Aguinaldo on Bonifacio in Cavite

"They are the two most colorful and controversial personalities in our country's history."


General Emilio Aguinaldo and Supremo Andres Bonifacio are the two most colorful and controversial personalities in our country’s history. In celebration of the History Month and as a respite from the anxieties brought by COVID-19, this piece will focus on an interesting phase during the revolution – the Supremo’s stay in Cavite.

All students of history know that Cavite was the stronghold of Gen. Aguinaldo and the only province that was liberated from Spanish rule. For months, Cavite was governed by Filipinos. When the news spread, thousands of townspeople from nearby provinces including Manila relocated to Cavite. They were called “alsa-balutan.”

On the other hand, the battle of Pinaglabanan on August 30, 1896 led by the Supremo resulted in a debacle and the death of hundreds of Katipuneros. The arrest of thousands of suspected Katipunan members ensued. For about four months Pinaglabanan, Bonifacio went in hiding in the mountains of San Mateo and nearby areas. There were reported small battles but Bonifacio failed to capture any town that could serve as his base.

He was invited to Cavite by Gen. Mariano Alvarez, the head of Magdiwang, to witness the successes of the revolutionaries there. Alvarez was the uncle of Gregoria de Jesus, Bonifacio’s wife. Cavite had two independent Katipunan Councils, the Magdiwang, and the Magdalo headed by Gen. Baldomero Aguinaldo, a first cousin of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.

Gen. Miong’s rise in popularity and stature was due to his victories in battle as “Pangulohang Digma” (Secretary of War). He was out in the battlefield because he was a soldier, first and foremost. From being a Captain, he soon became a General.

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) published a book entitled, “Talang Buhay ng Supremo And. Bonifacio sa Kabite” this year as part of [email protected] commemoration. This publication makes public for the first time Gen. Aguinaldo’s handwritten manuscript with the same title.

Full disclosure: I led the development and production of this book. The transcription of the document was also done by me. The original manuscript is in my safekeeping. Thus, when the NHCP said they wanted to publish it, they also gave me full control of the production.

The foreword is written by known and respected author and historian Dr. Reynaldo C. Ileto. As a historian, Dr. Ileto was known as an anti-Aguinaldo as clearly understood from his popular first book, “Pasyon and Revolution.” In my talks, and eventual meeting with him, however, he said that his perception of Gen. Aguinaldo has since changed. When asked why, he attributed it to age, and the discovery of more primary sources on the Philippine revolution. Such a change is reflected in his foreword to the “Talang Buhay ng Supremo And. Bonifacio sa Kabite.”

Dr. Ileto wrote: “The Talang Buhay gives us a glimpse of the leadership qualities that pushed Aguinaldo to the top of the military command in Cavite. When, for example, he received news of Silang’s fall, he rushed to the frontlines to reorganize General Belarmino’s scattered forces and mount a counterattack. Restoring order and discipline to an army in disarray depended very much on an officer’s ability to boost morale through his rousing speeches and display of personal courage. The popular perception is that Bonifacio and Luna possessed such talents. True, but the historical record points to Aguinaldo as the most accomplished of them all, which explains why he ultimately became the commanding general of the Republican army…”

“Aguinaldo’s reputation as an effective military leader would have spread far and wide. This would explain not only his ability to hold the Magdalo forces together, but also the respect he held even among the Magdiwang officers and their troops. The Talang Buhay narrates how, in response to Aguinaldo’s appeal for reinforcements, more and more Magdiwang officers were switching over to his command despite the fact that the Supremo had repeatedly refused to render assistance…”

Dr. Ileto continued, “The Talang Buhay reveals an Aguinaldo continually preoccupied with the defense of Cavite against the attacks of Polavieja’s reinforced divisions. Aguinaldo believed that the only way to hold the line against the better-armed Spaniards was to consolidate the resources of the province and pursue a holistic strategy instead of one hobbled by the factional divide between the Magdiwang and Magdalo. After all, he notes, the early victories of the Katipunan in Cavite, which so impressed Bonifacio, had been made possible through the massive support of townspeople who did not belong to the Katipunan.”

“Bonifacio insisted upon preserving the primacy of the Katipunan, of which he was supremo. Aguinaldo, imbued with the pragmatism of an ex-mayor and military commander, saw the virtue of total mobilization, bypassing secret society rituals and indoctrination. He voices his sentiments in Talang Buhay through the following interjection by Edilberto Evangelista at the meeting of Magdiwang and Magdalo in December 1896… “Let us not assume that the Revolution only belongs to the Katipunan, for it is truly the sentiment of the country. I, for one, though not a member of the Katipunan, and even when I was still in Europe, felt the desire to revolt.”

“General Evangelista, an engineer who supervised the construction of trenches in Cavite, was clearly one of Aguinaldo’s favorite officers. He perished in the battle of Zapote, “hit on the forehead.” Evangelista is just one of the prominent casualties of war memorialized in the Talang Buhay. No greater loss there was, however, than that of Aguinaldo’s elder brother at the battle of Pasong Santol. Indeed, Aguinaldo writes, “the enemy had to pass over the lifeless body of my brother, Gen. Crispulo Aguinaldo before they could claim the territory.” So intense must have been his grief for he then undertook a risky mission to reach the site where, he was told, Crispulo had been spotted alive, crawling and drenched in blood.”

More next week.

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Topics: Emilio Aguinaldo , Andres Bonifacio , COVID-19 , National Historical Commission of the Philippines
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