Today is June 12, 2012, the 114th year of Philippine Independence from Spain. Yes, I say Spain because soon after this, the Americans took over, so technically we were not an independent nation until 1946. This day also reminds me of the treachery of Emilio Aguinaldo. How can I call this revolutionary leader, cited as the first Philippine president and who declared the Philippines independent in 1898, a treacherous person?
I have always said that it will be history that will decide if a past leader was good or bad. History has not been kind to Emilio Aguinaldo who has never been declared a hero of the Philippines. Instead, he will always be better known as the man who sent the Father of the Philippine Revolution, Andres Bonifacio to his death. The irony here is that it was Bonifacio himself who inducted Aguinaldo in 1894 into the Katipunan. The Katipunan or Kataastaasang Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (English translation: "Highest and Most Respected Society of the Children of the Country"), was dedicated to the ouster of Spain from the Philippines and if necessary, by armed force. It's membership comprised mostly of people from the middle and lower income class and soon enough established chapters in a number of provinces across the country. In 1896, when the Spanish executed Jose Rizal, Bonifacio and the Katipunan began its armed revolt against the Spanish Colonial government. Among the rebel groups was that of Aguinaldo in Cavite. He had better trained, better equipped troops and they were in fact successful in driving out the Spanish from Cavite, although according to Apolinario Mabini, the Cavite rebels did not really have a hard time because only a handful of Spanish soldiers were left since most were deployed to Manila in anticipation of Bonifacio's attack. But despite these successes, all was not well between Bonifacio and Aguinaldo. They may have shared the same dream of an independent Filipinas but they were miles apart in terms of social class, education, and temperament. Aguinaldo was an ilustrado indio while Bonifacio was just a poor and common indio. Aguinaldo and his group looked down on Bonifacio for his lack of education. Indeed Bonifacio was not "educated" in formal schools but he was not illiterate. He was self taught and even spoke English. In fact, Bonifacio was perhaps better educated than many of the so called ilustrados around him. And so with this scenario, the wheels of treachery turned. When it seemed that the revolution was taking more ground, Aguinaldo's group could not accept the possibility that an ordinary poor indio may become President once the Spaniards were defeated. Thus, in Tejeros they met on the guise of settling the conflict between the Magdalo and Magdiwang rebel factions, but actually forced an election which they rigged in favor of Aguinaldo as President. Bonifacio got the second highest votes but even then he was not given the Vice-Presidency but relegated to a minor role as Secretary of the Interior which was further questioned by Daniel Tirona, as to his qualification of not being a lawyer. Bonifacio, humiliated and angered voided the convention in his capacity as Supremo. And what did Emilio Aguinaldo do? He alleges that he was not able to attend the convention because he was busy in the "field". And in spite of Bonifacio's statement of voiding the outcome, Aguinaldo covertly took his oath as President the very next day.
"Meanwhile Bonifacio met with his remaining supporters and drew up the Acta de Tejeros (Act of Tejeros) wherein they gave their reasons for not accepting the election results. Bonifacio alleged the election was fraudulent due to cheating and accused Aguinaldo of treason due to his negotiations with the Spanish. In their memoirs Santiago Álvarez (son of Mariano) and Gregoria de Jesús both alleged that many ballots were already filled out before being distributed, and Guillermo Masangkay contended there were more ballots prepared than voters present. Álvarez writes that Bonifacio had been warned of the rigged ballots before the votes were canvassed, but he had done nothing." (retrieved from wikipedia)
Aguinaldo sent a delegation to Bonifacio to get (bully, most likely) him to cooperate but he refused. Soon after, Aguinaldo's government ordered the arrest of Bonifacio. After being charged with sedition and treason against Aguinaldo's government and conspiracy to murder Aguinaldo, Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were sentenced to death after a one-day sham trial. Is it not a sham when the entire jury was composed of Aguinaldo's men and Bonifacio was denied the privilege of confronting the state witness who the prosecutors claim had been killed in battle, but after the trial the witness was seen alive with them? Aguinaldo claims that he wanted to commute the execution order to exile, but his generals convinced him otherwise. What baloney!
My mother met Emilio Aguinaldo in the late 40's when she was in high school during a field trip to Cavite and being young asked him outright, "Sir, what happened to Andres Bonifacio?" Aguinaldo told her that "the answer will come out when I die." Well, Aguinaldo has been dead for 48 years and still that question has never been answered. There are a lot of conjectures, speculations, research, analysis but no honest answer.
Personally, I believe that politics killed Andres Bonifacio just as politics today continue to eliminate anyone who is considered or perceived as a threat to the powerful and the powers that be. Emilio Aguinaldo may have fought hard for the independence of the Philippines but his ambition for power also made him a treacherous man. It was not only Bonifacio that he sent to death because his men also assassinated General Antonio Luna in 1899. I also believe that Aguinaldo has heavily paid for his transgressions. The power and honor he sought has eluded him to his death. The Americans whom he trusted made a fool out of him. The Filipino people did not elect him into office (he was never elected by the people) when he overwhelmingly lost to a Spanish mestizo, Manuel L. Quezon during the 1935 Commonwealth Presidential elections. And worst, was when he was arrested briefly after World War II for collaborating with the Japanese. There is one good thing though that happened for the fighting men of the revolution. They were never forgotten by Aguinaldo. For them, he established the Veterans Organization which provided them pensions and land to own.
I told my mom just as I was finishing writing this, that the better question she should have asked General Aguinaldo was "if you had the chance to change history, what would you do?" Maybe then she would have gotten an answer.