current events, History

Aguinaldo and Philippine History

Philippine Star columnist wrote about me and the country’s first president, Emilio Aguinaldo in her column yesterday:

 Aguinaldo’s role comes up every June 12

FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa

(The Philippine Star) Updated June 23, 2012 12:00 AM

Every June 12, I try to write about General Emilio Aguinaldo. His role in the making of our nation has not been given its rightful place. Among the few who have kept hammering on the issue is Muslim scholar Datu Jamal Ashley Yahya Abbas. He is now a facebook friend and inevitably we exchanged notes on the wrong done to the hero. I reminded him yet again that it was through his writings that I changed my opinion on General Aguinaldo.

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The last time I spoke about this project on Aguinaldo was at a lunch with Aguinaldo descendant, Cesar Virata. Another admirer of Aguinaldo, Antonio Abaya was also present but he has had a massive stroke and would no longer be in any position to help. Abbas agreed that revisiting the story of Emilio Aguinaldo is central to the history of the Philippines. Correcting that mistake may be the key to understanding the complex relations we have with the United States of America today. Looking at some scattered notes, the elections in 1935 in which Aguinaldo was defeated was probably the first foreign intervention on how we should be led. What was the reason for that intervention? Perhaps, his descendants should take the initiative. It is puzzling that nothing has been done in this direction. “Rehabilitating Aguinaldo is a tall order. Quezon and the Americans had totally destroyed him in the minds of the masses. But somebody has to start it. You and the Aguinaldos could very well spearhead the project. I would be glad to be of help, in any capacity,” Abbas said. Tall order it may be but its urgency grows with each year that we celebrate Philippine Independence Day on June 12.

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Abbas’ writings tell us that the Europeans especially French journalists were more sympathetic to the Philippine cause at the time. He refers to the articles written by French journalists who were actually in Manila to cover the war and the Philippine declaration of independence. Being reporters on the scene, as far as they were concerned the hero of the Philippine wars of independence against the Americans was General Emilio Aguinaldo. During the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of Independence celebration, the on the scene reports by the European journalists should have been put at the center stage to be emphasized and its implications brought out. Abbas, who knows French, wrote on those reports. “Yet Aguinaldo, who became a cause celebre in Europe during his time for daring to fight the American power, had such a bad press in his own country. He died in old age almost in disgrace . . . Rizal wrote only two novels and Bonifacio’s Manila revolt lasted for only about a week or so. It was Aguinaldo’s army who subdued the Spaniards while the Americans looked on. It was Aguinaldo who proclaimed the Philippine Republic, whose centennial was celebrated with pomp and ceremony. And it was Aguinaldo who led the fight against two-thirds of one of the world’s strongest army at that time,” Abbas wrote. He puts the blame on the Filipino elite (the ilustrados) for reconstructing Philippine history.

“The Americans and their new wards (Quezon et al.) needed to demonize Aguinaldo and the Katipunan. Although the Americans declared the Philippine-American war as “officially” finished in 1902, some Katipuneros continued the fight led by such men as Mariano Sakay and Miguel Malvar. Gen. Artemio Ricarte chose exile in Japan over an ignominious surrender to America.”

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There are a number of Filipino historians and writers fluent in French who are qualified to take up this cause. We should delve deeper. Luckily we have the accounts of French journalists as a starting point. The French journalist Gaston Rouvier described Aguinaldo as “even to his enemies, (he is) the greatest man of the Malay race.” Rouvier wrote: “As soon as the naval victory of Dewey in Cavite was achieved… (Aguinaldo) left for the Philippines…The MacCulloch transported them. “On May 19, hardly disembarked, Aguinaldo rekindled the embers of revolt across the Luzon provinces, thanks to his untiring work and a kind of magnetic influence which he exercised on his followers. He roused a rebel leader in every district. For the capture of all Spanish garrisons and outposts, he devised a campaign plan. He was Bonaparte, if his admirers were to be believed. “Bonaparte, indeed, by the strange fascination that he elicited from his people. He obtained extraordinary results. In two days, his messengers covered 150 kilometres. In 36 hours, his soldiers travelled 70 to 80 kilometres. Thus, he was able to take the Spanish garrisons by surprise; he was able to take hold of arms and treasures. From May 1898 to January 1899, he led the struggle against Spain without let-up. He captured 15,000 Spanish soldiers and forced 2,000 to 3,000 others to leave Camarines, Tayabas, Batangas and Laguna for Mindoro, Panay and Cebu. At present he still detains 6,000 Spanish soldier-prisoners in the northern provinces.”

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Such a tribute to Aguinaldo comes as a surprise to me and other Filipinos equally nurtured with a different version. “Filipinos living today have been brought up to think of Aguinaldo as an elitist leader who sold out the masses, who killed the father of the Revolution, Andres Bonifacio, and the greatest Filipino general, Antonio Luna. (CNP: The revolutionary funds that were entrusted to him disappeared. He allegedly left it with his girlfriend, Ysidra Cojuangco). Somebody, preferably a historian, should explain the discrepancy.”

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Tall order or not it has to be done. Abbas cites Serafin Quiason, once chair and executive director of the National Historical Institute, who wrote the preface to the volume The War In The Philippines: As Reported by Two French Journalists in 1899. “Its story disappeared from the Filipino consciousness for two generations, thanks to the history books authored first by American teachers and then by Filipinos steeped in the colonial atmosphere of the educational system.” “For a nation trying to find its identity, nothing is worse than seeing its greatest sons de-bunked . . . During my elementary school years, I remember asking my elders why Aguinaldo was not as great as Rizal or even Bonifacio. One answer that I often got was because Aguinaldo did not die fighting. In my freshman year in college, the history teacher asked the students to think of a question for a debate. Many students responded with the proposition to resolve who was the better hero, Rizal or Bonifacio. When I interjected and proposed Aguinaldo’s name, the class fell silent,” adds Abbas.

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