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Re-constructing Colonial Philippines: 1900-1910
Special to the Century Book
Re-constructing Colonial Philippines: 1900-1910
Patricio N. Abinales
THE birth of the Philippines in 1896 was one thing; consolidating the territory was another matter. While most Filipinos would attribute the unification of the Philippines to the 1896 Revolution, in reality it was a series of local revolts against the Spanish, and later against the Americans. It remains debatable as to whether these revolts either identified wholly with Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s Malolos Republic, or whether, had they all succeeded, whether would unite under one contiguous territory. Already when the first American troops landed in Negros Island, Negrenses were threatening to create their own republic.
The Americans were actually responsible for giving territorial reality to Las Islas Filipinas, the basis of the future Republic. They did this first by employing force against those who opposed American rule. They waged brutal military campaigns against forces loyal to the Malolos Revolutionary Government of Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo, pushing the latter as far back as the mountain fastness of northern Luzon and scattering his troops in southern Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. The American use of armed might was so brutish that in Samar Island, for example, hundreds of women and children were killed when Gen. Jacob Smith ordered to turn the island into a “howling wilderness.” After Aguinaldo’s capture at Palanan, Isabela, there were attempts to re-establish a new revolutionary center, but all this was quashed by the Americans.
In the towns and in Manila, American suppression of Filipino revolutionary nationalism took the form of proscribing the publication of “seditious” materials that could be disseminated through the emergent print media and the ever-popular plays. Public display of pro-revolutionary sentiments were also prohibited, with the most notable ban being the Flag Law that disallowed any showing of flags associated with the Katipunan and the Malolos Republic. The Americans also sped up the organization of police forces to oversee “peace and order” and this successor of the hated Spanish Guardia Civil proved up to the task of suppressing urban dissent.
Once sure that their control would not be seriously challenged anymore, the Americans turned their attention to governing “the new possessions.” The foremost problem that immediately confronted them was the generating money for the colony and then developing the personnel necessary to run the government.
The U.S. Congress approved the colonization of the Philippines but refused to provide sustained financial support for the undertaking. In fact, the Congress allotted only $3 million for the Philippines in the entire period from 1903 to the formation of the Philippine Commonwealth. One economist called it colonial administration “accomplished ‘on the cheap.’” Financial constraints were also complicated by the difficulty of attracting Americans to govern the colony. The solution to these problems was found in generating revenues from the colony’s own resources, particularly the existing crops that the colony was exporting abroad later years of Spanish rule. Enhancing this export economy, however, was not easy. American legislators, especially those coming from the agricultural regions of the U.S., vigorously opposed proposals that Philippine products enter the country tariff-free. As a consequence, the so-called “free trade” that introduced under American rule was not so free. The U.S. was very selective in the choice of Philippine products that could be exported to the American mainland. Only sugar, hemp and coconut were allowed open access to the U.S. market; and even these products would later be taxed in American ports. Selective entry of these goods however was enough to resurrect the export economy, and by the end of the decade much of it was re-energized because of the American market.
The second issue—putting people into the administrative and political structure—proved more successful because the Americans early on opened up the structure to Filipino participation. It is general knowledge that even as the war against Aguinaldo was raging, the Americans were already able to recruit prominent Filipinos to their side. These collaborators became the backbone of the Federalista Party, a party committed to full American control as well as the medium for introducing the party system to the Philippines. The Federalistas were also supposed to become the dominant Filipino party in the soon-to-be formed Philippine Assembly and American backing initially helped them to mobilize Filipino support.
The Americans transformed the Philippine Commission from its original function as a fact-finding and policy-recommending body created by Pres. McKinley, to the highest policy-making body of the colony. Through the Commission, the Americans were also able to bring in Filipinos into the leadership (although they had limited powers) and further legitimize their rule. With the Federalistas supporting them and the pacification campaigns winding down, especially after Gen. Macario Sakay, the last of the revolutionaries fighting for a Tagalog Republic in 1905, the Americans proceeded to prepare the grounds for eventual self-rule.
The Commission ordered a colony-wide census to ascertain the exact population of the Philippines. The census was followed by provincial elections in 1906 where a new group of Filipinos emerged to challenge the Federalistas. The former consisted of local elites who saw the value of the nationalism of 1896 and how it made many Filipinos suspicious of the pro-American Federalistas. Using their provincial positions, this group began to present themselves as the real alternative to the Federalistas. Americans increasingly recognized the strength of this sentiment, especially at the provincial and municipal levels, and began to turn their attention to these new elites. The result of this new collaboration was the creation of the Nacionalista Party, a coalition of provincial elites who promised to fight for the cause of nationalism but within the framework of the American policy of eventual self-rule.
On July 30, 1907, the first elections to the Philippine Assembly—the legislative body which would act as the “lower house” to the more “senatorial” Philippine Commission—was held and the Nacionalista won a majority. From their ranks emerged Manuel L. Quezon (from Tayabas province) and Sergio Osmeña (from Cebu), who would lead the fight to expand Filipino power inside the government and eventually become the dominant leaders of the American period. Under Quezon and Osmeña, a colony-wide party system began to take shape, its power derived from a combination of clan-based alliances, patronage and a commitment to Filipinization. As more Americans chose to return to the mainland instead of staying to serve the colonial government, Filipinos increasingly took over their position.
By the end of the first decade, “regular provinces” comprised half of the Philippines. These provinces had elected and appointive Filipino officials, many of whom owed their positions to Quezon, Osmeña and the Nacionalistas. Combining their local political experiences learned from the last years of Spanish rule, with the “political education” they were getting from the Americans, the Filipinos proved within a short period of time that they had the ability to be equally adept at governing the colony. In its first year at work, the Philippine Assembly had already shown a marked adeptness in introducing additional provisions or new amendments to existing colonial laws, and in negotiating with the Philippine Commission and the Governor General over matters of policy formulation, funding and government personnel changes. Quezon and Osmeña were at the top of all these processes. They were fast becoming astute leaders of the political party they helped build, of the Assembly that they presided over, and of the colonial regime they co-governed with the Americans. If Rizal was credited for having conceived of the “Filipino,” and if Bonifacio and Aguinaldo were the leaders who gave this imagination a reality with the Revolution, to Quezon and Osmeña must be given the distinction of helping construct the political and administrative structure that would be associated with the term “Filipino.” The Americans may have created the colonial state, but it was these two leaders who gave flesh to it and putting the foundations that the future Republic would stand on.
This type of political and administrative consolidation however was only happening in one part of the colony—the “Christian” Filipino dominated “lowlands” in Luzon, the Visayas and northern Mindanao. In the other half of the colony, the U.S. army administered the “special provinces” on the grounds that their population—the so-called “non-Christian tribes”—were more backward than the Filipinos and were prone to more “warfare.” The Americans saw their “civilizing mission” as special given that the underdeveloped character of the Cordillerans and Muslims required a longer time for them to become familiar with self-government. They also had to be thoroughly “pacified.”
Surprisingly, the pacification process was fast and relatively easy. There was hardly any resistance from the various indigenous communities in the Cordilleras, while Muslim resistance was scattered and unsustained. At the middle of the first decade, the Cordilleras and “Moro Mindanao” had become very stable and peaceful areas.
A major reason for the American success was the cooperation extended by Muslim and Cordilleran leaders to the Americans. They regarded colonial rule as a means of protecting themselves against Christians and “lowlanders.” American military officials reciprocated this cooperation by resisting the efforts of Filipinos to extend their power to the “special provinces.” A working relationship eventually developed between these community leaders and the Americans whereby the former were given minor posts in the provincial government (“tribal wards” in the case of the Muslims) in exchange for agreeing to recognize American sovereignty. U.S. army officers who administered these areas also became their protectors against Filipino leaders, doing everything they can to limit the presence of Manila and the Nacionalista party in the Cordilleras and “Moro Mindanao.”
The only major resistance came from the Muslims at the hills of Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak, when the army declared a ban on weapons and raised head taxes. American military superiority prevailed and over a hundred Muslim men, women and children were killed. Politically, however, these actions eroded the army’s standing and opened up an opportunity for Quezon to attack military rule in Mindanao. After the massacres, the army was forced slowly to concede authority to Manila and the Filipinos. The army’s powers were also clipped once the U.S. Congress authorized its partial demobilization, and once the American president ordered its withdrawal from the special provinces and its replacement by Philippine Constabulary units. Many American officers also preferred to continue their military careers in the U.S. mainland, seeing very little prospects in just limiting themselves to the Philippines. All these problems emboldened the Filipinos to assert their political presence in these special provinces. This was something that a weakened military government could not repulse anymore. In 1913, the army conceded its power to the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, a body controlled from Manila and by Filipinos. The Cordilleras’ status as a special province was also terminated and the Nacionalista Party began recruiting its first “Cordillerans” to join the organization.
Two major features therefore characterized the first decade of colonial rule. First was the full and effective unification of Las Islas Filipinas under American rule, and second was the division of colony into two major zones of administration reflecting the histories of their respective populations. These two zones were eventually unified under the Filipinization policy, but the distinctiveness upon which they were based continued to affect overall colonial development. Muslims and Cordillerans remained staunchly pro-American and anti-Filipino, while Christian “lowlanders” continued to mistrust and maintain a low regard for these “wild tribes.”
About half a century later, a separatist movement threatened to disengage “Moro Mindanao” from the Philippines, while in the Cordilleras, the quest for autonomy remained strong.
Technorati Tags: Philippines, Philippines Free Press, politics
The National Centennial: Who cares? August 30, 1998
August 30, 1998
The National Centennial: Who cares?
Filipinos will have nothing to celebrate but every reason to curse the government for yet another great waste of taxpayers’ money
by Manuel L. Quezon III
ITS logo can be seen everywhere: a stylized red, white and blue ribbon forming the number 100, surmounted by three gold stars and bearing the legend “Freedom, wealth of the nation” underneath. You can see this logo emblazoned on the aircraft of Philippine airlines, on vanity license plates, on stickers and in advertisements on television and newspapers.
The logo is that of the National Centennial, which Filipinos will be celebrating in 1998. Well, some people in government at the very least.
The Centennial and the patriotic events leading up to it are the concerns of the National Centennial Commission, headed by Salvador H. Laurel, an honest and decent man who, obviously, is not much of an executive. The commission over which he presides with well-meaning good humor is attached to the Office of the President. In keeping with the nature of the administration under which it was created, and to whose largesse it owes its existence, the centennial commission has found itself the subject of criticism for such things us fact-finding missions to observe the Tournament of Roses parade in the United States, for saying some very nice things that are then made a mockery of by its actions, and for generally allowing itself to be dragged into controversies as a result of the President’s tendency to unilaterally announce hare-brained schemes without warning his subordinates that they should expect some heat. In other words, the centennial commission is a characteristically Philippines 2000 institution, headed by people who have their hearts in the right place but who end up befuddled by the shady politicking that swirls around the administration.
The vague nature of the centennial commission’s mandate is at the root of the impression many people have that Laurel’s agency is adrift, and thus incapable of focusing its energies, much less mustering the popular support needed to make the Centennial meaningful.
Laurel’s commission is supposed to come up with programs and events to commemorate the Centennial. But what the Centennial actually is remains unclear. At first, sensibly enough, the commission said that the Centennial, which will take place on June 12, 1998, is no less than the hundredth anniversary of the proclamation of Philippine independence from a window of the Aguinaldo mansion in Kawit, Cavite.
Sounds clear enough. But every Independence Day since the creation of the commission—that is, the five June 12th’s celebrated since President Ramos took his oath of office—featured enormous placards and billboards proclaiming that June 12th to be the 94th, 95th, 97th, 98th, or 99th anniversary of independence.
Now there is very clearly a difference between commemorating the anniversary of the proclamation of independence and observing the anniversary of actual independence. The first is the anniversary of the particular moment in time when, with flags waving, bands playing and people cheering, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed that the Philippines and the Filipinos were, and ought to be, free. The second is the ritual commemoration of a reality that began at a certain point and has continued existing up to the present without interruption.
So which is it? Will we, in 1998, be commemorating the proclamation of our nation’s freedom, or will we be joyously celebrating four generations’ worth of emancipation from colonial rule?
To commemorate the former would be justified and grand; to commemorate the latter would be a self-induced deception and a lie. And yet, after the simple and lucid definition of purpose made when Laurel’s commission was created, it has done nothing to clarify this issue.
And this issue is vital. If the commission cannot even figure out its true mandate, how can the nation be expected to have a sense of purpose? A nation and a people should not be made to expend their energies in a nationwide fiesta celebrating an ambiguous state of affairs. One doesn’t need a degree in Philippine history to realize that our country has been independent for only two generations, that is, since July 4, 1946. In fact, a serious case could be made for dating our independence to an event as recent as the removal of the US bases. To assert that we have enjoyed the blessings of freedom uninterruptedly since 1898 is to go against the experience of the generation that fought the Japanese in anticipation of the independence promised—and fulfilled—in 1946. A generation whose members are still very much around to challenge any claims to a century of freedom.
There’s more. Apparently unsure of its true purpose, lacking the will to grapple with the problem, content with trying to please everyone and thus alienating almost everyone, the commission has spent the past five years on the defensive, trying to wriggle out of controversies instead of taking up the initiative. It has devoted its time to planning colorful events that have fallen flat because they were extravaganzas without a crucial component: the Filipino people.
With less than a year to go before the grand finale of the Centennial effort, it would be useful to look into the other reasons why the Centennial effort has been an unqualified flop.
The master plan hinged on the commemoration of a series of events, particularly the centennial of the beginning of the Philippine Revolution and the martyrdom of Rizal.
In both of these great anniversaries, the commission immediately handicapped itself by placing too much importance on the descendants of those who participated in the Philippine Revolution, among them the relatives of Rizal and ardent Rizalists. Not that the descendants of our freedom fighters should have been ignored; far from it. It is both necessary and proper that their patriotic legacies should be honored. But in settling for organizing reunions among the families that formed Kaanak and similar organizations, the commission set itself up in a position for which it was manifestly unqualified: arbiter among the factions that started to squabble over star billing in the Centennial celebrations.
The descendants of the Katipuneros from Tondo began to fight with the descendants of the fighters from Cavite; Magdiwang and Magdalo divisions sprang up once more with a ferocity intensified by a century of familial resentments. The commission, sensibly enough for a body tasked with focusing its attention on the proclamation of independence at Cavite, featured a number of descendants and sympathizers of Emilio Aguinaldo. Only to find itself being taken to task by admirers and relatives of Andres Bonifacio. To complicate things further, contending ideological points of view that have already been boiling since the 1960s, the last time the nation focused its attention on the revolutionary heroes, come to the forefront once more. The commission accused of being cozy club of ilustrados who were pointedly playing down the importance of the proletarian revolution led by Bonifacio.
The enormous amount of energy and media attention focused on these intramurals diverted attention from the fact that other than the Aguinaldistas and Bonifacionistas, the Caviteños and the Department of History of the University of the Philippines, no one else seemed to give a damn about what was going on. This marked the derailment of the Centennial effort from what should have been its primary purpose: to excite the majority of Filipinos who cannot trace their family trees to a veteran of the Revolution so that they will be inspired to proclaim that while they may not be able to trace an ancestor to the fight for freedom, they are prepared to exult in the fact that they are around today to enjoy that freedom.
In yet another example of how close the commission came to fulfilling its greatest task—only to swerve away from it—it got as far as proclaiming 1996, the year in which Bonifacio’s revolt and Rizal’s sacrifice were commemorated, the “Year of Filipino Heroes.” This took the spotlight away from personalities and finally gave recognition to the legions of heroes whose names have been lost to us. The commission’s lack of focus made the proclamation an empty slogan.
To make things even worse, the commission ended up holding the bag for the President, who decided he wanted a tower erected in Rizal Park ostensibly in commemoration of the Centennial but actually to glorify his incumbency. The resulting furor from artistic circles, gleefully echoed by the media, alienated the commission further from the very people in the best position to help it achieve its aims. Things went downhill from there. A convocation of scholars from around the world was held in Manila to tackle the significance of the Philippine Revolution. It ended up being a convention of Rizalists who delivered papers on every subject conceivable, except on the Philippine Revolution, and, most of all, Andres Bonifacio. Which further alienated the groups already convinced that the August 1896 anniversary was deliberately being turned into a nonevent, a suspicion confirmed on the centennial of the start of the Revolution when the deputy prime minister of Malaysia was made a Knight of Rizal in an official, face-saving gesture to make up for the embarrassment inflicted by Malaysia when it convened a conference on Rizal ahead of the Philippines.
Creating a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Knights of Rizal was the least the admirers of our national hero and the government could do to thank Malaysia for its friendly interest. But it was absolutely the worst thing anyone could do as far as slighting the admirers of Bonifacio was concerned. The commission became a party to this highly undiplomatic act undertaken in the name of diplomacy, which achieved nothing internationally while making enemies of a significant section of the already small number of people who cared about the Centennial in the first place.
The commemoration of the martyrdom of Rizal was accomplished with a little more success and less bruised feelings, something owed to the long-standing cohesiveness of the admirers of Rizal than to any effort of the government, whose single strike of genius was to put the ceremonies under the direction of Zeneida Amador, who managed to pull off a moving reenactment of Rizal’s final moments.
Since the storm and stress of 1996, things have been quiet, almost comatose, as far as the Centennial front is concerned. The most newsworthy Centennial-related event was a negative one—a tongue-lashing from a fuming Ramos offended by the apathy of the tiny audience that listened to his proclamation of the Centennial theme for this year. (What’s the theme for 1997? Can anyone remember? Anyone?) A presidential scolding that Laurel mercifully missed because he was out of the country.
The good news this year is courtesy of the Armed Forces, which raised the funds for the purchase of the house where the Tejeros Convention took place. The happy event was negated, however, by the scandal associated with the “restoration” of the Malolos Cathedral.
Patriotism and nationalism cannot be conjured from people’s hearts at the drop of a hat. All the balloons and brass bands in the world will never be able to evoke feelings of pride in one’s country, of solemn appreciation for the long and bloody history of our struggle for freedom. A people must understand that a nation’s history, like our lives is a combination of the sacred and the profane, the noble and disgraceful, the silly and the sublime. Instead of fostering understanding and an appreciation of our past and its contradictions and unifying themes, what was sown was division and discord. Instead of reaping public support, the commission has found itself subjected to derision and active opposition. It has provoked discord among intellectuals and factions, without achieving the mobilization of the majority of citizens as part of the effort to render homage to our heroes.
Saddest of all, all along it has meant well.
The hollowness, the emptiness of the Centennial effort is best demonstrated by an event that was reported to have taken place recently when a new monument to Andres Bonifacio was unveiled in Manila.
A few news reports mentioned that during the unveiling ceremonies, the descendants of Andres Bonifacio and the descendants of Emilio Aguinaldo came forward and publicly declared that they were putting an end to the animosity and resentment between their two clans as a consequence of the execution of the Supremo. And that they were calling on all their friends to forgive and forget in the name of national unity.
This declaration should have been an occasion for national rejoicing. In another era, it would have been reason for a Te Deum to be sung at the cathedral. For the declaration marked one of the noblest, most admirable, and meaningful events of the Centennial period.
And yet, no further mention of it was made in the papers. NO effort was made to propagate this joyful news in the media. The commission did not say a word.
Why not? Because the event took place at a ceremony under the auspices of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim? Perhaps. A pathetic, petty reason, if true. Reason enough to understand why the Filipino people will not be filled with pride and awe on June 12, 1998. What will they have to celebrate? Pomp and circumstance at a scandalous cost, of no relevance to themselves and their loved ones, and of no consequence for a country that will be witnessing one more example of official extravagance.
To understand why no one cares about the Centennial is to understand why no one cares about the government, save those who directly benefit from it. It does not belong to the people. It belongs to a different world that feeds off us.
The reader may be tempted to ask, at the end of this catalogue of lost opportunities and squandered resources, if such an analysis isn’t counterproductive, leading to a feeling of cynicism that does nothing to salvage what must surely be one remaining opportunity to sort things out in time for the Centennial.
The answer would be: It is precisely to try to salvage something out of this sad state of affairs that harsh criticism such as this need to be made in public.
If it is important—and most people will agree it is important—to commemorate the anniversary of the proclamation of our independence, on the eve of the birth of the Malolos Republic, then we cannot leave such an important event in the hands of elected officials. It would be as futile as waiting for reforms from Spain in the time of the Propagandists. It is up to ourselves to make the Centennial meaningful just as it was up to ourselves to wrest our freedom from Spain and cajole it back from the hands of the Americans.
The Centennial of the beginning of our Revolution against Spain (which, incidentally, was the centennial of our first declaration of independence, reiterated in Kawit two years later) resulted in a marvelous musical, 1896, staged by Peta and which owed nothing to official support. It was a triumph in all respects, and lifted the hearts of the young and old, without glossing over the more sordid aspects of our freedom struggle. Watching it, one experienced in an hour and a half the exhilaration, the tearful pride, the compassion, the joy, anger and resolve that well all should feel when we think of the Revolution and the Centennial Feelings made possible by the songs and acting of a small group of young men and women. One saw what a true love for our past combined with dedication to make it mean something for people here, today, could accomplish.
So let those whose hearts and minds are in the right place take over. Stop waiting for the parade. Seek those who are doing the things that count and make people think.
As for the National Centennial Commission, its only legacy to us, besides the millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money wasted on its account, will be a concrete and ignoble one: the alteration of our flag.
On flagpoles everywhere, a new and different flag is masquerading as the emblem of our country. The color of its blue stripe is a neither-here-nor-there shade of blue lighter than that of the flag that three generations had honored; its red stripe is different, too. The proportions of the white triangle, with its sun and three stars, however, continue to be those of the flag specified by executive order during the Commonwealth, making this new flag neither a restoration of the slightly different proportions of the flag raised at Kawit nor a complete abolition of the flag we all know. These, without any enabling law, without public consultations, without even bothering to inform the very people who swear allegiance to it every morning.
The bastardized flag may owe something to the flag that went down in defeat under Aguinaldo, but it also harks back to the same flag raised at the inauguration of the Puppet Republic in 1943, and a variation of which was inflicted on a subjugated nation under Marcos. A flag dishonored through association, and whose legitimacy was long supplanted by the flag Filipinos fought for in Bataan, raised in triumph in 1946, borne at Ninoy Aquino’s funeral, waved at EDSA, and finally raised over the former US bases in 1992.
This is not the sort of legacy Salvador H. Laurel should want to leave us.
Del Pilar, December 13, 1952
By Leon Ma. Guerrero
December 13, 1952—OF all our national heroes, Marcelo H. del Pilar was, perhaps, nearest to the modern Filipino. Modern in his concept of political activity, modern in his belief in organization, modern in his skillful and efficient use of propaganda, he was the prototype of the modern politician, lawyer, newspaperman and civic leader. Del Pilar should surely be ranked on equal terms with Rizal, Bonifacio and Aguinaldo as a leader of the victorious revolution against Spain.
Few Filipinos realize that the Spaniards, who were after all the best judges of their enemies, placed Del Pilar ahead of Rizal and the others. General Ramon Blanco, governor-general of the Philippines at the outbreak of the Revolution, said that Del Pilar was “the most intelligent [of the Filipino politicians], the true soul of the independence movement, very superior to Rizal.”
We do not have to take the judgment of the Spanish Governor-General. Our own historians uphold the proposition that Del Pilar inspired the organization of the Katipunan, if he did not actually found and direct it. Proof of this are the facts that the by-laws of the Katipunan were submitted for approval by Bonifacio to Del Pilar, that Bonifacio used the letter of Del Pilar sanctioning the organization to recruit adherents, and that the Kalayaan, official organ of the Katipunan, carried the name of the absent Del Pilar as editor. Thus was explicit and formal recognition given to the man whose ideas and ideals inspired the revolutionary movement. So intimately was Del Pilar connected with the Katipunan, and so highly was he regarded by its leaders, that Bonifacio reverently copied the letters of Del Pilar to his brother-in-law, Deodato Arellano, considering them as sacred relics and, together with the letters that he himself received, as guides for action.
Marcelo Hilario del Pilar was born on the 30th of August 1850. It is a pity that our people did not see fit to celebrate the centenary of his birth two years ago, but the opportunity has passed forever. His birthplace was the sitio of Cupang in the barrio of San Nicolas, municipality of Bulacan.
The real surname of the family was Hilario. Del Pilar was added only in obedience to the famous decree of Claveria in 1849, the same that added Rizal to the name of the Mercados. It is probable that noble blood ran in Del Pilar’s veins. His mother was a Gatmaytan, and the prefix Gat indicated her descent from the ancient Tagalog aristocracy.
From the beginning he came in conflict with the friars, who were to become his lifelong enemies. He was a fourth-year law student at the University of Santo Tomas when he quarreled with the parish priest of San Miguel, Manila, over some baptismal fees. He seems to have been so deeply affected by this incident that he interrupted his studies for eight years, during which he worked as a government clerk. When he was finally admitted to the bar, he was already 30 years old and married to his cousin, Marciana Hilario del Pilar.
To understand his subsequent career, it is necessary to realize the political situation at the time. The real and effective political power in the Philippines during the close of the Spanish regime was exercised by the religious orders. We had what Del Pilar termed “La Frailocracia” in one of his most renowned works, that is to say, a government by friars.
They had attained this position through a shrewd and masterful strategy. To the Filipinos they denounced the abuses of the civil government, and proclaimed themselves the only protectors of the common people. To the civil government, in turn, they accused the Filipinos of being anti-Spanish and proclaimed themselves the most effective defenders of the Spanish sovereignty.
Thus, playing one against the other, the friars were able to maintain their predominance over both, in much the same way that certain elements in our own time proclaim themselves the only ones who can get American assistance for the common people, and brand their political opponents as anti-American and anti-democratic (the present equivalent of the terms mason, filibustero, and libre-pensador, so useful to the friars.)
Such a strategy of duplicity and deceit could not then, as it cannot now, succeed forever. In the end it was exposed and defeated, as it will again be discredited and repudiated in our own time. But it still worked when Del Pilar, as a young lawyer, returned to his native province and immediately proceeded to oppose it.
His counterstrategy was simple, but it reveals his political talent. He allied himself in every possible way with the Spanish civilian officials, who did not relish any more than he did the soberanía monacal, the monkish regime. Most of us, looking back at the past through the pages of a textbook, have grown to believe that all the Spaniards were bad, that their government was uniformly oppressive, that they knew nothing of constitutions, democratic rights and modern political institutions.
The fact is that Spain itself had undergone a long and ferocious revolution and civil war, and that the Spanish people had proved with their blood their understanding, devotion and right to constitutional government. There were Spanish liberals as well as Spanish reactionaries; the issue in the Philippines, as Del Pilar and Rizal saw it, was whether the liberals or the reactionaries, as represented by the friars and their supporters, would gain the upper hand in the distant colony, and whether or not the Spanish constitution and its bill of rights, and the Spanish system of representative government through the Cortes, would be extended to the Filipinos.
One may appreciate this in a flash from the title of one of Del Pilar’s pamphlets, which was called simply: “Viva España! Viva el Rey! Viva el Ejercito! Fuera los Frailes!” That is to say, “Long live Spain! Long live the King! Long live the Army! Throw the friars out!”
Such was Del Pilar’s political slogan, and he put it into practice by winning to his side liberal Spanish laymen, Filipino local officials, and the officers of the guardia civil. His father had been three times gobernadorcillo of Bulacan, and Del Pilar was used to the ways of provincial politics. He maneuvered to have one of his relatives, Manuel Crisostomo, named gobernadorcillo of Malolos, and, when the latter was relieved on suspicion of subversive activities, to have another relative, Vicente Gatmaytan, appointed in his place. Del Pilar also seems to have exercised great influence on the Spanish governor of the province, Manuel Gomez Florio.
With this organization behind him, Del Pilar took the side of the cabezas de barangay of Malolos in a bitter dispute with the parish priest over the collection of excessive taxes. Subsequently, in another controversy over the control of the civilian authorities in public funerals, he even convinced the Spanish governor to order the arrest of the friar-curate. In 1887 and 1888 he expanded his field of activities and prepared eloquent denunciations and memorials directed to the Governor-General and to the Queen Regent herself.
Obviously, the daring provincial politician could not for long escape the vengeance of the religious orders. At their instigation, a confidential investigation was held. Del Pilar was accused of being “anti-Spanish”—familiar phrase—and the counsel of subversive elements against the friars. The case was taken to Malacañan itself. This time, even his friend, the Spanish governor of Bulacan, was unable to protect him. On the 28th of October 1888, Del Pilar hurriedly took a ship to Spain as the decree for his exile from his native province was about to be signed.
In the Spanish metropolis, he plunged once more into political activity. He intrigued with the principal Spanish politicians, trying to secure promises and concessions. But above all he embarked on the gigantic one-man propaganda campaign which was to become his lifework and his main contribution to the Revolution. He edited La Solidaridad almost single-handedly, but with such rare ability that Rizal contented himself with occasional contributions from abroad.
Unlike Rizal, furthermore, Del Pilar had a modern sense of mass publicity. While the poet-hero wrote his tremendous novels in Spanish, a language that few Filipinos could read, Del Pilar flooded his native country with smuggled pamphlets written in simple Tagalog, a Tagalog that is still a model of lucidity, directness and force.
Del Pilar was no academician or theorist; he was ribald, sometimes coarse, even blasphemous. He wrote parodies of the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Apostles’ Creed, the catechism—all ridiculing his enemy the friar—and as a masterstroke of propaganda, he printed them in the same size and the same format as the pious catechism and novenas distributed by the friars to the faithful in the provinces.
It was modern propaganda; ruthless, unscrupulous, popular and tremendously effective. Yet Del Pilar was, also, a generous enemy. When his hated antagonist in polemics, the simple friar Rodriguez died, Del Pilar paid a heartfelt tribute to his sincerity, charity, love of truth, and honor, pointing out that the good father had received an exceedingly mystical education and was not to blame if he stubbornly idealized the facts of life.
When he learned from his wife that enemies, probably agents of the friars, had burned their house in Bulacan, he wrote to her: “I am not surprised over the burning of our house. Our enemies are capable of worse misdeeds! If the criminal hired for the job is one of our people, I know he was misled by his ignorance of my sincere love for him, for I cannot believe he would otherwise have sunk so low to do me harm. There is not a bit of resentment in my heart.”
How painful it was for this man to live separated from his wife and children! It was not only the penury which he suffered in Madrid; it was most of all the absence of his loved ones that drove him to distraction. His letters to his family reveal all the goodness of that heart, hidden under the truculent and combative visage of the propagandist.
His heart bled when his youngest daughter Anita, hearing that her father needed money in Spain, sent him one peso, which she had hoarded out of the Christmas gifts given to her. Upon receiving the touching present, Del Pilar wrote to his wife: “I can’t seem to forget the peso Anita sent me. I wish you had contrived somehow not to send it so that you could have bought her a pair of shoes instead. My heart bleeds every time I think of the hard life you and our children lead, and so I am very eager to return home to be able to take care of you and our children.”
Why did he not go back? He was not living in Madrid in the style of those of our contemporaries who have access to the favors of the Central Bank. He had no dollars for nightclubs and gifts. Indeed, as he said in one of his letters to his wife: “For my meals I have to approach friends for loans, day after day. To be able to smoke, I have gone to the extreme of picking up cigarette butts in the streets.…” But his friends in Spain, as well as the family council in his native land, urged him to stay, and conscious of his duties to his people, he himself knew he had to stay.
Besides, and this is a revealing episode in his life, he did not want to bring disaster upon his family and native town. It was not without bitterness that he saw the entire population of Calamba dispossessed in the furore over Rizal’s return. He wrote to his wife: “Regarding your advice about not following the example of Rizal…it is indeed very unfortunate! That man not only does not build, but also wrecks what others have built inch by inch by dint of hard labor. Of course, he really does not mean it, but because of his headlong ways, he brings misery to others. If my misfortunes bring blessing to others, I really would not mind them; but if they bring misery and disaster to many, then they are useless indeed!”
It is difficult to believe that these are words of Del Pilar on Rizal. But heroes are also human; they disagree among themselves. Rizal had his own reasons for returning, just as Del Pilar had his own for remaining in Spain. They had, one might say, two different concepts of sacrifice: Both were prepared to make a supreme sacrifice; Rizal was ready to die; Del Pilar was willing to face what was, to him, worse than death: exile.
But in the end, Del Pilar himself was convinced that it was useless to remain in Spain any longer. The time for practical politics had passed. Concessions would no longer be sufficient. He had learned enough from Bonifacio’s messages to know that the hour had struck for armed revolution.
Racked with tuberculosis, his constitution broken by years of hardships and hunger, penniless in a foreign land, Del Pilar dragged himself to Barcelona to wait for a ship back home. He was so wretchedly sick that, like an animal, he had to climb on hands and knees up to the poor garret where he lived.
He grew so much worse that he had to suspend his trip. He was taken to a charity ward. There, on the 4th of July 1896, a few days before the Cry of Balintawak, a few months before the execution of Rizal, and half a century exactly to the day before the proclamation of our independent Republic, Del Pilar died, a pauper, almost deserted, far from his beloved family, consoled only by the last sacraments of his old enemy the Church. There was not even enough money to pay for a grave. His body was buried in the private crypt of the family of a friend, on a hill overlooking the sea that lay between him and home.
Thus died the greatest of the Bulakeños, and one of the greatest of the Filipinos.
How many of us know even now where the remains of Del Pilar are buried?
With characteristic indifference, we let his body rot in a borrowed grave in Barcelona until a passing traveler took initiative, many years later, to bring back the poor bones and ashes. Today he rests in the mausoleum of the Veterans of the Revolution in Manila. He does not even have a grave to call his own. Perhaps he would rather rest there, in a common grave with those who fought for his ideals. Del Pilar was always a believer in unity, cooperation, brotherhood. That was, after all, the name he chose for the newspaper which was his lifework: La Solidaridad.
There are many kinds of heroism. There is the heroism of the martyrs like Rizal, pure and spotless victims offered in atonement for the sins of mankind. There is the heroism of the fighters like Bonifacio, bold and gallant in the vanguard of the struggle.
And there is also the heroism of those who, like Del Pilar, work and make their sacrifices in the sustained devotion of their daily tasks. Theirs is not the spectacular glory of the battlefield or the tragic splendor of the scaffold. But it is nonetheless heroic to starve for an ideal, to be lonely among many enemies, to suffer indifference and ignorance, to die a beggar and lie buried in a borrowed grave. Such was the heroism of Del Pilar.
Interview with the General, June 11, 1949
In the Philippines’ postwar era, Emilio Aguinaldo (who died in 1964, the year of Beatlemania, at the age of 94) was, of course, widely regarded as a living legend. His company was sought by many, including this magazine’s staffers at that time, who became chummy with the General. Here is T.M. Locsin’s interview with Aguinaldo.—Ed.
Interview with the General
By Teodoro M. Locsin
On the “violent” Bonifacio, the “slanderer” Mabini and other topics Emilio Aguinaldo would rather not talk about.
June 11, 1949—Aguinaldo, at 80, is a spry old gentleman who seems to run as he walks. He holds himself straight; he talks with animation and authority; he is no sad echo from the past but still very much the man who had headed the army of the revolution against Spain.
“Historians make much of the Cry of Balintawak,” he observed without vainglory, only with the earnest air of a man setting history right, “but it was only, after all, a cry. The first shots were fired in Cavite. It was there that the door was actually opened to Philippine independence. It was there that the first independent revolutionary government was established.”
What about Bonifacio?
“I do not like to talk about it.”
But he should. People still hold him responsible for Bonifacio’s death.
“Bonifacio was executed after being found guilty by a court-martial of treason and sedition. I had nothing to do with it. He was a good man, but violent.…”
What about Mabini?
“He was a good man, too. They were both good men. But it was he who, after a political defeat, spread the slander that I was responsible for Bonifacio’s death. They were both good men and we were friends. We were friends until politics destroyed our friendship….”
He shook his gray head.
“I do not like to speak of those things now. We must keep their names bright. We must have as many heroes as possible, for the glory of our country.”
Aguinaldo was born in Kawit, Cavite, on March 22, 1869. His father died when he was nine and his mother supported the eight children. Aguinaldo, the seventh child, returned to Kawit when his mother could no longer maintain four children in school in Manila. He helped his mother work their piece of land, then went into the “buy-and-sell” business. With a small boat he sold clothes, rice, salt, cattle and general merchandise in Mindoro, Romblon, Masbate, Panay, making from P300 to P500 per trip. In those days a teacher earned P10 a month.
He was elected capitan municipal or mayor by the prominent men of Kawit, called Cavite Viejo then. On the night of his election he joined the Masons at their secret lodge in Imus. Masonry was forbidden. The grandmaster of the lodge was Juan Castañeda, father of General Castañeda. Then came the revolution.
Aguinaldo joined the rebels at Kawit and was designated as abanderado—the man who held the flag and marched at the head of the column in an attack. The rebels—or insurgents, as Aguinaldo prefers to call them—surrounded the Spanish garrison in Imus.
“We killed three friars. The friars were well-armed. They had Winchesters.” Aguinaldo here made the motion of aiming a rifle and pulling the trigger. “We had only three rifles, and bolos.”
During the battle, Aguinaldo left the front in Imus to meet the column of General Aguirre in Bacoor. The Spaniards had cavalry and artillery, and routed the insurgents. General Aguirre then proceeded to Imus to relieve the Spanish forces there. But the Spaniards had surrendered and the insurgents now had many rifles and even a cannon from the hacienda of the friars.
“We cut the bridge and waited for the Spaniards at the bank of the river. When the Spaniards appeared, we gave it to them. The first cannon shot killed many. Most of those killed were Filipinos in the forces of the Spaniard. When General Aguirre fled, his saber fell. That is the saber I am holding in the picture.”
Aguinaldo fought the Spaniard “almost every day” in Zapote, Bacoor. The Spaniard could not advance. An independent government was set up in Cavite and many Filipinos came to live under the free regime.
“Many, many people came.”
The Spaniards, under Capt. Gen. Ramon Blanco—“El Excelentisimo Don Ramon Blanco, Marques de Estella,” Aguinaldo rolled the name laughingly over his tongue—took the outpost in Binakayan. Aguinaldo and his men retook it, the Spaniards having been maneuvered into and caught between three fires.
An election was held at Tejeros for the General Revolutionary Assembly. Andres Bonifacio convoked and presided over the convention.
“I was in the field,” Aguinaldo said. “ I was not even present.”
Bonifacio was a candidate for president of the coalition government. (“There were two revolutionary governments in Cavite, one the Magdiwang, headed by Bonifacio, and the other the Magdalo, led by me,” Aguinaldo explained.) Aguinaldo was elected president.
“Bonifacio ran for vice president and was again defeated. Bonifacio ran for secretary of war and was once more defeated. He ran for secretary of interior and that was when he won.
“But upon the proclamation of Bonifacio as secretary of interior, Gen. Daniel Tirona protested the election, saying that the secretary should be a lawyer. Bonifacio reminded Tirona that the agreement was to recognize whoever was elected. Bonifacio was angry, very angry. He drew his gun. Tirona disappeared among the crowd. I was told of what happened by those who had witnessed it. Bonifacio left the convention in rage.”
The committee appointed to notify Aguinaldo of his election found him in the field. Aguinaldo, asked to assume the presidency, refused to leave his post. The Spaniards had taken two towns. The committee returned to Tejeros and a second one was sent this time headed by Gen. Crispulo Aguinaldo, Emilio’s older brother. To Emilio his brother said: “Turn over to me this command and the Spaniard will take the line only over my dead body.” The Spaniards later did, over the body of Crispulo Aguinaldo.
Meanwhile, Emilio took his oath of office as president in Tejeros on March 22, 1897—on his birthday. He was then 28 years old.
“As president I called the forces of Magdiwang to help our forces in Pasong Santol. Bonifacio, I was told, opposed it. Instead, he urged the men to attack me. It was only, of course, a report, and I ignored it.
“After the execution of Bonifacio, I asked Mabini to resign as president of the cabinet upon a resolution of the congress. Mabini’s draft of a constitution had been turned down, hence the congressional resolution. Mabini blamed me for the alleged failure of the revolution. He started the calumny that I had ordered Bonifacio killed.
“It was all politics, of course, and I wish you would not ask me more about it.”
After nine months of revolutionary independence, the insurgents signed the Pact of Biaknabato with the Spaniard. The Spaniards promised equal rights and reforms. And P800,000 to the revolutionary government. The Spaniard gave only P400,000, no equal right, no reforms. Aguinaldo and company used the money to buy arms and returned from exile in Hong Kong with Admiral Dewey.
On June 12, 1898, Philippine independence from Spain was proclaimed in Kawit. The Filipino flag, as we know it today, was first unfurled, the national anthem first officially played. American officials were present. An American colonel of artillery, L.M. Johnson, was one of the 98 signers of the proclamation of independence.
“First we were friends with the Americans. Then we were enemies. Then friends again. Friends, enemies, then friends again.”
The Philippine legislature granted Aguinaldo a pension of P1,000 a month in 1920.
“The pension was cut off in 1935. You know, Apo Quezon was very angry with me. Even land formerly belonging to the friars which I had bought on the installment plan was taken away from me when I failed to keep up with the installment payments. I had already paid much, but the land was taken anyway.”
When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, Aguinaldo issued a proclamation calling on General McArthur to stop the fighting.
“I did not want our youth to be killed uselessly. It was no use fighting then. I wanted the young men to wait—to wait and prepare for a new battle.”
An old Kawit resident recalls how, when the Japanese visited Aguinaldo and offered him a Japanese sword, Aguinaldo refused the sword. He wanted the Japanese to leave him alone.
“ I am too old,” he said to the Japanese.
What does Aguinaldo think of the future of the Philippines? From the vantage point of his eighty years, what did he think the future holds for the country? What of the Communist victories in China? And what did he think of the present political situation? Whom did he favor among the candidates for the presidency—he who was the first president of the first Philippine republic?
Aguinaldo would rather not say anything.
“Please,” he said.