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Priceless, not only as collectibles

/ 05:18 AM February 16, 2018

Three decades ago when I first looked over the personal effects of Apolinario Mabini, one of his descendants ruefully commented that Rizal trumps all the other heroes combined in terms of importance and price. He asked: “Why do items that belong to Rizal cost more than those of Mabini?”

We may well come to the answer in the coming auctions that have some manuscripts on the block together with paintings and other objets d’art. Manuscripts are the lifeblood of history and historians, and it is good that high auction prices are drawing these out of hiding. Four Rizal letters to his sister Maria, the first time such have come up for sale, set record prices by selling for over P10 million. At the same Leon Gallery auction, a sketchbook of Juan Luna that documents his little-known visit to Japan in 1896 sold for a little over P2 million.

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Now comes the acid test—five items in the hand of Andres Bonifacio.

Up for sale are: a letter to Emilio Jacinto, dated March 8, 1897, on stationery that reads “Andres Bonifacio. Maypagasa P[angulo] ng K[ataastaasang] Kapulungan”; a letter to Jacinto dated April 16, 1897, and yet another to Jacinto dated April 24, 1897—all three marked with Bonifacio’s flowing signature, and under the rubric of his Katipunan name “There is Hope.” His stationery makes us ask how or why he is referred to as the “Supremo” in popular lore when his title clearly says “President of the Supreme Council.”

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The two additional items are a printed document appointing Jacinto commander of the Northern district of Manila, with Bonifacio’s signature made official by the seal “Haring-bayang Katagalugan-Kataastaasang Kapulungan” (Supreme Council of the Sovereign Tagalog Nation) and the
envelope that once contained the signed appointment papers, sold separately not as a manuscript but as a philatelic item.

We can ignore the breathless auction house catalogue entries that describe these items as “Extremely Rare and Historically Important,” as well as the PR spin that the letters are “explosive”—an adjective better deployed by doctors explaining a bombastic type of diarrhea. The documents came from the collection of the historian Epifanio de los Santos, after whom the traffic-choked Edsa was named. The contents of the letters are well-known to historians, and the images of some are now in the public domain.

Contrary to claims made by the American historian Glenn Anthony May, the Bonifacio documents are authentic. Emmanuel Encarnacion kindly gave me access to the originals sometime in 1988, and even provided clear photocopies that led to transcriptions from the originals that were slightly different from those previously made available in print by De los Santos and Teodoro A. Agoncillo. The definitive word on these documents and a fresh translation from  the original Tagalog are provided by Jim Richardson in “The Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies on the Katipunan, 1892-1897” (Ateneo Press, 2013).

These letters provide insights into the way the revolution was fought. In the short note of March 8, 1897, Bonifacio talks about using a more difficult code in correspondence. There is a note on the supply of live cartridges and how much they require. A week later, March 15, 1897, there are more references to money, gunpowder, saltpeter, guns and cartridges urgently needed. Then in the midst of text on the setting of spear traps or the need for copper so they could make cannons or lantakas, there is a reference to the discord in the Katipunan in Cavite:

“Here the enmity between the two Sangunian Bayan is very great, because Magdalo wants to rule everybody and the whole of Katagalugan, because—they say—nothing but the government of Imus is recognized there and throughout Europe […]The government that is being planned is this: president and general-in-chief is Magdalo; director of military works is Baldomero [Aguinaldo], and the Magdiwang people will be given positions of subdirector or subminister.

This plan truly disgusted the ministers of Magdiwang, who know that if the Imus people are elected as a result of this politicking they will govern here in Malabon. The selfishness of the Magdalo people is truly sickening, and has come to be the cause of their many reverses.”

These documents may be priceless as collectibles, but they are best reread to understand the difficult birthing of the nation and to make sure we do not repeat the mistakes made at the cost of so much suffering.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Apolinario Mabini, auctions, manuscripts, Rizal
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