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BEYOND SIGHT: 118 Years In Search of Freedom and Change

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By Monsi A. Serrano

We are commemorating the 118 Years of Philippine Independence when we declared our independence from Spain. But not everyone knows that despite our own declaration of Philippine Independence, the Philippines failed to win international recognition of our independence even by America or Spain.

While the objective of then General Emilio Aguinaldo in declaring the Philippine Independence was to inspire the Filipino people to fight against the Spaniards, and at the same time lead other nations to recognize the independence of the Philippines, that hasty and treacherous move created a “de facto” independence at our own embarrassment. In a way, it betrays the flaw in the character of Aguinaldo being an opportunist, a trapo (traditional politician) and a user. Come to think of it, it was the Supremo Andres Bonifacio who founded the Katipunan in 1892, and at the same time it was also him who started the first revolt against the Spaniards. Ironically, it was the Supremo who inducted Aguinaldo into the Katipunan, the latter assumed the nom de guerre Magdalo after the name of Mary Magdalene, the “prostitute”. Doesn’t it sound fitting for Aguinaldo who “prostituted” his position to advance his ambition at the expense of other people? This happened when Aguinaldo had the Supremo and his brother arrested and executed on May 10, 1897.

Interestingly, Aguinaldo and the other revolutionary leaders agreed to be exiled to Hong Kong in quid pro quo from the Spanish government in 1897. It was agreed that Aguinaldo would end hostilities in exchange for amnesty in the amount of ₱800,000 pesos (Philippine money) as an indemnity. Another ₱900,000 pesos was to be given to the revolutionaries who remained in the Philippines and would agree to surrender their arms and be granted general amnesty and the Spaniards would institute reforms in the colony.

However, both the Spanish and Filipino authorities failed to follow the terms of the agreement. The total war indemnity of ₱1.7 million only ₱600,000 was actually paid by Spain and the ₱400,000 was given to Aguinaldo and the ₱200,000 was distributed among the revolutionary leaders in the Philippines. In short, Aguinaldo earned on behalf of the Filipino people. But here is the tragedy, those Filipino patriots who believed Aguinaldo surrendered their arms and promised to return to their homes were arrested, imprisoned, and persecuted, contrary to the amnesty proclamation. As for Aguinaldo, he just kept the money in the banks of Hong Kong while waiting for the right time to go back to the Philippines. What is disturbing here is it seems that there was a pattern from Aguinaldo to earn. During the Treaty of Paris, wherein the Philippines was sold to America by Spain for $20 million, it was also Aguinaldo who also made the arrangement with the American government for Spain to give up the Philippines in favor of America.

Now let us take a look at the ferocious General Antonio Luna. Luna is a no no-nonsense leader. He is not a politician but an idealistic and talented military officer who only wanted to instill discipline in the incorrigible lousy soldiers in order to be combat-ready and competitive so much so that there was an ongoing war. Apart from disciplining the ill-trained and ill-fed soldiers, he also wanted to prepare them for the imminent war and become real armies and be ferocious like lions. However, his mercurial temper and sharp tongue known for his way of disciplining the soldiers had ruffled some feathers in the ranks and was eventually resented by the soldiers under his command. To his credit, Luna was a very competent leader, no one can question him even the American military officers admired him. Some historians call him a military genius because of his strategic thinking. Luna’s three-tier defense which is known as the “Luna Defense Line”, gave the American troops a hard campaign in the provinces north of Manila. Consequently. it culminated in the creation of a military base in the Cordillera region.

Unfortunately, Luna was also a victim of “politicization” during the time of Aguinaldo. His candor and ill-temper caused some soldiers to abhor him. But mind you, Luna was not just an ordinary soldier. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Ateneo, studied literature and chemistry at the University of Santo Tomas, and even won first prize for a paper in chemistry titled Two Fundamental Bodies of Chemistry. He also studied pharmacy. He had many talents and special skills in swordsmanship, fencing, and military tactics he learned from his studies in the Spanish Army where he also acquired the skill to become a sharpshooter! Lastly, he also acquired a licentiate from the Universidad de Barcelona and a doctorate at the Universidad Central de Madrid. Because many envied Luna, even Aguinaldo was also threatened by Luna’s accomplishments, Aguinaldo made to believe that Luna was a stumbling block in his position as President as some people close to Aguinaldo like Pedro Paterno and Felipe Buencamino. On September 15, 1898 at the Malolos Congress during the constituent assembly of the First Philippine Republic, Luna was one of the elected representatives and narrowly defeated by Pedro Paterno as President of the Congress with a vote of 24–23. Hence, even Paterno felt threatened by Luna and also those other generals who were envious of his fast promotion.

The plot thickens, since most of the cabinet members of Aguinaldo felt threatened by Luna. It goes without saying, that the only way to do this is to sow intrigues that led to Luna’s brutal assassination which was of course being denied by Aguinaldo and even the clans of Aguinaldo at the present time. While Luna seemed to be stubborn, when he received two telegrams; one asked to launch a counterattack in San Fernando, Pampanga; and the other said to be signed by Aguinaldo himself, ordered him to go to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija to form a new cabinet. The jubilant Luna even wrote Arcadio Maxilom, the military commander in Cebu to continue to wage war. Luna sent a telegram to Aguinaldo confirming his arrival and he went to Cabanatuan with
Colonel Francisco “Paco” Roman and Captain Eduardo Rusca only to find out that Aguinaldo had left for San Isidro in Tarlac according to Buencamino.

Enraged, Luna asked why nobody told him the meeting was canceled. During the heated argument, a shot rang out. Luna rushed down the stairs and met Capt. Pedro Janolino and some members of the Kawit Battalion. Janolino struck Luna with his bolo wounding him on the head. Then Janolino’s men fired at Luna, while others started stabbing him even as he tried to shoot his attackers. Both Roman and Rusca came to the rescue, but they too were shot with Román being killed and Rusca badly wounded. As Luna lay dying, he said to his assassins, “Cowards! Assassins!” After Luna’s death, Aguinaldo relieved his officers and men from the field, including General Venacio Concepcion. While Aguinaldo continued to deny that he was part of the assassination plot, General Pantaleon García said that it was he who was verbally ordered by Aguinaldo to conduct the projected assassination of Luna at Cabanatuan. However, since he was sick it prevented him from participating in the carnage.

But karma comes so fast on Aguinaldo. He suffered successive and big defeats in the field that prompted him to retreat towards the north. Eventually, Aguinaldo was captured in Palanan, Isabela by the American forces. He was later brought to Manila and made to pledge allegiance to America.

With 118 years since we had our first Philippine Independence, the
questions remain the same: Did we really attain the freedom and change that we all wanted from being independent as early as the Spanish colonization? Are the Independence we have had since 1898 under the Spanish regime and as well as in 1946 under the American regime are all worth it? What is the essence of Independence or Freedom? What changes have taken place since then?

Personally, it is not just freedom from the colonizers that we Filipinos are hoping for. But freedom from poverty, corruption, ignorance, hunger, drugs, crimes and many more. As President Rody Duterte said, Change Is Coming! To a certain extent, we can see that Duterte could be associated with the characters of both Aguinaldo and Luna. Aguinaldo because he is known for being regionalistic, someone who thwarts those who are stumbling blocks to his position and goals for the country. Luna because Duterte is also known for his volatile temper and cursing even when instilling strict discipline in the people. Duterte is very much aware that the Filipino people expect a lot from him. He holds the record in the history of the Philippines on the result of the election. Apart from being the first President from Mindanao, he has also garnered big votes from all spectra of the society.

In retrospect, we can really say that the “buwaya” and “traitors” in the government have long been existing way back in the First Philippine Republic. At the same time, there are also those who are willing to give their lives in order to attain freedom and change with Duterte claiming to be the “unifying and healing” President, who will be his model and how would he govern our country. Is it ala-Luna or ala-Aguinaldo? That remains to be seen. At this point in time, all we need to do is to pray for him as well as for his plans to change the country to become a better country, be able to truly attend to the welfare of the Filipino people and hope for the best. Let him start with a clean slate because it is not good to rock the boat at this early stage and pull him down. As General Luna told to the young scribe in the movie who was interviewing him, “Malaking trabaho ang ipagkaisa ang bansang watak-watak, Joven.”

In the same breadth, the great German Writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is the watchword of the wise.”

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