by Ma. Cielito G. Reyno       Revisiting the events of February 1897, one gets a sense of urgency as it seemed every Filipino took part in the national effort to defend the gains of the Revolution.  Having realized that what had hitherto been unthinkable, and so impossible, was now within their grasp, Filipinos joined the struggle to end 300 years of solitude and slavery suffered under colonial masters.  Starting as a puny flame lit by only a handful of natives who dared to dream of a just and prosperous life for all Filipinos, the struggle for freedom had by February 1897 become a full-blown Revolution manned not only by the revolutionists but by the greater mass of Filipinos who had finally rediscovered their nation within themselves.

       The 6th of February saw the execution of a group of convicted subversives, many of whom had been found to be members of the Katipunan, the organization that started it all.  The execution was part of the policy of fear implemented by the government, which also included arrests, imprisonment, exile and deportation, in retaliation for the brazenness with which the revolutionary movement had been carried out right under the very noses of authorities.  Starting on 4 September of the year before with the execution of Sancho Valenzuela and three other Katipunan leaders, the capital punishment of subversives were held at Bagumbayan field, following one after the other and according to the one source, taking place almost daily: 11 September; 3 November; 14 December; 29 December; 30 December—onto the following year: 4 January, 11 January, 6 February.       On this last date the list of those martyred was headed by no less than the second Supremo of the Katipunan- Roman Basa, native of San Roque, Cavite, clerk at the marine comandancia at the time of his initiation in the Katipunan on November 9, 1892, the same year the secret society was organized.  His recruiter to the Katipunan had been Ladislaw Diwa, University of Santo Tomas law student, a town mate and fellow boarder at a house along Asuncion Street in San Nicolas, and also a founder of the Katipunan.  Basa had been in prison since his arrest in September 1896.  Others executed together with Basa on the 6th of February 1897 were also reported to be Katipunans: Vicente Molina, Katipunan treasurer; Hermenegildo de los Reyes; Jose Trinidad; Pedro Nicodemus: Feliciano del Rosario; Gervasio Samson, Doroteo Dominguez and Apolonio de la Cruz.

While the February 6 execution was being carried out, an uprising of around a thousand natives that broke out in December in the area around Mt. Bontok, in Ayungon, Negros Oriental and had spread to the neighboring towns of Bais, Calagcalag, and Tayasan, was being crushed in a fierce battle between the natives and the Spanish forces consisting of a 100-man contingent from Iloilo and the local force.  The uprising was led by babaylans, native priests of both sexes, who had heard of Rizal, and the Katipunan revolt in Manila, and perhaps of Rizal’s sacrifice at Bagumbayan reportedly from “Tagalogs” who had gone there to plant the seeds of the Revolution.  The babaylans aimed to restore the prosperous and idyllic life Filipinos enjoyed before the Spaniards came and they believed that this past would return to a Philippines ruled benevolently by (the resurrected?) Rizal, the King.  The battle ended with the defeat of the babaylans who lost around a hundred men.  This debacle however proved to be only the beginning of the end of the Spanish hold on Negros island, for the seed of the revolution had been watered by the blood of the babaylans whose revolt would spread throughout the island until the colonial rulers were finally booted out in 1898.

The battles and deaths that came to pass in February 1897 were testaments to the nobility of the Filipinos, that they were indeed capable of the highest patriotism and therefore had earned their place among the family of nations: the Filipinos hung on to the ideals planted by the Katipunan and defended to the death  the freedom they had so briefly tasted with the capture of many towns during the first battles of the Revolution in 1896.  The middle of the month saw the arrival of Spanish reinforcements to augment an army whose strength had been dissipated by having been scattered throughout the islands, in a desperate effort by the government to quash the uprisings that had erupted all over the archipelago.  The reinforcements manifested the colonial government’s obstinate resolve to recapture the areas north and south of Manila that had fallen into revolutionary hands.

On the 16th of the month the Spaniards started bombarding the Filipinos’ defense lines from Las Piñas to Bacoor and Noveleta in Cavite province.  On the 17th occurred one of the worst debacles of the Revolutionary army when the Filipinos lost at the battle at Zapote Bridge in the boundary of Las Piñas and Cavite, losing as well one of its leading lights with the death of Gen. Edilberto Evangelista.  This battle was followed by other battles on the 19th in which Silang, Cavite was recaptured by the Spaniards, and February 21-22, during which thousands of Filipinos made a fierce but failed attempt to redeem the town.  On the 25th the Filipinos also lost Dasmariñas while Imus was next on the list.  The Filipinos’ performance in defending and attempting to recover their recaptured towns despite the huge odds against them moved a French consul to praise their grit and persistence and to wonder if the Filipinos had been better armed and equipped, would the battles have ended in their favor? (See French Consular Dispatches on the Philippine Revolution, Translated by Ma. Luisa T. Camagay, U.P. Press, 1997).

As Cavite burned all this time, the port area of Manila was on the verge of its own conflagration as local Katipunans were planning to attack a garrison of the Guardia Civil near the custom house at the Pasig River.  When the attack took place on the 25th the authorities lost no time in pursuing the rebels, numbering around 30, who in the actual attack had killed two enemy soldiers and seized a number of arms and ammunition from the garrison.  During their retreat they killed another enemy officer, as well as other persons of unknown identity.  The attack would have been a well executed rebel operation involving simultaneous attacks not only in Tondo but also in Sampaloc had it not been for mixed signals as a result of an accidental fire, which the rebels mistook for the agreed-upon sign of fires lit at strategic points.  The government’s dragnet did not end in one day, extending even until two days later, when on the 27th of February seven Katipunan rebels were caught and burned to death.  Among their roasted remains were found their weapons- puny against the firepower of the pursuing enemies’ guns-  bolos and knives, and perhaps unrecognizable amulets, common among the Katipunan members, which were not manifestations of pathetic superstition if the skeptic were to be believed, but in reality were extensions of their fierce belief in the God of ultimate justice.

While February 1897 testified to the “failures” of the Philippine Revolution at the time, that Revolution would gain a second wind in 1898, ultimately triumphing against the Spanish colonial masters with the capture of Manila in August 1898.   Then again, it may have been a harbinger of the future appropriation of the Revolution by a new set of imperialists who crushed the Philippine Republic of 1899.  But as a former Sakdalista peasant organizer once said, “No uprising fails.  Each one is a step in the right direction.”  Thus February 1897 would be vindicated by the EDSA Revolution of February 1986—and so it will go on until real freedom is achieved by every Filipino.