One of prevailing attitudes of our generation today which might have somehow contributed to the demise of this proud region and its people is our apparent amnesia of who we are and our past. Ask an Ilonggo on the street about the proud history of the former Queen City of the South and one would be lucky if the respondent could go back as far as 10 or 20 years. And what would he remember? - childhood memories, unpolluted and unclogged streets maybe, or the exceedingly cheap prices of goods then, nothing more.
What is disturbing for me is the prevailing mood of amnesia of my fellow Ilonggos who have relegated its great men and women with a few token memorials like streets and petty historical markers. The British Muelle Loney is lucky enough to get a monument at the entrance of the city, but he is not a hero and neither an Ilonggo, nor could his supposedly achievements of bleeding our people’s sense of self-worth in the name of economic prosperity make us proud of him today. (This is the only place in the world where we honor our colonizers and oppressors with monuments!) We have forgotten our own heroes and because of this it is no surprise that the prevailing apathy of our people today is so unlike the courage, the creativity, the talent and the innovation of the Ilonggos of old. I believe that there is only one way of resurrecting the glory that was - it is by resurrecting the memories of the great men and women of our glorious past so as to provide us with the same brand of idealism that made this city resplendent.
Graciano Lopez Jaena was one of them. He was considered “the morning star, the advance scout, the trail blazer” of the great campaign to free the Philippines from the clutches of Spanish rule. Together with Rizal and M.H. del Pilar they composed the triumvirate of the propaganda movement which paved the way for the Philippine revolution against Spain.
Graciano Lopez Jaena was born to Placido Lopez and Maria Jacobo Jaena on December 18, 1856 in Jaro, Iloilo. Though related to the Lopez clan his father was a poor man but his mother, a very pious lady, did all she can so that his son will be educated at the Seminario de San Vicente Ferrer, for the priesthood. It was in the seminary that his oratorical skills were first recognized and, he was considered then, despite his capacity for independent thinking, as the best theologian of the class.
Against the wishes of his mother Graciano pursued his ambition to become a doctor. However because he lacked the Bachelor of Arts Degree neede for Medicine he was refused entrance at the University of Santo Tomas. Despite this setback Graciano pursued this desire and he entered the San Juan de Dios Hospital as an apprentice. Later with the help of some relatives he set sail to Spain in 1878 to further his studies.
In 1881 Lopez Jaena went to Madrid and there he found many Filipinos joining them in their fight for reforms in the Philippines. It was there that he practiced his journalistic and oratorical skills in the service of freedom for the Motherland and single-handedly worked to expose the abuses and injustices done to his oppressed countrymen. Because of his radical ideas he became an ardent member and spokesman of the “Partido Republicano Progresista” and together with other Filipinos in Spain they founded an organization for mutual assistance called “La Solidaridad” which has an organ of that name whose editor was Graciano Lopez Jaena.
In 1882 he became an active member of the “Circulo Hispano-Filipino” and became one of the principal editors of the society’s publication “Revista.” The object of the society was to bring to light the true conditions of the Philippines and to work for reforms. True indeed with the rise of this group the first general tremor to shake the 300-year old structure of Spanish rule in the Philippines began.
Lopez Jaena died in Barcelona on January 20, 1896 of tuberculosis under the care of the Sisters of Charity. He died poor and penniless because towards his death he was persecuted and reviled by some Spanish people who are less sympathetic to his cause. And there in a foreign country from which he labored to free the Motherland he breathed his last, both admired and vilified by his Spanish hosts, who upon his death were saddened and at the same time glad of loosing the greatest propagandist of the Philippine independence movement.
That was Graciano Lopez Jaena, one of the greatest Filipino nourished in this our precious soil. For most of us he is just another name which mark our streets, or a park where we while away our time. But for those who remember he was that brave compatriot who rose above the prevailing apathy of the people consigned to serfdom and started for them the fire that engulfed the whole nation in its quest for freedom. In our time he remains an inspiration for us to rise above our own apathy in our quest to make this nation great once more.