In the 1935 elections of the Commonwealth, Emilio Aguinaldo ran for president against Manuel L. Quezon, a young lieutenant during the Philippine-American War and the First Philippine Republic.
As a campaign strategy, Quezon astutely resurrected the specters of Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna. He went around brandishing a sack of human bones purportedly Bonifacio’s and Luna’s while asking the not-so-rhetorical question of who ordered the deaths of those two heroes of the Revolution. Newspapers lapped that up, there were cartoons that showed the ghosts of Bonifacio and Luna pointing accusing fingers at Aguinaldo. Needless to say, Aguinaldo lost.
Historian Teodoro Agoncillo, Aguinaldo’s apologist, had always affirmed that during the formation of the First Philippine Republic Aguinaldo “acted scrupulously and honestly” and was counseled by Filipinos of integrity and vision like Apolinario Mabini and Felipe Agoncillo, both of whom never compromised integrity for popularity or personal power.
Aguinaldo did take the task of governance quite seriously; he signed two important decrees, soon after declaring independence, establishing local governments. Inevitably most were headed by military men: Manila was under Gen. Artemio Ricarte, Bulacan had Gen. Gregorio del Pilar while Gen. Mariano Llanera held sway in Nueva Ecija; Gen. Tomas Mascardo, Luna’s foe, 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 liberated Laguna from its tormentors.
However, when possible, civilians were appointed 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. (Today, 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 June decrees provided 45 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. There were 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 ow job descriptions.
Nothing escaped the brilliant Apolinario Mabini. The decrees he wrote for Aguinaldo stipulated that popular assemblies were to be composed of all the above-mentioned delegates, población heads, and town chiefs one of whom was elected assembly president, a población headman was 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.
During those turbulent yet heady days when the Malolos Congress was drafting the Constitution and debating energetically on its 101 articulos, newly liberated Filipinos took it upon themselves to form “propaganda groups” and go around municipalities and communities, usually 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.
In 1935, Aguinaldo failed to revive that patriotic fervor. Perhaps Filipinos wanted to make him pay for the double murders of Andres Bonifacio, Hari ng Katagalugan, and General Antonio Luna the firebrand disciplinarian he appointed Commander of the Philippine Revolutionary Army.