A classic example of class war in Philippine political history is the armed revolution of Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan, against Spain in 1896, and its betrayal by Emilio Aguinaldo in the Pact of Biak-na-Bato in San Miguel, Bulacan, on Dec. 14, 1897. The pact had its genesis in the Tejeros Convention in Kawit, Cavite, on March 20, 1897, meant to resolve the leadership of the 1896 armed uprising against Spain.
The Magdalo, led by Aguinaldo, came from the principalia, and his predatory clique argued that they had a string of victories in the revolution and should lead it. The Magdiwang of Bonifacio belonged to the lower middle class, whose father was a tailor in Tondo and mother a cigarette factory worker. Magdiwang will not compromise the armed struggle against Spanish oppression and friar despotism.
Cavitismo elected Aguinaldo as president of the revolutionary government in a rigged election to seize control of the revolution initiated by the masses. Apolinario Mabini, his foreign minister, noted: The electors were friends of Aguinaldo and Mariano Trias, who were united, while Bonifacio, having earned his integrity, was distrusted as non-native of Cavite. Aguinaldo was surreptitiously sworn in by a priest—negating the Mason-affiliated Katipunan—and subsequently had Bonifacio arrested and his wife Gregoria raped by Col. Agapito Bonzon. After a mock trial, Bonifacio was hacked to death in Maragondon by Aguinaldo’s minions. Three days after the convention, Kawit was captured in an offensive by Governor-General Camilo de Polavieja, and Cavite fell on May 17.
Aguinaldo capitulated to Spain and signed the Pact, accepting, not native currency, but the more valuable pesos of Spain—P1,700,000 to be exact. We may find consolation, if we had bitterness and shame, that the price was much more than 30 pieces of silver. Two days later, Aguinaldo declared as outlaws the masses who would refuse to abide by the Pact. Since the “revolutionary government” had itself recognized and capitulated to Spanish sovereignty, it’s understandable why America bought Filipinas from Spain for $20 million, and not from Aguinaldo, in the Treaty of Paris on Dec. 10, 1898. By this capitulation, Bonifacio’s armed uprising was doomed.
How are we to understand this humiliating Pact? At one level, it is a shameful sellout, a mercenary betrayal of the people. Certainly, the money that changed hands and the implementing letters and manifestos of Aguinaldo could constitute circumstantial evidence for such a view. At another level, we could ascribe the Pact to what Westerners call Oriental cunning, thereby taking Aguinaldo’s word that his sole reason was to use the money to buy time and arms, the better to push the struggle against Spain.
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It is a sad commentary on human nature that the fraudulent promises of one generation could still find true believers in the next. But since revolutionary movements are usually launched in their name for the realization of their aspirations, they may be forgiven the belief that their leaders will indeed fulfill revolutionary slogans. Aguinaldo continued to be recognized as supremo of the revolutionary movement, even as an exile in Hong Kong, until his return to renew hostilities against Spain in conjunction with the Yankee invasion of Filipinas. Indeed, if we wish to find support for Oriental cunning, we have no record of any of Aguinaldo’s contemporaries charging him with having accepted a bribe. In addition, Mabini, deposed by Aguinaldo to make way for Pedro Paterno, the architect of the Pact, explicitly states that the Pact was “vicious” because neither side meant to honor it. Spain gave no more than P400,000.
From the viewpoint of the revolutionary movement, did the people also understand the Pact from this perspective of Oriental cunning? A plausible initial answer is that enough of the people did, and this enabled Aguinaldo to “control the island of Luzon with the sole exception of Manila” by the end of June. He did not attempt to capture Manila because he acceded to George Dewey’s request to desist from such action: He was playing for time until his reinforcements arrived. But at the time of his request, Dewey had no ground troops; he had only 1,743 men, compared to the revolutionary army of 30,000 and the 3,800,000 Filipinos of Luzon.
Granting US superiority in arms, could not siege, blockade, and human wave attacks throw the Yankees into the sea? With but one more exertion, final revolutionary victory could have been achieved. In the fervor of 1896, Filipinos fought with sticks, stones and bolos against Spanish guns; so were the Bastille of monarchic France and the Winter Palace of czarist Russia successfully stormed by the people.
Apparently, by 1898, our people had lost their revolutionary fervor. It is my thesis that the Pact had much to do with its dissipation. People branded outlaws by their own leaders whom they once followed unto death cannot be humanly expected to fight under the same leaders in the same numbers and with the same zeal.
I will abandon this view gratefully if it can be shown that, in addition to his implementing decrees, Aguinaldo also issued explanations to our people that the Pact was a mere revolutionary ploy. But since there is no record available, the objective conclusion one can make is that, no matter what Aguinaldo’s motives really were, he succeeded in confusing our people and in driving them from the battlefields of 1896, never to return.
Thus, we view his army of 1898 as mercenaries, composed of the adventurous unemployed, and as feudal followers loyal as Caviteños to a Caviteño, or as Batangueños to a Batangueño, or as Novo Ecijanos to a Novo Ecijano. These no longer represented the masses, and Aguinaldo’s “control” of Luzon can be deemed the bonus of Spain’s token resistance in fear of US might and in anticipation of the Treaty of Paris.
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The bitter tree of 1897 had yielded its fruit. By 1898, Aguinaldo was consulting, not our people, but Admiral Dewey. In less than three months—from the inauguration of the Malolos Republic on Jan. 23 to its downfall on March 31, 1899, to US forces—Aguinaldo would be running for his life, accompanied only by bodyguards and retainers through the Luzon that he “controlled.” Finally, he was captured by a Filipino-American squad and brought to Manila where he recognized, for the second time in his life, another foreign sovereign on April 1, 1901.
Pathetically, on hindsight, Aguinaldo was overtaken by America’s “manifest destiny,” and he found no masses with him to contest its iron logic. America in the 19th century was well aware of the implications of German, English and Dutch expansions into the raw-material centers of Asia. The
Spanish-American war afforded her the welcome opportunity to establish an Asian enclave by annexing Filipinas.
Betrayed in Biak-na-Bato, the masses did not rally sufficiently to his flag to crush a foreign intruder with a supply line 10,000 miles away. In refusing, by their preponderant neutrality, to support Aguinaldo, the masses proved one thing: They had the ability to distinguish between traitors and heroes, and could at times resist the manipulative arts of the ilustrado. Suppressed and excluded politically and economically by US colonial rule, a new tension would grip our people until armed struggle would once more emerge as the only way to freedom.
Reynaldo V. Silvestre is a retired army colonel, bemedalled officer and multiawarded writer. He belongs to Class 1968 of the University of the Philippines Vanguard in Diliman, and taught political science at UP Manila when called to active duty as first lieutenant in 1975.
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