|artwork by Cathy Cullis|
Emilio Aguinaldo might as well be the most hated Presidential figure in Philippine history. Well, he could be second to or even tied up with Ferdinand Marcos, but that's a matter of opinion. Emilio Aguinaldo, First President of the First Philippine Republic, leader of the Katipunan's Magdalo Council, murderer of the Bonifacio brothers, accused mastermind of General Antonio Luna's death, and also everyone's least favorite hero. These are the labels we hastily stick on to the back of the man who lead us to victory against the Spaniards, the man who fought and declared war on the United States, the man who housed our first flag and first anthem. How come we are so easily ready to forget the shortcomings of the heroes we love, but forever dwell on the shortcomings of our First President? Do we really, truly hate him as a people, or was this caused by some sort of outside influence? History shows that our dislike for Aguinaldo is highly possible to be an American influence.
Some people wrap our history in a nutshell by saying that we lived in a convent for three hundred years, and in Hollywood for fifty. This statement is half true. We didn't live in Hollywood for fifty years because we are still living in Hollywood, sipping Coca-Cola in slim glass bottles and mindlessly drinking in everything our cable television sets scream out. Whether Filipinos want to admit it or not, American influence is heavy on us. This influence they have over our media, government, and personal desires did not start during the past ten years; it started decades before that. We've picked up some of their manners, education, entertainment, and even their language, so why wouldn't we pick up their dislike towards a certain people or in this case, person?
Emilio Aguinaldo tried running for President for the second time in 1935 against Manuel L. Quezon and Bishop Gregorio Aglipay. Our history books tell us that Aguinaldo lost by a landslide to Manuel L. Quezon during these elections. Strangely enough, it was also during this time that Aguinaldo's skeletons in the closet resurfaced and reached the ears of every Filipino-- the murder of the Bonifacios, the murder of General Antonio Luna, and taking a bribe from Spain. How come no one complained and brought up these topics when he was elected as the First President of the Philippines?
Manuel L. Quezon's term did have its bright sides, though. Because of him, Filipinas were allowed to vote and the National Language, Tagalog, was adopted. Philippine economy was improved as shown by the results of agricultural, industrial, and commercial growth. Aside from that, it was during Quezon's time that Filipino youths were trained in military skills under the watchful eye of General Douglas MacArthur. Here is where the questionable part lies. Why did Quezon allow MacArthur, a foreigner, train the men who were to defend him and his country? Didn't he say, “I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by Americans”? The problem with leaving a foreigner in charge of the military was that he would teach the Filipinos American tactics, ones that would work on American soil, yet our terrain is different from theirs. Also, remember that it was just some six years later when the Japanese would invade the Philippines. At that time, Japan's goal was to form the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a union of countries with Japan at its helm. Could it be possible that the Americans had talked Manuel L. Quezon into allowing one of their own men to train ours, as to be sure that when the time came for them to fight Japan, they would have the Filipinos on their side? After all, they were able to convince us of their so-called benevolence only a few decades before.
Years before he was elected as President in 1935, Quezon had already had experience in the political field. He went on an Independence Mission to secure the 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act, one that would grant the Philippines freedom after ten years; and supported the Jones Bill of 1916, also an independence agreement but did not say exactly when we could have our freedom. Funny how he supported this law with an obvious loophole such as this. It's even funnier how his political career skyrocketed during his support for this law. Perhaps the Americans smiled upon this mestizo who supported their suspicious bill and thought, “Hey, we should help him so he can help us!” From that point on, Quezon's political career took a positive turn. Interesting how years later, he would win by a landslide to the man who declared war on the United States of America.
Though Aguinaldo did have his faults, we shouldn't remember him entirely for these shortcomings alone. Let us break the habit of dwelling on the wrong things he did and instead, look at him in the context of our history. It was he who led us to victory against the Spaniards. It was he who set up the First Republic of not just the Philippines, but of the whole of Asia. It was he who continued to struggle against America's grip on our throats even when they had already won.
So, was Aguinaldo an American-sponsored villain? Maybe, but it's up to you to decide whether you really dislike Emilio Aguinaldo, or if you have just inherited our foreign invaders' hate for him that was so easily passed down to us like secondhand clothes.