by Esther Elizabeth Suson and Angela Arnante
October 24, Saturday, was a clear and sunny day, very unlike the Lando-stricken weekend just the week before. Angela and I were on the road by 7 in the morning, heading for the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite. We’d packed enough peanut butter sandwiches to feed an army, and I had Nova and Magic Creme besides.
We’d watched Heneral Luna together on the first week of its showing, and there was an excitement involved in our trip that was partly influenced by the movie. So much of the good and the bad of the Philippine Revolution (Tagalog-Pampanga Revolt, according to a prof) had happened in that one region. Otherwise, it was a trip out of the city and a visit to history besides.
Aguinaldo Shrine At Kawit, Cavite
The Aguinaldo Shrine appears charmingly out of nowhere, a tall white house with red roofing on the shoulder of a hill near the sea. It is the only house of its kind on the shoulder – the rest are small cement-and-tin constructions.
A field adjoining the Shrine holds black marble walls engraved with the Proclamation of Independence in Tagalog, English, and Spanish, as well as the signatures. In the middle is the bronze statue of the First President of the First Philippine Republic, and our First Kataas-taasang Diktador, Eminente Diktador, Supreme Dictator Emilio Aguinaldo. On the pedestal, Aguinaldo’s poem entitled “Mga Cababayan” is written. The place is almost deserted, with only the wind and the nearby sea muffling all sound. It was deeply peaceful.
Then we went a little closer to one of the gates of the shrine and discovered a neatly laminated sign saying the Aguinaldo Shrine would be closed on October 23 and 24 for the anniversary of the National Historical Commission. What is funny is that we didn’t quite lose our tempers – outwardly, anyway. We simply stepped closer, and studied the chain-and-padlock to see what size wire-cutters we’d need.
While I stood there reading the plaque, I thought I should be ragingly upset. It was a very fleeting thought, since there was no fury backing it. The rumbling of the buses from Manila to Cavite, the wide-flung green fields and the unbroken sky had drained me of excess emotion, whether anger or happiness. I was, simply, content.
We did ask if we could at least see Aguinaldo’s tomb, but no, the grounds were really, really closed. Then, and only then, did we very calmly spare a sentence or two on annoyance and the fact that, really, the NHC could have at least put it on their website.
Meanwhile, there was the monument, and there were the plaques, so we moved there and spent time looking over each one. The signatures amused us – we walked up and down trying to find names we recognized. When we could read them, that was. The clearest one was that of Felipe Buencamino, the quasi-villain in Heneral Luna (2015). The rest were loops and swirls with the occasional A and Y.
We tried to comprehend the Spanish version first, hoping that our basic knowledge in French would come to our aid, but it wasn’t enough. We moved to the English one and read it from the title to the ending date, out loud, sometimes in time, sometimes in turns. It was not a dramatic reading, simply a read-aloud for the pleasure of it, and for a reliving of details of Philippine history behind the text.
We interrupted ourselves often, commenting on the narrative and the justifications for revolution, on the different spellings of the names, on the appeal to the ‘North American government,’ and the fact that our colors deliberately reflect theirs. We did not read the proclamation proudly, or triumphantly, but we did read it clearly, not slurring or mumbling.
In this article, it feels like there should be a really wordy, flowery paragraph right about here, on how something magical happened, how we resolved then and there to fight the ongoing war to put our nation first, unto the point of death. Or, we should have ideally sighed for the days when the great Philippine nation fought tooth and nail for our freedom, and wished those times here again.
For myself, I simply felt removed, caught out of time, as it were. It was more a quiet understanding that that was then, and this is now, and yet how strongly the then leaked into the now. After our Proclamation of Independence, we were under the American Administration for nearly 40 years before the 1935 Commonwealth (transition) government.
We were not to have known of the Spanish-American War, and that we were sold to the United States, and that the battle between the Spanish and Americans for Intramuros was “mock.” The influence on – some would say corruption of – our language, education, and political system, is embedded into our history and culture, and is unchangeable (no T.A.R.D.I.S. handy).
And yet, we cannot deny the gift of public education, or that our second official language has made us one of the most competitive Southeast Asian Nations, or that our democratic institutions come largely from the Americans. History from every perspective, revolution from every perspective, is anything but bittersweet.
Like the trip that we took to the Aguinaldo Shrine, we did not end up where we expected we would, we did not do what we expected we would. But the journey was an adventure. We had a great time getting lost in Dasmariñas. We walked on a very old wooden hanging bridge that could snap anytime.
We walked for kilometers only to find out that there were shortcuts we’d missed. We went to the Museo de la Salle in Dasmariñas, explored, and met with Angela’s relatives. We got lost here and there in the process. Bittersweet was the experience, but not unworth it, not wasted. “What should have been” is nothing compared to the joy we can find in what is.