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Past Forward

How about our local heroes?

/ 09:34 AM December 05, 2013

That a monument to Andres Bonifacio, founding head of the Katipunan, has been installed in Cebu by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) is to be lauded. There is, of course, already an existing Bonifacio monument opposite that of Rizal at the plaza across the Mandaue Presidencia. The tandem of Bonifacio and Rizal monuments were installed there way back in the 1950s by citizens of Mandaue who contributed to the building of the aptly named Rizal-Bonifacio Library and Stage.

Cebu City, on the other hand, never had any special place for the leader of the Revolution against Spain. In fact, the plaza fronting City Hall had no one but Rizal among the pantheon of heroes of the 1896 revolution against Spain. Comes now this welcome news of a Bonifacio unveiled at Plaza Independencia to mark the revolutionary’s 150th birth anniversary last Saturday.

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Make no mistake, I am for the installation of such a statue. But I think we do not have to end there. Why not also install a monument, perhaps a frieze, to honor the local heroes of the revolution? Plaza Independencia, after all, was renamed Plaza Libertad precisely to mark the new freedom brought about by our local revolutionary heroes, among them Arcadio Maxilom, Gavino Sepulveda, Mateo Luga, Pantaleon del Rosario, Luis Flores and Juan Climaco after the hasty Spanish departure from Cebu on the eve of Christmas 1898. Before then, it had been called Plaza Maria Cristina in honor of the queen regent of Spain.

While there is that small triangular section near the Tres de Abril crossing that is now to be the spot for a monument to the spark that started the revolution in Cebu, there has never been any monument to the heroes of the local version of the revolution. And nowhere is this more needed than at Plaza Independencia where more space and—equally important—where other historical events also unfolded before, during and after the Spanish flag was finally lowered at Fort San Pedro on Dec. 24, 1898.

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If some young people today think that Bonifacio was a guerrilla during World War II, I wonder what they know of Leon Kilat, the ill-fated leader of the April 3, 1898 revolt in Cebu? Would they have known how his cultivated image of someone with ‘kalaki’ (supernatural ‘powers’) able to fend off bullets was bolstered by an incident at the plaza? Leon Kilat reportedly fell from his horse when a cannonball fired by Spaniards holed up at Fort San Pedro exploded nearby as he rode alone by the center of the park, taunting the Spanish authorities at the fort. Instead of lying down in a pool of blood, he was said to have immediately stood up, dusted himself off and remounted his horse to retreat for another day.

Alas, a bloodier and traitorous fate awaited Leon Kilat in Carcar (where his statue has been relegated to the sidelines) a few days after the start of the revolt in Cebu, and in the Dec. 29, 1898 celebrations to mark the final end of Spanish rule in Cebu, it was Maxilom, Flores and many other revolutionaries who were at Plaza Libertad to lead the festivities.

It is for these local heroes, lamented and uncelebrated that I address the public on the need for a monument to show that indeed while it was Andres Bonifacio, Katipunan supremo and leader of the revolution against Spain, there was also a bunch of Cebuanos, mainly from San Nicolas and the towns outside the capital that carried the cudgels of the revolution in Cebu, armed only with a few mausers, plenty of bolos and bamboo lances and a whole lot of nerve.

They, too, deserve notice. They, too, deserve a spot at the Plaza Independencia.

* * *

The sudden and untimely passing of Col. Manuel Segura early morning of Thursday last week also marks the passing of an era that would have otherwise been forgotten had it not been for the sharp and witty pen of the old colonel. At 95, he was still busy writing about a lot of things that happened during the fateful three years of the Japanese Occupation in Cebu and the Visayas and was in fact in Manila to attend a conference of war veterans. Col. Maning leaves us with two great treasures that chronicle the war in Cebu through his books “Tabunan: Untold Exploits of the Famed Cebu Guerrillas in World War II” and “The Koga Papers.”

The world of living heroes lost one of its own. The world of history and literature lost a precious witness, nay, an active participant in the resistance against the Japanese occupation in Cebu.

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I learned a lot about Cebu during World War II through Col. Maning’s books and got to know him more personally through visits at his old house in Basak, Mambaling and later up in Capitol Heights. The interviews we had with him during the heyday of our Kabilin television show on SugboTv, gave us a more vivid picture of the difficulties of those years.

Thank you, Col. Maning, for sharing your knowledge and your work with us. You will be sorely missed by the generations presently enjoying their freedom because you and your generation fought hard to win it for us.

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