado was one of those Kapampangan poets, like Juan Crisostomo Soto, who took up arms during the revolution against Spain. His father, Romulo Mercado, was the first cousin of Jose Rizal's father, Francisco Mercado, which makes Monico and the national hero second cousins." In another article he went on to say that "Monico witnessed at close range the execution of Rizal in Bagumbayan, consoled Rizal's sisters, and translated Rizal's Mi Ultimo Adiós  ---probably the first translation of the great poem in any language." Another spectacular claim by Mr. Tantingco is that "Kapampangans played crucial roles in the life of national hero Jose Rizal. His cousin and former classmate Monico Mercado of Sasmuan wrote the first translation of Mi Ultimo Adiós  in Kapampangan, barely a week after he witnessed Rizal's execution."

In order to verify the claims of the CKS director one needs only to consider the dates of Dr. Jose Rizal's birth and execution. I have relied on Austin Craig, the foremost authority on almost every aspect of the hero's life and people around him. Jose Rizal was born on June 19, 1861 and was executed by the Spaniards on charges of sedition and treason on December 30, 1896. It clearly establishes his seniority over Monico Mercado by 14 years. On the claim that they were classmates, only two scenarios could have happened. First, Dr. Jose Rizal was not a genius as his biographers say he was. Following Mr. Tantingco's claim, Rizal could have failed miserably that Monico Mercado caught up with him in his studies, or that Don Monico was such a gifted man that he was accelerated from Primaria  to Colegio.  Are they cousins? If we follow the biblical story that every man is descended from Adam and Eve, the answer would be yes. Are they second cousins? Mr. Tantingco must have private knowledge about this because of his access to copies of colonial era church baptismal, confirmation, and marriage records housed at the CKS under his care. I can only refer again to Austin Craig. I reply by quoting another distant relative of the Mercados of Sasmuan:
"Nung ing ibpa nang Rizal, y Francisco, a sinabi (Gng. Tantingco) nang pisan nang alang pilatan Apung Obung, mangaintulid na y Mariano Mercado, a pengari nang lalaqui Apung Obung, capatad nesang tune ning ingcung nang Rizal na y Juan o Capitan Juan Mercado.

"Y Austin Craig, a dalubasa qng quegana-ganang sulat, bie at mia-aliuang bague qng bie nang Rizal, sinabi na metung yamu mebanggit capatad nang Capitan Juan Mercado a yapin y Clemente. Ing tune dang apelido ding pengari da ding aduang micapatad yapin ing laguiung Lamco. Ing ibpa da, ing laguiu na Francisco munaman, pinili ne ing Mercado qng pangabinyag nang Cristiano. Ysik yang mibait caring pengari nang Ysik.

"Y Clemente mu ing capatad nang Capitan Juan."

["Si el padre de Rizal, Francisco, que menciono (Sr. Tantingco) es primo hermano de Apung Obung significa que Mariano Mercado, padre de Apung Obung es hermano del abuelo de Rizal llamado Juan o Capitán Juan Mercado. Austin Craig, el más informado sobre la vida, escrituras y otras cosas de la vida de Rizal nombro un solo hermanó de Capitán Juan que se llama Clemente. El verdadero apellido de sus padres era Lamco. Su padre se llamaba Francisco también, escogió él apellidó Mercado en su bautizo como Cristiano. Él nació de los padres Chinos. Clemente es el único hermano de Capitán Juan.]

["If Rizal's father, Francisco, who he (Tantingco) said is a first cousin of Apung Obung, then Mariano Mercado, Apung Obung's father must be a brother of Rizal's grandfather named Juan or Capitan Juan Mercado. Austin Craig, the foremost scholar on Rizal's life and works, mentioned only one brother of Capitan Juan Mercado named Clemente. Their parents real surname was Lamco. Their father, who was also named Francisco, chose the surname Mercado when he was baptized. He was born from Chinese parents. Clemente is the only brother of Capitan Juan."]
Did Don Monico console Rizal's sisters? It would have been a sight to see a lad 21 years old consoling women much older than he was on the tragic execution of their brother. It must be said that Jose Rizal was the seventh of a brood of nine that even the youngest sister might have been older than Monico Mercado by 10 years. It is not farfetched to assume that it happened if their kinship was so closely nurtured. The problem is that the kinship is being established post mortem and that nowhere in history is the relationship mentioned except in the 21st century annals of the CKS.

Did Don Monico translate Rizal's Mi Ultimo Adiós?  Here is where I agree with Mr. Tantingco---that he did. Was it barely one week after the execution? If there were xerographic machines in Intramuros fin 1896, then the answer is yes. It must be pointed out that Rizal's two novels were like fatal commodities if found in anyone's possession at that time. A farewell poem with an incendiary undertone would have been no different. Andres Bonifacio, the leader of the revolt against Spain, upon meeting one of Rizal's sisters and Josephine Bracken asked to keep the poem. It was never mentioned if he eventually got hold of it, but he was able to make his own translation in Tagalog before he himself was executed by his own countrymen in May of 1897, four months after Rizal's death. The irony of it was that the originals in both language were written on the eve of each author's execution. Would Don Monico Mercado have met the same fate if indeed he translated the poem barely one week after?

The Rizal sisters made copies of the untitled poem and distributed them to the hero's friends in the country and abroad. In 1897, Mariano Ponce had it published with the title Mi Ultimo Pensamiento.  It was Fr. Mariano Dacanay who gave the title Mi Ultimo Adiós  when it was published in the maiden issue of La Independencia  in 1898.

Our history is replete with controversies and inconsistencies. Let us all unite and work to clear these unfinished portions of our history. The task of a historian is to set the records straight and not to distort the facts with unverifiable claims or stories. It would be a gross disservice to our countrymen and a wrong road to our objectives if our writings are mixed with half truths and distorted stories of events. The task of a historian is not to please his patrons, but to tell the truth to the people he writes about.


[About the author. Even in college, Paterno C. Sibug Jr., was known as Jun Sibug. He took his elementary education at Holy Family Academy, his high schooling at the former Sacred Heart Seminary, and spent college at the University of the Philippines. Mr. Sibug now lives in Chicago, Illinois and is presently working as a Pension Benefit Administrator. His main references are mostly books from the Newberry Library Filipiniana Collections and University of Illinois in Chicago. He cares about history, and is always proud to have been born a Pampango.]

-Posted: 5:25 PM 3/26/08 | More of this author on eK!
Nextnext