Monday, June 12, 2017

Tatlong Bayani

To José Rizal

I visited your cold, stone prison.
Bereft of spirit,
Empty of words.
Your cell rang like footsteps

Inside a bell. I could not
Imagine you alive.
Supine, you lay
Motionless, a pigeon

Strangled by the hand
Of forces greater than
Your idealism, stronger than
Overpowering sentiment—

Your love of country exceeding
Your love of life, a pearl.
Yes, you penned poems, essays,
Two novels. You wrought

Drawings, paintings, sculptures—
At least one famous piece:
The Triumph of Science over Death.
Buildings, cities, towns, streets

Today carry your name.
Yet you are not deathless.
You are dead,
Slain by migrant necessity

Born of want, poverty
Pulling grubs from the soil,
Nailing down rusty iron sheets
To fashion flimsy shelters

Soon blown apart like paper
By tornadoes, locusts
On annual rampage.
But wait—now I see you rise,

Arms bound, marching off.
As if on a stage, players assemble.
Your back is to the firing line.
At that moment of volley

I see you transformed:
You turn—shot as a traitor,
Dying as a martyr.
Despair spinning into hope.

The Martyrdom of Rizal (1960) by Carlos Francisco

To Andres Bonifacio

Your bones may be lost forever,
But we are possessed, fortunately,
Of your photograph, in which
You glare—proud, sullen,

Belligerent, yet also brave, staunch,
Inspired—Supremo indeed.
I do not doubt your genius,
Testified by, for one,

Your marvelous capacity
For self-education, though
You must admit that
Your keenness is blunted

By your weakness
In the aspect of strategy:
Your inability to ride
Rapidly transforming events

So that they instead
Rode you, shamefully,
To your wretched execution—
Unjust, no doubt,

Still, result of your failure
To play your cards well.
Unyielding to a fault,
Prickly, reckless,

Flawed by fatal hubris,
You forecast your own fate
In the red and black flags
Of the Katipunan.

Now, standing in dust and smoke
Beclouding your monument
By the illustrious sculptor,
Guillermo Tolentino,

I see the Great Plebeian
Brandishing bolo and gun
And wonder about the message
He purportedly signifies.

Is there wisdom in violence?
Behold, the sword that liberates
Is the selfsame weapon
That tragically destroys!

Andres Bonifacio Poster Design Project (2015) by Carlo San Jose

To Emilio Aguinaldo

Your name means Christmas gift,
And yes, you bestowed
Upon your country
A fine gift, your house,

A generous patrimony,
Memorial to courage,
Summons to hope.
As travelers approach,

Many-gabled red roofs
Notably rise into view,
Presided over by a tower
Six storeys high,

A lookout embellished by
Five quaintly pointed spires.
Gracing the front esplanade,
Your bronze statue—

Your visage, undaunted,
Drawn sword at the ready,
Riding your stately mount,
Foreleg upraised, purposefully.

Entering the vestibule,
We see behind glass displays
Your bleached military uniform,
High-cut boots, rusted rifles,

Glossy buttons adorned
With Masonic symbols,
And the sword of the defeated
General Ernesto Aguirre.

Ascending the main stairway,
We encounter at the landing
A crossroads of sorts—
Left, doorways, the first

To a ladder-like stairway
To the third-level Music Room,
Rising to the Mirador
At the top, a tower

Overlooking sweeping views
Of Manila Bay and its environs;
Further down the hallway,
Your children’s bedrooms;

End of the hallway, a patio,
Galeria de los Pecadores,
Your venue for hatching plots
Against the Spaniards—

Right, your living room, commodious,
Harboring the original window,
Now converted into a balcony,
From which you declared

Philippine Independence,
Unfurling the first flag
Of the first Republic,
Marcha Nacional playing.

Mosaics, triangles galore,
Wood carvings in relief,
A plethora of symbols
Adorn walls and ceilings—

Eight-rayed, a sun
Honors the first eight provinces
To revolt against Spain;
Inang Bayan flourishes a banner;

Bearing a letter, a dove flies
Towards flags representing
The League of Nations.
Appointments, darkly varnished—

Cabinets of costly hardwood,
Flashing full-length mirrors;
Ornately wrought clamshells, which,
Pulled out from their niches,

Serve handily as pot stands
Attached to pilasters;
Grandiose, an outsize dining table;
Desks with sidewise compartments

To store important documents,
Or arms, for quick brandishing.
One corner of your sala,
A wooden panel swings open,

Disguised as a hat rack,
Concealing a corridor
That exits into your bedroom.
Herein positioned, an aparador

Built by your carpenters
To serve as your hiding place—
Dodging unwanted visitors,
You would sit inside, quiet.

A trapdoor from your bedroom leads
Two ways—one descends to
An indoor swimming pool;
The other, same level,

Is a corridor to your kitchen.
This hallway, Veterans Hall,
Is where you would meet
Your comrades-in-arms.

Their portraits line the upper wall.
Below, benches with backboards
Flip open to reveal hollows for
More documents, more arms.

Your spacious kitchen houses
A central table, its solid wood top
Hiding another passageway
Descending to an underground

Bomb shelter cum tunnel leading to
Santa Maria Magdalena church,
Five hundred meters
Down the main street.

Back of your storied mansion,
Your tomb, very large,
Monolithic, a single block almost.
Round the corner, in the garden,

Your Packard limousine, gleaming
Inside a house of polished glass.
Cleverly constructed, wily—like yourself—
Your entire second floor conceals

False panels, secret passageways,
Hiding places, an underground tunnel—
All of which gives us pause.
Never look a gift horse

In the mouth, they say.
To your consternation,
You might discover jutting teeth,
Or worse, dark jaws of betrayal.

Malacañang portrait of Emilio Aguinaldo (1964) by Galo Ocampo


  1. Andres Bonifacio image courtesy of Carlo San Jose

    Image link:


  2. Credits - original publications:

    “Fort Santiago,” Philippines Free Press (December 31, 2011) (original version)

    “Supremo,” Anak Sastra (October 26, 2014), pages 80-81

    “The House of Aguinaldo,” Cecile’s Writers (June 12, 2016)


  3. Rizal is the martyr. Bonifacio is the firebrand revolutionary. Aguinaldo is the general-become-politician.