Exhuming Leon KilatBy Jobers Bersales
(First of three parts)
“At 12:30 in the afternoon of the first of August 1926, on Kalambuntan Hill, barrio of Bolinawan, municipality of Carcar, province of Cebu, where the mortal remains of General Leon Kilat were interred, there gathered Messrs. Adriano Enriquez, Rev. Fr. Alejo M. Barredo, curate of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) of Bacong, Negros Oriental, and Basilio Villegas, nephew of Gen. Leon Kilat, commissioned by the family of the aforementioned general with the goal of verifying the exact location of the mortal remains of the revolutionary general Pantaleon Villegas y Solde, known in the Province of Cebu under the name Don Leon Kilat.”
Thus begins the four-page affidavit in Spanish executed and signed by Fr. Barredo, Villegas with Mariano Mercado, municipal president (equivalent to today’s mayor) of Carcar, and Vicente F. Sarmiento, councilor of the same town. This is one of four documents hidden among the memorabilia of Bishop Fernando Buyser of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente now part of the special collections of the Cebuano Studies Center at the University of San Carlos.
Forgotten for nearly a century, the documents, neatly folded, are accompanied by two silver halide photographs showing the bones of Leon Kilat after these were cleaned. They came to light again quite by accident as I was going through the Buyser collection while doing the Kabilin episode on the Philippine Independent Church last January.
Oh what I would give to have been present at this gathering. This would have been the fulfillment of an archaeologist’s dream, carrying out the excavation of the mortal remains of a revolutionary hero. I had to settle for the second best, holding and reading the documents of the actual exhumation that transpired not just that day but two more days thereafter, when the hero’s remains were finally found and with a surprise!
Present at that hill that fateful day, other than the aforementioned, were a host of other important personages, among them Hilario Abellana, municipal president of the town capital of Cebu as well as the revolutionary generals Gavino Sepulveda and Nicolas Godinez, together revolutionary commanders Elpidio Rama, Andres Abellana, Eduardo Roda, Juan Baraw— all representing the provincial branch of the Asociacion de los Veteranos de la Revolucion. Other than Mercado and councilor Samiento of Carcar was the municipal secretary, Jose V. Magallon, there to represent the Carcar municipal council, while councilor Jose Fortich was also there to represent the municipal council of Cebu.
To those among us who have forgotten him, Don Leon Kilat was the guy who led the Palm Sunday uprising in 1898, which we have come know as Tres de Abril, when the revolution against Spain exploded in Cebu a full five days ahead of schedule. What was supposed to be a well-planned Good Friday (or Ocho de Abril) uprising was hurriedly carried out because, as usual, someone squealed to the authorities who then began rounding up males and arresting anyone who looked suspicious. Fortunately, the revolutionaries prevailed and by the late afternoon that day, Cebu as well as Talisay and El Pardo were in the hands of the Cebuano Katipuneros, a victory that, alas, was not given its fair share of publicity and focus during the 1998 National Centennial Celebrations. (Blame it on Imperial Manila to look for heroes closer to home.)
With victory at hand, Leon Kilat then proceeded to Carcar to bring the revolution there by Holy Thursday. Carcaranons woke up the following day, however, seeing the badly butchered (chop-chop) remains of the revolutionary general, displayed near the church and some meters where his statue stands partly hidden (alas!) right now.
Among the documents in the Buyser collection is a hand notation listing names of the actual culprits of this heinous crime that, whether one likes it or not, saved the old heritage houses of Carcar from the bombs that Gen. Adolfo Gonzales Montero, the last Spanish governor of Cebu, promised to unleash from the sea if they joined the revolution. (In contrast, the people of Tuburan readily took up arms and followed the Maxilom brothers, Arcadio, Enemecio and Samuel. Thus one finds no evidence of the Spanish-era pueblo of Tuburan today as it was incessantly bombed from a Spanish gunboat, burning the town while the Carcaronon elite were displaying Leon Kilat’s body to save theirs.)
Next week, the culprits and the surprise in the exhumation.