Category: revolutionary routes

nita herrera-umali berthelsen (1923-2014)

she was my mother‘s youngest sister, the writer i wanted to be like when i grew up.  sharing here an essay she wrote sometime around independence day the 4th of july 1946.  little more than four years later her eldest brother narciso, congressman of quezon province, was falsely accused of and jailed for murder and communist-coddling, this in the time of the huks and lansdale and magsaysay, in aid of increased military aid from america.  it was like tia nita had sadly seen into a troubled future a country still in the shadow of the stars and stripes.

Nita H. Umali

–And of course the proper answer, the one I should quite emphatically give myself, would be, “Why, stupid, it is almost dawn, the light is seeping in! A new day is being born. Why do you close your eyes to it? And why do you turn your back to the sun?” Maybe it is because I am nearsighted, physically and otherwise, and I am afraid of dazzling glares, and because emotionally I am not looking through rose-colored glasses.

This, of course, is striking a discordant note somewhere, and at such a time as this is very improper. I just hope that on the very day of July four the afternoon mist is here to make me realize that all are not sharp angles, except in my noonday imaginations.

Yes, freedom is here and hundreds of years ago they started to gather the bricks for the stronghold that we have today. Women in long, swishing skirts and upswept hair, going to Church in slipper-shod feet, whispering to God that their men should be saved. Mangled bodies and wet blood smelted and the foundation laid. Time went on, and the materials for building were not so dearly priced, until a few years ago, the iron yoke was laid on our backs. Once more, women, now in short skirts, their wooden shoes punctuating the hush in the chapel, asked from God. Not whispered prayers, but in silent supplication, because spoken words were so dangerous. Maimed limbs, numb minds, and closed mouths. The flame of the blood red sun trying to engulf them, and the blood of past ages and the present day flowing by their feet, urging them on, to fight for freedom, for the greater glory.

And now we shall get it. By a piece of paper, signed and sealed, everything will be different. Or will it? Will there be a change in us as we go to class, or walk the streets? Will our way of thinking, our mode of reasoning, alter? Will our country, with all its men and women, its strong-willed leaders, its weak officials, its priests, and lawyers and doctors, its teachers and bandits, its carefree youths and discontented peasants, its beggars and criminals, will she, the Philippines, with her tropic skies and lazy palms, that small group of islands, after long years of restfully reclining on the solid hunk that is America, will she learn to stand erect, unsupported, even on a pair of wobbly feet?

We have what we want, what every other dependent nation has long wanted — we have it in our hands; shall we let it slip away? Will the four freedoms that we have fought for, will it, be just a mockery to what we are? The present dust of Manila is in our eyes, and the dust of the world in our consciousness. The way is dim and shadowy, and though now and then there are erratic shafts of light, still the sudden brightness of tomorrow may blind us.

Faith, hope, and love, those age old standards, these are the sole supports we have, the beacons that are here to guide us, as we leave the protecting shadows of the stars and stripes, and venture forth into a new life that is but a continuity to the old.

the clipping is posted on her facebook page managed by daughter karen.

Revolutionary Routes e-book!

Revolutionary Routes is now available in the following e-bookstores:

Amazon Kindle:

The e-book has also been uploaded to and will be available in Apple iTunes iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and ilovebooks after about two weeks.

cheaper than the print edition, and really quite beautiful, hyperlinked and all, ang galing ng flipreads!  do spread the word and recommend to friends, and on amazon, goodreads, and related sites :-)


Revolutionary Routes: Elias wrestling the crocodile by Elmer Ordoñez 
‘The past is present still’ in Revolutionary Routes by Sylvia Mayuga
The Secret of Paula Herrera, from Tiaong to Tayabas circa 1891
Reviewing Roots: On Revolutionary Routes 


rizal, elias, and the crocodile

excerpt from Revolutionary Routes: Five Stories of Incarceration, Exile, Murder and Betrayal in Tayabas Province, 1891-1980. 2011pages 256-258.

It’s the strangest thing that I’ve “known” Elias since I was a child, but only as a picturesque presence in the garden, of man subduing beast. This was unchanged even in university where courses on Rizal’s novels focused on Ibarra and Simoun, Maria Clara and Damaso, Sisa and Pilosopo Tasyo. Only now that I’ve found the time and inclination to reread the Noli with eyes on Elias does it dawn on me what Lolo Isidro meant to convey when he asked Don Tomas Mapua to design him a grand mansion with a huge garden and a sculpture of Elias in epic combat with the crocodile, the rare tableau fenced with iron grillwork for all the world to see.

It’s a very small world, of course, that knows of Elias in our garden. Even Tiaong folk know the place only as ang malaking bahay na may buwaya — the big house with the crocodile. Elsewhere in Quezon, formerly Tayabas province, there is great pride, I hear, that Rizal portrayed Elias as a native of Tayabas, but as far as we know, there is no statue honoring him anywhere in the province, except in our garden in the sleepy old town of Tiaong where no one seems to know him by name or why he is depicted atop a crocodile. Neither do any of the books on Rizal and Noli that have come my way dwell on the Elias and crocodile story.

The encounter took place in the middle of a frivolous river picnic that the rich Ibarra was hosting for Maria Clara’s circle of friends and chaperones.

When the boats arrived at the fish trap the nets kept coming up empty. One of the men, Leon, explored the depths of the water with a pole and concluded that there was a crocodile caught in the trap:

‘Hear that? That’s not sand; that’s tough hide, the crocodile’s back. Do you see those stakes shaking? It’s struggling but it’s all coiled up. Wait … it’s a big one. Must be a yard thick all around.’

They all agreed that that the crocodile must be caught, but no one offered to do it. Maria Clara then said she had never seen a live crocodile, and it brought the boats’ pilot, later identified as Elias, who had been “silent and indifferent to all the merry-making” to his feet. Taking a length of rope he stepped up to a platform and dived into the water. Ibarra had drawn his knife for Elias to take but it was too late. They could only watch as “the water boiled and bubbled; it was evident that a struggle was taking place in its depths; the pallisade was shaking.” And then it was quiet, and the young man’s head emerged to everyone’s relief.

The pilot drew himself up to the platform, holding the end of the rope, and started to heave at it, dragging up the crocodile.

It had the rope tied around its neck and under its forelegs. It was as big as Leon had surmised; on its back grew green moss, which is to crocodiles what grey hair is to a man. It was bellowing like a bull, trashing the bamboo fencing with its tail, gripping the stakes, and opening its great black jaws with their long teeth.

The pilot was lifting it up all alone; no one thought of helping him.

Once the crocodile was out of the water and on the platform, he squatted on top of it and snapped its great jaws shut with his powerful hands. He was trying to tie the jaws together when the crocodile, in one last effort, tensed its body and, striking the platform with all the strength of its tail, succeeded in leaping into the lake outside the fish trap, dragging his captor behind him. The pilot was as good as dead! There was a cry of horror.

Then, with lightning speed, another body struck the water; they had hardly time to recognise Ibarra. Maria Clara did not faint because Filipina women do not know how.

Bloodstains spread through the waters. The young fisherman dived in, his native blade in hand, followed by his father. But they had scarcely disappeared when Crisostomo and the pilot emerged, clinging to the reptile’s dead body. Its white belly had been ripped open and the knife was stuck in its throat.

. . . Ibarrra was unscathed; the pilot had only a slight scratch on one arm.[1]

It was a fishing expedition that netted no fish, just an old crocodile caught in a trap that Maria Clara was curious about, never having seen one before. Elias may have thought it was reason enough to go fetch the beast, never mind that it was dangerous business. Armed only with a rope, he of “splendid” physique finally subdued and heaved the predator up to the platform. He was trying to tie the jaws shut, the moment that is frozen in time by the sculptor, the very same moment that the crocodile gathered critical strength and the next moment broke free, leaping back into the lake, dragging Elias along. Finally, Ibarra could stand by no longer, and jumped in with his trusty blade. It took nothing less than the combined efforts of the seething indio and the tisoy sophisticate to eliminate the enemy for good. A message from Rizal set in stone by Lolo Isidro in the time of America, some 83 years ago. He must have known that we would need reminding, he must have seen that America was, in essence, here to stay, and it would take another revolution to regain lost ground.

In the “heyday of the Revolution”, writes Quibuyen, “throughout Luzon and the Visayas, practically all revolutionary units were organized, directed, and led by the local ilustrados, prominent members of the principalia, and even the native clergy.” And let us not forget the Filipino women, who weren’t the fainting kind. “What Elias had hoped for in the Noli”– the masses and the native elite rising as one – “became a reality in the Revolution of 1898.”[2]

[1] Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal, 1886. English Translation by Leon Ma. Guerrero. Manila: Guerrero Publishing, 1995. 114-122.

[2] A Nation Aborted: Rizal, American Hegemony, and Philippine Nationalism by Floro C. Quibuyen. QC: Ateneo de Manila University Press. 1999. 310-311.


read too Adrian Cristobal’s “Elias: The Ethics of Revolution” 

The Secret of Paula Herrera, from Tiaong to Tayabas circa 1891

by curatormuseo

“In 1891, WHEN my great great grandmother Paula Cerrada Herrera was arrested, her arms tied behind her elbow-to-elbow, and made to walk all the way from Tiaong to the town of Tayabas escorted by four guardias civiles, she was no ordinary peasant even if she could neither read nor write.”

After reading this first sentence of Angela Stuart-Santiago’s engrossing Revolutionary Routes: Five Stories of Incarceration, Exile, Murder and Betrayal in Tayabas Province, 1891-1980, the innocent reader falls into a beautiful trap. After all, who wouldn’t be curious to find out what sin, or crime (is there a difference?) Paula committed 120 years ago that deserved all 50 years of her aching body to walk for about 30 kilometers and to be imprisoned for about 67 “harrowing” days?

read on