Critiques and Campaigns: On José María Panganiban’s “La Universidad de Manila”

Scanned copy of the September 30, 1890 issue of La Solidaridad from the NHCP-Museo ni Marcelo del Pilar.

José María Panganiban is a figure in Philippine history that is not as deeply appreciated as other Filipinos involved in the campaign for reforms in the Philippines. On the one hand, many nationalist historians have written about Panganiban’s background and sojourn in Barcelona. He is often portrayed as a heroic figure who overcame prejudice and whose patriotism led him to join the Propaganda Movement. A flaw in these accounts, however, is that Panganiban’s written works are barely discussed in detail. On the other hand, the few works that examine Panganiban’s writings question the validity of his claims. Given that Panganiban published his works in La Solidaridad, a newspaper founded with the intent to contest the influence that religious groups had in the Philippines, it is argued that his analysis of the Universidad de Santo Tomás (UST) cannot be considered impartial and objective. With more thorough research on Panganiban and his work, however, it becomes clear that Panganiban does in fact have an empirical basis for criticizing the university.

Javier Leonardo V. Rugeria of the University of the Philippines seeks to address the shortcomings and doubts of previous studies on Panganiban in his article “José María Panganiban’s ‘La Universidad de Manila’ and the Liberal Campaign for Reforms in Philippine Higher Education,” published in Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints, volume 69, number 2, 2021. In his article, Rugeria highlights Panganiban’s time as a student of UST as an empirical foundation for Panganiban’s criticisms against the university. Rugeria also connects Panganiban’s work with the Propaganda Movement, arguing that his writings “formed part of a wider, liberal campaign for reforms in Philippine higher education pursued in Spain between 1888 and 1891.” Rugeria conducted his research by using sources from the Archivo de la Universidad de Santo Tomás and examining Panganiban’s “La Universidad de Manila,” a series of newspaper columns that criticized UST and pushed for reforms in the school.

José María Panganiban y Enverga was born to parents of Tagalog descent on 1 February 1863 in Mambulao, Camarines Norte. He “first came to the Universidad de Santo Tomás in 1882 as a transfer student from the Vincentian-run Seminario Conciliar de Nueva Caceres.” He received his Bachelor of Arts in 1883 and afterwards studied at the Faculty of Medicine at the Colegio de San José in Intramuros. He also enrolled for “the Ampliación, the preparatory courses leading to a licentiate in medicine, for which he obtained sobresaliente (outstanding) in all three courses.” Panganiban earned the Dominican fathers’ recognition and was able to pursue his medical studies as a boarding student and scholar funded by the Colegio de San José. He moved to Barcelona and arrived in the spring of 1888 for his fourth year of medical studies. He was eventually initiated into the Propaganda Movement and became invested in it. “He was among the founding members of a new Filipino organization in Barcelona, the Asociación La Solidaridad, inaugurated at the New Year’s Eve banquet on 31 December 1888. An executive board had been elected with Galicano Apacible as president, [Graciano] López Jaena as vice president, Manuel Bustamante Santa María as secretary, [Mariano] Ponce as treasurer, and Panganiban as auditor.” The board worked to establish their newspaper, La Solidaridad. Panganiban’s “most important contribution to the newspaper were the ‘La Universidad de Manila’ columns, which forwarded an elaborate and incisive critique of the state of higher education at Santo Tomás.”

Nationalist historians claim that Panganiban suffered discrimination during his time at UST. An examination of Panganiban’s academic record, however, suggests otherwise.

Panganiban was a high-achieving student of the Faculty of Medicine. He obtained sobresaliente marks in almost all of his classes. “In March 1887, during his third year, he received an award for his outstanding papers in General Pathology, Therapeutics, and Surgical Anatomy, besting his classmate Bartolome Alas in a three-day examination.” With the recommendation of several doctors, the UST published Panganiban’s papers, titled Memorias, and exhibited them at the Philippine Exposition of Madrid in 1887. “[N]ever before had essays written by students been printed by and on behalf of the University.” Panganiban’s excellent performance and the recognition he received, Rugeria concludes, made it unlikely for him to be the victim of discrimination by the Dominican friars.

At the same time, these records support Rugeria’s claim that Panganiban’s criticisms of the university were founded on his own experience as a UST student.

Having illustrated the basis for Panganiban to make his criticisms, Rugeria argues that Panganiban’s published columns “reflect the university’s state of higher education in the late nineteenth century.” Rugeria elaborates on “the five salient points of criticism Panganiban forwarded on the state of higher education at Santo Tomás, namely: (a) the religious orthodoxy of the Dominicans and the consequent lack of academic freedom, (b) the system of filling professorial chairs done without examinations, (c) the faculty and how they were teaching too many courses, (d) the Thomistic pedagogical paradigm, and (e) the lack of facilities for clinical practice.” Panganiban provided detailed examples which he observed in UST for each point of criticism and compared the methods of the university with those of the University of Barcelona, which was secular and more progressive. His writings called for reforms in UST to match the quality of education that could be enjoyed in Spain.

Lastly, Rugeria highlights the role of Panganiban and his writings in the liberal campaign in Spain to reform higher education in the Philippines. According to Rugeria, “Panganiban’s campaign for reforms in higher education owed its origins to the political scene in Madrid from mid-1888 to early 1889. The initiative seemed to have come from Miguel Morayta, a professor of history at the Universidad Central de Madrid, and Rafael Labra, who organized in June 1888 the Asociación Hispano–Filipina, which called for the secularization of Santo Tomás as part of its main political agenda.” This association collaborated with López Jaena and the Asociación La Solidaridad (of which Panganiban was an executive member), and together the two associations proposed to the head of the Ministry of Overseas Colonies, Manuel Becerra y Bermúdez, reforms to reduce the power religious orders had in the Philippines. Subsequently, Becerra would present to the government numerous proposals such as the “separation of the Faculties of Medicine and Pharmacy from Santo Tomas, the subjection of all the religious colleges of secondary education to an institute to be founded in Manila . . . and a general reduction of the ecclesiastical budget.” It was in this political situation that Panganiban wrote his columns and contributed to the campaign of liberals in Barcelona and Madrid.

After Panganiban’s death on 19 August 1890 due to pulmonary tuberculosis, the campaign for reform would continue Panganiban’s advocacy in the face of a conservative Spanish government. Believing that appealing to the government was no longer an option, Morayta encouraged the Asociación Hispano–Filipina and the Asociación La Solidaridad to instead rally support from the public. “Heeding Morayta’s advice, [Marcelo] Del Pilar sought to renew Panganiban’s interrupted campaign for reforms in higher education. . . . On 15 December 1890 La Solidaridad resumed the publication of the ‘La Universidad de Manila,’ eighteen months after Panganiban’s last column appeared in the newspaper. Penned by Del Pilar, Ponce, and [Antonio] Luna, the new series, which, according to [Fidel] Villarroel, maintained the same critical tone, had ten articles, appearing between 15 December 1890 and 15 September 1891.” Rugeria points out that contrary to what Villarroel claims in a previous study, Panganiban initially did not criticize the differing courses between UST and the universities in Spain. “On the contrary, this argument was La Solidaridad’s recurring theme in the new ‘La Universidad de Manila’ series. Impelled by the case of three transfer students from Manila—Felipe Cajucom, Enrique Magalona, and Vicente Reyes, who were denied admission to the University of Barcelona—the columns that comprised the new series elaborated on the salient points of criticism Panganiban articulated in his 1889 columns as they examined in greater detail the Faculties of Civil Law, Pharmacy, and Medicine at Santo Tomás.” The continuation of “La Universidad de Manila” exemplifies the significance of Panganiban’s work to the larger liberal movement and the alignment of his goals with that of the associations leading the campaign for reforms.

Rugeria’s article illustrates how the significance of people’s actions in history can be much larger than what we may initially perceive. Although Panganiban was still a student, he provided an insightful analysis of the educational system of UST, allowing him to form well-founded arguments and offer clear solutions to address the issues he observed. He collaborated with his peers as part of a movement that sought to improve the situation of their homeland. His peers recognized the value of his work and carried on his legacy after his death. In spite of his youth, Panganiban’s deeds had a lasting influence on those around him. His example may hopefully inspire the current generation of Filipino students to take pride in their capabilities and use them to work toward the betterment of the nation.

Read the full article of Javier Leonardo V. Rugeria in Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints, volume 69, number 2, 2021.

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