Remembering December 29, 1899
Because Jose Rizal is our national hero, Cebu remembers December 30, the day he was executed at Bagumbayan.
We do not commemorate December 29, 1899, a day shy of three years after Rizal’s life was snuffed out at the prime of his life.
On that day 117 years ago, Cebu’s revolutionary heroes led by Luis Flores, Arcadio Maxilom and a host of Katipuneros mostly based in San Nicolas and Mambaling marched from the streets of Cebu to Plaza Libertad (now Independencia) to celebrate the birth of the Republic Filipina in Cebu. Five days prior, the last of the Spanish residents left for Zamboanga and on to Spain as the Spanish flag was lowered from the Casa de Gobierno (the old provincial capitol across Fort San Pedro and the Plaza) and presented to a caretaker government led by Pablo Mejia.
The daylong festivities must have been marked with sumptuous meals amid countless oratories in honor of the young republic, soon to be snuffed out two months later with the arrival of the US gunboat Petrel.
But that is getting ahead of the story. This day also marks the formation of the “Juntas Populares” (People’s Councils), which were organized to run the towns of Cebu, which at this time included San Nicolas and El Pardo. It was also on this day that Luis Flores was elected governor of Cebu under the fledgling Republica Filipina by a representative from each of the towns of Cebu.
The day would also mark one of the last moments the public would see the Katipuneros of Cebu united. Some would soon fade in the background and die of natural deaths, owing to the sufferings endured in the hands of the Guardia Civil or during the tumultuous week of April 1898 and the skirmishes that followed. The most tragic of these was the burning of the town of Tuburan on Holy Thursday 1898. It was there where the Maxilom brothers led the revolt following the agreed plan for towns to rise up.
For the moment, these young men and some women among them basked in the limelight, much to the chagrin probably of my relatives on the Reynes side, who were avowed Spanish “loyalistas” seeing droves of dockworkers and laborers celebrating the dawning of a new day. On the rise with them of course were tiny but powerful lettered men who actually ran Cebu’s Spanish bureaucracy, like Julio Llorente, Luis Flores and the “capitan municipal” of Toledo Juan Climaco.
This is that last moment of public unity when ambitions were subsumed over Mother Filipinas or for the Cebuano, the “Yutang Natawhan, Yutang Pinangga.” Barely two months later, these paeans to unity would be burst asunder with the coming of the Americans.
I have written in a previous column (“The Judgment of History” January 10, 2013) here about what happened. Consider, for example, the fate of Llorente and Climaco. The former was a brilliant lawyer who studied in Madrid and joined the Ilustrado circle there, even meeting Rizal himself. Climaco, on the other hand, staked his fate on his beloved Toledo, where he became part of the landed elite.
December 29, 1899, brought these two men together in a victory celebration like no other. On February 21, 1899, as the US gunboat Petrel docked and demanded the surrender of Cebu, Llorente took the side of caution and joined those who agreed. Climaco, on the other hand, sided with Maxilom and was in fact busy in Samar collecting firearms for what he expected was an eventual war with the Americans.
For a while Llorente enjoyed the support of the Americans, following his capitulation, becoming Cebu’s first governor under American rule in 1899. But Climaco’s surrender in 1901 catapulted him eventually to the governorship, eclipsing the aging Llorente by 1903.
And now, following our foray at the Augustinian Archives in Valladolid Spain last year, a 59-page document has surfaced, a brief sketch of Toledo written by Climaco in 1886, when he was just about 27 years old. It is one of about four (the others are Sibonga, Danao and Oslob) that I am trying to translate now. All five were prepared by persons assigned in each town to draft a geographic, historical and political description of their particular town for submission to the 1887 Philippine Exposition in Madrid.
One wishes that both Llorente and Climcao as also Flores and Maxilom should have left behind some autobiography somewhere to give us a glimpse of those tumultuous years and the decisions they had to make and why. None have surfaced thus far.
Instead we have this single document, signed by Climaco, which gives us a glimpse of the man who would be scarcely seen during the anti-Spanish revolt in Cebu but would burst into the provincial scene to fight against the Americans in 1899–1901.
This will be the subject my column next week. For the moment, let me greet everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year!
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