On my recent trip to Hong Kong, I made the rounds of the places associated with Rizal and wondered: Where did Emilio Aguinaldo live? Where did Gregorio del Pilar live? There must be many more places in Hong Kong linked to our history or historical figures. All this made me wonder about the archives of the Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation or HSBC, which was not just Rizal’s bank of choice but also one of the banks where Aguinaldo deposited part of the money given him after the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato in 1897. We all know that in 1898 Aguinaldo was sued by Isabelo Artacho who wanted his share of the loot. To avoid a subpoena, Aguinaldo fled to Singapore. What really happened to the money is one of the mysteries of Philippine history.
Artacho returned to the Philippines in 1898 and was promptly arrested, tried and sentenced to death, but Aguinaldo refused to sign the order of execution. In June 1899, Primitivo Artacho, brother of Isabelo, escaped from a prison in Malagasan, Imus and fell into the hands of the Americans who detained him on suspicion that he was the treasurer of the Aguinaldo government because of a treasure basket he was carrying. Primitivo related:
An “…American came to the ditch and my wife and servant on seeing them began to run away, and I was left alone making signal with a handkerchief to the Americans who on seeing me called. I could not go and meet them, because I could not abandon the basket, where the money and the jewels were. Soon after, four soldiers aimed their arms (weapons) at me. In consequence, I knelt down and they stroked (struck?) me with the butt of their arms and pierced me with their bayonets. Afterwards they caught me by the arms and took me out of the ditch. Once there, they ordered me to lay down and examined to see if I had any arms. Afterwards, they obliged me to bring up the basket from the ditch where the valu[ables] were. The $1,000 in gold were in a small bag and there were coins of $2 of Spain, equal to $2,000. One thousand dollars in banknotes, in a small box and wrapped in a cover, $500 silver, wrapped in canvas. The jewels in a small lady bag of black lacquer consisted of: two diamond rings with three stones in each, one gold ring with pearls, a brooch with seven diamonds, a pair of gold earrings with three diamonds, two rosaries of gold and pearls, and one brilliant comb with some pearls.
“From there, two of them took me to the main road where I was brought before their chief, who was on horseback and who, after speaking to one of the men, asked the following: ‘Are you the cashier of Aguinaldo?’ And while questioning me one of those who accompanied me gave me a slap in the face, saying to put down my face. I answered, ‘No, Sir, I [was] one year in the Aguinaldo [prison].’ In that moment of speaking, I saw and heard a soldier put the basket in which the valuables were, in the carriage of the Red Cross which was by my side. Afterwards, I was put in the charge of four soldiers and the[y] compelled me to drive the carriage as used by the Filipinos, where the dead and wounded soldiers were. During the way, said soldiers menaced me to strike with the butt and barrel of their arms, believing that I was the cashier of Aguinaldo…”
Primitivo was brought to the convent of Imus and strip-searched:
“I was examined again and a watch and silver chain were taken away, also a parcel of $25 silver on coins of 50 cents. In coming out of the door I saw casually, and I am not in doubt, a soldier going up the stairs of the convent with the basket [of valuables]. Having changed (moved?) me to another room, it did not last two minutes before I was again changed (moved?) to another room where Major Matile began to question me with reference to the money, because he did not wish to be convinced that I escaped from (an) Aguinaldo prison, as he was in the firm belief that I was the cashier of the Filipino forces of South Luzon under the order of Baldomero Aguinaldo.”
Moved from room to room and interrogated a number of times, Primitivo was asked the same questions again and again to break his will: Are you the treasurer of the Aguinaldo administration? How much money were you carrying? To all these he replied repeatedly that the money in the basket was his and to be used as bribes for the release or escape of his brother Isabelo who was being held in an Aguinaldo prison. An interpreter was brought in, even a certain Julia from Imus, to identify Primitivo as one of the prisoners in Malagasan.
To cut a long, badly translated, repetitious story short, the treasure basket disappeared and the $25 taken from Primitivo was not returned—purportedly to pay for his board and lodging as a prisoner of the Americans! One soldier testified the money and jewelry found on Primitivo during the strip-search were five or six Mexican silver dollars and a roll of about 25 Mexican half dollars, and two or three dollars worth of loose silver. The treasure basket was unaccounted for.
The first time I read this I concluded that this was Isabelo Artacho’s karma for suing Aguinaldo in Hong Kong in 1898. But on second thought, I realized the above document is a documented case of something we are familiar with today—“holdap” or “hulidap.”
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