Heroes’ Day blues
The sight took my breath away. It was drops of blood of Gen. Emilio Jacinto who was wounded in 1899 in the battle of Maimpis river in Majayjay, Laguna.
Bleeding badly, the general was brought to the nearby convento of Magdalena. The sacristans had the good sense to realize that the drops of blood on the cement floor would be a precious relic of a patriot, so they didn’t mop them up.
The area was roped off, now a shrine for a hero’s valor.
General Jacinto survived his wounds but died of malaria that same year. He was only 23, a bold warrior and a keen intellectual who acted as the brains of the Katipunan.
Courage, idealism and death were the stuff of life for Filipinos circa 1892-1900. Intense revolutionary spirit was the fire in the belly of most citizens.
José Rizal, the brilliant novelist-propagandist, established in 1892 the La Liga Filipina movement for reforms, while Andres Bonifacio founded the Katipunan for armed rebellion.
In 1893, the cry of Balintawak signaled armed rebellion followed by bloody battles in Pandi and Plaridel, Bulacan, with heavy casualties for the Katipuneros who held their battle positions.
In 1896, Cavite became the bloodiest war zone where Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s forces won the big battle of Zapote, including the surrender of the Spanish garrison in Noveleta.
In December 1896, national grief and outrage followed the public execution of Dr. José Rizal who was convicted of treason after a mock trial. The cry for freedom and justice spread like wildfire.
Central and Southern Luzon became battle zones. The gathering strength and size of the Katipunan created panic in the ranks of the guardia civil and cazadores. They established a reign of terror by indiscriminately capturing and killing suspected rebel sympathizers and Katipuneros in many towns of Luzon.
The deteriorating Spanish rule only heightened the Filipinos’ resolve to fight bravely. They could smell freedom in the air.
General Aguinaldo’s military/political savvy concretized the Katipunan’s revolutionary momentum when he established the first republic in Kawit, Cavite in 1897.
On the eve of the Philippine-American War, Aguinaldo proclaimed the Malolos Republic in 1899. The country was on the cusp of a military and political victory to chart the destiny of a free Philippines.
A new colonizer
However, the ugly head of geopolitics appeared in the horizon of Manila Bay—Admiral Dewey and his gunboat with orders to annihilate the decrepit Spanish Navy moored at the mouth of the Pasig river.
A new colonizer would usher the Philippines as a pseudo-democratic state in the economic environment created by the Industrial Revolution.
The battle of Tirad Pass in 1899 was the last hurrah for the bold and intrepid Katipuneros. It also served as the transition from the revolution against Spain to the Philippine commonwealth government under the tutelage of the Americans.
Tirad Pass personified the virtues of the Filipino revolutionaries—sacrificial, devil-may-care, ready to sacrifice life for the sake of freedom.
After two years of fighting bloody battles in Bulacan, Gregorio del Pilar, the Katipunero rock star—young and brash—who tasted blood many times and developed his killer instinct in the bloody battles of kang karong de sili in Pandi and the fireflights in the battle of Quingua in Plaridel, Bulacan, offered to General Aguinaldo his bold plan to mount a rear guard defense, a veritable last stand. This would give Aguinaldo plenty of time to escape the pursuing American army.
General Del Pilar and his 60 warriors vs 500 well-equipped American infantry were predictive of Del Pilar’s martyrdom. One bullet from a sniper’s rifle hit Del Pilar on the head while he sat astride his horse commanding his troops to die to the last man.
On top of the hill in Tirad Pass the body of General Del Pilar lay dead at 24. He left behind his grieving parents and a sweetheart.
In my 77 years of existence as a Filipino, the only parallel surge of patriotism that seized the heart and mind of the young and adult Filipinos happened right after Japanese fighter planes bombed Pearl Harbor and Clark Field in Pampanga, ushering World War II in the Philippines.
Phil-American forces were tasked to repel the Japanese invaders. A lot of our young men in ROTC uniforms volunteered to go to war. With regular Filipino and American soldiers, these college students were ordered to make the last stand in the jungles of Bataan and the tunnels of Corregidor. They fought a war they couldn’t win because of superior enemy forces on land, sea and air.
For months, our soldiers fought bloody battles, outnumbered and without support. Many died of hunger and disease in the jungle. In the end, they had to surrender to a superior force.
Their ultimate insult was to be herded like animals and made to walk the famous “death march.”
The stories of heroism in Bataan and Corregidor as told by our elders made my young mind understand what heroism is and what it took to be a hero—martyrdom.
There are no heroes in our times. Heroes in the same caliber as the youthful Emilio Jacinto and Gregorio Del Pilar and the young volunteers who fought and died in Bataan.
What we have is a battalion of thieves in the government who steal pork barrel money meant for the poor in a grand conspiracy with larcenous NGOs and bureaucrats. And a President held hostage by the same pork barrel to be used for his Machiavellian politics. God save our country!
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
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