I’m not the best person to talk about Filipino heroes. There are names that Filipino children are taught and grew up knowing. Jose Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines. He was a member of the Filipino Propaganda movement against the Spanish occupation and the author of Noli Me Tangere and El filibusterismo. Andres Bonifacio was “The Father of the Philippine Revolution.” Marcelo del Pilar was one of the leaders of the Reform Movement in Spain. Apolinario Mabini was known as “The Brain of the Revolution.” And there are many others. From the earliest hero, Lapulapu, a chief who killed Magellan but also died in the Battle of Mactan, Filipinos made heroes from those who opposed the Spanish occupation, a period which lasted for 333 years. Even the first Filipino saint, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, was sent to Japan and eventually to his martyrdom due to a false accusation that he had murdered a Spaniard during the occupation.
The Philippines was also occupied by the US and the Japanese, but the Americans had a relatively less directly antagonistic and more complicated relationship with the Philippines despite a three-year strife. To this day, the US remains a partner and an ally of the country. As for the Japanese occupation, which Filipinos fought with the help of US support, figures like guerrilla leaders Luis Taruc, Terry Magtanggol, and Marcos Agustin are not as famous as the ones who led Filipinos against the Spanish.
So if there are better sources for Filipino heroes out there, what am I to write about? Well, I have a couple of bones to pick. The first one is with Emilio Aguinaldo, the man on the 5-peso coin. He was a veteran of several revolutionary wars and was officially the first and youngest president of the country, the First Philippine Republic, which lasted about two years before the break of the Philippine-American War. He was a brave and brilliant soldier and leader when he was younger. I will not take that away from him.
After his first capture by the Americans, he took an oath of allegiance to the United States. However, during this time, his former allies who fought the Spanish alongside him are still fighting what they see as colonial forces, who are this time the Americans. Andres Bonifacio instituted the Tagalog Republic which refused to recognize the government of Emilio Aguinaldo, especially since it now surrendered to the Americans. Bonifacio and his brother were captured and implicated in a crime allegedly done by those under Bonifacio’s command. In a sham trial with a jury filled with Aguinaldo’s advocates and a defense attorney that believes his client was not innocent, both Bonifacio brothers were found guilty and sentenced to death, but later to exile. This was later reversed back to execution.
Aguinaldo is also believed to have ordered the assassination of Antonio Luna, one of the most brilliant generals fighting against the Americans at the time. Luna was invited to a location via telegram sent by Aguinaldo for a meeting, only to be confronted by army officials he considered enemies once he arrived at the meeting location. Luna never received a telegram that the meeting with Aguinaldo was cancelled, if there ever was a telegram. He and his companions were slaughtered in a plaza in front of a church immediately after the failed meeting. After the death of Luna, Luna’s men were left demoralized and eventually surrendered to the Americans.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Aguinaldo famously sided with the Japanese and implored General Douglas MacArthur and the Americans to surrender to the Japanese. He naively believed that the Imperial Japanese Army would free the Philippines from American occupation and finally give them independence. Someone should’ve told him the meaning of “imperial.” This is the Japanese empire that enslaved people, did horrible experiments on prisoners, tortured POWs, and raped women in the countries they invaded. He later became part of what many considered a puppet government and discouraged guerrilla warfare, spreading anti-war and pro-Japanese propaganda. As much as I love current day Japan, the Imperial Japan of the past was disgusting. Aguinaldo must know what the Japanese were doing at the time and what they are capable of. He cannot be that naive. The Rape of Nanjing was in 1937, just a few years before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941.
Later, when the US defeated the Japanese and regained control of the country, Aguinaldo went into hiding and was later arrested as a Japanese collaborator. He would’ve spent his last days in prison if he wasn’t pardoned by Manuel Roxas, the country’s fifth president.
Now, despite his earlier actions as a revolutionary, doesn’t his later actions as a leader seem slimy and unprincipled? Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio bravely faced firing squads. I’m not sure if the older Emilio Aguinaldo would do the same. He seems more a conniving politician than a revolutionary. If it weren’t for the Americans, maybe the Philippines would still be a Japanese colony, all with the help of Aguinaldo. I wouldn’t want this man’s face in coins.
Another hero I have an issue with is Juan Luna, the celebrated Filipino artist. While I admire The Battle of Lepanto and think it’s a masterpiece, I’m frankly not a fan of Spoliarium. I think it was only elevated by the commendations of his friend Jose Rizal who compared the abuse and indignities suffered by gladiators under Roman rule to that of the Filipinos under the Spanish. As a piece, I do not find it exciting at all. Even the name is gibberish to me. I suspect it is made up the same way vomitoriums don’t really exist. I also find it odd to elevate him so much when most of his famous works are done in the European classic tradition with European themes; there’s not many that connect to the Philippines and the culture of the country. I’m not even sure if Jose Rizal’s interpretation of Spoliarium is Juan Luna’s intent or if it was just incidental.
Juan Luna was a bully, a serial wife abuser, and a double murderer. I think his success and being a pensionado got into his head and wouldn’t think twice to abuse his wife who he eventually shot dead through a door along with his mother-in-law in a fit of jealous rage. After being arrested and charged, he was acquitted on the grounds of crime of passion and temporary insanity; insanity over his wife’s unfounded infidelity. This was 1893 and misogyny was to be expected, but it still saddens me how women seemed to be so disposable back then. Now many artists are famously horrible to women or their muses. Auguste Rodin was not particularly good to Camille Claudel. But she was able to rise as a renowned artist herself and certainly didn’t die from gunshot wounds from Rodin.
What’s fascinating is that even after the double murder, Juan Luna was still able to continue his career and even be a part of the Philippine Revolution. This is like letting OJ continue his career successfully and even be elevated as a hero even after the murder of his ex-wife. There are better Filipino artists out there: Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Guillermo Tolentino, and Fernando Amorsolo. None of them are sociopaths.
No hero is perfect, of course; most of the US’s Founding Fathers kept slaves. But I think it would help to know some of the less known history of the Philippine’s heroes. I say this because I actually grew up hearing a lot about Juan Luna, not really knowing that he was such a despicable human being.
Lastly, while I have nothing negative to say about Jose Rizal, there’s an argument that Andres Bonifacio, “The Father of the Philippine Revolution” is more deserving of the title national hero. Rizal inspired Bonifacio in his revolution, but Philippine historian Renato Constantino argues that Rizal was a “United States-sponsored hero” who was against the Spanish occupation and already passed away before he could make any comments regarding the American occupation. Andres Bonifacio fought and lost in the Philippine-American War. Rizal had a more diplomatic approach to change while Andres Bonifacio was more radical and troublesome with occupiers, including the Americans. His guerrilla warfare could even be compared to that of Che Guevarra, famously assassinated by the CIA. Even at a young age, I thought that Rizal seemed privileged: traveling overseas, socializing with elites, romancing women, etc. Most historians believe that Jose Rizal was unknown to many Filipinos at the time since he was often overseas and frequently associated with the elites. Contrast this with Bonifacio who had an image of someone who was down in the trenches fighting with the people. I found it odd that Jose Rizal was the national hero compared to someone who had a more direct hand in Philippine independence and similarly had to face a firing squad.
Another person who supposedly advocated for making Jose Rizal the national hero instead of Andres Bonifacio was Emilio Aguinaldo; Emilio Aguinaldo who allegedly had a hand in the execution of Andres Bonifacio. Why would he give someone the honor of national hero when he was instrumental in his demise? That, and he was also very much in line with the forces that Andres Bonifacio was fighting against.
God bless Jose Rizal and his sacrifice. He is a hero; I will not argue that he’s not. But I cannot help but think that his elevation to national hero over Andres Bonifacio was part of American propaganda. You wanna be a hero and save your country? Write a book and traffic in allegories. Don’t be a guerilla fighter.