Looking Back

Was Heneral Goyo a mason?


To devout Filipino Catholics, a scapular consists of two rectangular pieces of brown cloth or plastic attached to a string worn around the neck, with one piece hanging down the chest and the other down the back. Often scapulars are associated with the Virgin of Carmel (or in Spanish, Nuestra Señora del Carmen), whose image is found on the pieces, though I have seen bigger scapulars in red or green with different markings for some other devotion. To members of religious orders, a scapular forms part of their habit or particular garb. It consists of a long piece of cloth worn over the head, to hang by the shoulders (scapulae in Latin), with one part on the front of the body and the other on the back. Its practical purpose in the Middle Ages was to act as an apron for work; it kept the tunic clean. Today, it has taken on a devotional or sacramental meaning as the “jugum Christi” (yoke of Christ).

In another time and another place, I wore the Benedictine monastic garb whose distinctive feature was a scapular with a hood. Adapting to the Philippine climate, the habit was white and made of synthetic fabric. In Europe, I wore the traditional black habit in wool to keep warm in cloisters with inadequate heating. Once, I noticed that there were other religious orders or some secular priests in the Philippines who wore the exact same habit, but you could always tell the Benedictines from the others because their hands were modestly tucked under the scapular. My mother noticed this habit and asked me if I had injured my hands.

That question reminded me of Napoleon’s portraits where his right hand is tucked under his waistcoat. Those questions cropped up again last week when I referred to a famous photograph of Gregorio del Pilar aka “Heneral Goyo” and “The Boy-General,” who had his hand in his coat.

Perhaps Del Pilar was copying Napoleon, whose historic victories are an inspiration to all soldiers. Other explanations for Del Pilar’s pose were that he was scratching his chest or calming an ulcer; he was fondling a locket suspended from a necklace or winding his watch; his hand was crippled, deformed, or recently injured; he had bad fingernails; the photographer made him pose that way to make him look taller or give him more dignity beyond his youth. If this were a multiple-choice question, we could add “none” or “all of the above” as possible answers.

Yet the most intriguing comment to last week’s column was: Del Pilar’s hand-in-coat pose suggested that he was a mason. If Del Pilar followed the example of Andres Bonifacio and read “The Lives of the Presidents of the United States,” he would have heard of George Washington or seen an illustration of Washington with his hand in his coat. Washington was among the masons of the Anglo-Saxon tradition who practice the “Sign of the Master of the Second Veil.” As a sign of fidelity, they place their right hand on the left breast.

That would have been plausible, but then most Filipino heroes of the late 19th century were affiliated with the European (Spanish or French) “Orient” branch of masonry. Did they practice the same hand signs as their Anglo-Saxon brothers? Marcelo H. del Pilar, Goyo’s uncle, posed in his most famous photograph with Jose Rizal and Mariano Ponce with his hand in his coat. Is this also a masonic sign, or are we overreading? Then there is the question of Heneral Goyo’s age. Wasn’t he too young to be accepted as a mason?

Like most issues in Philippine history, the questions can be more engaging than the answers.

Fortunately, the only monument of Heneral Goyo based on the photograph that has generated so much discussion is to be found in his birthplace in Bulacan. There are more depictions of him on horseback. Equestrian monuments also have their hidden signs or meanings. If the horse has two hooves raised, it means the person depicted died in battle. If only one hoof is raised that means the rider was mortally wounded and died outside battle. If all four hooves are on the ground, the rider was a military leader or soldier who did not die in battle.

Unfortunately, not all artists follow this iconography. There is a painting of Napoleon on a white horse with front legs in the air, making for artistic movement. Some say Napoleon died of poisoning, while in exile. Emilio Aguinaldo is always depicted on a horse with one front hoof in the air, though in Fort Aguinaldo the horse’s hind leg is up. Now what does that mean?

While historians are grounded in archival and library research, art historians add iconography to their bag of tricks. This concerns the identification, description, and interpretation of the content of images. Then there is semiotics, or the study of signs and sign processes. What appear to be trivial questions on the way our heroes posed in pictures and how they are depicted in art raise more essential questions about memory, commemoration and representations of the past.

As the Department of Education is finalizing its K to 12 curriculum, the National Historical Commission continues to preside over official commemorations, monuments, sites, and even money and coins to remind citizens of the story of the nation. Textbook history and official history tell us what to remember. Now we ask: Why do we remember?

Comments are welcome at

Get Inquirer updates while on the go, add us on these apps:

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • Frances Deniel

    So ano ba talaga Mr. Ocampo, Mason or hindi si Heneral Goyo?

    • markus32

      Hindi sya Mason brad.. simple lang yan, those Masonic organizations that where some of heroes and patriots are members.. wala sya sa listahan… and he’s not recognized as such, unlike Rizal, M.H.del Pilar, Bonifacio et al.

  • AA Aquino

    so is he a Mason or is he not?

  • WeAry_Bat

    Del Pilar was just following the fashion pose of those days.

    Take for instance, our times as seen by a future historian FH. When FH sees a photograph of a girl with V symbol in the hands, the first association is the girl must be a Facebook cultist…

  • ConnieLee90

    Masonic sign, or are we overreading ? I do not mean do demean Professor Ocampo but I find this column an inane exercise on iconography.

    Since Prof Ocampo brought up the subject of masonry, it would be more of importance and interest to know if Dr. Jose Rizal retracted his masonic beliefs during his final day confinement ( just before his execution). This, until now has been a subject of heated debate that one observer quipped that this debate had produced “more heat than light.” I would like to know where Professor Ocampo stands on the issue. I wish to see him devote a column and provide his insights.

    • UrHONOR

      HE most certainly did not.

    • markus32

      Rizal Retraction = HOAX.. therefore.. why debate..?

    • panhase

      There is nothing that indicates that he retracted.And what do you mean by “his masonic beliefs”? Masonry is not a religion, don´t believe everything what some of the clergy is telling you. Priests are also only men, meaning they are lying too.

      • ConnieLee90

        Dr. Rizal, through his travels in Europe imbibed masonic ideas which greatly appealed to him & in which he sought in membership. During his last hours at Fort Santiago, before he faced the firing squad, several Jesuits, some of whom were his friends, hounded him to retract his his masonic beliefs, in addition to having him repudiate, in his writings, his attack on the Catholic Church. As you may not know, masonry, although not considered a religion had a set of beliefs too liberal and incompatible with Catholic doctrine.


    That was the preferred pose by photographers of that era. Arms not put on the waists or hands not at the back for it suggests superiority. They were resigned then to their fate as inferior to the Spaniards.

To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


editors' picks