It’s not easy being an influencer these days. It’s a dangerous, risky path. You can, for instance, grow a millennial’s sense of history and turn up like Kim Kardashian in a legendary Marilyn Monroe evening gown — the one worn while singing Happy Birthday breathlessly to JFK at Madison Square Garden — and be scorched on social media for stretching it at the seams; or you can humble-brag like her kid sister Kylie Jenner about his-and-hers private jets — and the same followers who adore you because you’re super-rich in the first place get ready to lynch you over your carbon footprint.
One can only imagine how fraught life must have been for the Filipino “rich and famous” — yes, the ilustrado influencer — of the 19th century. He would have been over-bred and over-educated to within an inch of his life, fluent in Tagalog as well as Spanish, Latin and Greek. But because of these very same qualities, he would have been held suspect by the Spanish powers-that-be.
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One such gentleman was Don Pedro Alejandro Paterno, whose kilometric name included two of everything when spelled out formally: Molo Agustin for his father and Devera Ignacio for his mother. His father, Maximo, was a chinoy who married into pedigree, a descendant of Rajah Soliman himself. Paterno would thus style himself in Madrid as “Maguinoo” as well as “Prince of Luzon.” Maximo (nicknamed “Memo”) would become one of the wealthiest men in the Philippines thanks to a certain sixth sense about doing the right thing at exactly the right time. For instance, he had the foresight to ship his eldest son Pedro to Spain to get him out of harm’s way when he was just 14.
Thus, Pedro escaped one of the most fearsome reigns of terror in the Philippines to be unleashed by the Cavite Mutiny of 1872 — just a few months after his departure from Manila. His father, however, did not. And Don Memo was sentenced to several years of brutal exile in the Marianas.
Pedro would likewise be spared from a life of vexing, almost inexplicable persecution of the ilustrado influencers under the Spanish heel, the kind that produced Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, and, yes, Andres Bonifacio, who — like many of his generation — witnessed the unjust execution of not only the martyrs GomBurZa but also many of their own fathers, brothers and friends who were arrested, tortured and oppressed even further in the aftermath of 1872.
He learned that a noble last name was just as important as “mere money;” and he realized that in these perfumed circles, culture, art and literature were the ultimate cachet of class.
But halfway across the world, Pedro unraveled the mysteries of power and prestige in the Spanish capital. He learned that a noble last name was just as important as “mere money;” and he realized that in these perfumed circles, culture, art and literature were the ultimate cachet of class.
Through his connections picked up by going to the right schools, his elegant lifestyle and relentless entertaining, his exquisite command of Spanish as well as courtly manners, Pedro Paterno collected important friends in the Spanish court and the colonial government, in the same way that he also collected paintings by Juan Luna and Resurreccion Hidalgo. He also amassed sculptures by Filipinos such as Rosendo Martinez and the most famous Spanish sculptor of the 19th century, Mariano Benlliure (of course, like Luna, he was a personal friend). He drank and ate off gold and silver sets immortalizing the Philippines’ flora and fauna. (One fascinating item is a black coconut piece with silver anahaw leaves, and a gold bee hovering over its silver hive.) Let’s not forget his library: José Rizal would dedicate an advance copy of his “Annotations to Morga.” All this was displayed in a mansion-size cabinet of curiosities and now forms the core of an astonishing exhibition and curated auction titled “The Ilustrado Trove: The Don Pedro Paterno Collection,” set for Aug. 20, 2022 at León Gallery.)Paterno would thus become the very embodiment of Philippine culture in 19th-century Madrid. One could almost sense him stealthily proposing a splendid “expo” to showcase Spain’s “Pearl of the Orient” and to remind the world that “Madre España” was still an important colonial power. Thus the “Exposicion General de Las Islas Filipinas” of 1887 came to be, held at the glittering Palacio de Cristal, constructed at the Queen’s command, in Retiro Park in Madrid.
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In quick succession, Paterno would become not only the driving force but also the inevitable source of hundreds of cultural artifacts for several more such showcases. In 1893, Juan Luna would, in fact, design the Philippine pavilion at his invitation. (Isabelo Tampingco would create the hall’s towering arches from his drawings.) An astonishing photograph captures this vision and features most of the treasures to be found in the Ilustrado auction.
Finally, as a result of all these important contributions to the Spanish crown in elevating its prestige, Paterno would become an invaluable counselor to its ruling elite. It was all exactly according to plan.