by Peter Jaynul V. Uckung

      The flow of history is as inexorable as the tidal flow of an angry ocean. But ever so often in our collective recollection, it is remembered that sometimes the skilful use of forgery can redirect the flow of history itself.

      In the Philippines today, forgery is usually resorted to redirect the flow of money from the rightful beneficiary to the unworthy pockets of invisible people.

      That money is usually the target of forgery is known and practiced all over the world, but forgery in the hands of the wily, has power to effect a redirection of events and undoing of history. It has the power to obscure or beliee an occurrence or create an event that did not actually transpire.  It also has the power to enslave and destroy.

      In October 1600, the Muslim Ottoman Army and a Christian army,  led by Austrians, with Hungarian, French, Maltese and German troops were battling it out for territory called Kanizsa. The Ottoman army was outgunned and outmanned, but the Ottoman commander, Tiryaki Hasan Pasha was a clever man. He knew that the Hungarians were not too happy to be allied with the Austrians. So he sent fake letters, designed them to be captured by the Austrians. The letters contained Hungarian alliance with Ottoman forces. The Austrian upon reading the fake letters signed by a reliable source (obviously forged) decided to kill all Hungarian soldiers.

    The Hungarians revolted and the Christian army disintegrated from within. Thus, did the Ottomans won the battle, by issuing forged communication.

      During World War II, the British, to protect the secrecy of the Allied plan to invade Sicily in 1943, launched operation Mincemeat. This was a deception campaign to mislead German Intelligence about the real target of the start of the Allied Invasion of Europe.

      A series of seemingly genuine secret documents, with forged signatures, were attached to a British corpse dressed in military uniforms. It was left to float somewhere in a beach in Spain, where plenty of German agents were sure to get hold of it.

      The body with the fake documents was found eventually and its documents seen by German agents. The documents identified Sardinia and Corsica as the targets of the Allied invasion. The Germans believed it, and was caught with their pants down when allied forces hit the beaches of the real target, which was Sicily.

      This kind of deception was also used by the British against the Germans in North Africa. They placed a map of British minefields, then attached them to a corpse. The minefields were non-existent but the Germans saw the map and considered it true. Thus, they rerouted their tanks to areas with soft sand where they bogged down.

      In 1944, a Japanese sea plane crashed near Cebu. According to Japanese military officials who were captured, and later released, they were accompanying Gen. Koga, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet. Gen. Koga died in the crash. A little later, Filipino fisherman recovered some Japanese documents. They delivered the documents to US Intelligence. The documents revealed that Leyte was lightly defended. As a result, the Americans shifted their invasion target to Leyte instead of Cotabato Bay in Mindanao.  

      On October 17, 1944 the invasion of Leyte went underway. Leyte was lightly defended as the Koga papers have indicated. But it was during the invasion of Leyte when the Japanese navy launched their last offensive strike against the US fleet, with the objective of obliterating it once and for all. They nearly succeeded. After this near-tragic event, the Koga papers were considered by some military strategists as spurious and could have been manufactured by the Japanese to mislead the American navy into thinking that Leyte was a defenceless island. That Leyte was a trap. And the Americans nearly fell into it.

       In recent memory, there was an incident in which the forging of documents served to negate the existence of an independent Philippines.

     In 1901, the Americans managed to capture a Filipino messenger, Cecilio Segismundo who carried with him documents from Aguinaldo. The American then faked some documents complete with forged signature, telling Aguinaldo that some Filipino officers were sending him guerrillas with American prisoners. With the help of a Spanish traitor, Lazaro Segovia, the Americans assembled a company of pro-American Filipino soldiers, the Macabebe scouts. These were the soldiers who penetrated the camp of Aguinaldo, disguised as soldiers of the Philippine Republic. They managed to capture Aguinaldo. With the president captured, his generals began to surrender, and the Republic began to fall. 

      The document of the retraction of Jose Rizal, too, is being hotly debated as to its authenticity.

      It was supposed to have been signed by Jose Rizal moments before his death. There were many witnesses, most of them Jesuits. The document only surfaced for public viewing on May 13, 1935. It was found by Fr. Manuel A. Gracia at the Catholic hierarchy’s archive in Manila. But the original document was never shown to the public, only reproductions of it.

      However, Fr. Pio Pi, a Spanish Jesuit, reported   that as early as 1907, the retraction of Rizal was copied verbatim and published in Spain, and reprinted in Manila. Fr. Gracia, who found the original document, also copied it verbatim.

      In both reproductions, there were conflicting versions of the text. Add to this the date of the signing was very clear in the original Spanish document which Rizal supposedly signed. The date was “December 29, 1890.”

      Later, another supposedly original document surfaced, it bears the date “December 29, 189C”. The number “0” was evidently altered to make it look like a letter C. Then still later, another supposedly original version came up. It has the date “December 29, 1896”. This time, the “0” became a “6”.

      So which is which?

      Those who strongly believed the faking of the Rizal retraction document, reported that the forger of Rizal’s signature was Roman Roque, the man who also forged the signature of Urbano Lacuna, which was used to capture Aguinaldo. The mastermind, they say, in both Lacuna’s and Rizal’s signature forging was Lazaro Segovia. They were approached by Spanish friars during the final day of the Filipino-American war to forge Rizal’s signature.

      This story was revealed by Antonio K. Abad, who heard the tale from Roman Roque himself, them being neighbours.

      To this day, the retraction issue is still raging like a wild fire in the forest of the night.

      Others would like to believe that the purported retraction of Rizal was invented by the friars to deflect the heroism of Rizal which was centered on the friar abuses.

      Incidentally, Fr. Pio Pi, who copied verbatim Rizal’s retraction, also figured prominently during the revolution. It was him, Andres Bonifacio reported, who had intimated to Aguinaldo the cessation of agitation in exchange of pardon.

      There are also not a few people who believe that the autobiography of Josephine Bracken, written on February 22, 1897 is also forged and forged badly. The document supposedly written by Josephine herself supported the fact that they were married under the Catholic rites. But upon closer look, there is a glaring difference between the penmanship of the document, and other letters written by Josephine to Rizal.

      Surely, we must put the question of retraction to rest, though Rizal is a hero, whether he retracted or not, we must investigate if he really did a turn-around. If he did not, and the documents were forgeries, then somebody has to pay for trying to deceive a nation.