Last week I attended Dr. Serafin Quiason’s lecture on the life and time of Emilio Aguinaldo at the Yuchengco Museum in Makati. Most of the attendees were colleagues of the astute professor and descendants of President Aguinaldo; I met Wharton alum and one time finance minister, Cesar Virata, a grandnephew and another man who was a great grandson. The organizers, the Philippine Map Collectors Society, a group of prominent cartophiles, was there in force.
“The tragedy of Aguinaldo was that he lived too long and that he did not die a heroic death,” Dr. Quiason remembers his mentor, Professor Teodoro Agoncillo, telling him. The two visited President Aguinaldo together during their time working together in UP. He was enthralled by the late President’s “hospitality and generosity,” he recounted their time with the president with understandable pride. He said that Agoncillo and Aguinaldo spoke in traditional Tagalog which made it hard for him because he was Capampangan. According to him the President spoke Spanish with a Cavite accent and enjoys fried rice for breakfast.
The lecture was what I expected it to be. A litany of President Aguinaldo’s feats and exoneration from his involvement in the deaths of Bonifacio and Luna. At one point, the good professor even quoted Gen. Alejandrino’s words to Bluementritt extenuating the president from the killing of the founder of the Katipunan as necessary to unite the country. When asked if the president had any hand on these, Dr. Quiason responded that there’s nothing that would implicate Aguinaldo directly to these crimes. But many believes that history had already rendered its judgement on the man. I for one believe that it is these killings that has made him one of the least appreciated hero in our revolution. But then again, aside from Rizal, who else gets the right attention anyway?
There’s an interesting question raised regarding the absence of a holiday that commemorates the first president in the country. Everybody laughed at the question but I wonder if this exclusion had anything to do with his unpopularity. There are even calls by some to make Andres Bonifacio the first president which I think is silly but then I found out that this is supported by the likes of Robin Padilla; now it’s doubly silly. I think these people made that clamor to promote their Bonifacio movie last year. What would do us good is to study history as it should be studied—warts and all.
But is Aguinaldo a hero? In my mind he is. In his 20’s he had the weight of the entire Filipino people on his shoulder, leading a revolution and building a government. Did he made errors during his leadership? Sure, and I for one believe that he made critical lapses in judgement that led us to a more bloodier war (with the Americans) but hindsight as they say is perfect sight.
One of the highlights of our trip going to General Trias (formerly San Francisco de Malabon) when I was a little boy was seeing the Aguinaldo house where he declared the country independent. I recall my father would even ask me to get a five peso bill (the one where there’s a depiction of the house with Aguinaldo waving the flag) Of course later on I would learn that he did not made any declaration. It was read aloud by the Biñense lawyer Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, one of its author. Curiously, the document was not even signed by Aguinaldo. The trouble with how history is taught in our schools is that there’s so much exaggeration. While the idea is to foster nationalism it ends up distorting historical truths. I had to tell my father that what he told me then about Aguinaldo and that house was a big lie.