Maragandón is a place that evokes a painful past. Here, the cracks in the Filipino revolution started to open. A swift trial followed by a murky death sentence was carried out by a military trial for the Bonifacio brothers, Andrés and Procopio. It would have been easier to accept, especially for those who admire Bonifacio, if the people who supposedly shot and hacked them to death were foreigners. This internal fiasco is the reason why Bonifacio commemorations are focused on his date of birth and not his death — big name historians and our government are being careful not to trigger any animosity towards the Aguinaldo hero. Even in Filipino historiography, there’s politics.
The graceful bahay na bató of Teodorico Reyes, now reinforced with steel beams, made me contemplate on what had happened during those crucial days. I can only imagine the tension as the accused desperately pleaded for his life. There’s a life- size diorama of the trial at the second floor of the Reyes house. The white stone figures looked more like ghosts to me. It is a house that I find strangely intriguing. Seeing the rooms made the hair on my neck stand on end. I was greeted by an accommodating woman in her 40s at the door. She was a former school teacher but now a full-time NHI guide. I was glad to hear her discuss a few things about the events that led to the brutal murder of the Bonifacios. I was really impressed with the depth of her knowledge regarding the trial. The NHI employee said that they must be prepared because tourists come regularly in Maragondón. Just the other day, “GMA 7 came to shoot a documentary in the house”, she said. Entrance is free but of course donations are much needed to maintain the site.
The journey to Maragondón is a smooth one. There’s still nature left in this part of Cavite, a welcome sight in a province that is fast losing its natural environment to housing projects. This trip gives you an idea how difficult traveling was in those times when horse-drawn carriages ruled the roads. Today, we travel quite comfortably in air-conditioned buses, so we really can’t complain. I first visited the old town’s Jesuit Church. It is an old one, nearing its tricentennial, so I expected to see alterations and losses from the original. In Maragondón’s case, the parish added a cement canopy in the entrance. This altered the original architectural design. I suspect that it was done to protect the doors from the elements. Its huge front door is perhaps the most intricately decorated that I’ve ever seen in the province. Maragondón’s church is known for its beautifully carved retablo designed utilizing images that inspires the Jesuit way of faith. The Bonifacios were said to have been kept here for awhile during their trial. The convent was largely spared from renovations (although I have not seen the entire convent but just its halls and staircases). There was a monkey chained in a horizontal pipe attached on a tree on one end, and the convent window on the other end. I don’t know why they keep the poor animal as a pet. I find it cruel and inappropriate for the place.
The local website provides us with a brief history of the church:
Parish Church of the Assumption of Our Lady (Maragondón, Cavite). The church was built in the early 18th century by the Jesuits, with later additions by the seculars and the Augustinian Recollects. Much of the church and belltower, and the lower portion of the convento is made of irregular river stones, indicative of the early level of technology operating at that time. The intricately-carved retablos, pulpit and church doors (with galleons and floral designs) date from Jesuit times, while the hugely carved beams crossing the nave were installed by the seculars– one of the beams even carries the name of the indio priest who commissioned them. The unusual horseshoe-shaped communion rail, with a flooring of inlaid wood of various colors, recalls that of San Sebastián Church, Manila, another Recollect construction.
Not far is a shrine on the foot of Nagpatong dedicated to Bonifacio. I decided not to go there. From the photos I’ve seen, it’s no Abueva, no Tolentino; it was but a poor interpretation of the legendary Bonifacio. How could it not be bad? Nobody told the artist that a photo of Andrés ever existed. The artist was once quoted saying, “there is no definitive look of Bonifacio, we do not even have a photo of him”. The National Artist, Guillermo Tolentino, was said to have studied the facial structure of a Bonifacio sister for his statues (in Caloocan and Liwasang Bonifacio) — talk about preparations. The price tag of Maragondón’s Bonifacio monument is around 27 million pesos, money which could have been used elsewhere.
What was surprising is the fact that it was the Erap administration which made an effort in fully restoring the Reyes house. It was surprising because I thought that the improvements were made during the centennial celebrations under Ramos’ helm. Erap —according to him and his cohorts— had parallel comparisons with the Manileño Bonifacio. The former president saw himself as a leader who is closer to the masa than the elitist politicians. This claim is somewhat ironic since his Ejército clan (who are originally from Malolos) has always been part of the elitist group. It would be incorrect to assume that Andrés is the poor hero that he is often portrayed to be. His associations suggested his rank in the Manileño society. Not many people during those days can get through the people he worked with — he clearly was a somebody. Not rich but still well-connected. His biggest accomplishment in his life as Filipino hero is when he led the Katipunan — a group initiated by its real founder Deodato Arellano but was led to battle by Andrés. They always had libertarian objectives, but this secret society would later seek to divide than unite with the rising ilustrado leadership.
Bonificio’s revolution was short lived — and it was not even national. It would be hard to imagine that it is because it was virtually impossible to be one. It was the Katipunan faction in Cavite which would have a life of its own separate from its mother branch led by the ilustrados and the province’s rich men that won significant victories against the Spaniards. In Cavite, Filipinos realized that the Spaniards can be defeated. Cavite was the illusive spark. This led the defeated Bonifacio to evade Manila for Cavite, where he was considered a nobody. Very few people would even consider that there were two revolutions in ’86 led by two different men. The difference between these two men and their group is staggering. But very few would notice the difference — only those who read outside the basic historical literature would see that Cavite and Katipunan are two different realms. This is a case of a generalization clouding our understanding of what really took place. Historians had succeeded in convincing Filipinos that all the uprisings, the minor and the major ones, during the Spanish years is but one single event. This is like saying that all those EDSA events is all and the same.
The manner of which Bonifacio and his brother were executed was simply beyond imagination. Whenever I read about it, it still brings chills. A violent ending for a man who advocated the use of violence for independence. The Caviteños had arms but he had none. We are only left to guess at what really happened but I’m inclined to believe the statement of Macapagal — he was there; those who did not believe him were not. One of the permanent displays in the house museum is his correspondence with Aguinaldo which is an indication that this man was directly, if not closely, taking orders from Aguinaldo.
A few blocks from the Reyes house is a wonderful old house that has lived for more than 200 years — the Riego de Dios house where Emiliano together with his siblings grew up. The Atenean headed the court martial proceedings against Bonifacio. He was at the time the Secretary of War of the Revolutionary government. He would reside in Hong Kong, where he was head of the junta, until peace was made with the Americans. It was disappointing that I was not allowed to enter the house, which was not in perfect condition but is still being used by the descendants, so this is good news. During my visit there, the kids who were inside told me that no one was at home but them. I asked them if they knew the Riego de Dios clan in Philippine history. They quickly answered, “Lolo po namin”. I saw pride in their eyes and smiles. It was nice seeing them.
History has been somewhat unkind towards Aguinaldo. I believe that the Bonifacio execution was his own design; he was compelled to stop Bonifacio from splitting the revolutionary forces. Nevertheless, it had caused very serious inconveniences on, as well as the loss of, Aguinaldo’s reputation. He must have been haunted by that execution during his days of retirement. The death penalty had added mystique and legend to Bonifacio. This is one of those historical events that, even with countless readings and rereadings, will never tire one’s imagination. Though it ended on a rather sad note, it gives us a perspective of how our nation started.