As this writing (September 15), I am commemorating two events close to my heart. The first was the inauguration of the Malolos Congress in 1898, in Malolos. The second is my 56th wedding anniversary. My husband, Antonio Araneta, and I chose that significant date to celebrate our marriage, to tie the proverbial knot. I wanted to get married in Barasoain church, after all, both our great grand fathers were delegates in that historic Congress. But he insisted on a church in Avila, Spain, dedicated to Santa Teresa, his ancestor.
Eminent historian, Teodoro Agoncillo, had always affirmed that during the formation of the First Philippine Republic, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo did take the task of governance quite seriously. He acted scrupulously and honestly and was counseled by Filipinos of integrity and vision like Apolinario Mabini and Felipe Agoncillo. History has proven that both Mabini and Agoncillo never compromised integrity for popularity or personal gain.
As president of a revolutionary government Aguinaldo signed two important decrees, soon after independence was declared, somewhat hastily, on 12 June 1898, from the balcony of Aguinaldo’s house instead of at a place of public domain like the town plaza. A revolutionary government was formed. Inevitably, he had to appoint military men to lead at the local level. Manila was under Gen. Artemio Ricarte, Bulacan had Gen. Gregorio del Pilar while Gen. Mariano Llanera held sway in Nueva Ecija. Gen. Tomas Mascardo was assigned to Pampanga; Gen. Miguel Malvar held command in his native Batangas while Manuel Tinio was sent to the Ilocos provinces. Gen. Paciano Rizal took charge of Laguna.
However, when possible, Aguinaldo did appoint civilians to head towns in Cavite, Zambales, Bataan, Morong, Mindoro, Olongapo, Pangasinan, and Tayabas. By 1 December 1898, thirty more provinces and districts, including all of Luzon and some islands in the Visayas, had their own local government units. To this day, the municipio of Argao, Cebu, with its exotic tiled roof, still bears a marker celebrating the first local election under the First Philippine Republic.
The decrees signed by Aguinaldo in June stipulated procedures for tax collection, administration of public funds, and how to foment commerce and industry. Officials in charge of administrative functions were called delegates. There were chiefs of towns, heads of poblaciónes and provinces, each with their own job descriptions. There were rules on how to conduct town meetings, organize a police force for internal security, hold trials and local elections, compile an orderly civil registry of births, deaths, marriages, and how to take a census.
Most of the decrees were drafted by the brilliant Apolinario Mabini who indicated that popular assemblies should be composed of all the delegates, población heads and town chiefs. An assembly president was elected so was a población headman as vice-president, and a justice delegate, secretary. Popular assemblies were consulted about the election of provincial chiefs and councilors. Provincial councils supervised the implementation of government instructions and decrees in their areas of responsibility.
The popular assemblies elected representatives to the Malolos Congress. Unfortunately, due to conditions of war brought about by the American invasion, not all provinces could hold elections before 15 September. President Aguinaldo had to appoint delegates to represent provinces where peaceful elections could not be held.
Despite the turbulence of war, the Malolos Congress was drafting the Constitution and debating energetically on its 101 articles. Newly liberated, our forefathers took it upon themselves to form “propaganda groups” that went around municipalities and communities, accompanied by local town bands, calling one and all to assemble at the plaza to learn about the independent government in -the- making in Malolos.
With a strategist’s eye, Aguinaldo saw that Spain’s defeat was irreversible so Filipinos had to be ready to govern themselves and what better way than to prepare at the local level. The Revolution spread like prairie fire to Northern Luzon, the Bicol Peninsula, Iloilo and Panay, Samar and Leyte.
Historian Teodoro Agoncillo said, it was doubtful whether all liberated areas were ruled in strict compliance with the decrees issued by President Aguinaldo. Conditions were volatile due to the imminence of the Philippine-American War. But, Agoncillo emphasized that, most Filipino officials were imbued with genuine idealism and “comported themselves in such a manner as to make the business of government a study in public morality.”
Although Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo often appears like the villain of the century (especially in the movie “Heneral Luna”), I believe he should still be credited for the establishment of the First Philippine Republic. Against all odds, he forced the issue. A constitution was written, a national anthem composed, a Malolos congress was inaugurated. The First Republic of the Philippines was established with Emilio Aguinaldo as president. That republic was, proudly so, the first of its kind in Asia.