Today in Philippine History, August 30, 1850, Marcelo H. Del Pilar was born in Cupang, Bulacan, Bulacan

Tuesday August 30, 2011 ()

On August 30, 1850, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, one of the leading propagandists for reforms in the country, known by his pen name Plaridel, was born in Cupang (now Barangay San Nicolas), Bulacan, Bulacan.

Marcelo H. del Pilar   
(Marcelo H. del Pilar)   

His parents were Don Julian del Pilar, an excellent Tagalog grammarian, speaker, and poet, and Doña Blasa Gatmaytan, familiarly known as Blasica. Don Julian was three times gobernadorcillo of the pueblo of Bulacan and later oficial de lecsa of the alcalde mayor of the province.

Marcelo had 9 siblings, Toribio (priest, deported to the Marianas in 1872), Fernando, Andrea, Dorotea, Estanislao, Juan, Hilaria (married to Deodato Arellano), Valentin, and Maria. The name of the family was Hilario; but pursuant to a decree of Claveria's, in 1849, the name of the grandmother, Del Pilar, had to be added. Inasmuch as "Gat" which precedes the mother's family name indicates noble origin, it will not be an exaggeration to affirm that the family belonged to the Tagalog nobility or descended from the ancient Tagalog kings.

Marcelo H. del Pilar began his studies in the school of a certain Sr. Flores; he then passed to the Colegio de San Jose, and thence to the University of Santo Tomas. A disagreement with the parish priest of San Miguel, Manila, concerning baptismal fees, in 1869 or 1870, caused a regrettable break of 8 years in the fourth year of the study of his profession, jurisprudence. He finally succeeded in graduating in 1880.

Prior to leaving the country, the friars found their match in Del Pilar who seized every occasion to attack them with his tirades and stinging criticisms. During those times, the friars were the most hated persons in the Philippines who protested against the teaching of the Spanish language to Filipinos; campaigned against press freedom; the secularization of parishes; the enjoyment of civil rights and liberties. They blocked the introduction of reforms in the country for fear that an enlightened citizenry would diminish their powers and prerogatives.

Del Pilar, who was imprisoned after a fight with the parish priest of San Miguel, Manila whom he accused of charging an exorbitant baptismal rites fee. Del Pilar, who happened to be one of the child's godfather, was convinced to dedicate his whole life to the campaign of reforms.

He made speeches in crowds, whether a cockpit, tienda, or town plaza. He delivered his tirades against the friars during fiestas, parties and funeral wakes. Notably, on August 1, 1882, he published Diariong Tagalog, which exposed the abuses of the friars and the need for reforms. He also wrote poems and essays defending Filipino interests and fought for the equality of Filipinos and Spaniards in his book "La Soberania Monacal en Filipinas" (Monastic Sovereignty in the Philippines).

For their part, the church wielded its influence to secure an order to banish Del Pilar. But before the order's release, del Pilar managed to flee to Spain, arriving in Barcelona on January 1, 1889. His coming gave empetus to the establishment of the paper "La Solidaridad" the primary organ of the propaganda. Just before leaving the Philippines, del Pilar organized the "Comite de Propaganda", to solicit contributions to support the propaganda in Spain. The Filipino community in Barcelona decided to support the paper before the arrival of funds from Deodato Arellano, his brother-in-law.

Deodato Arellano was in charge of the Comite de Propaganda in Manila ably aided by Doroteo Cortez, Ambrosio Bautista, and later by Pedro Serrano Laktaw.

"Propaganda" refer to the campaign intended to acquaint the Spaniards in the Peninsula of actual conditions in the Philippines in the latter half of the 19th century. The propaganda was a two-sided movement, one waged in Spain for the extension to the Philippines of freer governmental institutions, for an honest administration, and for the speedy replacement of the friars by Filipino priests; and waged in the Islands themselves for the improvement of educational facilities, the removal of espionage upon the press and public opinion, and above all, the awakening of the lethargic masses.

Prior to 1888. Filipinos in Spain had already started the propaganda, but this was sporadic, isolated and lacked direction. Marcelo del Pilar was the first to see the need for organization, hence, before leaving the Islands, he organized the Comite de Propaganda. In spain, he and his friends organized the Asociacion Hispano-Filipina in January 12, 1889, so that it would help in the campaign. The Spanish-Filipino Association was composed of all Filipinos in Europe, together with their sympathizers, whether Spaniards or not. Professor Miguel Morayta was its President, and Felipe de la Corte, former resident of the Philippines, its Vice-President. While Marcelo H. del Pilar was a simple chairman of its political committee, he was in reality the directing intelligence of the association. Miguel Morayta and Del Pilar were closely bound by friendship and mutual respect. We honor him with a street called "Morayta" in the city of Maanila, as Blumentritt, the great friend of Rizal and Del Pilar, who wrote so many articles in La Solidaridad, is remembered by Filipinos by another street named in his honor.

On February 15, 1889, La Solidaridad released it first issue, Graciano Lopez Jaena, who already established a name for himself in Barcelona, was made editor and Pablo Rianzares, business manager. On its 19th issue, to make the paper more effective organ of the propaganda, the La Solidaridad was transferred to Madrid, it being the capital of Spain. Marcelo del Pilar assumed management of the paper and continued to do so until November 15, 1895, its last issue.

For almost seven years the paper continued its missionary work and converted many Spanish Liberals, learned men and Socialists, who, seeing the justness of the demands of the Filipinos, joined and aided the patriots. Their voices, however, were drowned in the wilderness of indifference, if not downright stubbornness on the part of the Spanish rulers. La Solidaridad had to be discontinued for lack of funds, and also because Del Pilar was finally convinced that all peaceful efforts at securing reforms were in vain. He decided to return, to the Philippines to start a revolution.

Dr. Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, and Mariano Ponce

There was for sometime a steady flow of contributions from the Committee on Propaganda in Manila. Native Filipinos did not hesitate to give their contributions to the reform movement, but after several years, many of them lost their interest and fervor, and one by one they dropped out until Deodato Arellano had to confess that it was getting hard to collect funds. Most of them were discouraged when they saw that nothing tangible had been achieved. It was then that Del Pilar was reduced to penury, extreme poverty.

Doodato Arellano had no more money to send to Europe. Del Pilar sought the aid of his family to help finance the great undertaking. The Del Pilar clan had no money either, and Marcelo's immediate family was in dire straits. But they managed to send Del Pilar money with which to enable him to return to the Philippine so, Marcelo could have returned, but upon advice of his friends, he stayed in Spain lest his coming might cause tragedies like the Calamba troubles that accompanied Rizal's visit to the Philippines in 1887. He must continue the good work and in deciding to stay longer, he had to undergo all kinds of tribulations, hunger included. Every now and then he had to forego breakfast, luncheon or supper just so that the money saved might help to prolong the life of La Solidaridad. Now, a hungry man might forget his hunger by enjoying a good smoke. But he had no money to buy cigars or cigarettes. So walking along the streets of Madrid, he would pick up cigar and cigarette stubs on the sidewalks and smoke them. Temporarily he forgets his hunger. Under these circumstances, his athletic body gave way, he weakened, and weakening, he succumbed to tuberculosis.

There is the very touching story of his daughter Ana, who was only over one year old when Marcelo left the Philippines. Overhearing the conversation of the grown-ups, Ana learned of the sufferings of her father in Spain. One Christmas she received from her Ninang a Christmas gift of one paso. Thinking that she would do her duty to her father, Ana sent her only peso to Spain. Upon receipt of that peso, Marcelo cried like a baby. He was again reminded of his failure to do a father's duty to his daughters, and their orphanhood broke his heart.

Epifanio de los Santos describes vividly Del Pilar's sufferings:

"He frequently dreams he has Anita on one knee and Sofia on the other, each other disputing his love, and retaining him at home and he kisses them passionately, he wake up terrified and bathed in tears; it was a dream, nothing but a dream. He then goes out in the streets and smothers the daughter of his friends with kisses The orphanhood of his daughters broke his heart; he considers himself the unhappiest of fathers because of the great misfortune of his daughters ..."

After Marcelo del Pilar stopped the publication of the La Solidaridad, he and his secretary, Mariano "Naning" Ponce decided to return to the Philippines. So from Madrid they moved to Barcelona which was the point of embarkation for the Philippines. Marcelo was already sick, had been sick for sometime but he was determined to return home. His illness however worsened in Barcelona and it was there that he breath his last on July 4, 1896, and it was only the faithful Naning who saw him depart. With the aid of a few friends, the great del Pilar was given a pauper's burial in a borrowed vault.

In 1890, Ferdinand Blumentritt said "Marcelo del Pilar has a warlike character; is foxy; has much energy and a great talent for satire; kindness; intrepid; ambitious; has no considerations when anything serious is to be done."

Mariano Ponce in the newspaper La Independencia (1898) wrote "Del Pilar was tireless propagandist; an expert in political warfare, formidable in attack and defence, a skilful wielder of the pen, unshakable in his arguments; his knowledge and powerful intelligence were respected even by his enemies whom he routed on more than one occasion in the peaceful contest of thoughts."

To Governor General Blanco, Marcelo H. del Pilar was the most redoubtable of the Filipino politicians: "the most intelligent, the real soul of the separatists, very superior to Rizal".

In 1920 his remains were brought back to the Philippines and was buried at the Manila North Cemetery. It was later transferred to his birthplace in Cupang (now San Nicolas), Bulacan, Bulacan, on his birthday anniversary on August 30, 1984. His final resting place is now known as "Dambana ni Plaridel" (Shrine of Plaridel) which stands on the same site of his birthplace.

Marcelo married his cousin Marciana H. del Pilar in Tondo in the month of February 1878. From this marriage sprang Sofia, Jose, Maria Rosario, Maria Consolacion, Maria Concepcion, Jose and Ana.

Today, Plaridel is the chosen "patron saint" of journalists as his life and works prized freedom of thought and opinion most highly above any material gain. He is also considered as the Father of Philippine Masonry who spearheaded the secret organization of Masonic lodges in the Philippines as a means of strengthening the Propaganda Movement.

Sources:

  1. Marcelo H. del Pilar, Epifanio delos Santos, The Philippine Review, Volume 1, Number 5, March 1920.
  2. Philippine News Agency archives
  3. Philippine Nationalism, Gabriel F. Fabella, 1957
  4. Photo credit: Wikipedia

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