Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and Philippine History

by Jamal Ashley Abbas

Much of the “official” Philippine history is a construct of the indigenous elites of Luzon who came into political and economic leadership during the American Occupation.

The biggest casualties (in terms of what I call “historical character assassination”) in the American period were General Emilio Aguinaldo and his fellow Katipuneros.

There was a great fuss about the Centennial celebrations in 1998. It was supposed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of Independence by Emilio Aguinaldo and his Katipunan. 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. Yet 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.

Perhaps Voltaire, in his call for accurate history, was correct when he stated that history has become “a pack of tricks we play on the dead.” The Shakespeare line, “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred in their bones”, could very well be applied to Emilio Aguinaldo and many of his co-Katipuneros.

The “Aguinaldo symptom” is just one of the many symptoms of the Filipinos’ historical malady. This historical “dis-ease” must be diagnosed, articulated and cured. Otherwise the Filipino can never know its true Self, its historical heritage. It (the Filipino identity) can never be at ease with itself.

The Filipino elite (the ilustrados) re-constructed Philippine history, with the aid of the Americans, during and after the American colonization. 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.

In 1899, the French journalist Gaston Rouvier described Aguinaldo as “even to his enemies, (he is) the greatest man of the Malay race.” Recounting the Filipino victory over Spain during the so-called Spanish-American war, 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.

Aguinaldo as the greatest of the Malay race? A veritable Bonaparte? This would come as a surprise to many Filipinos living today who had 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. Somebody, preferably a historian, should explain the discrepancy.

It seems strange that American and Filipino historians give scant attention to European eyewitness accounts of the Philippine-American war. Perhaps it was due to the fact that European journalists had been writing that only Filipinos could defeat Filipinos in that war. It is another blow to the Filipino identity.

In an interview with French journalist Henri Turot in 1899, Florentino Torres, a Filipino lawyer articulated the ideas of the ilustrados:

“There is in Aguinaldo a most serious cause for concern. You must know that the insurrectionary movement is not only nationalist; it is above all socialist and revolutionary. The people did not want the Spanish exploiters anymore; they do not like the Americans any better, who have fooled them and dream of enslaving them. I’ll say more; they no longer want any masters of any kind. So much so that they being victorious over the Americans, they would take advantage of this victory to the limit: we would then have a kind of socialist republic… A number of young men who studied in Europe brought back the socialist doctrine with them. Do we have to cite Luna, who frequented the socialist clubs in Spain for a long time; Sandiko, who was a propagandist in America; Paterno, a poet, a fanatic?… And what is more frightening still is that those who surround Aguinaldo want to imitate the great French revolution and are inspired by its spirit. The day after the proclamation of the Philippine Republic, the newspaper in support of the president published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. You may be sure that they want to follow the examples of 1789 and 1793 right to the end… Since we prefer to live under American domination rather than be ruined and stripped by a socialist republic, since we have the instinct of self-preservation which is not really surprising, we wish for no more than an honorable modus vivendi from the representatives of the United States.”[1]

The above quotation gives the underlying cause of the Aguinaldo symptom.  The dominant elite  — theilustrado, abandoned the revolutionary cause and stabbed Aguinaldo in the back, as it were. And so Aguinaldo and his fellow revolutionaries had to be discredited.

Accounts by French journalists about the War in the Philippines clearly emphasized that the US wanted to conquer the Philippines from the very start. But, as Serafin Quiason, chair and Executive Director of the National Historical Institute, wrote in his 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.”

It would indeed be difficult to have an identity if one is fed with historical notions constructed and re-constructed by others with vested interests – the Spanish, the Americans, the elites, etc. British historian Robin Collingwood says, “Humans have no nature, only history.” What does that make of the Filipino?…

1 Turot, Henri, The War in the Philippines  from The War in the Philippines: As Reported By Two French Journalists in 1899, translated by E. Aguilar Cruz,  National Historical Institute, Manila:1994, pp. 53-5

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