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Where’s Aguinaldo’s signature?

How different would our history be had women figured more prominently in it?

All the signatories on the Declaration of Philippine Independence made in Kawit on June 12, 1898, are men. No “X” or “+” are on the document, suggesting that all signatories were literate or could, at least, sign their names. Conspicuously absent from the document is the signature of Emilio Aguinaldo!

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Of the two known copies of the Declaration of Independence, one remains unlocated in the mountain of documents known as the “Philippine Revolutionary Records” in the National Library. Until libraries and archives reopen, we cannot verify if these Declarations, due to their importance, were made in triplicate or even quintuplicate. Could Aguinaldo’s signature be on one of these unknown copies?

Each year on June 12, when people debate on the text and context of the Declaration of Independence, they don’t achieve resolution because nobody asks: Why didn’t Aguinaldo sign the June 12 declaration whose text mentions him by name five times?

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Emmanuel Calairo, recently appointed to the National Historical Commission, explores the issue in a historiographical essay on the events in Bacoor on Aug. 1, 1898, when independence was declared again in clear and definite terms. Unfortunately, some enthusiastic people have misunderstood Calairo’s study as a repudiation of June 12, and now propose Aug. 1 as our rightful Independence Day.

Apolinario Mabini is the key to this puzzle. He arrived in Kawit on time to witness the declaration on June 12, having patiently endured a long and uncomfortable trip from Laguna, carried in a hammock by a relay of men who dropped him on the ground without gentleness or warning when they grew weary. Mabini arrived too late to advise Aguinaldo against a declaration that he deemed reckless and premature. If he had his way, Filipinos would keep the desire for independence secret from their American allies, gathering as much arms and ammunition as they could in the meantime to resist the United States or other nations with ships on Manila Bay—Germany, Britain, France, and Japan—that could steal hard-won Philippine independence after the defeat of Spain.

Mabini became Aguinaldo’s main adviser on June 12, but was seen as an interloper by those who had long been in Aguinaldo’s circle and confidence like Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, who wrote into the declaration that Philippine independence was “under the protection of the Mighty and Humane North American Nation” (these words underlined in the original document).

Elsewhere in the declaration he composed, Rianzares Bautista explained the symbols on the National Flag, stating that the “colors blue, red, and white commemorate those of the flag of the United States of North America, in profound gratitude towards that great Nation for the disinterested protection she is extending to us and will continue to extend to us.”

To correct these pro-American flaws in the June 12 declaration, and to present a more democratic list of signatories than the largely unelected military officers at Kawit, Mabini drafted a document of ratification, signed by 190 elected municipal presidents who had gathered in Bacoor, the revolutionary capital, on Aug. 1, 1898, to take their oaths of office. Unlike the June 12 mother document, that of Aug. 1 was signed and attested by Aguinaldo. This document was officially transmitted in the campaign for recognition from foreign governments.

Aug. 1, 1898 cannot replace June 12, because Aguinaldo himself refused the “epal” suggestion that he set his birthday, March 22, as Independence Day. He chose June 12, and while in Pampanga on June 12, 1899, he commemorated the first anniversary of the country’s independence. Aug. 1, 1898 is a reminder of Mabini’s influence over Aguinaldo that allowed him to lay down the legal and moral foundations of the Filipino nation. Unfortunately, Mabini’s project was not realized. He was intrigued out of office after a year by lesser men threatened by his unshakable integrity.

We must remember that it is one thing to declare independence, and another to attain it. Also, how other motivations—revenge, jealousy, accommodation, and self-interest—created detours and dead-ends in Mabini’s quixotic straight path to nationhood. Alas, textbook history leaves us with the outcomes, not the details that show how we came to be.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Declaration of Philippine Independence, Emilio Aguinaldo, independence, Kawit, national historical commission, Signature
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