I recently discovered an article about Artemio Ricarte from Teodoro Kalaw’s “Spiritual Register”, a compilation of the journalist’s paper in the 1920’s, magnificently translated by Nick Joaquin from the original Spanish text.
I find Ricarte together with Mabini, Sakay, Antonio Luna stories most interesting. They present the different phase of the revolution. The one that most of us never learned from school. Unfortunately, these Filipinos heroism are less visible today. Those who wrote our text books intended to hide these heroes faces.
Kalaw spoke about the sacrifice that Ricarte had to endure with his family because of “his tenacious refusal to accept American sovereignity”. Together with Mabini, the two were the last Filipinos from Guam to be brought back in.
Mabini took the oath, Ricarte didn’t.
The paralytic hero, physically drained and weak, probably did so out of fear to depart from this life in a foreign land – a fate that frightens even the hardest of patriots. They could not bear the thought. A popular story about Claro M. Recto is that his dying words in Rome was said to be “how terrible, to die in a foreign land”.
Three months after Mabini took that oath he died while Ricarte exiled himself to Japan.
Vibora’s Japanese Hut
The Vibora’s small Japanese home was described as having “two pictures. One is a picture of Rizal, one one side of the sala, and the other is of Bonifacio, on the other side”. The Japan Times interviewer (whose storywas the basis of Kalaw’s article) continued, “every day the lady of the house adorns these two images with the freshest loveliest Japanese flowers. And then between these pictures symbolizing two great patriotic ideas, Ricarte and his wife will spend whole hours sitting in silence, as if secretly communing with the spirits of the perished past. No painting could be made greater in pathos than this moving Filipino scene in a foreignland”
Life in Nippon Land
He taught Spanish in Japan. He was a teacher before he became a soldier, more out of necessity than anything. Vibora could have chosen the easy life but heeded the call for revolution. One of his Japanese student became his aide around the islands when he made his comeback.
He went back with his Japanese friends believing that finally he could oust his hated adversaries. He was a man willing to go at the ends of the world to see his Filipinas free. No matter what it costs. Still fighting after all the years he’s been away from his land.
More than 40 years had passed and things are very different. So much has changed that for Ricarte the country appeared to be a new world. Gone are the friends he once knew and those he knew had ceased to resist American rule. He spoke Spanish and found hardly a soul who can speak it. I could only imagine how lost and confused he felt.
The Filipino landscape has been drastically transformed by the Americans in just a few decades. The imposition of English and the annihilation of the revolutionary forces (who became mere bandits in the Yankee eyes) and their supportes did the job.
The Last of the Mohicans
Vibora was the last revolutionary leader from the revolution of 1896 to die without the blemish of ever accepting the Americans.
True, he went back with the Japs. For this, many saw him a traitor. But who are we to judge this man? He gave up most of his life to pursue something he ardently believes in. We could all argue about why he did what he did – we have the benefit of hindsight. His passion was taken advantage of. But credit is due to a man who resisted American rule until his last moments.
Final Resting Place
Last year I visited Vibora’s grave in Libingan ng mga Bayani. It was a very simple tombstone without the elaborate designs (a Sharp contrast to the AFP generals) The general’s spot is almost hidden, shaded by tall trees.
He died of dysentery in the highlands during the Pacific war. He was with the fleeing Jap soldiers.
In Japan he sought to also have a small memorial (and for his children to be able to study there) when he dies – this, they honored after the war.
A memorable story I read about Ricarte was when the Japanese started recalling all their personnel. He being an ally was ordered to join the recalled officers. The old man Ricarte, declined and simply replied, “I cannot take refuge in Japan at this critical moment when my people are in direct distress. I will stay in my motherland to the last”.
Good thing he never went back to Japan, because if he did, he would’ve met his hated WASP running the affairs of his adopted country after its humiliating defeat in the pacific wars.
Reading Ricarte, his memoirs and articles about him only serves to strengthen my belief that he rightfully belongs to the pantheon of the greatest of all Filipino heroes!