Aurelio Tolentino’s handwritten autobiography | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Aurelio Tolentino’s handwritten autobiography

/ 04:50 AM September 20, 2019

Nationalist writer and playwright Aurelio Tolentino (1869-1915) is buried under a sad monument in Guagua, Pampanga, often grazed by vehicles that consider it a nuisance on the road. In college, I read “Kahapon, Ngayon, at Bukas” and learned how an actor hesitated in trampling the US flag as part of the play, prompting Tolentino to go on stage and do it himself, which caused a riot and led to one of the nine imprisonments of his life.

My translation from the original Spanish of his unpublished handwritten autobiography from 1908:


“My life story is poor and unhappy. I was born in Guagua, Pampanga on October 15, 1869. My parents were middle class. In 1883 I began [secondary school] at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Manila. In 1891, while studying law in the University of Santo Tomas, my father died and I left the race.

“In August 1892, shortly after Andres Bonifacio founded the ‘Kataastaasa’t Kagalang-galang na Katipunan ng manga Anak ng Bayan (KKK)’ that later rocked Spanish dominion in these islands, I joined and later rose to became one of the members of the KKK Supreme Council. In 1894, Andres Bonifacio, with more than seven companions and I, went to Pamitinan Cave in San Mateo [Rizal] where we initiated into the Katipunan an old man, Felix, chief of all the remontados and outlaws that lived in those forests. With charcoal we wrote on the wall inside the cave the words: ‘Viva la Independencia de Filipinas!’


“Toward the end of August 1896 and the beginning of September that year, when the first phase of the Philippine revolution exploded, I served as Notary in the District of Morong. I was arrested for being a Katipunero and a Mason. After being tortured on various occasions, I was pardoned on May 17, 1897.

“In 1898 [Emilio] Aguinaldo returned from Hong Kong and I became one of those who helped in the second phase of the Revolution against the American Occupation and successively founded, with other companions, the daily newspapers: ‘La Patria,’ ‘El Liberal’ and ‘Filipinas.’ In the latter
I was Director for two terms. I suffered various detentions for certain articles that were deemed contrary to the political government in those days. I was convinced that it was impossible to live the life of a journalist, so I wrote and presented successive theatrical works like the following: ‘Lagrimas Malayas,’ a tragedy in three acts; ‘Sinukuan,’ a fantastic melodrama in three acts; ‘Filipinas and España,’ a drama in three acts; ‘Sinagtala,’ ‘Kambal,’ ‘Duplo,’ ‘Neneng,’ ‘Hindi Sinadya,’ ‘Dos jarrones de oro’ and ‘Makata’—one-act zarzuelas; ‘Puñal del Muerto,’ a lyrical drama in three acts; ‘Rizal y los Dioses,’ an opera fantastica in three acts; and ‘Ayer, Hoy, y Mañana,’ a drama in three acts that was presented and created a great tumult in the Libertad theater, where, on May 14, 1903, were in attendance more than 20 detective agents who assaulted the stage with revolvers in hand. These [American] agents didn’t understand a word of Tagalog, the language of my drama. I was processed in the Office of the Chief of Police [of Manila], conducted to Bilibid prison, and much later sentenced to two years of hard labor, and a fine of 2,000 dollars for the crime of sedition. I appealed this sentence and in December of the same year 1903 I was released on bail of 7,000 pesos.

“On February 8, 1904, I knew I was to be arrested again because I was implicated with Artemio Ricarte who arrived from Hong Kong. I was subjected to water cure, I walked in the forests searching for Ricarte and other insurgent chiefs and we formed a new Revolutionary Dictatorial Government. Being unanimously elected Dictator in this Government, I addressed various communications to the Insular Government, calling for certain reforms in its administration, offered definitive peace in the whole Archipelago, and promised to mediate legal guarantees for all the chiefs, officials, soldiers and armed forces of the Revolution. On June 14, 1904, during these negotiations, I was captured and condemned to six years in prison and hard
labor with over 5,000 dollars fine.

“On February 5, 1907, I was released on parole on condition that I presented myself to the authorities at the beginning of every month for five years. In this last date I wrote in succession the following theatrical works: ‘Nuevo Cristo,’ a drama in three acts; ‘Germinal,’ ‘La Rosa,’ ‘Paz Buen Viaje,’ ‘Boda Maldita,’ ‘Liceo,’ ‘Manila Satirica’ and ‘Aray!’ all one-act zarzuelas.

“Here is a synthesis of my sad life, full of worries, torture, misery and sufferings.”

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: ‘Kataastaasa’t Kagalang-galang na Katipunan, “Kahapon, at Bukas”, Aurelio Tolentino, Ngayon, US flag
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