Friday, November 26, 2010

Debunking the Outrageous Glenn May Thesis on Supremo Andres Bonifacio

 by Jesusa Bernardo
(Updated  27 November 2010)

PART of the outrageously mythical thesis of the dubitable historian character, Glenn Anthony May, is that the letters in the possession of scholar and prewar Philippine Library and Museum director Epifanio de los Santos were forgeries made in collusion with the latter. May based this on the supposedly wrong Tagalog language "focus" of the period the letters were written. May's thesis, for those still not in the know, alleges that practically everything known about Gat Andres Bonifacio y de Castro is baseless, with the documents upon which the views about the national hero are based being supposedly forgeries.

May, an American University of Oregon professor, had the gall to think that his working knowledge of Tagalog is good enough to make him understand the intricacies and variants of the dominant Philippine language AND cast aspersion on de los Santos. May's ridiculous allegation is based on how the alleged forger made the mistake of switching active and passive voices, supposedly thinking that pre-1917 correct Tagalog made use of the active voice.

Photo art: JB
According to Malcolm H. Churchill, May summarized his argument for this astonishing allegation by stating that the alleged forger in effect switched active and passive-voice," believing that "the correct voice for pre-1917 Tagalog is the active voice, whereas the Tagalog of the four Bonifacio letters is in the passive voice." Churchill is the author of the handout "Determining the Truth About Forged Documents in Writing the Story of Andres Bonifacio" that is part of the book Determining the Truth: The Story of Andres Bonifacio (Being Critiques of and Commentaries on Inventing a Hero, The Posthumous Re-Creation of Andres Bonifacio), published by the Manila Studies Association, Philippine National Historical Society, National Commission on Culture and the Arts (Philippines), and Committee on Historical Research.

This argument by May is belittled and dismissed by Churchill who believes the letters examined by May were copies of the original. He finds several problems with May's arguments and thesis as a whole. First, Churchill thinks it incredible that de los Santos, who "knew enough to correct the 'focus,'" would have allowed a pre-1917 forger not to do any such forgery right considering that the alleged counterfeiting happened in less than two decades after the death of Bonifacio.

Second, Churchill finds May's conclusion based on the assertion that the Tagalog original should have been in the active voice as disregarding the complexity and subjectivity of the translation process. Translators, after all, deal with the need to balance literal translation with the meaning of the original in their own differing ways.

Churchill also calls May's Tagalog "deficient," while "considerable for a non-native speaker." This deficient Tagalog is responsible for woeful error of judgment, as when May finds the fourth Bonifacio letters to be 'forged' when it is but natural for a Manila Tagalog speaker to mostly use the passive voice. As explained by Churchill:
The significance of Cavite/Batangas Tagalog usage is that it sometimes, but not always, results in a verb being in the active rather than the passive voice. If a Cavite speaker were to use the form "Nakain ako," "I am eating," for the Manila Tagalog usage "Kumakain ako," the tense remains unchanged, and a non-native speaker of Cavite Tagalog might find it "weird." If, on the other hand, a Batangas writer were to state "Nagsulat ako ng liham," "I wrote a letter," instead of the Manila Tagalog "Sinulat ko ang liham," "The letter was written by me," the "focus" has been shifted to "ako" from "liham" and the sentence in English translation has been transformed from passive to active.

Andres Bonifacio was from Tondo. He spoke Manila Tagalog. He used the passive voice. That the fourth Bonifacio letters that Prof. May examined use the passive voice proves nothing other than that Bonifacio was not from Batangas or Cavite!

In addition, Churchill thinks it is simply so illogical for de los Santos' family to have retained the letters all these decades if they were forgeries. If they were indeed crude forgeries as claimed by May, what the logical thing the de los Santoses could have done was discard them as they could not possibly stand the scrutiny of scholarly examination. Churchill makes another strong point here because, indeed, for the de los Santoses to retain those "forgeries" would only be inviting public humiliation.

Another thing that makes May's thesis highly questionable, if not implausible, is that his Bonifacio-related theses made overtime CONFLICT with each other. In 1991, May published a Pilipinas article arguing that documents about Bonifacio were inadequate to portray the Father of the Philippine Revolution, adding that historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo 'invented' Bonifacio. However, as Churchill points out, May, some four years later, would raise a 'forgery thesis' in which he claims that the forgeries done in collusion with de los Santos were made to "to present a more favorable view of Bonifacio than was justified, for the purpose (as May explicitly asserted) of sustaining the image of Bonifacio as a national hero."

Talk about changing theses. And hopping from an 'inventor' historian to a colluding 'forger' scholar allegation. For someone with a deficient Tagalog knowledge but who had the gall to linguistically scrutinize Philippine documents, doesn't Prof. May sound like an inventor-cum-forger and imperialist crackpot rolled in one?

De los Santos' View of Bonifacio

Perhaps another strong argument that proves the unsoundness of the astounding forgery claim of May is de los Santos' seeming partiality AGAINST Bonifacio, or at least with regards the Supremo's death. Hermenegildo Cruz, author of the book honoring Bonifacio and the KKK, "Kartilyang Makabayan," writes that de los Santos seemingly agrees with Jose Clemente Zulueta's opinion that the execution of Bonifacio was supposedly needed to "win the Revolution" [against Spain].

So why would a scholar who believes that the (power grab against and) killing of the Father of the Philippine Revolution  is justified even forge documents hailing the Supremo? The March-April 1897 letters and appointment paper in de los Santos' collection point out, among others, that Bonifacio was the first president of the revolutionary Katipunan government.

As quoted from historian Milagros Guerrero, these letters had the following titles and designations of Bonifacio:

     Pangulo ng Kataastaasang Kapulungan
    (President of the Supreme Council)

    Ang Kataastaasang Pangulo
    (The Supreme President)

    Pangulo nang Haring Bayang Katagalugan
    (President of the Sovereign Nation of Katagalugan)
    Note: "Bayan" means both "people" and "country"

    Ang Pangulo ng Haring Bayan May tayo nang K.K. Katipunan nang mga Anak ng
    Bayan, Unang nag galaw nang Panghihimagsik
    (The President Sovereign Nation Founder of the Katipunan,
    Initiator of the Revolution)

    Kataastaasang Panguluhan,Pamahalaang Panghihimagsik
    (Office of the Supreme President,Government of the Revolution)

May's Demolish-Bonifacio Intent

Photo art: JB

May's forgery thesis simply does not make sense at all. What seems to make sense, however, is that May seems bent on demolishing the towering stature of Bonifacio. As noted by Churchill himself, "Prof. May has a long-standing interest in Andres Bonifacio. However, this interest has to date manifested itself more in efforts to cast doubt upon existing knowledge than to expand our understanding of this revolutionary hero."

At the very least, it seems unprofessional for Glenn Anthony May, or for any historian for that matter, to be preoccupied with baselessly clouding a historical figure. Viewed from the larger context of continued American imperialist interest in the Philippines, is it possible that May is carrying out the American line of belittling Filipino figures they perceive to represent opposition to their interests or standards?

As Filipino-American author E. San Juan laments, "Witness how the figure of Andres Bonifacio has been attacked by American scholars eager to debunk the prestige of the hero...." May's attack on Bonifacio is nothing new. As early as the American colonial period, Bonifacio had been denigrated in the imperialist design to dispirit the Filipinos and completely subjugate their hearts and minds. As William J. Pomeroy writes:
The textbooks introduced in the new schools portrayed him [Bonifacio] as a terrorist and advocate of force and violence destructive of democracy. The Commission under Governor-General William Howard Taft projected instead, counter-figure Jose Rizal, the moderately nationalist writer and doctor who was a reformist and who had denounced the revolution of 1896 as its beginning.

Whatever it is that drives May's preoccupation with demolishing one of the two greatest, if not the greatest, national heroes of the Philippines, what is clear is the preposterous mediocrity, or stupendousness even, of his arguments. Perhaps, it was so ridiculous that as Lily S. Mendoza points out, "Pantayong Pananaw* scholars found no need to respond at all [as it would only] legitimize [May] as part of the national discourse."

Glenn May's Book a Reject

Not surprisingly, May's book, "Inventing a Hero: The Posthumous Re-Creation of Andres Bonifacio," which encapsulates his outrageous thesis, did not actually pass the stringent scholarly scrutiny of the Ateneo de Manila University Press (ADMU Press). The work was submitted to ADMU Press but was rejected by its reviewers that included noted historians Zeus A. Salazar and Milagros C. Guerrero. In a personal communication, Salazar told this author that for his part, he rejected May's book based on its failure to live up to the following criterion that he, along with his fellow co-members of BAKAS (Bahay Saliksikan ng Kasaysayan -- Bagong Kasaysayan), Inc., adheres to:
It is important that the work employed methodology and truthful/factual knowledge about the Philippines and its language(s) and culture(s) in the scholarship efforts of  foreigners and Filipinos alike.
Salazar also disclosed that after the Ateneo de Manila University Press' rejection of his book, May afterwards informed them that he will just look for another area of specialization. Dr. Salazar adds that, for a time, he and his historian colleagues actually already forgot all about Glenn May until they heard about the publication of the Inventing a Hero work by another publisher.

In fact, even with the publication of May's book, Pantayong Pananaw scholars did not bother to respond at all as they'd did not want to legitimize May as part of the national discourse. It was only when the issue broke out in a local tabloid that the Pantayong Pananaw scholars responded, not with the intent of rebutting the University of Oregon professor as they apparently did not deem his arguments worthy enough, but more to communicate with the Filipino people who were forced to look into the issue.


That the ADMU Press and a noted group of nationalist Filipino scholars considered the book not worthy at all clearly shows the apparent--the lack of scholarly merit, if not outrageousness of  May's thesis. It should be noted that the ADMU Press is an auxilliary unit of the prestigious educational institution, the Ateneo de Manila,  and which "first made its mark producing high quality scholarly books on the Philippines in the humanities and social sciences and literary works in various Philippine languages."

ADMU Press has strove to publish only "significant works, in order to achieve its aim of genuinely contributing to scholarhip, research and education" and May's controversial work is clearly not in this list. Why should it be? Beyond being based on "shifting grounds," as noted by his fellow American professor Malcolm Churchill, May's thesis also involves use of unscholarly mediocre analysis, unapologetically deficient Tagalog, stupendous deception allegation/defamation against respected Filipino scholars, and simply preposterous arguments.

By the way, Glenn Anthony May first came out with an invented-Bonifacio thesis in 1991. He then greatly modified it, coming up with a Bonifacio-made-favorable-as-national-hero thesis five years later, or in 1995. His astonishing book was published the following year, 1996, which was the centennial of the Philippine Revolution led by the Supremo. Doesn't it sound like a most apropos anti-Bonifacio demolition job? Or at least, a mediocre foreign scholar's irresponsible attempt to invent controversies and cash in on the popularity and timeliness of a towering Filipino historical figure?

*Pantayong Pananaw, a particular historical perspective used by certain Philippine historians, is marked by the insistence on writing historiographic or scientific discourse  in the native language and the inclusion of  the use of unconventional sources that are untainted by any foreign biases.



The Ateneo de Manila University Press.
Churchill, Malcolm H. "Determining the Truth About Forged Documents in Writing the Story of Andres Bonifacio." In

Cruz, Hermenegildo. Kartilyang Makabayan. Lupong Tagaganap" ng ARAW NI BONIFACIO, 1933. Project Gutenberg EBook #148822, January 28, 2005.

Guerrero, Milagros C., Emmanuel N. Encarnacion, & Ramon N. Villegas. Andres Bonifacio and the 1896 Revolution. 16 July 2003.

Mendoza, S. Lily. Between the Homeland and the Diaspora: The Politics of Theorizing Filipino and Filipino American Identities; A Second Look at the Poststructuralism-Indigenization Debates. Nueva York at London: Routledge, 2002, Binagong Edisyon, Maynila: Palimbagan ng Unibersidad ng Sto. Tomas, 2006, pp. 90-109. In

Pantayong Pananaw. WikiPilipinas.
San Juan, E.  After Postcolonialism. Latham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. In

Original Photo credit:

Diosdado Capino.

Licencia de Creative Commons Reposts are licensed to the respective authors. Otherwise, posts by Jesusa Bernardo are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Philippines.

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