Emilio Aguinaldo @ 150 | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Emilio Aguinaldo @ 150

/ 05:05 AM February 27, 2019

In 1969, the centenary of Emilio Aguinaldo’s birth, the Philippine Historical Association published a special edition of its bulletin with an assortment of papers by historians on various aspects of Aguinaldo’s life, supplemented by some primary source documents. This volume carried Aguinaldo’s “Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina” (True Account of the Philippine Revolution), translated from the original Spanish into English, which saw print in 1899, accompanied by a note by Leandro H. Fernandez from 1941 that was not verified or updated. This note cast doubt on Aguinaldo’s authorship, because the original manuscript was not in his hand:

“Although it carries the name of Don Emilio Aguinaldo as author, some scholars have expressed disagreement as to authorship probably because according to Capt. John R.M. Taylor [who published about 1,500 translated documents in the five-volume compilation “The Philippine Insurrection against the United States”], portions of the original manuscript… files in the Insurgent Records are in the handwriting of Felipe Buencamino, and not in that of Aguinaldo.


“It is possible that the work was prepared in Tagalog at the instance and under the direction of General Aguinaldo and translated into Spanish by Felipe Buencamino, Secretary of Foreign Relations, for as the latter said in a letter to Dr. Galicano Apacible in Hong Kong on September 10, 1899, ‘the Reseña was a work written solely by Don Emilio and translated by me.’ At all events, it is quite likely that the pamphlet was not only translated into Spanish but also revised by Don Felipe Buencamino.”

It is unfortunate for Aguinaldo that the editors of the 1969 Historical Bulletin missed a note in Teodoro A. Agoncillo’s magisterial “Malolos: Crisis of the Republic” (1960), which put the issue to rest and directed readers, and more importantly other historians and researchers, to the “John R. Thomas Collection Relating to the Insurrectionist Government of the Philippines, 1898-1899” in the Library of Congress in Washington DC. “Scholars have suspected Felipe Buencamino Sr. of having written the work, but the presence of the original Tagalog draft of the Reseña shows that Buencamino merely adapted it into Spanish,” wrote Agoncillo.


People like to believe the worst of poor Aguinaldo, with a hint of plagiarism added to the list of his mistakes. It remained such for many years, until I mentioned this to the late Bro. Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, then president of De La Salle University (DLSU). Brother Andrew ordered a photocopy from the Library of Congress and had it transcribed. He planned to have this published as the DLSU contribution to the 1998 Philippine Centennial, together with my historical introduction and his linguistic analysis of Aguinaldo’s Tagalog.

However, turning points in our lives conspired against the project. I ended up as president of the City College of Manila, and he as secretary of education. A facsimile of the manuscript and the transcription and translation was printed by the National Historical Institute in 2002, and should be reissued this year, if only to make known Aguinaldo’s eccentric penmanship. A new compilation of documents should help a new generation revisit and re-evaluate Aguinaldo and enable them to write or rewrite history for their times and purposes.

While a new look at old material is always useful, one would hope that fresh sources have been found in the mountain of “insurgent” documents returned to the Philippines and now in the National Library in Manila. Maybe someone has gone through the many manuscript collections in the Library of Congress relating to the Philippine-American War? Just browsing the online listing, you come across familiar names: Emilio Aguinaldo (two items), Ferdinand Blumentritt (219 items), George Dewey (14 items), Henry W. Lawton (2,300 items), and William Howard Taft (676,000 items)!

Then there are films, photographs, musical scores, memorabilia and other materials still waiting to be accessed and written about. Other libraries, archives and museums in the United States have forgotten Philippine holdings in storage. It is essential that young historians look beyond the Aguinaldo-Bonifacio-Luna controversies to find out more about a period that still resonates in our times.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Emilio Aguinaldo, Felipe Buencamino, Looking Back, Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina, Teodoro A. Agoncillo, True Account of the Philippine Revolution
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