By By tataramon
The Politics of Foundation Anniversaries, Part 1
posted 25-Nov-2019  ·  
1,307 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

It used to be that the just-concluded month of October took significance as the Rosary Month. At present, however, the religious character had been eclipsed by the secular. October in Catanduanes had become a veritable month of Foundation Days. Two very important founding anniversaries fall in October: that of the province itself, and that of the province’ premier institution of learning, the Catanduanes State University. What I will try to argue in this article is: foundation anniversaries are not innocent, neutral and self-evident events that happen by themselves; they are political in nature.  

But first, what do we mean by “political”? It is not simply about the involvement of politicians. Something is political if it has to do with the pushing of vested interests in the decision-making process of a group or community, such that who gets the upper hand are those that are able to wield power. Being so, everything in human affairs, big and small, is political. Any human relational issue that involves more than one way to resolve is political because the resulting resolution will always favor certain interests and frustrate certain others, the difference being spelled by the use of power. The decision on who gets to buy new clothes or wash the dishes in the family, or who becomes sergeant-at-arms in an organization, is political.

The observance of foundation anniversary is political because it is a claim to an identity, an assertion of a being/becoming-something. Identity is political because it is gained by a willful imposition of one’s entitlements over others, a product of struggle. Tulad ng mga tauhan sa telenovela na walang sawang nagsasampalan/nagsasabunutan sa usapin ng kung sino ang tunay na anak at taga-pagmana. On the level of institutions struggling for identity, the sampalan/sabunutan are sophisticated maneuverings that appear civilized and noble, but which could also be gloriously bloody like the Revolution for Independence waged by the Katipunan.

In the previous article of this column, we have written on how Catanduanes independent province-hood was no simple legislative enactment but the product of long years, perhaps centuries of tedious formation of Catandunganon identity. But Commonwealth Act 687 was only the beginning of the real task of becoming a community. The years that followed October 26, 1945 were difficult laboring for province-building that were marked by commemorative milestones of foundation anniversaries, albeit intermittently, depending upon political mood swings.  

The Catanduanes Foundation Day

When did the observance of a provincial foundation day start? Unfortunately, the first decade or so after independent province-hood were a haze. But we can imagine that the niceties of a founding anniversary commemoration would have had marginal place in the priorities among the local politicians who were busy with 1) establishing the foundations of a province in its infancy while 2) wrestling for power among themselves.   Indeed, it would have been the grab for power that largely occupied them.  By the end of the first term of office of the governor, we found the Father of the Province of Catanduanes, Francisco Perfecto, appearing to be not in good graces with the incumbent powers-that-be, the Usero-Vera political clan. Thus he engineered the Lega Nacionalista-Liberal party that fielded a young lawyer, Juan M. Alberto, to challenge reelectionist governor Alfonso Usero in 1951.  The challenger won. It demonstrated the volatility of Catandungan politics during those early formative years, but the entry of Uban in the scene signaled the establishment of the Alberto political dynasty. Did the popular Uban indulge in some founding anniversary activities during his initial reign at the Capitol? Again, we have no hints.

What we do know is that by the 60s and 70s, heydays of the Alberto supremacy, there were none of such undertakings.  Growing up in Virac during that period, I did not know of October as Founding Anniversary month of Inang Catandungan. This time of the year we were roused daily at four in the morning for the praying of the rosary. In school, we eagerly anticipated October 24 as United Nations Day where we were made to don foreign costume and paraded around town.  But never were we summoned to display fervor or love of home-province, not in October nor any month for that matter.

Why such gross snobbery of a supposedly important date for some two decades?  The explanation was hinted at in an article by Atty. Alfredo Talion in the souvenir program for the 50th Founding Anniversary in 1995. The writer mentioned of the “tormenting shame of previous provincial administrations” in ignoring the legacy of Francisco Perfecto. Clearly, Talion was referring to the three decades of ascendancy of the Albertos in local politics. In an earlier article, Cecenio Yutan alluded to a “de-Perfectonized” Catanduanes courtesy of “people he helped to be in power”, claiming that Perfecto “could have been victim of ingratitude to the highest degree.”  While Perfecto was largely responsible for the shining of the political star of the Alberto patriarch, a falling-out developed between him and the Alberttos that peaked in the 1965 elections for congressman where Perfecto ran against reelectionist Jose Alberto. Perfecto’s defeat spelled the end of his political career. 

It can be argued then that the lack of provincial founding anniversaries during the 60s and 70s was no simple oversight or neglect but was part of a scheme for the consolidation of the Alberto political dynasty.  I remembered my father, who was an inveterate oppositionist, telling me that it was a mortal sin to mention the name of Francisco Perfecto during those days. The Albertos were keen in projecting to the people that they were the Advocates Par Excellence of Catanduanes in order to justify the dynastic project.  The Uban especially, known for being good at the tribuna, engaged in bombastic demagoguery such as saying that he is “a Catandunganon first, before being a Filipino.” Aside from the fact that Perfecto turned against the Albertos, acknowledging his role in the scheme of Catanduanes province-hood would have diluted the narrative of the Albertos’ being the preeminent patrons of Catanduanes.  They did not have any need for a founding anniversary observance that would put premium on the founder.  

In 1978 however, a souvenir program for a 33rd Foundation Day so suddenly came into circulation from out of the blue. It was such a novelty and a puzzle since it materialized under Alberto stewardship. With the key players in local politics of that time all gone, we will never know the state of mind that brought that seeming change of heart. But then it was well into the third decade of the Alberto heydays, their supremacy well-entrenched and undisputed, all threats having been neutralized . For another thing, it was martial law and the continued sponsorship by the dictator Marcos made it appear that the Albertos being masters of Catanduanes was absolute and eternal. It was also a time when the memory of a Francisco Perfecto has been effectively blotted out in the minds of the people.

In October 26, 1980 I directed an expressionistic play “Catandungan!” staged by the Hablon Dawani performing arts group of the CSC at the defunct JMA Theatre to commemorate the 35th provincial anniversary. It was undertaken under the auspices of the provincial government. But there were no grand celebratory events like it is done at present. Two years after in 1982, the Hablon mounted another commemorative stage play “Catandungan, Aming Bayan!” at the Virac plaza. By the wide perception that the play was critical of the reigning local political dynasty, the Hablon managing director Efren Sorra got a stern reprimand from a furious Governor Vicente Alberto. From then on, I never heard of any commemorations, not through the remaining four years of the Marcos regime. 

Such sudden interest in the remembrance of history by the provincial authorities may have taken cue from the grandiose commemoration of the 4th centenary of the Christianization of Catandduanes in 1976 spearheaded by the newly created Diocese of Virac.  Indeed, Catanduanes becoming a separate diocese inspired renewed interest in things Catandunganon, including its history. Even so, the observances of Catanduanes founding anniversary under the Alberto regime remained silently cold to the legacy of Perfecto.  But all that calculated forgetfulness, however, took a drastic turn after the dismantling of the dictatorship and the restoration of democracy under Cory Aquino in 1986.  With Marcos went the Albertos, and so provincial foundation day observance made a come-back that remarkably restored Perfecto to his proper place. In 1987, under the helm of Acting Governor Leandro Verceles, the 42nd anniversary was celebrated where a Plaque of Appreciation was presented to the Perfecto heirs.

In 1991, the 46th Foundation Day was especially dedicated to the memory of Perfecto as “Father of Catanduanes. “  In the Golden Anniversary of the province in 1995 during the term of Governor Severo Alcantara, October 24 was dubbed “Francisco Perfecto Day.” It was also the occasion where the week-long celebration was started, a series of festive activities were lined up, including the now much awaited highlight “Padadyaw sa Tinampo” and the beauty contest that proclaimed a Binibining Catandungan. From then on, observances became regular and indeed went on a steady upgrade towards the currently much hyped and touristic pomp and grandeur of a week-long series of activities.   In the most recent 74th observance, a year shy of the diamond jubilee, a bust of Francisco Perfecto was unveiled at the frontage of the provincial legislative building.  With its theme “Saringoy sa Ginikanan, Padagos sa Kauswagan”, it appears that the current provincial political dispensation has become more at home with the past, and indeed claims its impetus for building the future.

The observance of Catanduanes Foundation Anniversary, how it took shape through history, is a case-in-point of how founding anniversaries become a tool for the pursuit of political interests. But the politics of founding anniversaries is not only demonstrated in the manifestly political institutions but in any type of human enterprise.  In the second part of this series, I will tackle the case of the premier institution of higher learning in the province, the Catanduanes State University.

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