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Leave Camp Aguinaldo as it is

Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo would be just another military camp if not for a renegade military group that holed out there and took a last stand that ended not in a bloodbath, but in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolt. Now historic Camp Aguinaldo will be no more, and all allusions to the President of the First Republic and Edsa 1986 will fade, once House Bill No. 4047 renames, by legislation, Camp Aguinaldo to Camp General Antonio Luna.

The draft law amends the terse two-section Republic Act No. 4434 issued on June 19, 1965 (Jose Rizal’s 104th birthday), that renamed Camp Frank Murphy to Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo. The renaming had no justification except that, in those nationalist times, Aguinaldo, a Filipino president, was deemed more relevant than an American governor-general from 1933-35 and US high commissioner from 1935-36. Perhaps RA 4434 was a way for legislators then to honor Aguinaldo, who passed away in February 1964. If the present rules on the naming and renaming of streets were in force then, Aguinaldo could only be honored on or after 1974, because we need a decade from a person’s death to allow passions to cool and provide historical perspective to assess the significance of an individual whose name will honor a street or government structure.

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It should not come as a surprise if the 2015 film “Heneral Luna” swayed the proponents of HB 4047, or if those who researched and drafted the bill think it is not meant to downgrade Aguinaldo in history or the pantheon of heroes. As consuelo de bobo, Aguinaldo will not lose a camp, rather he will switch places with Camp General Antonio Luna in Limay, Bataan! Adding insult to injury, the renaming of Camp Aguinaldo is filed in 2019, the 150th year of Aguinaldo’s birth.

So controversial is Aguinaldo in people’s eyes that a previous attempt to honor him on our banknotes was politely withdrawn. When the Central Bank was founded in 1949, the first English Series banknotes printed by Thomas de la Rue in England articulated the official pantheon at the time: On the P1 bill was Apolinario Mabini; P2, Jose Rizal; P5, Marcelo H. del Pilar and Graciano Lopez-Jaena; P10, the martyrs of 1872—Fathers Gomes, Burgos and Zamora; P20, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto; P50, Antonio Luna; P100, Melchora Aquino aka Tandang Sora; P200, Manuel Luis Quezon; and P500, Manuel Roxas.

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Emilio Aguinaldo was conspicuously absent from this roster because he was still alive then, and the unwritten rule was that only those six feet under could appear on banknotes.

Poor Aguinaldo could only creep in in 1969, not as a face on a banknote, but merely as the focal point of a vignette on the back of the P2 note depicting the Declaration of Independence in Kawit in 1898. To complete the Filipinization of our banknotes, the P2 banknote with Rizal was discontinued and his face moved to the P1 bill, making him the Prime National Hero, honored on the basic unit of Philippine currency.

Aguinaldo finally surfaced on the face of the P5 banknote in 1985, replacing Bonifacio—a move that drew so much flak that Bonifacio eventually reappeared on the P10 note, sharing space with Mabini who had occupied it solo since 1985. Later on, to complete the demotion, the Aguinaldo banknote was replaced by a coin that became synonymous with “sakto,” the P5 price for a newly introduced 8-oz bottle of Coca-Cola.

Great, brave and tragic Antonio Luna should be seen in all his historical complexity and not just from the lens of one box-office hit of a hagiographic film. An explanatory note on HB 4047 states that Luna “has been described by historians as the most brilliant and capable of Filipino generals during the Philippine-American War.” Its proponent adds: “Our bill seeks to honor and accord the fiery general the nobler distinction and prominence that he rightfully deserves.” Perhaps the gentleman proponent from Surigao del Sur and his researchers should be advised to return to the work of the late nationalist historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo, authority on the Philippine Revolution, who did not mince words when he declared many times that: “Antonio Luna is the greatest general of the Filipino-American War who did not win a single battle.”

With “Build, build, build,” we will have new streets, new buildings, new military camps open to naming. Maybe we should let Aguinaldo be, leave Camp Aguinaldo as it is, seriously consider a review of streets renamed in the last 50 years, and revert to the more significant old names.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: 1986 Edsa People Power Revolt, Camp Aguinaldo to Camp General Antonio Luna, Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, House Bill No. 4047
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