Looking Back

Valenzuela @ 150

Emilio Aguinaldo’s 150th birth anniversary was celebrated in Cavite last week with a formal commemorative program that included a conference on his life and legacy, and the laying of a wreath by his tomb, in the backyard of his iconic Kawit mansion known to all Filipinos as the site where Philippine independence from Spain was proclaimed on June 12, 1898. That event, which gave us our present national flag and national anthem, is considered one of the pivotal moments that led to the birth of the nation, yet Aguinaldo’s memory divides rather than unites people in our times.

Over lunch last Monday, Mrs. Lovely Tecson Romulo related how, in her youth, Helena Benitez picked her out of a crowd in the Philippine Women’s University to introduce her to Emilio Aguinaldo, who was a guest at some event. When the ancient general learned that the then Lovely Tecson was the granddaughter of Dr. Pio Valenzuela, one of the most trusted in Andres Bonifacio’s inner circle of Katipuneros, he asked: “Buhay pa ba siya? (Is he still alive?)”


One would think this to be an innocent or kindhearted question on the surface, but that was not the way Valenzuela took it when Lovely told her Lolo about it. Valenzuela exploded with President Duterte’s favorite expletive, “P—ina!,” and roared: “Of course, I’m alive, because Aguinaldo’s henchmen did not succeed in assassinating me!”

It is unfortunate that, while Valenzuela lived to a ripe old age, he did not take the time to write a long and detailed memoir of the Philippine Revolution, like other contemporaries: Apolinario Mabini, Artemio Ricarte, Santiago Alvarez, Jose Alejandrino or Carlos Ronquillo. All he left us was a short memoir of his meeting with Rizal in Dapitan in 1896, when the Katipunan leadership sought Rizal’s advice on the planned outbreak of the Philippine Revolution.


Valenzuela went to Dapitan undercover, as a companion to a blind man seeking treatment. One morning, Rizal examined the patient and told Valenzuela that the eyes of the man could not be operated on as the retina had a lesion and was congested. However, he wrote the following prescription: potassium iodide, 3 grams; distilled water, 100 grams, to be taken one spoonful each morning. Valenzuela then described Rizal’s clinic, where they conversed for about an hour:

“In the hospital, I found boric acid solution, solution of bichloride of mercury, tincture of iodine, silver nitrate solution, alcohol, and other drugs which I do not remember [Valenzuela was a pharmacist]; a low table and a high one made of wood; two beds and some chairs all made of bamboo.

“The doctor told me that he used boiling water and alcohol to disinfect his instruments in surgical cases. He also informed me that two of the biggest and most intelligent pupils assisted him in the operations; that he had successfully operated on two Moros, one for inguinal hernia and the other for hydrocele; and that the Moros liked him for his free treatments.

“We carried on a rambling conversation, during which he mentioned that his library was in the care of Mariano Ponce in Hong Kong. He told me also that at the same time that he practiced his profession, he dedicated himself to the instruction and education of the youth whom he taught Tagalog, Spanish, English and French.

“Then he turned to national affairs. He said that if the Filipinos did not do anything for their independence, Japan would intervene in order to obtain it within a quarter of a century at the latest. He asked me who the principal leaders of the Katipunan were and whether they were real patriots. I gave him their names and assured him that their patriotism was unquestioned.”

What Rizal said regarding the revolution then depends on what version of Valenzuela you want to hear, because he gave conflicting accounts of the same conversation. In one, Rizal said, “No, a thousand times no!” In another, Rizal set as conditions for his approval the presence of funds, arms and the intervention and support of a foreign power. In yet another, Rizal was in favor of the revolution but not its proposed timetable.

Now that other documents have surfaced and time has passed, a new biography of Pio Valenzuela is timely, if only to give us a better grasp of his life and times, but more so to get the people of Valenzuela to know more about the man for whom their city is named.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Emilio Aguinaldo, Jose Rizal, Looking Back, Pio Valenzuela
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