One quiet evening in 1899, while Emilio Aguinaldo and his party were resting from a long retreat from the enemy, deep into northern Luzon, the general and a few friends gazed at the stars in the dark sky and imagined a time when they would tour the great capitals of Europe with pockets full of money. I often dream of hitting it big at lotto, too, imagining everything my winnings can buy. If I win the lotto today, I would spend part of it at auction this weekend, and bid to acquire an important collection of Philippine-American War historical material that was patiently assembled over two decades by an unnamed collector. While I have previously seen much of the material for free in the Lopez Museum and Library, the National Library of the Philippines, the American Historical Collection in the Ateneo de Manila University Rizal Library, and the US Library of Congress, nothing beats having all the material accessible in one place.
Going over the collection at Leon Gallery was like a review of the highlights of the Philippine-American War that raged officially from Feb. 4, 1899 to July 2, 1902, that is, because the fighting continued long after the enemy declared it over. Our heroes carried on a futile struggle for independence. It may seem like an insignificant bibliographic detail when the US Library of Congress revised their records in 1999 to change “Philippine Insurrection” to “Philippine-American War,” but it is a belated acknowledgment that the Filipinos had declared their independence from Spain on June 12, 1898, and established the First Republic in 1899. It is an unfortunate accident of history that at the conclusion of the 1898 Spanish-American War, the Aguinaldo government was not recognized leading to the US acquisition of the Philippines as a colony for $20 million. Our history painfully records how we passed from an old colonial power (Spain) to a new one (United States) and onto a third one during the Japanese Occupation in World War II. A war is defined as a conflict between states, and since the United States refused to recognize the First Filipino Republic, to justify their annexation of the islands, the continuing struggle for freedom by the Filipinos was belittled as an “insurrection” or an uprising against established authority. Because of this definition, many of our heroes and patriots were rebranded as insurrectos and bandits. It was only in the 1960s, in the context of the US intervention in the Vietnam War, and through the writings of Renato Constantino and Teodoro Agoncillo, that the Philippine-American War came to be appreciated as it should.
Much of the material in this collection are, with a few notable exceptions, written from the enemy’s point of view so one has to tease the Philippine voice from its biased pages. Even the French sources, that were often sympathetic to the Filipino cause, are represented in this collection by two newspapers that document the capture of Aguinaldo in 1901. The photographs, over 200 images, are often about the enemy movements in the Philippines, but from them we can also see glimpses of defiance in very clear photos of the leaders of the revolution who were exiled to Guam on orders of Gen. Arthur MacArthur Jr. (Father of Gen. Douglas “I shall return” MacArthur). Then there are solo shots of the men whose names appear in our textbooks: Antonio Luna, Apolinario Mabini, Artemio Ricarte, Gregorio del Pilar, Vicente Lukban, etc.
While much of the collection is of interest to historians, many items are collectible: a complete collection of 80 postage stamps issued by the Malolos government in different colors and values, some stamped by postal authorities, one set signed by Aguinaldo himself on the border; a collection of currency notes issued by the Malolos government that resemble raffle tickets, some that come with the signature of Pedro A. Paterno who, in retrospect, should be seen as the patron saint of contemporary politicians. A classic “balimbing” he was: pro-Spanish when the Philippines was under Spain; later president of the short-lived Malolos Congress; then became representative of Laguna in the US-sponsored Philippine Assembly. A bonus is a rare copy of the 1899 Malolos Constitution mislabeled in the auction catalogue notes as a “reproduction.”
I must buy lotto tickets more regularly to make my dreams come true.
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