Name of the General
Last night, while between two friends and the moon, my thoughts fell again on the fortunes of my surname.
Back in the blue shorts, knobby-kneed days, it felt good to have the surname of a hero, the first President. In the entire batch at the elementary school, only one came close to my 'Aguinaldo' with his surname of 'Apolinario'. He came next to me in the roll call. His name didn't cut it though, not being a 'Mabini'. Yet, I wonder if he ever enjoyed such a contemplation of his name as I have. This dawn, I think about how living with such names might have affected us. How would I have grown were I a 'Cabantoc', 'Alcala', or 'Fuentes'? Would I have been as sensitive to history and the discourse of nations? Would I have loved stories as much? Would I like five pesos any less? Would I have so detested a flat top? Would I have even begun writing? These questions taste like valid mind candy at the moment although the current speculations, I know, won't bear the fruit of certain answers.
My classmates back then automatically assumed that I came from Emilio's line. A couple of priests actually asked and I said I don't know. It didn't occur to me then to ask my parents. Like most kids at the time, I read the colonial past as if these were many centuries removed from the present with all the snaking links to those personages buried in the dust of archives, blurred, maybe non-existent. History as a subject felt like a world all its own, floating pages irrelevent to the non-Spanish present.
When I studied in high school, someone whispered that Aguinaldo killed Bonifacio. This felt like the blasphemous joke boys make, so I ignored it. For some reason, I felt more keen on Rizal than any other hero, and Aguinaldo already felt too flat a character compared to the manifold dimensions of the novelist. I read world history much more intensely, following Charlemagne and Pepin and the Popes even when the teacher didn't cover these chapters. I understood that I loved those unassigned chapters because nobody required me to memorize the dates, and I could follow the story lightly.
I ascertained that Aguinaldo commanded the execution of Andres and Procopio Bonifacio when I took History courses at the University. Teodoro Agoncillo took me to that unfortunate hill. Agoncillo, as the devotees of history know, wrote with partiality regarding Aguinaldo, there being blood ties between them. In his account, the elite forced Aguinaldo's hand against a mad Bonifacio. Revolutionaries took the captive brothers up the hill, opened sealed instructions, and read the order of execution. Upon hearing this, the Bonifacios fell to their knees and begged for mercy, then they up and ran and got shot before they got far.
In Cavite, I hear that tales survives with a different account of the moment. Professor Q says that there may be truth in this version, and if the grain were followed and proved, various problems would issue forth, the ramifications relevant to any current question of nation-building. According this Caviteno lore, Aguinaldo had his Magdalo torture the Bonifacios. The brothers were brought up the hill already crushed. Then, the executioners did not merely shoot them down. They slashed them with bolos and chopped them to pieces.
Today, I have a richer story of my surname than my previous 'I don't know'. At the wake of my grandfather's sister, an elder of another family told the story of the remaining Aguinaldos of Rizal province. My silent grandfather's father was a fiery mestizo named Tomas Aguinaldo who transplanted himself from Tanay to Quisao in Pililla. The elder called us 'of the brave strain' because of Tomas's family. At the height of Emilio Aguinaldo's notoriety, the Aguinaldos of Rizal changed their surnames so as not to be associated to the primary figure of the revolution. All except my forebear.
I end my meditation with three points. First, the open question of how different I could be without these stories of my roots. Second, the logical words that every individual must have a king and a slave in his lineage; therefore, most other binary oppositions also mix in our ancient veins, such as the twin bloods of heroes and cowards. Lastly, I base both comfort and duty on the words put by Rizal into the tongue of Pilosopong Tasyo; from the following words, I read the possibility of doing right by the name my great-grandfather saw fit to keep.
I think somewhat like the Chinese. I honor the father for his son, but not the son for his father. Let each one receive his reward or punishment for his own deeds, not for the deeds of others.