Earlier this month, I found myself dining with other journalists on a 200-year-old table which was used to entertain the likes of Jose Rizal, local elites and members of the royal families from Russia, Cambodia and Japan. As I finished my slice of Canonigo cake, I thought about how good the food – with recipes dating back to the 19th century – tasted.
Around us were paintings of Malang, Amorsolo and other famous painters. But what made me return to that place were several pieces of yellow and fragile paper tucked away in one of the display cases.
The first time I visited Leon Gallery was earlier this year when I reported about their first quarter auction, which included letters from Andres Bonifacio to his close friend Emilio Jacinto.
The letters were deemed rare, according to curator Lisa Nakpil, because Bonifacio was “a man on the run.”In his letters, the Katipunan leader told Jacinto about how he was ousted during the Tejeros Convention through Emilio Aguinaldo’s call for a snap election.
“I don’t think the answers Jacinto gave ever reached Bonifacio. Kung natanggap ni Bonifacio yung news na dapat bumalik na lang sya sa Maynila…baka hindi sya naaresto. Baka hindi sya napatay (If Bonifacio received his reply that he should return to Manila…perhaps he wouldn’t have been arrested. Maybe he would not have been killed),” Nakpil told me then.
The letters sold for P16.2 million.
Electoral fraud by Aguinaldo?
My last visit to the gallery left me more intrigued though because of the letters of Bonifacio’s wife Gregoria de Jesus. It was one of the many letters carefully showcased to us after our lunch at the famous Arnedo table.
In a 15-page letter written to historian Epifanio de los Santos (yes, the man behind the name EDSA), De Jesus narrated the heartbreaking plight of her husband, as well as the hardships she faced while looking for him.
Nakpil said De Los Santos published the letter in 1917 but redacted certain parts that might get him into trouble since some of the people accused by De Jesus were still alive and were in influential positions.
The redacted part was about the infamous Tejeros Convention, which was allegedly rigged.
In her letter, De Jesus said:
“…ngunit hindi rin nasunod ang talagang kalinisan at ang nangyari ang lahat ng taong pumanhik sa bahay Hacienda ay isinali kahit hindi nalalaman ang pinaguusapan at kung mag tanong ang nasabing mga tao kung ano ang ilalagay sa mga papel naibinigay nila ang sinasabi ay sulatan ng Emilio Aguinaldo, bukod dito’y ang mga tao hindi marunong sumulat ay pinagbibigyan ng papel na mayroong sulat na…”
(…but the elections were not clean and all those who went to the house were included in the voting even if they did not know what the issue was and those who asked what should be written in the pieces of paper given to them were told to write Emilio Aguinaldo. Besides that, those who cannot write were given papers that were already filled out…)
“All of these sound so familiar,” Nakpil told me. Indeed. If true, it meant that as early as 1897 there were already flying voters (or something similar) and other forms of election fraud. Until now we hear stories of filled out ballots in Mindanao and other questionable practices.
What made me empathize with De Jesus though was her clear concern for her husband. It was depressing to read about Bonifacio’s final days. Of how he resisted arrest and was wounded. And how the men who took Bonifacio made De Jesus think that her husband was still alive.
De Jesus trekked through the hills of Maragondon for a month looking for her husband.
“Salamat nalamang mga kapatid at ako’y nabuhay pa sa hirap na pinag daanan ko na may isang buan akong lumakad na wala kaming kinakain kundi saging na bubot at kung makapaglimos ng konting bigas ang aking mga kasamahan at ilulugaw at siyang ikakain sa akin…”
(Thankfully I survived despite the hardships I faced. For one month I walked and ate only green bananas and whenever my companions were able to find rice, they make it into a porridge so I can eat.)
De Jesus finally stopped looking when a relative told her that Bonifacio had been assassinated.
This letter of De Jesus is quite unique because she signed it as the Lakambini of the Katipunan and also as “Gregoria de Bonifacio.”
In another letter to Jacinto, De Jesus asked for help for her mother who ended up cleaning water tanks. According to Nakpil, De Jesus came from an affluent family but her father lost his job in the Spanish government because of their ties to Bonifacio. Such a sad fate for De Jesus and her family.
Also presented that day were a collection of papers from Jose Rizal’s mother, Teodora Alonso. Alongside recipes for bologna sausage (possibly Rizal’s favorite?) and a letter from one of her daughters, was a court document that caused her imprisonment.
Alonso and her brother were accused of poisoning the latter’s wife despite the lack of evidence. Nakpil said it was Rizal’s first experience of injustice.
Who owns these letters?
After my story aired on Bandila, some netizens commented that such letters should be given to the government and displayed in museums where the public can read them. For now though, they remain in the hands of private collectors. The letters of De Jesus and Alonso are part of Leon Gallery’s June 9 auction.
Do you think the Lakambini letter will fetch as much as Bonifacio’s?