The UST Archives: Re-writing History
I believe there is a good reason to write this article not to extol the figure of the University of Santo Tomas but to do away with erroneous historical writings about the pontifical university and the Dominicans.
Sadly, in spite of some efforts of few academicians and historians to present a more truthful history of the UST during the Spanish era, many still were caught off guard and instead decided to rely on meager source materials. Worse, some merely copied what pre-war and post-war authors written in the past nearly 100 years. New generation writers, historians and biographers of Jose Rizal are no exception to such historians like Retana, Craig, Russel, Laudback, Coates, Hernandez and Zaide who had pictured a villain character of the university.
Be it on text book, a coffee-table book or simply biography book – all have the same content – they put the Dominican-run institution out of focus. Although, the UST has been existing centuries before Rizal came into the picture, the national hero’s relationship with the pontifical university admittedly gave more prominence to the institution.
Recently, I was given the privilege of touring the Archivo de la Universidad de Santo Tomas (AUST). There was the very kind Fr. Fidel Villaroel, O.P. the current archivist who holds an M.A. degree from the University of London and a Ph.D. from the UST and author of various history and biography books.
Father Fidel gave me a complete tour of the AUST and let me examined some important documents pertaining but not principally to the history of the Philippines. As a pioneering institution of learning – from the martyrdom of Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, to the propaganda movement, to the revolution of 1896, to the birth of the Republic in 1898, to the commonwealth period and finally to the restoration of independence in 1946 – it is therefore presumptuous to assume the UST has had a hand in the making of the history of the Philippines.
This is evident in the rich collection of records and other manuscripts or printed materials stored at the AUST. The archives cover three main periods of the Philippines and university history, namely the Spanish Period (1611-1898), the American Period (1898-1945) and the Modern Republic Period.
Since the archives contain voluminous documents, I asked Father Fidel if we could zero in on the records of those alumni who took part in the revolt against the Spanish government, for it was in that period that the UST was portrayed as a conspirator to whatever hardship every Indio went through and the execution of prominent propagandists including Rizal.
There Father Fidel pointed to me the errors committed by most historians and biographers of Rizal, most flagrant of which was the opprobrium thrown by the producers of the movie Jose Rizal.
“They (producers of Rizal movie) did not come here to do research. Those who have written the life of Rizal have never come here to research; they didn’t care. They say bad things about UST because they have never come here. UST was not fairly treated. They say more good about his life in Ateneo but little about in UST or maybe against UST,” he lamented.
To be frank, I am not a movie buff unless there is some kind of nascent controversy that would push me to spend hours seeing one.
Up to now, I am still floundering in my attempt at tracking on how I missed the movie of Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal considering the growing naysayers from critics at that time. A few years back, in time for Rizal’s birth anniversary in June, GMA7 (producer of the Rizal movie) found airtime in showing the multimillion-peso movie at the comfort of our television sets.
Fortunate for me who had wanted to see the movie after that UST Archives tour but not for those who might have been reshaped by the outrageous errors and malicious lies portrayed in the movie of Ms. Abaya. For one, digging at the records at the UST Archives will show that there was not a single Dominican teaching medicine in UST during Rizal’s time, thus negating the rather debasing portrayal in the movie showing the Dominican professor comparing a tall Caucasian to a small indio.
And because producers of the movie refused to do research at the UST, they failed to see that all medical professors from UST were all physicians from Spain. What the Dominicans taught Canon Law, Philosophy, Theology, and other related subjects. Professors of medicine and pharmacy came from Spain and were paid by the government.
At this time, when all the possible efforts have been exhausted by the administration of the UST in presenting a more truthful history, specially at that time when the nation celebrated the centenary of its independence, it is disheartening to note that many are still embracing the alleged villain character of the UST during the Spanish period.
If only the old and young generation writers took time to see the original documents at the UST Archives, they would have found out that Rizal was given a special privilege by the Dominicans in contrast to their malignant statements that he was treated shabbily by the friars.
For instance, they would have known that the Dominicans allowed Rizal to enroll simultaneously in pre-medical course and the first year of medicine – an extraordinary privilege given to few students. To quote Father Fidel, “Rizal was not on record as having ever complained about his grades in Santo Tomas while he did complain about those he received in Madrid.”
In fact, records will show that in the fourth and last year of his stay in Santo Tomas, only seven students remained and Rizal was one of them. These already contradicted the popular notion that Rizal was discriminated in UST. They would have also learned that Rizal had Dominican friends like Fr. Evaristo Arias who helped him cultivate his craft in poetry.
So, what’s their basis that Rizal had an unhappy life at the UST, that he was persecuted and scorned by the Dominicans? Could it be their failure to understand the underlying principles behind the anti-friars and anti-UST writings of Filipino expatriates in Europe where Rizal and other Thomasian alumni thrived?
History would dictate the attacks thrown by propagandists at Santo Tomas, particularly the Church, were just part and parcel of the factional clash between liberalism and medievalism. And that the attack thrown at Santo Tomas , which was under the Royal patronage of Spain, was not unique since every university in Europe like Oxford received the same fate for upholding Thomism. The Vatican in an encyclical endorsed Thomism as an instrument to counteract rationalism, which at that time began to penetrate all spheres of society.
As Father Fidel puts it: “This was due mainly to his (Rizal) continuous association with many rationalist thinkers and liberal politicians of Spain and other countries of Europe.”
“Thus, it is important to take into account these developments when assessing his ironic criticism of the Church, the religious orders and the University of Santo Tomas,” he said.
Apparently, the opprobrium thrown at UST was heightened further by the wrong interpretation of Rizal’s novel El Filibusterismo which was used by the national hero as his venue to counteract the influences of the friars to Philippine life.
Father Fidel said El Fili, where certain chapters were used to present a bleak picture of UST, in effect merely served as a caricature and should not be taken as autobiographical of Rizal’s stay in UST.
Again, records show at the UST Archives reveal that schedule of classes in Physics at UST in those years were assigned to the Physics Laboratories and not to ordinary classrooms as presented in the novel. Furthermore, Rizal did not take Physics at the UST but rather at Ateneo Municipal in 1876-1877.
There are many glaring errors that can be seen in our history books and the movie Jose Rizal, but I leave it to those who might want truthful historical documents by visiting the UST Archives to correct them.
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