(Editor’s Note: The author is a former supreme commander of the Order of the Knights of Rizal and legal counsel of the Philippine Historical Association. The Inquirer is publishing his article in commemoration of National Heroes’ Day today, Monday.)
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra said. His advice was confusing; it gave no clue as to which road to take.
Robert Frost was clearer. In a poem, he wrote of the same experience of coming upon a fork in the road. Which one should he take? After giving it thought, he “took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference.”
This August, as we commemorate the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution of 1896, let us recall a fork-in-the-road story.
It may be said that our patriots came to a fork in the road along the Bitukang Manok River in Pasig on May 3, 1896. “Bitukang manok” in the vernacular means the twisting entrails of a chicken, an apt harbinger of a metaphor for the forked road that the 1896 revolution would decide to take after reaching that fateful, entrail-like river in Pasig.
Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio summoned Katipunero leaders and Katipunan town council delegates to a grove a short distance from Sapang Nabas, a tributary stream along the Pasig. But because it was drizzling, they repaired to the house of Valentin Cruz behind Pasig Catholic Church close to Bitukang Manok.
Bonifacio convened the members of the secret society to air his concerns. The wives of three Katipuneros, unable to hold their tongues, had breached the secrecy by talking to priests. Other stories reached the ears of Spanish intelligence. Now suspected members of the sub rosa group were being closely watched.
As troubling, the Katipunan had been growing so dramatically that its existence could no longer be denied. Consequently, the risk of discovery had become even more imminent. Bonifacio likened the Katipunan to a pregnant woman who must be delivered before her time. He called for an immediate uprising.
Santiago Alvarez spoke for the Magdiwang Council of Noveleta, Cavite. He cautioned against rash judgment. Still fresh in his memory were stories of the terror of 1872, where Caviteños, including his father, Mariano Alvarez, head of the Noveleta Council, were subjected to unnecessary hardships.
Emilio Aguinaldo, of the Magdalo Council of Kawit, Cavite, suggested that Jose Rizal be consulted first before any action was taken.
The assembly approved the suggestion. Dr. Pio Valenzuela was deputized to visit Rizal, who was living in forced exile in Dapitan. Their meeting took place on June 21-22, 1896.
Valenzuela informed Rizal about the Katipunan, its goal of obtaining independence through revolution, the impatient desire of its 30,000-strong membership to fight even without modern arms. Valenzuela also emphasized the looming threat of discovery and hence the call to action.
Rizal listened. “So the seed grows,” he said, expressing appreciation for the Katipunan’s achievement in uniting the people.
Over the years, Rizal had prepared Filipinos for revolution. He had openly expressed its inevitability in his works, such as in his two novels, “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo,” which were virtual manifestos of the Philippine problem, its diagnosis as well as its prognosis.
Four years before Bitukang Manok, thoughts about a project that would require an armed uprising already occupied Rizal’s mind. This he shared with his close friend, Ferdinand Blumentritt, whom he also asked for advice.
On Jan. 29, 1892, the Austrian wrote back: “If an insurrection should break out in the Philippines now, it would end in tragedy because the very fact that they are an archipelago would alone make it improbable for any uprising without a navy to have a chance of success. What is more, the rebels would not have enough ammunition for more than five weeks. Add to the fact that there was still too great a number of partisans of the friars among Filipinos …
“A revolution would only lead the educated classes to death and would increase the burden of tyranny. A revolution has no probability of success unless a part of the army and navy should rebel…”
In their correspondence, the friends repeatedly discussed the idea of a revolution against a colonial power. Essentially, they agreed that freedom could not be achieved by a colony on its own.
Blumentritt recalled the history of successful revolutions. France, Spain and Holland supported the Americans. England and France supported the Prussians and the Belgians. France supported the Italians. And Russia supported the Rumanians, the Serbs and the Bulgars.
Blumentritt laid down four indispensable conditions: Part of the army and navy must join the revolution; the motherland must be engaged in a war; supply of arms and money must be available; and the open or secret help of a foreign power.
Rizal was not unaware of these conditions. But even granting that they were on hand, he knew that revolutions didn’t always follow a linear pattern. The first Cuban Revolution was waged by Carlos Manuel de Cespedes on Oct. 10, 1868. It raged for 10 bitter years only to end in a truce, a pledge of autonomy and reforms, and a humiliating intervention that Spain grant citizenship to the Americans.
Then on Feb. 24, 1895, only a year before Bitukang Manok, Jose Marti, a poet and an intellectual like Rizal, reignited the Cuban Revolution.
Marti had ample means, the sympathy of the United States, and was schooled in war. Yet the struggle was still fiercely fought, in fact amidst a raging yellow fever epidemic. And so, even as Rizal and Valenzuela spoke in Dapitan, the independence objectives of the Cubans were far from being realized. The Cuban experience should have crossed the minds of the conspirators in Bitukang Manok.
Nor could the penetrating mind of Rizal escape the tragic allusions to Ibarra-Simoun’s revolutionary setbacks in the “Noli” and the “Fili.” The uprising in the “Noli” was aborted because of demoralization due to the unforeseen death of Maria Clara. It failed in the “Fili” because of Isagani’s chance throwing of the bomb into the river to save the beautiful but faithless Paulita.
They were indeed literary allusions. But accidents of circumstance, not easily foreseen or carefully calculated, could not be discounted in the immediacy of actual uprisings. Rizal knew and wrote about them.
Nor could Rizal have missed a remembrance of the two great tragic uprisings in his generation’s memory.
The uprising of Andres Novales failed because Fort Santiago, the citadel of Manila, stood firmly on the side of the crown. Its command was, in fact, in the hands of his brother, Antonio Novales. And the 1872 mutiny failed because the Cavite conspirators rose prematurely. It is said they confused the suburban fiesta fireworks for the signal to start the conflict.
Neither Rizal nor Bonifacio could have missed that lesson. Both were inspired by Gomburza.
The exact details of Valenzuela’s dialogue with Rizal could never be ascertained. But the impression that grew in Rizal’s mind was the unpreparedness of the uprising.
While Valenzuela enthused about the unprecedented growth and fervor of the Katipunan, the planned revolution was flawed. It had low funds, insufficient arms and ammunitions, no backing from the rich who could possibly provide funding, organization and techniques, no foreign support, no officered cadre of even a volunteer army trained in secret, and subject to the twists and turns of a planned uprising so tenuous and unpredictable.
Even more disturbing was the implied admission from Valenzuela that the Katipunan’s growth was so large that its existence could no longer be kept in secret.
When and how
Secrecy was immensely critical to enable Bonifacio, in sufficiently absolute control of his men, to determine when and how exactly the revolution should break out. But the uprising the Katipunan was planning was more like the combustion of an “unarmed rabble” that could not possibly “burst out of nowhere and overwhelm the enemy” at key crucial points of engagement.
That type of uprising, the kind that was better planned to “burst out of nowhere and overwhelm the enemy,” was probably what Rizal had in his clear mind when he explored revolution with his friends in confidence.
Besides Blumentritt, he had discussed it with Galicano Apacible in Madrid, Jose Alejandrino in Ghent, and Jose Maria Basa and his brother Paciano in Hong Kong. They had discussed plans including the buying and smuggling of arms into the country.
And much earlier and even more intimately, he had discussed it with his brother in the Philippines. Ostensibly, Rizal went abroad in 1882 to broaden his education. In reality, his purpose was far deeper.
Paciano’s letter of May 26, 1882, clearly suggested that purpose. Rizal left the country “for more other useful things … that for which you had the greatest inclination,” to search for “the good which we all desire,” for “the good you are doing your countrymen.”
Those cryptic lines were explained by their sister Narcisa only after her brothers were dead. Paciano and Rizal had a sacred, verbal pact, done in secret and confided only to Narcisa. Paciano would take care of the family and give Rizal all the support he needed while the latter took up the cause of the native land.
It was a lifelong mission for the brothers, urged in different ways but for the same purpose. And revolution, if it were the only way left to take on the forked road, was service to the country.
Rizal was prepared for fate. He was a “tirador de la muerte” (marksman of death) who could write his name on the wall with bullets. His name was Laong-Laan, “long-destined, long-prepared.” He was not afraid of revolution nor of death.
Rizal and Valenzuela counseled intently, each seeking to take the right way on the road that forked along the river of Bitukang Manok in Pasig. Both gave the same objective much thought, each the good of the country at heart.
In his mind, Rizal believed that revolution was last on the road to independence. But he saw that the lay of the road that forked along Bitukang Manok needed better preparations. The planned uprising was loose, inexpedient. In the end, it would fail. Firmly, he declined to take Bonifacio’s revolution.
But for all that, as Leon Maria Guerrero said, Bonifacio took the road. He was also not afraid of revolution or of death. But Bitukang Manok was not the last forked road.