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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

EMILIO AGUINALDO

By Cesar E.A. Virata

"We cannot free ourselves unless we move forward

united in a single desire."

- General Emilio Famy Aguinaldo


Curriculum Vitae

EMILIO AGUINALDO HEADED the Philippine revolutionary government that, in May and June 1898, defeated Spanish forces in Manila and other parts of Luzon and the Visayas. On June 12, 1898, he proclaimed Independence from the window of his house in Cavite El Viejo town (now Kawit), south of Manila. The country's first flag was unveiled, and the national anthem was first played - both created under Aguinaldo's direction.

On January 23, 1899, two months before turning 30, Aguinaldo was proclaimed the first president of the Republic of the Philippines, and he convened the Philippine Congress which ratified the country's Constitution. The first Asian constitutional republic was thus established - an event that inspired other colonized Asian countries to work for independence. One world power, Spain, had been defeated, but Aguinaldo soon faced another: the United States of America. Undaunted, he shifted to guerrilla warfare and eluded his adversaries for two years.

Born in Cavite El Viejo in 1869, Aguinaldo was the seventh of eight children of Carlos Aguinaldo, town mayor for several terms, and Trinidad Famy. Emilio himself was elected mayor, taking office on January 1, 1895; at midnight that same day he was inducted into Freemasonry, which attracted many nationalists. Before April, Emilio, 26, joined the Katipunan, the secret society that ignited the Philippine Revolution the following year.

He was initiated by Katipunan leader Andres Bonifacio. In early 1897, Bonifacio would be found guilty of treason for attempting to set up a separate authority and army. He was executed by the revolutionary government under Emilio Aguinaldo. The latter's role in Bonifacio's arrest and execution is controversial. Before these unfortunate incidents, however, both were key rebel leaders. Bonifacio was overall head and led the decision to start the revolution in August 1896. But better-armed Spanish forces beat back his assaults in Manila.

Aguinaldo, on the other hand, led successful assaults and quickly earned a reputation as a commander who could defeat the Spaniards. In September 1896, almost all of Cavite was liberated. Aguinaldo distilled the rush of emotions in free Cavite in his proclamation of October 1896 - addressed not just to Tagalogs, but to all Filipinos. Declaring a free Philippines to be the equal of the world's civilized countries, he justified the revolution and cited other nations that fought for freedom. His concept of the Philippines eventually included the Muslims in Mindanao. In 1899, he wrote to assure the Sultan of Jolo that the beliefs of all Filipinos would be respected.

When the war between the Spaniards and the revolutionary forces showed signs of becoming a protracted guerrilla conflict, both sides signed a truce pact. Exiled to Hong Kong under the accord, Aguinaldo remained focused on fighting for independence. When the Spanish-American War broke out, he saw the opportunity to resume the revolution with U.S. backing. He hoped that America, a nation that had itself revolted against an imperial power, would not colonize another freedom-loving people.

But by February 1899, Filipinos and Americans were at war and Aguinaldo retreated to northern Luzon, where he was captured in 1901. Taking him into custody, General Frederick Funston noted his "dignified bearing," "excellent qualities," and "humane instincts." Such traits may explain why he attracted an unprecedented following among the normally regionalistic, factious Filipinos. He had been one of the few who had galvanized them in a struggle greater than themselves, their families, their regions.

Aguinaldo's unrelenting pursuit of a free and independent Philippines did not diminish in the 48 years of American rule. He staunchly supported, even to his detriment, groups that advocated immediate independence, and he helped veterans of the struggle. He received visitors from the United States, Japan and other countries, including former adversaries.

When the Americans finally allowed the Philippine flag to be displayed in 1919, Aguinaldo transformed his Kawit home into an outstanding monument to the colors, the revolution and the declaration of Independence. When the colonizers finally left on July 4, 1946, he carried the flag in the Independence parade. His proudest moment came in 1962. After the U.S. rejected Philippine claims for the destruction wrought by American forces in World War II, president Diosdado Macapagal changed Independence Day from July 4 to June 12. Aguinaldo rose from his sickbed to attend the celebration of Independence 64 years after he declared it.n

Cesar Virata, a grandnephew of Aguinaldo's, was Philippine finance minister (1970-86) and prime minister (1981-86).


EMILIO AGUINALDO

•Born on March 22, 1869, in Cavite El Viejo (now Kawit), south of Manila

•Joined the Katipunan rebel group in 1895

•Exiled to Hong Kong in late 1897

•Defeated colonial forces in May-June 1898; declared independence on June 12

•Captured by U.S. forces in 1901

•Died on February 6, 1964

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