Edilberto Evangelista: 1897 would-be president?

By: Ambeth R. Ocampo - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | June 09,2021 - 08:00 AM

While history records the tragic deaths of Ninoy Aquino (1983) and Antonio Luna (1899), it seems that we as a people are far from closure. While their assassins have been identified, the person(s) who actually ordered the killing remain a mystery.

Aquino’s rival Ferdinand Marcos is suspect. Luna’s rival Emilio Aguinaldo is suspect. But other suspects keep conspiracy theories going. Apolinario Mabini recommended that Aguinaldo take a glorious death on a battlefield than a life in derision. Aguinaldo was pragmatic and chose life. He outlived all his enemies but his star had faded. From the comments I read on my FB page, it seems people are fed more opinion than facts in classroom history. It would help them to know Emilio Aguinaldo was not present when the Magdiwang (Bonifacio) and Magdalo (Aguinaldo) factions met in Tejeros on March 22, 1897, to create a revolutionary government from the Katipunan. Aguinaldo was elected president, Bonifacio was elected interior secretary. Aguinaldo was the only Magdalo elected in a slate dominated by Magdiwang, so the question should not be whether Aguinaldo cheated during the elections, but why the Magdiwang threw Bonifacio under the bus.

Aguinaldo was elected president on his 28th birthday. Instead of celebrating, he was defending a position in Pasong Santol, a trail between Imus and Dasmariñas. Informed of his election, Aguinaldo refused to leave and take his oath in Tanza. He was convinced by his elder brother Crispulo who took command, promising that the enemy would only pass Pasong Santol over his dead body. That is exactly what happened on March 24, 1897. Pasong Santol fell to the enemy because reinforcements sent by Aguinaldo were stopped at Magdiwang checkpoints that refused to recognize Aguinaldo’s election and authority.

Stray primary sources say Aguinaldo might not have been elected president if the more prominent and well-connected Lt. Gen. Edilberto Evangelista had not died in the Battle of Zapote Bridge on Feb. 17, 1897. Evangelista’s death from a bullet in the forehead was controversial. Gossip was that Evangelista was killed by one of his own men during the battle, and blame was placed on the enemy. Motive was revenge, the assassin was disciplined by Evangelista. A more fanciful yarn is that Aguinaldo got rid of the only obstacle to the presidency. A Mauser bullet was found in Evangelista’s head during an autopsy proving that he was killed by the enemy, but Aguinaldo’s critics insist otherwise.

Who was Evangelista? Jose Alejandrino in his 1949 memoirs, “The Price of Freedom,” said they knew each other as engineering students in Belgium. Before he became general of the revolution, Evangelista had odd jobs: school teacher, Cebu cattle trader, and Manila tobacco dealer. He funded his studies abroad from investments in the Philippines and was often broke, having no more than P10 in his pocket at any time. Alejandrino added that he never saw him change suit more than once in the four years they were together. Evangelista chose the cheapest apartment with no heating against the harsh winters. He did his own marketing, cooking, and, to save on gas, ate his meals cold. What little he saved was spent on alcohol. He made extra money by tutoring rich students before exams.

Evangelista made up for his “slow understanding” by diligence and perseverance, graduating at the head of his class in civil engineering and architecture, specializing in calculus and the construction of steel bridges. He declined job offers in Belgium, even, it is said, a professorial chair in South America choosing to use his European education back in the Philippines. While in transit in Singapore, he tried to convince Pedro P. Roxas to invest in a foundry for agricultural implements, actually a front to manufacture arms for the revolution. During the revolution, he built trenches and fortifications in Cavite that made the enemy marvel. His bravery was the stuff of legend. When a cannonball flew into his bedroom, missing him by a few inches, he merely turned in bed and resumed sleeping. When advised to take cover he said: “Can you tell me where the next bullet will fall? If not, why bother myself changing place?”

Edilberto Evangelista (1862-1897) is one of many heroes that should be better remembered because they add color and nuance to Philippine history.

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TAGS: Antonio Luna, Apolinario Mabini, Cebu cattle trader, Emilio Aguinaldo, Ferdinand Marcos, Katipunan, Lt. Gen. Edilberto Evangelista, Ninoy Aquino, The Price of Freedom

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