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OF TREES AND FOREST

By FORMER SENATE PRESIDENT MANNY VILLAR

Manny Villar Jr.

Former Senate President
Manny Villar

Last year, a private gallery auctioned a rare, original handwritten letter by Gregoria de Jesus recounting the controversial Tejeros Convention of 1897 which led to the arrest, trial, and execution of her husband Andres Bonifacio. There was also a rare photograph of “Aling Oriang” dedicated to Jose P. Santos which she signed as “Gregoria de Bonifacio.”

Aling Oriang is known as the “Lakambini of the Katipunan.” Despite her significant role in our history, very scant attention is paid to her heroism in our history textbooks. We tend to view our history like we watch our movies and telenovelas. We focus on the main characters: the bidas, those with supernatural or superhuman qualities. We pay scant attention to character actors who perfect their craft but are not in the top bill of the movie.

I remember some of my history classes in elementary and high school. Most of the discussion focused on the main players — Rizal, Bonifacio, Jacinto, Del Pilar, Luna, and Aguinaldo. The other heroes have been shoved to the periphery of our history.

I think it is our duty as Filipino citizens to know our history; not just the history presented through our textbooks but our living history. It should be a history, not just of the few, but of the entire Filipino nation. One such case is Gregoria de Jesus. Her contributions to the revolution should not be overlooked.

In her autobiography entitled, “Mga Tala ng Aking Buhay” written on November 5, 1928, “Aling Oriang” recounted that she was born on May 9, 1875, in Caloocan, which at that time was still part of Rizal province.

Her parents were Nicolas de Jesus, a master mason and carpenter, and Baltazara Alvarez Francisco, a niece of General Mariano Alvarez. Despite doing well in school—she won in an examination given by the governor-general and the town curate and was the recipient of a silver medal with blue ribbon—she dropped out of school, “to enable two brothers of mine to continue their studies in Manila.”

She wrote about the courtship of Bonifacio and how her father disliked the would-be supremo because he was a Freemason who were considered “bad men” by Catholic friars. But they eventually got married, first in the Catholic church of Binondo in March, 1893, and a week later in Calle Oroquieta before leaders and members of the Katipunan. She recalled having been initiated into the Katipunan that same night and assumed the name “Lakambini.”

After settling on where to live as husband and wife, De Jesus focused on her work with the Katipunan, securing many of its important belongings “such as the revolver and other weapons, the seal, and all the papers.”

She described the dangers they faced as the Katipunan membership swelled with meetings and swearing in of new members happening almost nightly in their house. In essence, the house of the newlyweds, served not only as the cradle of their new partnership but of the revolution itself. She noted in her autobiography: “I nearly clothed myself with the Katipunan documents that were so dangerous to keep in those days.”

The “Lakambini of the Katipunan” was an integral cog of the revolutionary movement. She was undaunted in the face of extreme danger, sometimes even death. Her heroism was motivated by her desire “to see unfurled the flag of an independent Philippines.”

She recounted that she was “considered a soldier,” and was trained on how to ride and how to shoot a rifle. Just like the the other revolutionaries she experienced hiding and sleeping on the ground without eating for an entire day, and only drinking dirty water “from mud holes or the sap of vines.”

The heroism of Gregoria de Jesus led to the freedom and independence we are now enjoying. It is our duty to not only to honor the sacrifices of Filipinos like “Aling Oriang” but to make sure that we protect the ideals for which they dedicated their lives for.

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