By Vicente L. Rafael University of Washington
Revolution, Religion and Radio. A Filipino Jesuit in the American Colonial Philippines
Extract from pages 11-19
Aside from the campus newspaper, the Guidon, and the Catholic newspaper, the Philippines Commonweal, the Jesuits also avidly turned to the relatively recent communication medium of radio to wage their war. Every Sunday beginning in 1934, the station KZRM had been airing the program Catholic Hour. By 1939, the popularity of the program was such that its time slot was expanded. Fr. Russell M. Sullivan, SJ, took over as director, assisted by scholastics that included Pacifico Ortiz and (Horacio) de la Costa. Along with other members of the Chesterton Evidence Club, de la Costa wrote many of the scripts dealing with a wide variety of issues—anticommunism, the proposed divorce law, the need for religious education in public schools, the threat of Masonry, and so forth. It thus became the first radio program dedicated to social commentary, though from a Catholic perspective. The best known vehicle for broadcasting these topics was the program “Kuwentong Kutsero,” which aired from 1940–41. It quickly became one of the most popular shows on Philippine radio during the late Commonwealth period. Scripted by de la Costa, it was an exercise in what he had earlier called “serious laughter” (Fr. Horacio de la Costa  2002, 81–87). It wove together jokes and church teachings. It thus combined a discourse on power with the technics of linguistic play to produce a moral pedagogy that was at once anti-secular and counterrevolutionary.
For this reason, “Kuwentong Kutsero” was an integral part of the cultural politics of what we might call colonial modernism. Led by largely male elites, colonial modernism consisted of an aesthetics and politics of contending for authority amid shifting grounds of legitimacy—between, that is, the secular and the religious grounds. In addition, Filipino colonial modernism was a haunted by the ghosts of the Revolution precisely to the extent that it was faced with the recurring threats of peasant rebellions and labor unrest as well as challenges from an emergent communist party by 1930. Filipino colonial modernism was thus profoundly contradictory, as progressive in its aspirations as it was deeply conservative in its social formation. Infused with the rhetoric of democracy, its economic and social survival was nonetheless predicated upon the undemocratic preservation of hierarchies of religion and language alongside inequalities of social class, gender and race. It is within the double context of colonial-nationalist modernism and Jesuit counter-reformation that I want to examine one of the episodes of “Kuwentong Kutsero,” entitled “The Red Octopus” (1940–41), reprinted in Paterno’s (2002) edition of de la Costa’s early writings.
IV. Expelling Masonry
“Kuwentong Kutsero” is set in Tondo in the “nipa-hut” home of the felicitously named Doblecarera family headed by Mang Teban, the cochero with his beloved horse, Tarzan, his wife Aling Teria, his children Celia, Antonio and Junior, and the grandfather, Kapitan Hugo. The dialogue alternates between the kind of American English learned in public schools and from popular culture, on the one hand, and street English, mixed with Tagalog and Spanish, on the other. Indeed, much of the humor is generated in the slippage from one to the other. This linguistic play, however, is sharply tendentious. In “The Red Octopus,” it is directed at two particular figures as targets of ridicule and contempt: Mang Isko, a neighbor who is also a Mason, and Kapitan Hugo or, as he is sometimes called, Lolo Hugo, a verteran of the revolution. One is an enemy from the present; the other, a recurring specter from the past.
The episode begins by staging a favorite subject of debate among the Ateneans: the teaching of religion in secular public schools. Celia, a public school teacher, upholds the need for secular education as a handmaiden of democracy. Her brother, Antonio, and her father, Mang Teban, take the opposing view. Over dinner, the latter argue that the exclusion of Catholic teaching in the public schools in fact amounts to a violation of democracy, which rests on the rule of the majority. In the Philippine case, the majority happens to be Catholic. Furthermore, they argue that irreligious education can only result in a poorly trained citizenry, incapable of forming enlightened opinions; for without religious education, thinking is divorced from learning, training from practice, private ambition from public service, thereby allowing politicians to control the people’s fate. At this point, however, the debate is suddenly broken up. Junior bursts into the scene with the alarming news that Tarzan the horse is missing. A mad scramble to find him ensues, bringing the first act to a close (de la Costa [1940–41] 2002, 216–24).
As the second act opens, a neighbor, Mang Isko, enters the scene, complaining to Teban that his “bandit of a horse” (226) Tarzan had wandered off and eaten his favorite straw hat. He angrily demands compensation for his loss, referring to Tarzan as “maleducated” (227). What ensues is a flurry of exchanges about who or what it means to be “maleducated,” which in turn opens up anew the debate about religious instruction in public schools, but this time targeting directly the role of Masonry:
Kapitan Hugo: [noticing Mang Isko’s damaged hat] . . . What is the matter with your hat?
Mang Isko: The horse of Teban ate it.
Kapitan Hugo: Ha? Why should Teban eat it—we just finished supper!
Mang Isko: No! Not Teban—the horse of Teban!
Kapitan Hugo: Ah! You mean—Tarzan? (chuckles quietly to himself) Tarzan, very intelligent!
Mang Isko: Intelligent! That horse has no education.
Kapitan Hugo: Ha?
Mang Isko: I said your horse is maleducated!
Kapitan Hugo: Who are you calling maleducated?
Mang Teban: (distant) Who is calling who maleducated?
Celia: (distant) What is all this again about education?
Mang Isko: Oh, there you are! Will you or will you not pay for my hat?
Kapitan Hugo: Teban! This—this worm called me maleducated!
Junior: He’s talking through his hat!
Mang Isko: My hat! My hat! Will you or will you not pay for my hat?
Kapitan Hugo: What is all about hats? Will you my own flesh and blood, stand there and hear me called maleducated?
Aling Teria: Nobody is going to call anybody maleducated in my house! Antonio! Give this gentleman his hat!
Mang Isko: (wildly) I haven’t got a hat! Your horse ate my hat! Pay for my hat!
Antionio; (ominously) Is this the fellow who stole our horse?
Junior: (ominously) It’s a good thing we got him back. We had better guard Tarzan while this fellow is here. Have you got a gun?
Mang Isko: (prostate): My God!
Mang Teban: Wait boys. Easy only. There appears to be a little confusion here. Sit down, Isko; relax. (227–28)
In this passage, the humor arises from the slippage of referents. Hard of hearing, Kapitan Hugo thinks Mang Isko is talking about Teban the cochero when he is really talking about Tarzan the horse. This species confusion is only the start. Isko calls Tarzan “maleducated”—the English of what in Tagalog, by way of Spanish, would be maledukado—given that the horse is a “bandit.” But Hugo thinks Isko is referring to him. The label is all the more pointed since Spanish, American, and conservative Filipino elite accounts often criminalized revolutionaries as “filibusteros” or pirates, as well as “bandits.” Taking umbrage to what he thinks is Isko’s insulting remark, Hugo repositions Isko, the aggrieved, now as the aggressor. Hearing Hugo, Aling Teria chides Isko for calling the old man “maleducated,” and when Isko insists that he is not talking about a man but a horse who ate his hat, Antonio and Junior step back in and think that it is Isko who stole Tarzan, thereby redoubling the neighbor’s guilt. At this point, the positions of accuser and of accused have been completely reversed. Isko is reduced to helpless prostration, calling out God’s name to save him from this infernal confusion. Mang Teban steps in, sagely calling for calm and restoring order to the exchange of words. After establishing the facts, Teban accedes to Isko’s demand to pay him back for his horse’s banditry, gathering two pesos from his family’s meager savings. Debt cancelled, Isko is about to leave when Teban detains him with an invitation to share a drink of ginebra. It turns out to be a trap. The cochero continues the confusion about who exactly is calling who “maleducated” in order to reopen the debate about religious education:
Mang Teban: You know Isko, the business of education, very complicated. Just now you called my father maleducated. And yet—
Mang Isko: But I did not—
Mang Teban: And yet, he went to school during the Spanish time, when they taught religion. You think, then, better education without religion than education with religion?
Mang Isko: I certainly do! That is just the trouble with you Catholics—you want to destroy our present system of nonsectarian democratic education and bring back again the old union of Church and State with your per capita system of education.
Mang Teban: That’s interesting. Where did you read that?
Mang Isko: Here, in this magazine.
Mang Teban: Aber. (reads) The Cabletow. Who is this guy Cabletow?
Antonio: That’s the name of the magazine, Tatay. It says here: The Cabletow, A Masonic Journal Published Monthly by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Mason of the Philippine Islands. April 1940. (229)
The laughable confusion about “maleducation” and banditry in the preceding section turns out to be a momentary break that allows for the resumption of the debate on religious education. It also serves as a tactical prelude to launching a counterattack on Masonry. Humor in all its tendentiousness turns out to be no laughing matter. Isko points to The Cabletow as evidence that Catholics are up to no good. Not content with seeking to usurp the separation of church and state necessary for democracy, they have also secretly pledged “to declare war without quarter . . . against all heretics, Protestants, Masons, and any other sect . . . in order to wipe them off the face of the earth.” Isko reads this quotation from the supposed “Minutes of the Congress of the Roman Catholic Institution of the United States” that further pledges the signatories to “hang, burn, consume, dismember and bury alive these infamous heretics; I shall rip open the bellies and breasts of their women, I shall dash the brains of their children against the walls, in order to annihilate their execrable race. . . . I shall use the poisoned goblet, the hangman’s noose, the dagger’s point . . . in whatsoever a way I shall be so commanded by whatever agent of the Papacy or the Superior of the brotherhood of the Holy Father of the Society of Jesus” (232–33).
Teban listens to all this with bemused interest. Asking Isko if he can prove where exactly he got this infamous document, he can only point to the Cabletow, accepting all it publishes at face value. Where Teban remains understandably skeptical about oaths to rip open bellies and dash children’s brains against walls, Isko proves blindly susceptible to alarming and scandalous accusations about Catholics. Unable to support his claims of the murderous perfidy of Catholics except by reason of blind faith, Isko can only come across as superstitious and unenlightened. By contrast, Teban, insists on hard evidence. He even offers a cash reward to any listener who can prove the claims of the Masonic newspaper that such a secret document exists—a gesture seconded by the Narrator and the Chesterton Evidence Guild (231–36). In his skepticism, judiciously balancing reason with faith rather than giving in to faith without reason, Teban proves his rationality. Hence, the Catholic who argues for religious education appears as the truly educated man when compared to the Mason who opposes religion in public schools and shows himself to be irrational and easily fooled. Once again, the positions are reversed. Teban begins as the debtor, owing Isko for the loss of his hat. Now, it is Isko who is the debtor, owing Teban proof of the unfounded accusations he has made about Catholics. Earlier, Isko in a fit of rage, accused Tarzan of being “maleducated.” Now, it is Isko who, in putting forth his unreasoned claims about secret oaths and pledges of murder, becomes the truly “maleducated.” The man has become the beast he accused the other to be.
In refuting Masonic claims, the Narrator reiterates what is by now an obvious point: “We are not joking.” (236). It is as if to say: the joke, if there is any, is on them, those enemies of the church. In the war on religion, it is they who will be vanquished, not we. While you at home listening to your radio might find some of this amusing, your laughter is in fact the price of entry to witnessing a battle that we will surely win. In the next scene, Mang Isko returns supposedly to produce proof of the Cabletow’s scurrilous claims about Catholics. Instead, all he can do is read more accusations from “our most enlightened Masons,” including the characterization of the Catholic Church as a “red octopus” whose tentacles seek to “grab every conceivable object which will enhance its influence, strength and prestige” (241). The Doblecarera family bursts out in derisive laughter. Then Teban comes in for the kill:
Mang Teban: Now Isko, you listen also. You Masons say you make a religion of tolerance. Prove it!
Mang Isko: Por Dios, that is what I have been trying to do! How else do you want me to prove it?
Mang Teban: By living up to what you just said: One of your cardinal principles is respect for the right of every man to worship God in accordance with the dictates of his conscience. Now my conscience tells me that I should be a Catholic—just as your brother and sisters are also Catholic. Again, that I should educate my children in the Catholic religion. But you say, ‘No!’ Is that respect for my rights? Am I a man or a horse? A mere handful of Masons tell twelve million people that they are not to educate their children as they [i.e., the twelve million Catholics] see fit! You are neither just, nor tolerant, nor charitable! What are you?
Mang Isko: I am going! Good bye!
Celia: Mister, you forgot your Cabletows! (Door slams).
Celia: He did not hear. What are we going to do with these Cabletows?
Antonio: Give them to Tarzan. He eats straw hats; why not Cabletows?
Mang Teban: No. I do not think even Tarzan will swallow that. (245–-46)
By the end of the episode, Isko has been reduced to a helplessly comical figure, mechanically repeating what is fed to him by Masonic newspapers. Teban points this out, exposing the hypocrisy of Masonic positions and the confusion of Isko. When he asks whether he is a man or a horse, Teban recapitulates the earlier category mistakes of Isko, and utterly demolishes the latter’s position. When Teban demands that Isko define himself and what he stands for—“What are you?”—the latter can only respond with another category mistake: “I am leaving!” What he leaves behind are his alleged “proofs”—issues of the Cabletow—that even Tarzan would most likely not eat. Horse joins man in a common rejection of the other who is deemed to be beneath both.