Looking Back

73 bones, 33 teeth

/ 12:40 AM October 30, 2015

Sometime in March 1930, a grave near Tirad Pass was dug up to reveal 73 bones and 33 teeth that were believed to be the remains of Gen. Gregorio del Pilar. Actually 74 bones were exhumed, but one was too deteriorated for forensic use and analysis. These remains were presented to Dr. Sixto de los Angeles of the University of the Philippines, the same forensic doctor whose opinion was sought on the bones dug up in Maragondon, Cavite, in January 1918, which were believed to be the remains of Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio.

Over the years I have come across historical materials concerning the remains of our heroes, like a photograph of Rizal’s skull or the photographs of the cracked skull and other bones that were believed to be those of Andres Bonifacio; and the report on the remains of Antonio Luna. Years of research on Juan Luna led not just to the official death certificate issued by P.P.J. Wodehouse in Hong Kong, but also to two first-hand or, should we say, bedside accounts of Luna’s last 24 hours.


For the 20th century, there are photos of prominent Filipinos whose death or, literally, last breath are documented in the magazine aptly called Renacimiento Filipino (Philippine renaissance or rebirth). Online from the Philippine Diary Project website, one can find the medical record of Manuel Luis Quezon; online from Yale University you can find materials on Leonard Wood’s brain. In the unpublished diaries of Ferdinand Marcos, you can go through lists of medicines and detailed symptoms of his illnesses that suggest a different person from the robust superman image he projected to the public.

Other historians ignored or belittled these medical sources as either too trivial or macabre to be of any use; the little I have written about has painted me out as an ambulance chaser. Medical records tell us part of the story of great men and women in our history, which is often hidden from the public. These medical records remind us that our heroes were human, and that sometimes their health affected some of their actions that impacted history and our lives at present.


Going back to the autopsy on Gregorio del Pilar’s remains, while these were obviously incomplete, they still provided some individual particularities that made identification conclusive.

Doctor De los Angeles, after a thorough study of the 73 bones and 33 teeth, concluded that the remains belonged to a Filipino male, 20 to 25 years of age. Born in 1875, Del Pilar was shot by enemy soldiers in pursuit of Emilio Aguinaldo in 1899—meaning, he was 24 years old at the time of death. Based on the bones, Doctor De los Angeles calculated the height of the individual to be 165 cm, with the circumference of the head measured at 52.5 cm. Extant clothing of “Heneral Goyo” were also presented and his uniform and caps fit the reconstructed skeleton very much like how Cinderella fit into her glass slipper. De los Angeles further stated that the deterioration of the remains suggested that the corpse had been buried for about 30 years in the same grave where it was found.

History tells us that Del Pilar died of a gunshot wound. In art, Del Pilar is often shown being hit by a bullet as he was astride his white horse. One eyewitness account says that Del Pilar was standing, while all his men were crouched on the ground. He was thus easy target for the enemy. Doctor De los Angeles could not confirm the cause of death from the remains, and merely commented on “fractures of the mandible and base and the left side of the skull and the corresponding secondary lacerations of the brain substance.” Whatever that means.

Only one of Del Pilar’s shirt buttons, fashioned from bone, was found with the remains, confirming an eyewitness account about enemy soldiers stripping the fallen Del Pilar of his uniform and accessories for war booty. Del Pilar was buried in his underwear, probably because none of the enemy soldiers wanted to take him home as a souvenir.

Del Pilar’s whistle was eventually returned to the Philippines and deposited in the National Museum. As for the rest of his effects, especially his gold-plated revolver and the love letters and personalized embroidered hankies given to him by admirers, which were looted from his pockets, we can look forward to their being handed back to us, like the Balangiga bells.

Heneral Goyo was identified through his dental records. Peculiarities regarding his teeth were recorded as: “irregular growth of the lower teeth; the slightly protruded lower jaw, the asymmetrical appearance of the lower part of the face; the gold filling at the right superior central incisor, the existence of multiple dental caries…” The actual report is too detailed to be shared in this space, but the remains were matched with details taken from interviews with friends and relatives who said that in 1897, Del Pilar was in Hong Kong as part of Emilio Aguinaldo’s group that went into exile following the terms of the Peace Pact of Biak-na-Bato. While in Hong Kong, Del

Pilar had his supernumerary tooth extracted and had one tooth filled with gold.


According to my dentist-friends, Del Pilar had two extra teeth and needed braces to correct crooked growth. They guess that he probably chewed his food on the left side of his mouth. All these data disprove the saying that dead men tell no tales; in fact, their remains tell us much more than we bargain for.

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TAGS: andres bonifacio, Antonio luna, Gregorio del Pilar, heroes’ remains, juan luna
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