Today, we visit the life of a great Philippine patriot ——EMILIO F. AGUINALDO (1869-1964)——
General Emilio Aguinaldo was the President of the First Philippine Republic and leader of the Revolution against Spain and War in opposition to America occupation of the country. The seventh child of Don Carlos Aguinaldo y Jamir and Doña Trinidad Famy y Valero, Emilio was born at dawn of March 22, 1869 in Cavite El Viejo ( now Kawit).
He was a plucky and daring tot. At a playmate’s dare, he jumped into the Marulas river and almost drowned as he did not know how to swim. At two, he got sick with smallpox and was given up for dead until he opened his eyes. He was bitten by hundreds of ants in a bamboo clump where a relative had abandoned him for fear of some Spanish troops out on a juez de cuchillo (Justice of the knife) mission in retaliation for the Cavite Mutiny of 1872.
As a young man, he engaged in barter and trade in the nearby southern islands. On one of his trips, taken in a big paraw (sailboat with outriggers), he grappled, subdued and landed a huge man-eating shark which he thought was just an ordinary big fish that swallowed everything in its path.
Aguinaldo was slender and stood at five feet and three inches. His stiff black hair, always cut short, flat at the sides and semi-flat on top, became popularly known as the “Aguinaldo” haircut. His Chinese lineage was betrayed by almond-shaped eyes and the sparseness of the moustache he tried to grow as a young gallant. He appeared shy, self- effacing, gentle and humble – traits that won the people’s hearts.
He was only in the third year of his bachillerato (equivalent to our present high school) when he decided to leave the Colegio de San Juan de Letran to help his widowed mother manage their farm. He was only 17 then. His mother, Kapitana Teneng worked for his appointment as cabeza de barangay of Kawit to prevent his being conscripted into the Spanish army. He proved to be a capable official.
Hence, when the Maura Law was implemented in the Philippines, he was chosen capitan municipal (mayor) – the first in Kawit – by the electoral tribunal. In the morning of January 1, 1895, he took his oath as town executive and, in the evening of the same day, he was initiated into the Masonry, then a fraternity outlawed by both the Church and State. Three months later, in March of 1895, he was inducted into the Kntipunan in Manila by its founder and Supremo, Andres Bonifacio.For his name in the secret society, Aguinaldo chose Magdalo,after the patron saint of Kawit, Mary Magdalene. His official position served the purposes of the Katipunan very well, specially when he became very active in recruting members.
Aguinaldo fell in love with Hilaria del Rosario of Imus, Cavite and married her in 1896. He had kept his revolutionary activities secret from his wife until the Katipuneros staged the “Cry of Pugad Lawin” on August 23, 1896. Under his leadership, the Katipunan forces in Cavite captured Kawit, Imus, Bacoor, and other towns. After his initial victories, he led his men to help the Katipuneros in Batangas.
The Spanish forces concentrated their campaigns in Cavite. They sent feelers to Aguinaldo, urging cessation of hostilities, but these were ignored. The Spanish authorities. then put a price on his head and circularized their intention to display him in Manila in an iron cage once captured.
Early in 1897, under Governor-General Camilo de Polavieja, the Spanish forces launched a vigorous campaign in Cavite, resulting in the capture of several towns and the killing of a number of Aguinaldo’s commanders: his elder brother, Crispulo, and his friends, Evangelista and Flaviano Yengko, all of them generals of his army.
The two Katipunan factions (Magdalo under Aguinaldo and Magdfwang under Bonifacio) held a convention in March of 1897 in Tejeros,a barrio between the towns of San Francisco de Malabon (now General Trias) and Noveleta, in Cavite. The assembly elected Aguinaldo: (who was not present) president, but a conflict broke out between the two factions when Daniel Tirona derogatorily questioned Bonifacio’s election as minister of interior.
As more towns of Cavite were recaptured by the Spaniards, Aguinaldo had to transfer his headquarters to Batangas and finally to a hideout in Biak-na-bato mountain in Bulacan. There he reorganized the revolutionary government. With the war in Cuba, Spain was hard-pressed to keep fighting on two fronts. Pedro A. Paterno, Filipino scholar, offered his services to Governor-General F. Primo de Rivera to negotiate with Aguinaldo. The latter wanted nothing short of independence while the governor general insisted on ending hostilities in exchange for general amnesty. The persistence of Paterno resulted in the Truce of Biak-na-bato in December 1897.
In compliance with the conditions of the truce, Aguinaldo and about 25 of his leaders left for Hong Kong as exiles. However, the Peace turned out to be as flimsy as the faith of the contracting parties. Apolinario Mabini, who became Aguinaldo’s adviser, admitted later that both parties had acted in bad faith. The promised general amnesty and reforms were not implemented satisfactorily by the Spanish authorities. On the other hand, the stipulated surrender of most of the arms was withheld by the Filipino forces.
Aguinaldo deposited the indemnity money he received in two Hong Kong banks, and he and his fellow exiles lived meagerly off its interest. The money was later used to purchase firearms.
Before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Aguinaldo had already agreed, through the American Consul in Singapore, to a supposed alliance with the United States. Hence, after the Spanish warship were sank by the fleet of Admiral George Dewey at Manila Bay, Aguinaldo returned to Manila to renew the fight against Spain. .
In Cavite, on the advice of lawyer Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, he established a provisional dictatorial government to “repress with a strong hand the anarchy which is the inevitable sequel of all revolutions.” His first two significant acts were the proclamation of Philippine independence in Kawit on June 12, 1898, and the organization of local political units all over the country.
The return of Aguinaldo united the Filipinos once again. From Cavite, Aguinaldo led his troops to victory after victory over the Spanish forces until they reached the city of Manila. Despite the surrender of the Spaniards, however, the Americans forbade the Filipinos to enter the Walled City of Intramuros.Aguinaldo, still optimistic and unsuspecting of the real intentions of the Americans, convened a Revolutionary Congress at Malolos to ratify the independence of the Philippines and to draft a constitution for a republican form of government.
On the night of February 4, 1899, the shooting of a Filipino soldier by an American sentry at the San Juan bridge, kindled the brewing enmity between the Filipino and American armies. An open war followed soon after.Consequently, superior American firepower drove the Filipino troops away from the city. The govermnent at Malolos then had to transfer from one place to another. Aguinaldo had to retreat to the north of Luzon with the Americans closely trailing him.
President William McKinley offered the Filipinos an autonomous government under the American flag but this was emphatically rejected.
Aguinaldo’s odyssey ended in September, 1900, in Palanan, Isabela, where he was captured by General Frederick Funston on March 23, 1901, a day after his 32nd birthday. Although Generals Miguel Malvar and Artemio Ricarte, and a few others continued their resistance, the capture of Aguinaldo virtually ended the Filipino-American War.
After the restoration of peace, Aguinaldo led the life of a gentleman farmer and looked after the welfare of his former comrades-in-arms. He organized the Veteranos de la Revolucion (Veterans of the Revolution), secured pensions for its members, and made arrangements for them to buy land on installment from the government.
On March 6, 1921, his first wife died. From that marriage five children (Miguel, Carmen, Emilio, Jr., Maria and Cristina) were born. On July 14, 1930, aged 61, he married Dona Maria Agoncillo, niece of Don Felipe Agoncillo, the pioneer Filipino diplomat.In 1935, Aguinaldo ran for the
presidency of the Commonwealth government and lost to Manuel L. Quezon.
During the parade at the Luneta on July 4, 1946, marking the restoration and recognition of Philippine independence by the US Government, the 77-year old general carried the flag he raised in Kawit on June 12, 1898, the date he believed to be our true Independence Day. When President Diosdado Macapagal proclaimed this date in 1962 as Independence Day, Aguinaldo regarded it as the greatest victory of the Revolution of 1896.
On February 6, 1964, less than a year after the death of his second wife, Aguinaldo died of coronary thrombosis, at the age of 95, at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City.
A year before his death, he had donated his mansion and lot in Kawit to the government “to perpetuate the spirit of the Revolution of 1896… to conserve and vivify the nationalism that moved our country to rise in arms…”