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Looking Back

Emperor of the Philippines for a day

Somebody asked me yesterday (Thursday) if I have written anything on dynasties. Of course, he was referring to local political dynasties and their kind running in the coming elections, but I associate dynasties with the ancient Chinese ceramics of: Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming or Ching.

Upon some prodding, I thought that maybe it would be timely to write about royals or people with royal blood in the Philippines, like the writer and political turncoat Pedro Alejandro Paterno who claimed to have descended from pre-Spanish Philippine nobility and styled himself in 19th-century Madrid high society as “el  principe  negro” (the black prince), the Prince of Luzon. As Lord of Luzonica, he used a self-imposed, self-designed coat of arms whose principal heraldic symbols were carabao horns. Then, of course, there was Florencio Intrencherado of Negros, a self-proclaimed emperor of the Philippines. I saw a photograph of him, dressed in a military uniform bedecked with insignias that included a sash, medals, and breast stars, in a prewar book on criminal pathology where he was set up as a textbook example of a madman.


What would the Philippines be like today if we allowed our pre-Spanish nobles to maintain and assert their titles and privileges? Names like Soliman, Lakandula, Matanda, Sikatuna, etc. would probably carry more cachet than Soriano, Madrigal, Zobel de Ayala, Roxas, Elizalde and others that fill our glossy high-society magazines today.

What would have happened if Andres Novales, who proclaimed himself emperor of the Philippines in June 1823, succeeded and had children and descendants? Would we be a monarchy instead of a republic? The amazing story of Captain Novales is not always mentioned in Philippine history, but it is a cautionary tale because he proclaimed himself emperor at dawn of June 2, 1823. He led an unsuccessful uprising on that day, which ended with his capture and eventual execution at 5 p.m.


Andres Novales was Emperor for a Day.

An eyewitness account of the Novales uprising is given by the Frenchman Paul P. de la Gironiere in his book “Twenty Years in the Philippines” (New York, 1854). Gironiere had settled in Laguna, where he styled himself as the Lord of Jala-jala.

He wrote a handful of books that recount his adventures with water buffalo, crocodiles, and the most dangerous creatures in our archipelago—humans. Gironiere claimed to have been a friend of Captain Novales, whom he described as a Creole (a Mexican rather than a Spanish Creole) in the Philippines who incited his men to rebel against the Spaniards in Manila and work toward the independence of the Philippines. Novales was arrested and banished to Misamis. It seems he escaped and led a revolt in Intramuros on June 2, 1823.

Gironiere said he was roused by the sound of shots. He put on his uniform and ventured into the deserted city where:

“[S]entinels were stationed at about fifty paces apart. I understand that an extraordinary event had occurred in some part of the town. When I reached the barracks I was no little astonished to find the gates wide open, the sentry’s box vacant, and not a soldier within. I went into the infirmary… and there a sergeant told me that the bad weather had compelled the vessel that was taking Novales into exile to return to the port [of Manila], that about one o’clock in the morning, Novales, accompanied by Lieutenant Ruiz, came to the barracks, and having made himself certain of the votes of the Creole noncommissioned officer, put the regiment under arms, took possession of the gates and proclaimed himself Emperor of the Philippines.

“[D]uring the night Ruiz went, in the name of Novales, to General [Mariano Fernandez de] Folgueras … who was detained at his country house, a short distance from Manila. He took the guard unawares, and seized the keys of the town, after having stabbed Folgueras, from thence he went to the prisons, set the prisoners at liberty, and put in their places the principal men of public office who belong to the colony.”

Forces loyal to the Crown then advanced into the captured city through the Santa Lucia Gate where they joined the forces of the governor general and together engaged the rebels who mounted two cannons at each street corner. They were reinforced by loyal Pampanga troops, and after three hours of fighting Novales was arrested and the city restored to Spain.


Gironiere said a court martial was established even before the fighting was over and Novales was the first to be tried. In a nutshell Gironiere said: “At midnight [of June 2, 1823, Captain Andres Novales] was outlawed; at two o’ clock in the morning proclaimed Emperor; and at five in the evening shot. Such changes in fortune are not uncommon in the Spanish colonies.”

The next day, June 3, 1823, other conspirators were tried and executed, a witch hunt continued, leading to the arrest and deportation of prominent citizens like Luis Rodriguez Varela, better known as “el  conde  Filipino,” the Filipino count, and businessmen Domingo Roxas, Francisco Rodriguez, etc.

Philippine history is dotted with the stories of individuals and families who go up and down the roller coaster of business and politics. Sometimes you are up, sometimes you are down, and as Erap used to say, “weather-weather lang.”

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Andres Novales, History, Looking Back, opinion, political dynasties
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