The perennial question involving pen and sword: Which is mightier? Well, you have read atty. benji’s exposition about this matter in his article “badil vs. tabil“. As of now I’m inclined to say that both of them could be useless or mighty, depending on ( or relative to ) time, place and circumstances and above all to the person holding the pen or the sword. Let’s try first to put things in proper perspective. Let’s start with the last one- the person. The person is the most important element in this equation for he is the one that puts either the pen or sword in action. Without him both pen and sword are useless or neutral. The person defines the usage of both, i.e, depending on his motives so the usage. Either for defense or attack, to protect or to insult (pen), cut or kill (sword). Next, the person determines the quality of results, i.e., intelligence and training (background) influence the quality of the result. A genius can produce out of a cheap pen an immortal poem or create a complex mathematical equation, an excellently trained samurai defeats ten swordsmen of inferior training. Not to insult, but a pen is useless in the hands of an idiot ( mentally retarded) so as the sword in the “hands” of a totally crippled man (physically disabled). Now the two in relation to time. In times of peace, the pen is mightier than the sword, or better, the pen is used more than the sword, whereas in times of actual war or combat or immediate danger, the sword is mightier than the pen in the sense that it is the right tool for the moment. But the way the events of war or whatever social turmoil during or thereafter are recorded by the pen could make a whole world of difference.
A history that is manipulated can mislead generations, affect their perception, thus, their collective identity positively or negatively. In our time, the meaning of both is relative to the place. In the Philippines or Zimbabwe, for instance, or in other places where democracy is flawed or no democracy at all, the sword is the actual tool that’s employed. By contrast, in Switzerland or Sweden for instance, or in other places where democracy lives to the fullest, the pen is the actual tool used the most. In such places, whoever resorts to the sword is an outcast and primitive and is immediately removed from the society, i.e. tried and imprisoned, no exception or special treatment, president or janitor. The sword in such places is therefore primarily used to protect democracy, to reinforce law and order or to protect internal security from terrorism and the national borders from outward invasions, but never to influence another by force ( intimidation ) or to attack another country. In other words reason rules as opposed to brute force. In Zimbabwe or the Philippines (especially during elections), the sword, not the pen rules. In other words, brute force ( power, money, ) rules as opposed to reason.
This is really the only small difference yet this is what separates light years away the first world from the third world countries, a categorization we dislike but has its justification for it’s a matter of conscious choice, of being able to learn lessons from the past (some countries have difficulty drawing lessons from the past; they keep on repeating the same mistakes, thus, they hardly move forward ) , that the first world countries are now harvesting the fruits of their hard work and good decision ( and not just a matter of fortune or favorable historical events. Switzerland had also suffered from wars and internal strifes and just over a hundred years ago, it is one of the poorest nations in Europe)- that of laying down the sword but instead use more the pen to deal with one another. This is the birth of democracy and of teamwork and progress. The sword cuts and divides, whereas the pen allows exchange of ideas. In the Philippines, swords are there not primarily to reinforce the written law and the first three pillars of justice- Investigation (Police), Prosecution, Courts, but to violate them or render them ineffective ( we all know those election-related violence, for instance, where the police are reduced to lame ducks or how our presidents are using the armed forces of the Philippines to reinforce their unlawful, vested self-interests like the martial law by Marcos or Arroyo’s declaration of state of emergency in February 2006 ). Hence, the sword ( power, connection, money ) is the law, not the pen ( justice, truth, democracy), in our country. There, as in Zimbabwe, one can rightly say that the sword is mightier than the pen. In Switzerland or Sweden, the pen is mightier than the sword.
Now we have seen that this famous saying “the pen is mightier than the sword”, noble as it is, nor its inversion, “The sword is mightier than the pen”, self-evident as it is, cannot be generalized for it is relative to the setting of time, place and circumstance and the person (society). It was 1839, in Act II of his play Richelieu where Edward Bulwer-lytton used this saying thru his play character Cardinal Richelieu when he challenged the monk Joseph who contrived a plot against him by saying “Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword”, for as a priest he couldn’t challenge him to physical fight.
This brings us now to Jose Rizal who was an adept sword athlete himself yet was known for his statement “My Pen, The Only Tool I Had”. It was his pen, not his sword, that catalyzed the revolution at that time, it was his pen that moved the sword, it was his pen that put another hero into the limelight- Andres Bonifacio, the warrior armed with the sword! Indeed, the pen mightier than the sword? Or Rizal over Bonifacio? Now, we have entered the most debated issue in our nation: Who deserves to be our national hero, Rizal or Bonifacio? Well, as I have observed then and lately ( see Bik-Lish ) scholars and laymen alike have practically exhausted their minds in trying to answer this question. For me the reason for all these headaches is simple: The question is wrong and so was the answer. Put into proper perspective, history needed both Rizal and Bonifacio for the revolution to be initiated and culminated. Thus, seen against the background of revolution, both Rizal and Bonifacio were justified to be called our national heroes, which means that both of them deserve to symbolize those men and women who took part in the revolution -the Rizal or Bonifacio way, or, the pen or the sword method, thus catalysing the end of Spanish regime. In short, the revolution made use of both tools, the pen and the sword fighting side by side, all the way till victory. ( Revolution must not be confused with immediate danger to life and limb as they occur in daily life, thus necessitates the sword as the right tool only. Revolution is a social unrest over an extended period of time where pen and swords find their moments of use ). Rizal ( the pen, the idea ) alone would not have realized the revolution, and so Bonifacio (the sword, the action), which tells us clearly that both principles were needed for the complete reality of revolution to assume shape.
Rizal and Bonifacio, the two sides of the revolution. This is the way I see it. A revolution cannot be one-sided, as any reality. This myopic, one-sided thinking was a mistake for it has misled us. It divided us, the strategy , I suppose, used by the American colonizers intelligently by sponsoring (favoring) Rizal as the national hero, thereby relegating Bonifacio, Mabini, and all the rests into the background and forcing and limiting our mind for decades to think only in one direction, one sided, as opposed to a holistic perception of our Filipino reality. The effect was devastating for it produced doubts in us. There are many among us Filipinos of today who still are victims of this “colonial mentality”, who still harbor doubts within themselves and who are still either “in favor ” of or “not in favor ” of , pro or contra Rizal or Bonifacio. This is sad for they debate on the wrong question suggested in their subconscious by the subsequent colonizers. Psychologically we remain with respect to this issue a divided nation of Rizalists and Bonifacians, which means colonization still has us in its grips.
We must free ourselves from this mental bondage by redefining what a hero is in our modern Filipino understanding in relation to our present goal of achieving a progressive nation, our fight against poverty and corruption, in our attempt to treat our sick nation. In truth, today we need both Rizal and Bonifacio to guide us, the idea (pen) and the action (the sword), to revolutionize our moral make up for our nation to progress. Simply put, let’s broaden our horizon and avoid playing Rizal and Bonifacio against each other for it is a waste of time, mental energy and above all an insult to these two great historical figures. For sure Rizal, if alive today, would not agree with the idea of being the national hero himself, he would refuse it, and would have a totally different answer. And Bonifacio? Although he disdained his personal hero Rizal towards the end, I still believe that he would refuse to be the national hero were he alive today and offered this honor. We only invented this debate to repress our own doubts about ourselves.
Both Rizal and Bonifacio were true to their own personal methods of approaching a problem- and of expressing their patriotism- till the very end. Opposing methods as they appeared to be in surface ( Rizal at that moment in time being against the revolution and Bonifacio being in favor of the revolution ), in reality, i.e., seen in totality, history needed both of them to provide us a story and a reality distinctly Filipino. And it functioned! Only that we were taught to interpret our history the wrong way- and we failed to examine what had been taught to us. That’s the effect of the mighty pen used against us- it has misled us for decades even until now.
This is the way I see it. You may disagree which means you have your own way of seeing it. And that’s good like that. This is reality. Never one-sided.