Celebrating Two Battles and A Patriot’s Legacy
By Cielo G. Reyno

      May 28 commemorates National Flag Day.  On this day in 1898, some of the 2000 arms and 200,000 rounds of ammunition shipped to the Cavite port two days earlier were delivered to a little known revolutionary enclave, a barrio named Alapang, now part of Imus, Cavite.  Quick to the scent of the arms delivery, a Spanish infantry force of about 270 soldiers turned up in the barrio to confiscate the arms.  But the local revolutionists, quick to respond to the situation, lost no time in protecting the arms from the clutches of the enemy.  A battle ensued from 10 in the morning until three in the afternoon.  The battle ended in victory for the Filipinos, who brought their Spanish prisoners to the revolutionary headquarters at Cavite that same day.  As they approached the headquarters to the shouts and cheers of the locals, General Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the Philippine revolution took the occasion to wave the Philippine flag that he had just brought back with him from exile in Hong Kong.  It was a moment of glory for the revolutionists and for the Filipino people, an incipient nation on the eve of its birth.  As a tribute to the Filipino victory at the battle of Alapan Gen. Aguinaldo emphasized it in his memoirs as “the first combat of the Filipino revolution of 1898, which we may call a continuation of the campaign of 1896 to 1897.” Preempting even the general uprising called by Aguinaldo for the 31st of May, the battle also presaged the successive victories of the second phase of the Philippine Revolution. 
      The battle of Alapan of May 28, 1898 was memorialized as “Flag Day” under Proclamation no. 374 of 1965 and as the start of National Flag Days under the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines, the bases of our celebration today.

      But the road to the victory of Alapan had not been easy or bloodless or without tears.  From day one when the Philippine revolution broke out in August 1896, it was no picnic.  It was real, hard and tragic.  Children lost their fathers, wives their husbands, or families their daughters and sons, not only to suffocation in the crowded prisons of Fort Santiago, or to the series of executions of captured revolutionists in Bagumbayan field, but also to the battles that took place within and outside Manila in the succeeding months and years.

      One such battle was the battle of Zapote Bridge of 1897, one of the bloodiest battles of the revolution, and its hero was the noble Edilberto Evangelista.  A native of Manila, Evangelista had saved money to fund his studies in Ghent.  There his love of country was nurtured through his friendship with Jose Rizal and other Filipino expatriates who were part of the reformist movement. 
      Evangelista was one of the few Filipinos abroad who shared with Rizal the same level of patriotic zeal that pushed to the sidelines all other concerns of life, focusing all of one’s efforts and activities toward one goal: the attainment of freedom for one’s countrymen.  In 1892, he had written to Rizal of “the duty to die for [one’s] country,” should this be required of one.  He believed that “for a patriotic man, there is no sense in this stupid expression ‘what a waste of blood.’”  Even before the founding of the Katipunan, which espoused separation from Spain through armed revolution, he had already spoken of waging a revolution and organizing a “revolutionary club.” 
      He returned to the country around 1896 armed with a degree in engineering from the University of Ghent, where he was said to have excelled, obtaining an offer for a job in a local firm.  Evangelista chose to return to his homeland to join the Revolution.  Although initially rebuffed, he was later appointed by Aguinaldo as Director-General of the engineering corps and given the rank of lieutenant general in the army of the revolution.  Under his expert supervision, trenches and fortifications were built in the revolutionary bastions of Aromahan, Zapote, and Cavite Viejo (now Kawit).  Their state-of-the art quality, enabling the revolutionary troops to put up a fierce defense against the charge of the enemy, was such that it elicited even the admiration of a Spanish writer who described them as “fortifications of the future.” 

      In the field of battle, he gained the praise of his peers for displaying an almost devil-may-care attitude towards death, once saying that one never knew anyway whether the next enemy bullet would hit him.  With such state of mind he faced the enemy in the battle of Zapote bridge on February 17, 1897. 
      The Spaniards were then in the midst of their campaign to recapture territories which had fallen into Filipino hands in the early phase of the revolution in 1896.  While a battle raged in Silang, enemy forces suddenly appeared at Zapote, where Aguinaldo, held fort together with revolutionary generals Mariano Noriel, Pio del Pilar, and Evangelista.  Led by Aguinaldo et.al, and armed only with spears, bolos and a smattering of guns and rifles, the Filipino army fought hand-to-hand, successfully turning back consecutive waves of enemy troops.  It was a feat that not only delayed the enemy’s plan but also left their commanding general surprised by the Filipinos’ fortitude.  But the revolutionists’ tour de force was a pyrrhic one for the river of Zapote flowed red with the blood of those who perished- one of them Evangelista.  Shot on the forehead, Evangelista had fulfilled his duty to die for the country.  
      But the sacrifice of Evangelista at Zapote 1897, itself inspired by 300 years of past uprisings, revolts and battles, whether triumphant for the Filipinos or not, was but a step in the right direction, to echo Salud Algabre, a Sakdalista leader of the 1930s.  A step in the right direction that eventually led to the victory of Alapan in 1898, and ultimately to the glory of independence on June 12, 1898.