Marcelo H. del Pilar, icon of Philippine journalism


WHILE still a young man, Marcelo H. del Pilar already knew how to plant the seeds of nationalism, and to rise and stand up against the abuses of the colonial rulers. Mariano Ponce, narrated that as a high school student in 1880, del Pilar frequently met with a group of students in Trozo, Tondo –the birth place of Andres Bonifacio and where Philippine Masonry and the Katipunan were conceived by their organizers.

In 1882, Del Pilar was a member of the group that founded the first bilingual newspaper- Tagalog and Spanish- in the Philippines, Diariong Tagalog. Though the publisher was ostensibly Francisco Calvo Munoz, a peninsular treasury official in the Philippines, the real moving spirit behind the paper were Del Pilar, who acted as editor of the Tagalog section, and Basilio Teodoro Moran, the business manager.

The newspaper was funded by several traders from Malolos, Bulacan, from where Del Pilar had formed around him a group of relatives and associates who shared his nationalistic interests.

The regime of Governor-General Fernando Primo de Rivera had seen a considerable realization of freedom of the press, and the Diariong Tagalog took full advantage of this relative liberty to speak out in favor of various reforms, as well as to promote a moderate gospel of nationalism. One of the notable articles that saw print was the “El Amor Patrio” of Rizal, translated into eloquent Tagalog by Del Pilar titled “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa”.

A letter of Jose Rizal dated October 12, 1886, revealed to his older brother Paciano Rizal that he cannot translate the word “Freiheit” and “Liberty” in Filipino language. Rizal admitted that he only knew the words “kalayaan” and malaya” through Diariong Tagalog.

Del Pilar gave birth to the spiritual, political and nationalistic sense of the word “kalayaan”. The dictionary made by Tomas Pinpin dated 1610; Buenaventura in 1613, and Noceda in 1860 did not mention the word “kalayaan or malaya”.

It was said that Padre Mariano Sevilla used the word “kalayaan” in his prayer booklet which means “kalangitan” or heavens – a condition of a soul that can pass through any prison without any hindrance. Prosperity was also embedded in the word “kalayaan” for those persons who had attained glory. (Veneracion: 2012).

But Del Pilar gave the emphatic meaning of the word “kalayaan” in political and nationalistic sense. Proof of this, the revolutionary newspaper of Katipunan adopted the name “kalayaan” from the article also of Marcelo H. del Pilar with the same title where he profoundly explained the meaning and the essence of the word for the freedom of his country.

Of all the forerunners of the revolution, Del Pilar was the one who inspired most Andres Bonifacio. So intimately was Del Pilar connected with the Katipunan, and so highly was he regarded by its leaders, that Bonifacio reverently copied the letters of Del Pilar to his brother-in-law, Deodato Arellano, considering them as sacred relics and, together with the letters that he himself received, as guides for action. “(Zaide, 1956)

He even moved the second president of Katipunan, Roman Basa to support the secret propagation of La Solidaridad, and Apolinario Mabini reported that Andres Bonifacio the third president of Katipunan, collected some funds to support the political program of La Solidaridad.

Majority of the famous patriots supported the leadership of Del Pilar not only in the propaganda but also in the establishment and management of Philippine Masonry, all for the liberty of the ountry through the power of the press.

Del Pilar was meanwhile occupied with other literary activities on two different fronts. From the end of 1887 he began to write political articles that he sent to his friend and disciple, Mariano Ponce, then a university student in Barcelona.

In articles, published in republican newspapers there, he attacked the political power of the friars in the Philippines, argued against the system of deportation by administrative decree, and presented an eloquent defense of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere against the critique of Father Font, using the pseudonyms Piping Dilat and Plaridel.

While waging a fight in Spain against the friars and in favor of political rights, he was working on another level in the Philippines for the same ends. To counteract the influence of Father Rodriquez’s pamphlets, he wrote, under the pseudonym Dolores Manapat, a Tagalog pamphlet entitled Caiingat Cayo, parodying the title of Father Rodriguez.

In it he defended Rizal, and attacked the friars as traffickers in religion, adulterating the religion of Jesus, etc. Other pamphlets and broadsides were circulated in Malolos and in Manila in this time, and Del Pilar and his associates were responsible for their circulation, if not their actual publication.

In the information given by the parish priest of Malolos, Father Felipe Garcia, when the expediente was being prepared for Del Pilar’s deportation in October 188, Father Garcia mentioned the manuscript copies of an article entitled “Dudas,” being circulated in the province.

This is undoubtedly was Rizal’s article España en Filipinas.

He also mentioned the pamphlet Viva España, Viva el Rey, Viva el Ejercito fuera los Frailes!, which was a collection of the various expositions presented to Centeno and Terrero before and just after the manifestation on March 1, 1888.

The arrival of Marcelo H. del Pilar in Barcelona on January 1, 1889, gave organization and the much-needed leadership to the propaganda campaign. Relatively older than the rest (he
was 38 years old at that time), already a professional and adept at propaganda, he was empowered to act as the delegate of the Junta de Propaganda, the Philippine arm of the campaign.

In Spain, while Graciano Lopez Jaena was nominally the editor and founder of La Solidaridad, Del Pilar increasingly became the driving force behind the paper as he worked energetically in
setting up the paper. He gradually took over more and more of running the paper. When he finally decided to go to Madrid, the paper went with him. It could not go on without him.

Once in Madrid, Del Pilar would gather around him all the organized Filipino groups in Spain, and proceeded to expand the movement in the Philippines as well. During the early months of La Solidaridad, other activities had been going on in Madrid and in Barcelona, and Plaridel being the moving spirit of the Filipino campaign worked for an all-out, massive propaganda works.

As it turned out, La Solidaridad proved to be an effective propaganda organ both for influencing Spanish politicians and for combating the prestige of the friars in the Philippines so much to Del Pilar’s liking that he gave more and more of his time to the paper.

A study in Spain reported that del Pilar and Wenceslao Retana went to the Spanish Congress to distribute their respective newspapers to the lawmakers. La Solidaridad and La Politica de España en Filipina ultimately became a forum of debate in which their respective contributors challenged one another through their scathing and daring editorials.

They openly exhibited their opposing views regarding the proper way of governing the Philippines from the points of view of both the colonist and the colonized. La Politica was a staunch defender of mainland interest, racial superiority and particularly was imbued with the feeling and sense of everything Spanish.

The eventual independence, or at least full autonomy, was the goal Del Pilar had in mind along with Ponce, Rizal and other propagandists.

The program of La Solidaridad and the complex organization surrounding it was professedly assimilationist, but it seems clear that the assimilationist program was much more a strategy or a first step than the ultimate goal. (Schumacher, 2005)

The love and respect that everyone professed for Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar and all the other patriots who collaborated with them in the great work of national regeneration manifested clearly and openly in the political aspirations of the Filipinos.

That the La Solidaridad had faithfully interpreted those aspirations was likewise shown by the fact that its expenses were met by Filipinos residing in the islands, who there thus risking their personal safety and interest.

This will prove that Marcelo H. del Pilar was not only a reformist-propagandist as he was branded in Philippine Historiography.

He was regarded by Governor General Ramon Blanco as “el Alma del Separatismo en Filipinas” The true soul of separatism in the Philippines far more dangerous than Rizal.

According to his fellow patriot and propagandist Mariano Ponce, “… Tireless propagandist in the political struggle, formidable in his attack, expert in his defenses, accurate in the strokes of his pen, unyielding in his arguments, whose knowledge and formidable intelligence commanded the respect even of his enemies, whom he had defeated more than once in contests of the mind”.

And the revealing pronouncement of Marcelo H. del Pilar to his brother in law and the first president of the Katipunan before the known founding of the Katipunan dated March 31,

In the Filipino Colony there should be no division, nor is there: one are the sentiments which move us, one the ideals we pursue; the abolition in the Philippines of every obstacle to our liberties, and in due time and by the proper method, the abolition of the flag of Spain as well (“la abolicion en Filipinas de toda traba a nuestras libertades, y a su tiempu y conveniente razon la del pabellon de Espana tambien (Marcelo-Ka dato. Ep. Pilar, 1:246).)

This is not a declaration of pure-blooded reformist it came from the nationalistic bosom of Marcelo H. del Pilar to abolish the flag of Spain means complete independence and self-government. The Philippine Insurgent Records reported that another pamphlet of Del Pilar was distributed in different plazas in Manila titled “Ministerio dela Republica Filipina”.

Long before Bonifacio and Aguinaldo proclaimed the Philippine Republic it was already the political idea and part of propaganda of Plaridel.

It is also noteworthy to mention the recent study of The Journal of Communication SEECI (Spanish Society for the Study of Communication Iberoamericana) founded in March 1997 by a group of teachers of Journalism and Communication Studies at the University of Madrid (Spain) in 2000 by Enrique Rios, had an article that read in part:

Although Marcelo H. del Pilar has a mausoleum in Manila as one of its leaders, we believe that justice was not done with him, because he had one of the most enlightened minds, and undoubtedly was the main brain that pointed the way to the revolution after its death, and in their contacts with Deodato Arellano, was the inspiration for the Katipunan. We ask for the rehabilitation (rectification in the proper place of del Pilar in the country’s pantheon of heroes).

Although they are not Filipinos, but by understanding the significant role played by Del Pilar, his tireless efforts in propaganda, organizing secret societies and defending press freedom, SEECI was asking since 2000 a rehabilitation and justice for “Plaridel” in the Philippine national pantheon. How much more we, Filipinos and this country are the very reason of Marcelo H. del Pilar’s lamentations and sacrifices.

From the account of del Pilar himself, Filipinos can realize and be reminded as well that his death is worthy to be commemorated and celebrated as the National Press Freedom Day not only in words but more so in principles and actions:

I believe it unnecessary for me to remind you of the circumstances that compelled me to abandon the Philippines since October 31, 1888. I was not moved by a desire to increase my personal wealth, for I had there all the element for advancement, my clientele, my interest, etc. neither was I moved by the fear of being exiled, although there I have no worse fate for the father of a family than to place a distance of three thousand leagues between him and his loved ones.

I came here for the purpose of rendering a more effective service to our unfortunate country. I came here to try by all peaceful means within the law to obtain needed reforms for my country, to look for solution that might, directly or indirectly, guarantee in the Philippines the rights of the people already guaranteed in the rest of Spain, thus raising the standard of our living and making our people ready for future progress.

Great was the task before me. Without wealth, without other help than the sanctity of our cause and my faith in the future, I saw before me as you well know, all the forces of reaction arrayed against us. Patriotism and friends gave me their support, and this support the enterprise less onerous and my decision to fight more firm.

The campaign was started. Press, rostrum, public and private circles, primaries, meetings at Masonic Temples, personal relations, political and personal friends, in short, all means of propaganda to further the needed reforms in the Philippines, have been utilized to create an atmosphere to keep our ideals alive. Some with their donations, others with their pen, some with their speech, others with their personal influences, all with a disinterested enthusiasm, Filipinos, Peninsular Spaniards and foreigners, have contributed to strengthen our patriotic enterprise to redeem a disenfranchised people.

It is unnecessary to mention here the results of this united endeavor. The frantic attempts of our enemies to obstruct the campaign are sufficient evidence that our efforts are successful. After failing with their threats, after failing with their cajolery, they descended from their Olympian heights and decided to measure their powerful force with our feeble strength.

They started newspapers and hired good writers, with no knowledge of the justice of our demands. When you consider the scant means at our disposal, we could not have obtained the small victories we have won and the splendid triumphs gained except from our implicit faith in the sanctity of our cause and the inner moral urge from knowing we were right. – M.H. Del Pilar, August 1892, Madrid

Plans were prepared in Madrid and the organization in the Philippines cooperated in their execution. During the three or four years that the correspondence lasted, the communion, the understanding and the harmony between the thinking brains and the obedient limbs were so perfect that, in spite of the distance that separated them, they seemed to belong to a single physical body.

The letters from Del Pilar and the other directive elements in Spain were awaited in the Philippines with the same anxiety and their instructions followed with the same spirit of discipline as an army listens to and carries out the orders of its general in command. And, vice versa, the letters from the Philippines lifted the hearts and filled with enthusiasm the breasts of those who worked in Spain. (Kalaw, 1956)

Without the direction of Del Pilar in Madrid, the Philippine propaganda could never have done what it did.

Unto the last breath of La Solidaridad, Del Pilar did not forsake his duties to the newspaper as editor-writer, commentator, management and publisher for seven years fighting for press freedom as well as the freedom of the country. His influence did not cease in La Solidaridad, his writings continued its influence in the Katipunan organ “Kalayaan” his patriotic examples and his revolutionary spirit moved the leaders of the Katipunan.

And unto his death at the Hospital de la Santa Cruz of Barcelona ward, bed no. 11 he said, “Tell my family I could no longer engage anything with them, I will die in the hand of my loyal friends. Go on and continue the campaign for the redemption and freedom of our country.”

Del Pilar passed away at 1:15 a.m., July 4, 1896.

On August 30, 1896, – birth date of Marcelo H. del Pilar – Andres Bonifacio attacked the Spanish garrison “El Polvorin” for the freedom of our country.


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