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Remembering Feliciano Jocson, Alleged Designer of the Philippine Flag and a Tragic Patriot

Who was Feliciano Jocson and why has history buried his legacy?
IMAGE PHILIPPINE CULTURAL EDUCATION / SHUTTERSTOCK
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It is a cliché at this point in time to opine that history is written by the victors. However, they are clichés for a reason: for within the tropes lies a kernel of truth or revelation. And this is why writing the subject of history, or historiography in general, has always fascinated this author. As we try to care a little bit about our upcoming independence day celebrations of June 12, in a country wracked by a globe-spanning pandemic, economic downturn and widespread incompetence within the government, to reflect on the more grey areas of our narrative is far more relevant than ever. It has become a tradition in recent years to reassess and critique the national myths that we all grew up from school and from the media, to the point that one may conclude that everything has just become a den of liars, thieves and crooks.

And indeed there are liars, crooks and thieves. Beneath them are the graves of the brave, the daring and of the martyrs. And Feliciano Jocson is one of them. But who was he, and why was his memory obscured and not even invoked at all? Before we proceed though, let us have a short background on why the Katipunan was established in Luzon, and why Manila became the epicentre of resistance.

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The Anatomy of a Social Volcano

Feliciano Jocson was born in 1868.  Like many of the figures that were to join or lead the revolution, they were raised in a century marked by radical cultural transformations, technological advancements and wars of conquests, insurrections and the spread of ideologies such as liberalism, nationalism and socialism as the ersatz of the old devotions and beliefs. The Philippines at that era was not a stranger to these dislocations and massive changes.

The opening of Manila to foreign commerce in 1834 was followed by the influx of trade and the spread of ideas that in the olden days would already render the proper grounds for being a heretic, and to be burned at the stake as a result. And in a span of a generation, factories began to emerge, foreign businesses thrived and local merchants prospered. Thus, a new class of people that was quite alien to the corporatist model of traditional society had sprung up: they would become the nucleus of what we refer to as the bourgeoisie.

Having their fortunes largely stemming from trade, and the necessity of establishing contacts overseas, this new class of people were cosmopolitan in outlook and tend to clash with the order largely dominated by the landed gentry and of the local friars. Consumed with the principles of the French and American Revolutions before them, they were able to articulate their own interests which ran contrary to the powers that be. As this class was genteel and impeccable to a degree, they limited their activities to reformist associations and clubs.

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At the obverse in this tendency, the new economic realities also led to the foundation of the proletariat: many of them sought to gamble in search of new opportunities in the cities. As early as the middle of the 19th century, the small but integral proletariat had their own societies which were the precursor to the trade unions of today. The gremios or guilds were the hotbed of worker activity and its intent was to safeguard the wellbeing of its members.

These were the two classes at their infancy. And since both were direct products of modernity, they gradually began to develop the language and the methods that were quite distinct from their counterparts. Furthermore, as new classes with new lived experiences and priorities, they would also conclude that the current order of things are keeping them in shackles, and this process of disillusionment to revolt will take decades to accumulate and burst. And for this moment, the struggles of these classes were directed to a common enemy: the friars, the government and to some extent, that of old privileges.

The rest of course is history. And while some may have gripes or will point out oversimplification, the process of class formation in the 19th century could not be denied outright. For the struggle of change is not only within the heads of those who wish it: this struggle often has a material basis which aimed on reshaping their status and their future. And this brings us to a short detour: why did the revolution first occurred in Central and Southern Luzon.

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The answer is simple. With Manila as the entrepot and the seat of authority, its surrounding environs were also more susceptible to its social and economic leverage. This means that capital as a social formation was far more entrenched, together with its attendant consequence. It is often left out in our history books that from the 1870s to the 1890s, the globe plunged into its first crisis that destroyed the productive forces of many states. It is thus of no coincidence wherein the most brutal of the colonial expeditions in Africa and Asia were bankrolled by specifically European countries that had to let go of its steam and contest for the resources of an entire continent.

The Philippines too was not exempt from this crisis. As commodities like rice, abaca, textiles and fruits had their prices tumbled, the conditions at work became more exploitative and punishing. The friars themselves began to default on their loans, and this would culminate in various land seizures and expropriations. When Rizal lamented the loss of his family farm in 1890, this was in reference to the Calamba dispute, the cause of which is typical: the friars defaulted on their loans from the banks, and they must repay it, and the only way they can gain their profits back is to rein over the people at large.

It was in these circumstances that Feliciano Jocson would have seen with his own eyes. It was not surprising that Jocson, having observed these outbreaks of discontent, would consider a revolution as an instrument of ending this chaos. Jocson and his likeminded compatriots would thus be the children of the storm.

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Emilio Aguinaldo

Photo by WIKIPEDIA.

Jocson, the Revolutionary

Jocson, being raised in a bourgeois family and had become a pharmacist when he graduated from the University of Santo Tomas, could have followed a peaceful career trajectory. However, this was not the case. As one of the few professionals who affiliated themselves with the Katipunan, his pharmacy would convert itself to a rendezvous point for the activists, and the site of some of its gatherings. Jocson himself would not limit his participation in this instance alone: he aided the Katipunan on spreading propaganda and other related material condemning the excesses and the abuses of Spanish rule.  

When the revolution did began to fester and gain traction, Jocson’s background made him a sort of a player in the things to come. He would supply the revolutionaries with gunpowder, with medicine and whatever he can give to them. In addition, he was the person who recommended the appointment of Edilberto Evangelista, an engineer who just came back from his studies in Belgium, as military adviser and general.

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Evangelista’s contribution to the cause was immense, for he was credited for the fortifications that stood firm amidst the Spanish offensives at Binakayan in November 1896. His fame was so well-regarded that during the caucus at Imus that was personally chaired by Bonifacio, some clamored that he should be the new architect of the entire revolutionary process.

His untimely death in January 1897 dashed these hopes. With a competent favorite has become out of the picture, tensions reheated on the factions that considered Bonifacio and his subordinates as too ineffective to rule. During this rift, Jocson sided with Emilio Aguinaldo, for which he was rewarded as Welfare Secretary as a recognition of his role in the Supremo’s downfall. Being a scion of a relatively affluent background, Jocson’s decision was not surprising. But things will turn bleak on the months following March 1897.

One Man's Transfiguration and Disappearance

In December of 1897, after months of negotiations and shuffling of representatives, the Truce of Biak na Bato was ratified, formally ending the Katipunan’s armed struggle. While a majority of the chiefs of the revolutionists heeded Aguinaldo’s call for peace, Jocson was among the few who dissented. Denouncing the pact as a betrayal, he refused to surrender.

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In January 1898, he would found himself as the leader of one of the splinter Katipunan cells that continued to agitate for the liberation of the country. Joining forces with Emilio Jacinto, Bonifacio’s main confidant, they kept the memory of the Supremo alive by invoking his name on expanding the movement that they were trying to create. The activities of Jocson raised concerns in Manila, with Pedro Paterno accusing him of sabotaging the peace overtures.

Jocson’s alliance with Emilio Jacinto and his status as a splitter meant that those loyal to Aguinaldo were out for his head. In March 1898, Pio del Pilar, now serving in the Civil Guard, arrested Jocson at Laguna. According to Santiago Alvarez, he was never heard of again.

Jocson's Significance Today

While Jocson may seemingly pass off as either an opportunist or survivor depending on your view, his main contribution according to Julio Nakpil and Santiago Alvarez was the flag of our present Republic. This is extremely contrary to the assumption that Aguinaldo himself designed it. As for the definitive proof if whether Jocson or Aguinaldo was the one who crafted the flag’s design, it remains in dispute.

What is relevant here is that whatever dirt or taint that a historical figure has at their closet, our judgement should not make us confine to the battle of who is more virtuous or venal. The reason why history continues to be a relevant field to a degree is not because of its attribute of being suspended in a dead past. History continues to be relevant for the very reason that the past itself is reinterpreted in accordance to present circumstances, especially in a period of unrest and uncertainty.

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As a German philosopher once mused, the dead generations of the past will still continue to haunt the remains of the living. The future remains to be written, and the ghosts that it shall conjure will certainly originate from the past to serve its objectives and principles.

References

Alzona, E. (1964). Julio Nakpil and the Philippine Revolution. Carmelo and Bauermann, Inc..

Davis, M. (2006). Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. Verso Books.

Francia, L. (2006). History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos. ABRAMS Books.

Joaquin, N. (2004). A Question of Heroes. Anvil Publishing.

Roces, A. (1992). Memoirs of General Artemio Ricarte. National Historical Institute.

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