I REMEMBER THE GENERAL
by gloria d m ong
Blame my awful youth then and a corresponding awful lack of a sense of history.
But I had somehow taken for granted General Emilio F. Aguinaldo's presence in the ancestral home of my forebears, the Agoncillos, of Taal, Batangas. The once-or-twice-a-year visits he would make by way of accompanying my Ninang Angge(Maria Agoncillo-Aguinaldo), his second wife and my cousin-godmother, I would consider routine. (They got married on 14 July 1930, nine years after he became a widower.
So as I kissed their hands, it would be out of a perfunctory sense of obligation, oblivious to the fact that I was in close contact with a colorful and controversial personage in Philippine history.
True, later on I knew him to be the First President of the First Philippine Republic. At that time, however, I was still young then, and the fact did not mean much to most Filipinos, used as we had been to celebrating our independence day at the same time as the Americans. July 4 was the red-letter day for many of us. Most people would merely have faint ideas or even more nebulous stories of an attempt by our forefathers to establish an independent government.
Nevertheless, I had come to associate Ninong Miong with his own version of the barong, with an upturned collar or cerrada, reminiscent of the uniform of the revolucionarios.
And how could I forget the famous "Aguinaldo haircut?" Practically everyone in the household would allude to him as Heneral Balukag (General whose hair stands on end) because of his white, closely-cropped hair.
In any case, when Aguinaldo was in Taal, he would spend some time taking a walk just inside the house accompanied by a servant or a relative. Often, he would just sit for hours, completely alone in his thoughts. He would impress me as a silent relic of the revolutionary era.
One time tho, I mustered the courage to ask him how old he was. He answered 44. He must have been getting senile since I knew he was much older than that! But before I could squeak a follow-up question, he added, without batting an eyelash, "In dollars, hija." At that time, the exchange rate was two pesos to $1. He was still in control of his faculties, not to mention having a deadpan sense of humor!
His biography states that Emilio F. Aguinaldo was born in Kawit, Cavite on 22 March 1869, the seventh son of Carlos Aguinaldo and Trinidad Famy, both well-to-do citizens of the town.
He completed elementary in Kawit and in 1880 went to the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Manila but did not finish because of his father's death. His patriotic instincts beckoning to him, he joined the Katipunan with the pseudonym of Magdalo. This was in 1895 and he was initiated by none other than Andres Bonifacio himself, the founder and organizer of this society of revolutionaries.
Together with Bonifacio, he attacked the Spanish army and in no time at all became noted for his series of triumphs in battles, especially that of Binakayan. Here, the well-equipped Spanish troops under General Ramon Blanco suffered total defeat.
On 12 June 1898, Aguinaldo was elected president of the revolutionary government. He was just 29 years old. American observers such as Leonard R. Sargent, a U.S. naval cadet and W.B. Wilcox, a naval paymaster, who traveled extensively in Luzon with the permission of Admiral George Dewey, commented that the areas controlled by the Republic seemed peaceful and well-governed--"The Malolos congress had set up schools, a military academy, and the Literary University of the Philippines. Government finances were organized, and new currency was issued. The army and navy were established on a regular basis, having regional commands. "
On 23 June 1898, Aguinaldo created a subcommittee on diplomacy to gain world recognition of the independence of the Philippines. On 10 August, a five-member executive junta was set up in Hong Kong to disseminate propaganda abroad, conduct diplomatic negotiations on instructions from home and purchase arms and ammunition for the Republic. On 23 November, a commission was appointed and charged with the duty of "informing the civilized world...of the capacity of the Filipinos to govern themselves" and specifically to work for the recognition of Philippine independence by foreign powers. But as Federico Pascual wrote, "The accomplishments of the Filipino government, however, counted for little in the eyes of the great powers as the transfer of the islands from Spanish to United States rule was arranged in the closing months of 1898."
Though the Republic was short-lived, Aguinaldo lived long enough to see it projected to its own significant place in history.
I remember visiting him and his family on Calle Lara in the populous San Nicolas district in Manila. Here he would have their residence-headquarters in his capacity as chairman of the Board of Pensions, working for the welfare of the members of Asociacion de los Veteranos de la Revolucion 1896.
Not until Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal shifted by Executive Order the celebration of Independence Day from 4 July to 12 June did Ninong Miong get to be the focal point of Independence Day activities. The first such celebration occurred in 1962. According to a newspaper account, "when Macapagal spoke at the Luneta on his first June 12 address to the nation, his speech was drowned by waves of thunderous applause from more than a million Filipinos packed at the Luneta, waving small Philippine flags, especially when he said: 'In the discharge of my responsibility as President of the Republic, I moved the observance of the anniversary of our independence to this day, because a nation is born into freedom on the day when such a people molded into a nation by a process of cultural evolution and sense of oneness born of common struggle and suffering, announce to the world that it asserts its natural right to liberty and is ready to defend it with blood, life and honor.'
An eyewitness to that first such celebration where Macapagal invited Aguinaldo to be the guest of honor was Raymundo Sian. Sian's maternal grandfather was Antonio Escamilla, "an aide-de-camp and official translator to General Aguinaldo." Sian narrated, "During the independence celebrations in 1962, I was watching the parade at the Luneta and there was a float depicting the window of the Aguinaldo home in Kawit with figures representing the people in the window with the General raising the Philippine Flag. General Aguinaldo was in the Quirino grandstand and there was someone who aided him in standing at attention and saluting the flag. As soon as he stood up, everyone in the grandstand also stood up to honor him and to applaud."
But Aguinaldo did not enjoy the limelight for long. On 6 February 1964, he died before he could turn 95 at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City. Ninang Angge had died earlier in 1963. Five years later, the nation celebrated the Aguinaldo Centennial.
In December 1959 Aguinaldo donated the rayadillo uniform that he wore in battle to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). The PMA later turned it over to the AFP Museum. Aguinaldo had also donated his mansion and land in Kawit to the government "to perpetuate the spirit of the Revolution of 1896 and revivify the nationalism that moved our country to rise in arms." Then on 1 December 1975, the General Emilio Aguinaldo Foundation was established "to enkindle in the heart of every Filipino a sense of pride in the uniqueness and nobility of his heritage."
I suppose I try to do just that. But then a personal footnote to my telling my sons about my godfather is that the boys invariably and irreverently comment, "Gosh! Mama, then you must have also known Jose Rizal!"
(Note: Jose Rizal, our national hero, lived from 1861 to 1896.)
“There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it — perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands — but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector — not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now — why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I'm sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.” ----Mark Twain