Venancio’s Leon Kilat

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Not enough has been done to remember Pantaleon Villegas, a.ka. Leon Kilat, our hero of the revolution. If anything, one suspects much has been done to sweep him under the rug of history.

This we might attribute to the fact that the elite of Cebu, ambivalent as they probably were with the Katipunan revolt, were the ones who executed him fearing reprisals from the Spanish colonial government. Why would they remember him and how he brought the revolution to these islands? And why shouldn’t his memory fade into oblivion? His revolution is recalled not by his name but by its date, Tres de Abril, now the name of a street in Labangon. His monument tells how badly we remember him in terms of the concrete. Which is just as well.

There is a bit of history written about him. But it is scant and marginal. But then the mode of history can at best tell us only half the truth about him. Leon Kilat always occupied the realm of myth. The stories people told of him was more essential. Myth was a domain he occupied in a most romantic and entertaining way.

And so imagine Venancio Jakosalem Fernandez married to Consuelo Lucero Lozada. He is seated with his children all about him in an art deco easy chair quite popular in the rural countryside circa the 1960s. They are in an ancient wooden house known locally as “Dakung Balay” in Ylaya, Dumanjug.

It is a house of many shadows made deeper by its inherent architecture, the fact of its interior posts rising majestic into the art deco high-ceiling. Even when electricity came later to this place it could not drive away the shadows. They only made them seem more stark. So that when Venancio lifted arms and voice to emphasize the dramatic spike of his stories of the war, his children could not help but move closer to him. It was all they could do to ease their excitement and fear. Was it Venancio’s talent for folk oratory which made the stories seem real, or was it the shadows themselves?

Whatever the case, the stories seem unbelievable only in hindsight. In the darkness inside the moment of their telling, the stories were a world unto themselves, resonating in a first person account of an impossible memory. They were real even if they did not entirely qualify as truth.

But such is the power of myth. For how else could Leon have convinced his followers to rise up against their well armed enemies unless he armed them first with a peculiar faith? Not all the books recall how he captured the god of his enemies by mimicking their Latin prayers and their ancient symbols and using these to embellish the cotton vests they wore to defend themselves from rifle bullets. Did the vests work? Only to the extent of their most important purpose. His small army did indeed drive the Spanish away from the city and send them running tail between legs back into their fort where they hid waiting for reinforcements from Manila.

There are other stories as well, some within, others without the late Venancio’s anthology on Kilat. For mystery and romance, what can match the story of Kilat’s sigbin? It was his sigbin which gave Kilat the power to move very quickly from place to place, one day fighting in Cebu, the next day fighting in Bacong, Negros Oriental, where he was born.

Even to this day, old men and women of Dumanjug still tell the story of the sigbin and how the creature defends its owner from his or her enemies, or gain riches. How you cannot die unless you give your sigbin away to someone who consciously receives it, suffer as you may from the ravages of age and ill-health. Otherwise, you will have to use a “sumpa” to counter the sigbin’s otherworldly persistence. In which case, the sigbin would then become “kasalupan”, a masterless creature of dusk.

Kasalupan is the Bisayan word whose root means literally “west” or the geographic direction where the sun sets. Therefore, the land of shadow where all things go to fade from people’s memory. Oblivion. Just as most of Venancio’s stories fade in time leaving behind just a single ditty which children must have sang to each other back in some forgotten age:

“Si Kapitan Heneral Leon Kilat

Naglatay latay sa dagat

Wala’y laing gisugat

Gyera lang ug gubat.”

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