Oryang, Part 1

by Kiko Matsing

Gregoria de Jesus

One of the things I did while back home for Christmas was to look for Filipiñana books. I had no time to drop by Ateneo de Manila Press and get myself The Propaganda Movement, 1880-1895 (John N. Schumacher) and The Katipunan and the Revolution (Santiago V. Alvarez). Nonetheless, I did manage to bag a haul from different bookstores around the city: Decimal Places (Ricardo M. de Ungria); Edad Medya (Jose F. Lacaba); Kwadro Numero Uno (Benilda Santos); Pulotgata (Danton Remoto); The History of the Burgis (Marien N. Francisco and Fe Maria C. Arriola); Meaning and History, The Rizal Lectures and Bones of Contention, The Bonifacio Lectures (Ambeth R. Ocampo). In addition, I picked up Quiapo, Heart of Manila (Fernando N. Zialcita) at the Nakpil-Bautista House during my walking tour with Vince and Cez. Rofel Brion also gifted me a copy of his recent poetry collection, Sandali, exquisitely published by Ateneo’s ORP. Let’s just say almost half of my luggage were the weight of paper.

I read Ambeth Ocampo’s Rizal Lectures on the plane going back to the US, and his Bonifacio Lectures during my week’s stay in San Francisco. It’s not hard to believe the popular appeal of his bi-weekly column in The Philippine Daily Inquirer; he dispenses with the staid tone of scholarship, and retells history from an angular point of view. His congeniality is infectious as he confesses shedding tears while researching on the authenticity of the “found” bones of Bonifacio, or as he shares his greatest tragedy–being a historian with severe sinusitis, allergic to the very materials (dusty documents) of his own profession. One of his lectures was on what the revolutionaries had for lunch at the Malolos Banquet of 1898. (They had ice cream for desert–glaces according to the menu written in French! How the heck did they keep it from melting in the tropical heat?) When Jane in socio-anthropology, a true activist back home, tried to get me to read Renato Constantino’s histories, I abstained, and excused my lack of interest in class struggle. I read history, I told her instead, for tabloid gossip. Reading Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, I find myself going straight to the last chapter, skipping the history of early Spanish settlement, to his account of pre-Hispanic Philippines, and, as promised in the translator’s introduction, the sexual proclivities of native Filipinos before their Catholic piety.

In any case, what impressed me the most, in reading Bones of Contention was the character of Gregoria de Jesus, the wife of Andres Bonifacio. I could not reconcile a picture of her–very serene and grandmotherly in her saya–at the Nakpil-Bautista House, with the gun-toting radical who stashed away the subversive literature of the Katipunan, and narrowly avoided arrest by escaping through rice fields and to the mountains. She was just 18 when she wed Bonifacio, and 21 during the Cry of Balintawak, the outbreak of the rebellion. I keep forgetting how young the revolutionaries were, and become more astonished at their readiness to stake their lives for the ideals of freedom. I was barely 17 when we marched to EDSA during the 1986 People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos regime, but would hardly consider myself a revolutionary–more of a spectator, than an active participant.

She may have settled into peaceful domesticity with second husband, Julio Nakpil, when the Americans came and aborted Philippine independence, but there still seemed to be the old fire and feistiness under that saya, betrayed only by the direct, unflinching gaze of her last photograph. My first intimation of her complex and contradictory character was her own account of her marriage to Bonifacio. I was surprised to have found on the Web the original Tagalog of her autobiography, executed in 1928 at the request of Jose P. Santos. A facsimile of a contemporary English translation by Leandro H. Hernandez in Philippine Magazine is even available. Written in her 50’s, she barely mentions–almost just in passing–her parent’s objection to her marriage to Bonifacio.

Noon marahil ay mayroon na akong labingwalong taong gulang at mayroon nang pumapanhik na mga binata sa aming tahanan at dito’y kabilang si Andres Bonifacio, kasama si Ladislao Diwa at ang pinsan kong Teodoro Plata na eskribano nang panahong yaon, nguni’t wala akong nakakausap. sa kanila tungkol sa suliranin ng pagibig palibhasa ang mga magulang at dalaga sa panahong yaon ay totoong maingat at ikinahihiya halos na masabing sila’y may tagahanga at katunayan ay mayroon na palang isang taong nanunuyo si Andres Bonifacio sa aking mga magulang ay hindi pa kami nagkakaunawaan ng mga niloloob sa pagibig at may tatlong buwan pa ang nakaraan ay naalaman kong hindi kasangayon ang aking ama sa pangingibig sa akin ni Bonifacio sa dahilang ito ay mason, at ang mga mason ng panahong yaon ay ipinalalagay ng mga matanda, sa kagagawan ng mga prayle, na masasamang tao, ay noon pa naman ako nagkakaroon ng bahagyang pagibig sa kanya. May anim na buwan pa ay nagkaibigan na kami ng tuluyan at bagaman laban sa kalooban ng ama ko ay napahinuhod din alangalang sa malaking pagmamahal sa akin at pagtatapat ko ng katotohanan ng aming pagiibigan, kaya’t bilang pagbibigay ni Andres Bonifacio sa kaugalian ng matanda ay ikinasal kami sa simbahang romano sa Binundok ng buwan ng Marso ng 1893 at ang aming naging saksing lalake ay si Restituto Javier at ang saksing babae ay ang may bahay nito na si Ginang Benita ni Javier. Sumunod na linggo ay pamuli kaming ikinasal sa harap ng lahat na katipunan, sa kahilingan ng mga ito, sapagka’t hindi nila pinahahalagahan ang aming kasal sa simbahang romano at ito’y ginanap din sa bahay ng aming inaamang Restituto Javier, sa daang Oroquieta noong araw, at natatandaan kong nagkaroon pa ng kaunting salusalo at sa mga panauhin ay kabilang si G. Pio Valenzuela, Santiago Turiano, Roman Basa, Marina Dizon, Josefa at Trining Rizal at lahat halos ng pamunuan ng katipunan. Nang sumapit ang gabi ng araw ding yaon ay inianib ako sa katipunan sa ilalim ng sagisag o simbolikong Lakambini, upang ganapin ko at tuparin ang kanyang banal na palatuntunan at simulain.

In fact, her parents so objected to Bonifacio, that they removed her from their house, and kept her virtually a prisoner with relatives. Ambeth Ocampo quotes her letter to the gobernadorcillo, pleading to be released from her parents, and have her boyfriend summoned so they can be wed. She was under the legal age at the time and would have needed parental consent to marry.

Aco poi si Gregoria de Jesus nataga Caloocan dalagang tagalog at menor de edad aco po ay may tratong magasaua sa aquing nobio nasi Andres Bonifacio na taga Tondo Calle Sagunto no. 11 letra E ng matalastas na aquin magulang ang aquing magandang hanhad aco po ay dinala dito sa isang bahai sa calle Madrid no. D letra 28 ang lagai co po dito ay tunay na bilanggo uala acong libertad na anoman.

Saiyo pong capangyarihan aco ay nagquequeha at hinigingi co pa sa iyo mediante justicia aco poi cunin mo rito, tauagin ang aquing novio, gauin mo ang deligenciang dapat, ipadalasa Gobierno napara cami macasal.

Humihingi po aco saiyo ng pagca justicia at umaasa po acong paquiquingan mo sa pagcat itoi siyang toncol ng sino mang may magandang calooban na pasa mo po.

The letter reads like that of an enamored young girl’s–clumsily written, and desperate–but, at the same time, reveals a self-possession and strong-headedness. However the matter was settled, she finally got what she wanted. They were married twice: first, in the Roman Catholic Church, and then, in Katipunan (secret society) rituals. The parents must have cringed; they did not approve of Bonifacio’s involvement with the masons in the first place. Shortly after, she was sworn into the secret society as Lakambini (muse) “in order to obey and practice its sacred principles and rules” (Hernandez translation).

Given the turn of events, how she immediately enlisted into the secret society that sparked the revolution, whose Supremo (chief) happens to be her new husband, his strong political commitment to the cause of freedom must have been what turned her on about Andres Bonifacio. This was no fluffy, stay-at-home Confederate lady, but a tough, politicized woman, who would learn to ride horses and shoot guns as contingencies of the struggle demanded.

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