The batteries are gradually becoming charged, and if the prudence of the government does not provide an outlet for the currents that are accumulating, someday the spark will be generated.

 – Jose Rizal, The Philippines a Century Hence

The Philippine Revolution which begun in 1896 saw the rise of the demands and grievances of the people of the Philippines against the Spanish colonial rulers of that time. In studying the causes of the revolution, early historians have tended to attribute the events of that period mainly to the despotism of the Spanish. Afra Alatas, a student of History at the National University of Singapore, compares two articles that address the causes of the Philippine Revolution. They are complementary in nature in the sense that one article discusses issues which the other fails to address. The first will be ‘The Cause of the Philippine Revolution’ by Vincente Pilapil, while the second will be ‘The Enlightenment and the Philippine Revolution’ by Jose Arcilla. While Pilapil addresses a broad range of causes that led to the revolution, Arcilla addresses the Enlightenment in particular, and how it had an impact on the nationalist leaders and Rizal in particular. In analysing these articles, she seeks to argue that while Pilapil successfully challenges early historiography on the causes of the revolution, he appears to overlook the true significance of the Spanish. Furthermore, he lacks analysis on the significance of the Enlightenment; a factor which Arcilla discusses and argues for its influence in the nationalist movement and hence the revolution. 

The Awakening 

A professor of history at California State University, Los Angeles, Pilapil’s specialties included the Spanish colonial empire. In the above-mentioned article, Pilapil challenges early American historiography which ascribed Filipino uprisings to the oppression by the Spanish simply by selectively referring to revolutionary propaganda leaflets which were obviously anti-Spanish.

On the contrary, he highlights in another article that there are various sources which allude to the fact that the Spanish rule had provided many benefits for the natives of the islands and that this has been acknowledged by most Philippine historians (Pilapil, 1961:129). Instead, Pilapil argues in ‘The Cause of the Philippine Revolution’ that the revolution was the result of the forces of nationalism and liberalism which interacted with the “political maturation and the national awakening of the Philippine people”. In discussing this national awakening, he explains that in the late nineteenth century, Filipinos began to see themselves as one people and began to acquire a sense of individuality (Pilapil, 1965:249-50). He attributes this to factors such as the break from the barangay system and the formation of a centralised government, as well as the spiritual message of Catholicism. More importantly, education contributed to the emergence of such ideas which were adopted by the educated Filipinos, or the ilustrados, who would emerge to play a central role in the revolution. He reminds us that most of the nationalist leaders involved in the uprisings were actually educated, enlightened men, who had inevitably become inspired by the alternative ideas to which they were exposed to in university.

The importance of these factors was fuelled by factors such as the penetration of the ideas of liberalism and nationalism which in turn complemented the education that Filipinos were receiving. An example would be the ideas of Enlightenment from France which became prevalent in the Spanish constitution by 1812. More specifically, Pilapil’s discussion of the Enlightenment centres on the entry of Enlightenment ideas into the Spanish Constitution which were introduced to the Philippines. Such an idea was the “democratic principle that sovereignty is essentially vested in the nation”(Pilapil, 1965:254). However, this constitution was later suppressed.

Enlightened Propaganda 

Jose Arcilla is a Jesuit priest as well as a history professor at the Ateneo de Manli University. His areas of expertise include Philippine history and the history of Jesuits in the Philippines. In his article, Arcilla’s discussion revolves around the possibility of an impact of the Enlightenment on nationalist ideas in the Philippines, and if so, how. Like Pilapil, Arcilla also states that the idea of a Filipino people and the belief in human equality and human rights gave people more courage to assert their demands. This notion of human rights was reinforced by Enlightenment ideas which were introduced to the Philippines by its first bishop, Fray Domingo de Salazar. According to him and his belief in the gospel, the natives had the right to govern themselves.

He continues to discuss how Jose Rizal, the foremost symbol of the nationalist movement, was inspired by Voltaire and was exposed to ideas of liberalism and rationalism while he was in Spain. Inspired by Voltaire, a French Enlightenment thinker, Rizal believed that the more Filipinos were provoked, the more they would retaliate. The question was how they should retaliate, or rather what type of reforms they should demand. As a result, Rizal “advocated a total moral regeneration of his countrymen, without which they did not deserve self-rule” and believed that the movement for reform should not be violent (Arcilla, 1991:369).

With a firm belief in rationalism and anti-clerical liberalism, he believed that the friars should not have a say in the education or government of the people. This contributed to the fight against the clergy and friars that had eventually turned into a nationalistic campaign, which Pilapil also discussed.

In contrast to Pilapil however, Arcilla concludes that one of the most important factors in contributing to the revolution was the suffering of the Philippine people under harsh Spanish rule.

An Analysis 

Both articles essentially discuss the factors that contributed to the uprising in the Philippines and eventually to the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution. While Pilapil discusses a broad range of factors, Arcilla’s discussion focuses on the influence of the Enlightenment on the ideas of the nationalist leaders. Pilapil’s emphasis is mainly that it was the political maturation and national awakening of the Filipino people that ultimately resulted in the revolution.

He believed that early historiographical work which attributed the revolution to the Filipino people’s reaction to Spanish tyranny would be inaccurate and instead explains how other factors had emerged and developed to influence the Filipino people. In his conclusion, he questions why the demands for reform only arose towards the end of the nineteenth century and remarks that “if the people were groaning under the yoke of Spanish tyranny, the question why the leaders for reform, instead of originally fighting for separation from such a despotic power, asked for the assimilation of the Philippine colony with the mother country, would remain unanswerable” (Pilapil, 1965:264). However, as much as Pilapil is correct to say that we should not be swayed by the propaganda material against the Spanish colonials, it is a weakness of his argument that he tends to overlook the problems of the Spanish government. Pilapil’s work itself should therefore be studied with this critical eye since he seems to downplay the significance of imperfect Spanish rule.

While Pilapil’s article looks at the causes of the revolution from a broader perspective, Arcilla on the other hand focuses on the role of the Enlightenment in contributing to the revolution and how it aided in the development of education and the assertion of the belief in human rights and equality.

Most importantly, he discusses the heavy influence that the Enlightenment had on Rizal. The influence of the Enlightenment on Rizal’s thought has also been discussed by writers such as Bonoan (Bonoan, 1991:53-97). The main difference between both discussions on the Enlightenment is that Pilapil’s minimal discussion on the Enlightenment is only on its impact on politics. He fails to draw a link between the Enlightenment and the development of other factors such as the rise of the ilustrado and a more critical Filipino people. Including a discussion on the wider influence of the Enlightenment would have contributed to a deeper understanding of the various factors that he discussed. On the other hand, Arcilla’s discussion on the Enlightenment provides for a deeper understanding of its impact on the nationalist uprising.


Studying any historical event requires one to read broadly and to expose oneself to various perspectives. Through an analysis of Pilapil’s and Arcilla’s articles, one becomes aware of the need to corroborate and to complement sources with one another, as well as to adopt a more critical attitude towards dominant narratives; in this case, Spanish tyranny. It is also important to look out for the background and biases of an author. In the case of Pilapil, it is important to be aware of his tendency to downplay the harshness of Spanish rule which a reader can observe in his other works. In the case of Arcilla, his position as a Jesuit priest and his specialty in the history of Jesuits in the Philippines is striking.

This is in view of the fact that the Jesuits in the Philippines had liberal leanings and that there was tension between the Jesuits and the traditionalists. He might therefore resonate with the experiences of the enlightened nationalists. In the ultimate analysis, studying the various factors that led to a particular event certainly contributes to a broad understanding of that event. However, a deeper understanding can be achieved through a more in depth study of those individual factors. To read both Pilapil and Arcilla together and in this nature would therefore be fruitful.


  1. Arcilla, Jose S., “The Enlightenment and the Philippine Revolution,” Philippine Studies 39, no.3 (1991): 358-373.
  2. Bonoan, Raul J., “The Enlightenment, Deism, and Rizal,” Philippine Studies 40, no.1 (October 1992): 53-67
  3. Pilapil, Vincente R., “Nineteenth Century Philippines and the Friar Problem,” The Americas 18, no.2 (October 1961): 127-148.
  4. Pilapil, Vincente R., “The Cause of the Philippine Revolution,” Pacific Historical Review 34, no. 3 (August 1965): 249-264.

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