Exhuming Leon Kilat
More than the recovery of Gen. Leon Kilat’s physical remains, his exhumation at the old cemetery of Kambuntan Hill in Carcar revived fading memories of his betrayal. Rep. (later senator) Vicente Rama, then running under the Democrata Party, made Leon Kilat’s death a political issue against his opponent in the 1928 elections for the 3rd Legislative District, Maximino Noel. It was Noel who won the vote but a subsequent recount gave Rama the seat, winning 3,716 votes against Noel who garnered 3,637. Noel was supported by Don Sergio Osmeña while Rama was with the group of Don Mariano Jesus Cuenco, by then a bitter enemy of Osmeña.
What was Maximino’s role in Leon Kilat’s death? In truth he was probably barely out of his teens when the 1898 betrayal in Carcar happened. It was actually his father, Capitan Municipal Florencio “Inciong” Noel who figured prominently in the death of the revolutionary general. For while the other local leaders of Carcar did not want Kilat killed, Noel insisted that he had to die before the sun rose on Good Friday 1898. Among those who hesitated was Capitan Isyong Barcenilla on whose house Leon Kilat had stayed for the night, the same house where the crime eventually unfolded.
One can probably say that following the exhumation, this singular issue of Leon Kilat’s betrayal not in the hands of Spanish authorities but of his fellow Cebuanos—albeit representing the local town elite of Carcar—eventually led to the end of the political future of any Noel in Carcar. The presence of Municipal President Mariano Mercado alone speaks volumes of the changing tide in Carcar nearly 20 years after the assassination. And for some time after this, the issues refused to die down. The Freeman even delved into this sad fate of Leon Kilat in Carcar in a series of articles published in six issues in 1929, some three years after the exhumation, pointing the accusing finger at Noel and the local town leaders.
The decades have since numbed the pain of the betrayal and very few people, except academics, talk about this ignominious moment in Cebuano history nowadays. It may be important to note that this kind of betrayal of its own hero or heroes appears to be a common theme in the Revolution against Spain, with the most glaring being the execution of Andres Bonifacio by a factionalized Katipunan.
If there is one lesson to be learned from this, it is that betrayal is always a possibility in times of uncertainty, where everyone is on survival mode. While one cannot justify what Carcar’s elite families did to Leon Kilat, one must also realize that they made a choice and eventually lived to see how people judged them.
And so as one marvels at the old ancestral houses of Carcar dating to the late Spanish period, one must do so with the knowledge that Carcar survived the promised Spanish bombardment and burning of the town center in 1898 because its leaders made a choice no matter how ignominious and despicable. It is therefore perhaps to the memory of Leon Kilat as much as to those who sought to preserve these houses and the old town through the decades that these houses ought to also be celebrated.
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My felicitations to Dr. Hope Yu, the new director of the Cebuano Studies Center at the University of San Carlos (USC), who will be launching another two of her growing number of books, “Hunger in Nayawak and Other Stories” and “Because Love is not Blind.” Published jointly by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and USC Press, the books will be launched today at Buttenbruch Hall of USC Main (or Downtown) Campus at 1:30 in the afternoon. See you all there!
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