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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.