Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Epifanio de los Santos: Filipino polymath

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Dec. 4, 2011)

IF IT WEREN'T FOR the dogged determination by a group of intellectuals in 1958, the historic Metro Manila landmark we call Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (or EDSA) might well have been named “Avenida 19 de Junio” instead. Or “Pres. Ramon Magsaysay Avenue.” How does “Gen. Douglas MacArthur Highway” sound?

And if EDSA wasn’t named EDSA, what would we have called the People Power Revolution of 1986?

Epifanio de los Santos Avenue honors a man who, despite his relative obscurity today, was described by noted historian Gregorio Zaide as a rare genius because of his encyclopedic knowledge and talents, and by others as the greatest Filipino intellectual after Dr. Jose Rizal.

Epifanio de los Santos

The words “Polymath” or “Universal Genius” come to mind when one considers de los Santos’ achievements as a lawyer, historian, journalist, scholar, jurist, philosopher, bibliophile, biographer, philologist, painter, poet, musician, literary critic, politician, librarian, biographer of Spanish literature, translator (Spanish, English, French and German), linguist (Ita, Tingian, Ibaloi), researcher and philanthropist.

He was hailed as the “First Filipino Academician” and few scholars could match his extensive knowledge about the Philippines. At his death in 1928, he was honored as “Great among the Great Filipino Scholars,” a magnificent tribute to one of the greatest intellectuals this country has produced.

Fervent Patriot and Writer
Born to a rich family in Malabon on April 7, 1871, de los Santos or “Don Panyong” studied at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila where he graduated Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude, in March 1890. In 1891, he took jurisprudence at the Santo Tomas Law School and obtained his Licentiate in Law 1898.

School uniforms and a classroom at the Ateneo Municipál de Manila

De los Santos was considered one of the best Filipino writers in Spanish in his time. He was the first Filipino to become a member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Language (a position denied Rizal), the Spanish Royal Academy of Literature and the Spanish Royal Academy of History in Madrid.

Despite his love for the Spanish language, de los Santos was a fiery patriot who championed Philippine independence through journalism. He became associate editor of the influential revolutionary paper "La Independencia" in 1898 using the pen name, G. Solon. He co-founded the patriotic newspapers “La Libertad,” “El Renacimiento,” “La Democracia” and “La Patria.” Among his famous patriotic essays were “Filipinos y filipinistas” and “Filipinas para los Filipinos”.

De los Santos also wrote extensively in Tagalog and was an eminent scholar of a group called the "Samahan ng mga Mananagalog" founded by Felipe Calderon in 1904. His peers in this circle of great Tagalog writers were Lope K. Santos, Rosa Sevilla, Hermenigildo Cruz, Jaime de Veyra and Patricio Mariano.

A passionate bibliophile, de los Santos’ Filipiniana collection was rated as the best in the world by foreign scholars, according to Zaide. This because de los Santos searched Europe, Asia and the Americas for rare Philippine documents in museums, archives and libraries. He also amassed a personal library comparable to Rizal’s.

Don Panyong’s art collection consisted of some 200 paintings and sculptures by famous Filipinos masters such as Juan Luna, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Fabian de la Rosa, Arellano, Pablo and Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino. In Europe, he was recognized as the premier philologist and biographical writer about the Philippines.

A rich Filipino mestizo family in the early 1900s.

First Civil Governor of Nueva Ecija
As a politician, he was a member of the Malolos Congress, served as fiscal of Nueva Ecija (his father’s province) and was the first provincial Governor of Nueva Ecija in 1902 under the American civil government. His election made him the first democratically elected Governor and head of the Federal Party in Nueva Ecija.

He was re-elected Governor 1904. After his term as Governor, de los Santos was appointed provincial fiscal of Bulacan and Bataan. In 1907, he wrote an essay with the interesting title, “Fraudes electorales y sus remedios,” (Electoral fraud and its remedies) for the Philippine Assembly.

In 1918, he was appointed Technical Director of the Philippine Census. His last and most significant government position was Director of the Philippine Library and Museum, to which was appointed by Gov. Gen. Leonard Wood in 1925. By tradition, this post was reserved for Filipinos of learning and scholarship.

As head of the museum, de los Santos abandoned his personal collecting to build the museum’s collection of paintings, sculpture and all other art forms to an extent that his contributions exceeded that of his predecessors. He was still Director when he died from a stroke at the age of 57 in 1928.

A Triumph for Intellectuals
The North and South Circumferential Road, which Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon envisioned as the country’s most beautiful highway, began construction in the late 1930s. For reasons that remain unclear, the Americans renamed this road Highway 54 after the end of World War II.

In 1959, by virtue of Republic Act 2140, Highway 54 was renamed Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), in recognition of Don Panyong’s genius and contributions to the country’s intellectual and artistic heritage. Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, however, was not the favorite choice for Highway 54’s new name.

It competed against three formidable alternatives: “Avenida 19 de Junio” (in honor of Rizal’s birthday); President Ramon Magsaysay Avenue (in memory of Pres. Magsaysay who died in 1957) and Gen. Douglas MacArthur Highway (for the man who led U.S. forces in liberating the Philippines from Japanese tyranny in World War II). Compared to these great men, Epifanio de los Santos was the dark horse in the race.

De los Santos’ assistant at the Philippine Library and Museum, Eulogio Rodriguez (who would later become Senate President), however, vigorously spearheaded the move to rename Highway 54 Epifanio de los Santos Avenue. After Rodriguez’s death, Juan Francisco Sumulong (de los Santos’ classmate at the Santo Tomas Law School), continued the campaign.

EDSA champions: Eulogio Rodriguez, Sr. and Juan Francisco Sumulong

His lobbying and that of the Philippine Historical Committee, the Philippine Historical Association, the Philippine Library Association, the Association of University and College Professors, the Philippine National Historical Society and the Philippine China Cultural Association won the day for Epifanio de los Santos Avenue. It was a triumph for the Filipino intellectual.

The text of Republic Act 2140 approved on April 7, 1959 reads:” The name of Highway 54 in the Province of Rizal is changed to Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in honor of Don Epifanio de los Santos, a son of said province and the foremost Filipino scholar, jurist and historian of his time.”

Historic EDSA
EDSA today is the country’s most historic highway, its name being indelibly linked to the People Power Revolution or EDSA I that restored democracy in 1986 and EDSA II or the EDSA Revolution of 2001 against Pres. Joseph Estrada. It is sometimes referred to as “Freedom Highway” because of these momentous events.

EDSA is the main circumferential highway in Metro Manila and runs some 24 kilometers (or 15 miles) from Caloocan City in the north to Pasay City in the south. EDSA is a 10-lane expressway that also encompasses the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 extending from Taft Avenue in the south to Monumento in the north by 2011.

It forms the major portion of the Circumferential Road 4 (C-4) in Metro Manila and runs in a semicircle through the cities of Pasay, Makati, Mandaluyong, Quezon City and Caloocan.

In August 2009, Senator Mar Roxas filed a bill seeking to rename Epifanio de los Santos Avenue “Cory Aquino Avenue.” According to Roxas, “It is but fitting to offer in her memory the road that had made her famous all over the world.” Mrs. Aquino, Philippine President from 1986 to 1992, died on August 1, 2009.

Whether Pres. Noynoy Aquino will forcefully push the bill renaming EDSA after his mother remains unclear at this time. But it will do well for the President to consider who Epifanio de los Santos was, and why naming Metro Manila’s longest highway after him honors the Filipino as an intellectual.

The EDSA People Power Revolution of Feb. 1986 that toppled Ferdinand Marcos

1 comment:

Dolly Lama! said...

Oh let the new administration, ESPECIALLY under PNoynoy, rename EDSA to show the world their disrespect and disregard for history and academic excellence. Instead showcase the Filipino love for drama and nostalgia. Yes, that's what the Filipino is about...TELESERYA.