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The three ‘balimbing’

Nobody ever loses in Philippine elections. Many losers claim they were cheated and file an electoral protest. This pattern goes all the way back to the founding fathers, to March 23, 1897, when Andres Bonifacio and 44 others issued a document that has come down in history as the “Acta de Tejeros.” Unfortunately, many students know the title of the document but don’t have an idea of its contents because it is not provided in grade-school history class.

This document contains neither the “acts” nor “minutes” of the Tejeros Convention; it is an electoral protest that challenged the results of the election held on the preceding day. Bonifacio and his loyalists declared the election at Tejeros null and void and called on other Katipuneros to consider this to be so because the election was: disorderly, the ballots were tampered with, and it was unclear who were actually qualified to vote. Were these unqualified voters of the same breed we know today as “flying voters”?

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Textbook history oversimplifies the story to paint Bonifacio as a hothead. When Daniel Tirona challenged his election as director of the interior and proposed a lawyer from Cavite instead, Bonifacio drew his gun. No one supported Tirona’s motion, but Bonifacio felt so insulted that he declared the proceedings void and walked out. This presentation of Tejeros generates an emotional response from students when they should be taught to see the whole story, if only to understand why Bonifacio acted the way he did. Tejeros is more complicated than we think.

Remember that Bonifacio was presiding and the secretary at Tejeros was Artemio Ricarte. They sat at a table tallying the votes when Magdiwang treasury secretary Diego Mojica informed the Supremo that many voters did not fill out the ballots as these had writing on them before distribution. One account even states that the writing on the ballots were all by one hand! Bonifacio ignored this and proceeded with the election. Why? Which faction stood to gain from this fraud?

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If we look at the Tejeros results, we will see that the Magdiwang had a clear majority: president, Emilio Aguinaldo (Magdalo); vice president, Mariano Trias (Magdiwang); captain-general, Ricarte (Magdiwang); director of war, Emiliano Riego de Dios (Magdiwang); director of the interior, Bonifacio (Magdiwang). That’s four to one. What happened?

When Trias, Ricarte, and Riego de Dios took their oath as elected officials of the new revolutionary government, did they transfer their loyalty from Magdiwang to Magdalo? Should we consider them  balimbing? Perhaps the three  balimbing  who changed sides and the course of history did not really owe their loyalty to Magdiwang or Bonifacio? Can we give these three balimbing the benefit of the doubt and presume they saw beyond their local Katipunan affiliation and glimpsed the nation at the end of the tunnel? Did their defection signal an end to the Katipunan, a withdrawal of support from Bonifacio? If so, how could the revolutionary government represent everyone as one nation when Katipunan leaders from outside Cavite were not present? Maybe we should challenge the current thinking that Tejeros was the Magdalo elite from Cavite seizing power from the Magdiwang elite or the “masses” represented by Bonifacio?

Was Tejeros a vote of confidence for Aguinaldo, who was a promising military leader, against Bonifacio, who had not won a single battle and was unfairly referred to by some in Cavite as “alsa  balutan” or someone who sought refuge in Cavite after the disaster in San Juan (a historic site known as “Pinaglabanan”)?

What about numbers? We do not know how many men cast their votes in Tejeros and how many of them were qualified to vote. But if we are to go by the account of Telesforo Canseco, the ballots cast for the presidency were: Aguinaldo 146, Bonifacio 80, Alvarez 30. That makes 256 votes. The hall was full and described by Carlos Ronquillo, secretary to Aguinaldo, as being so packed there was no place for a pin to drop. “Siksik  na  siksik  lahat  nang  sulok  ng  malaking  convento.  Walang  mahulugang  karayom.”

Let’s presume that Ronquillo’s crowd estimate included: voters,  alalay, and  uziseros. This crowd, or a part of it, later voted by standing at different corners of the room designated for nominees for director of war and director of the interior. If Canseco’s count is accurate and there were indeed 256 electors in Tejeros, then the 45 who signed the protest we know as the Acta de Tejeros was a minority. From the 45 who signed the Acta some, like Ricarte, eventually joined the Aguinaldo government. How many really supported Bonifacio at this point in the game? What should we learn from the tragic fact that Bonifacio was killed by the very revolution he started?

Textbook history tells us that Rizal, the First Filipino, was universally accepted, but it doesn’t tell us about the elections in Madrid that showed Plaridel as the better politician. Textbook history states that Bonifacio’s leadership was undisputed, but it doesn’t tell us the whole story of Tejeros and how the mantle of leadership transferred to Aguinaldo. It is time to go beyond ideological bias and emotional response and ask hard questions about Tejeros. Each time I ask my students to ponder these questions, I know these will not yield definite answers. But the discussion alone provides insights relevant to our times.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, column, Philippine elections
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