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Looking Back
Election fraud at the Tejeros Convention

By Ambeth Ocampo
First Posted 01:33:00 05/11/2007

Filed Under: Elections, history, Human Interest

MANILA, Philippines -- Nine years ago, I wrote a 100-part front-page series for the Inquirer to commemorate the Philippine Centennial. I was bumped off Page 1 only when more pressing political news came up. Apparently, history must give way to the present.

Little wonder then that the 110th anniversary of the death of Andres Bonifacio yesterday went largely unnoticed. This isn’t neglect; rather, it is selective remembering, an interplay between national memory and amnesia. People want to remember the firebrand who began the Revolution, not the man executed on Mt. Nagpatong for treason. People want to remember the shouting, bolo-wielding hero in the trademark red pants and white “camisa de chino” opened to the navel to reveal today’s most sought-after, sexy, six-pack abs. They don’t want to remember the helpless wounded man begging for his life before he was shot (or perhaps hacked) to death on Mt. Buntis.

What we remember and what we forget say a lot about us as a people, and explain why things are the way they are today.

Reflecting on election ads on TV and the news following the last leg of the campaign, I noticed that underlying all the noise is a growing cynicism regarding the election process. All the moves to ensure and guard the ballots in the coming election, while welcome, indicate a deeper problem which is the lack of confidence in the election process. If mistrust shrouds the coming elections, we will not find closure afterwards. Instead there will be protests that will last till the next election.

To gain perspective today perhaps we should look beyond “Hello Garci,” and go all the way back to the Tejeros Convention of 1897. As a historian, I can explore the dynamics of Tejeros, but what about the teachers who find it difficult to teach our children and our children’s children that the Founding Fathers might have cheated in the historic election that gave us Emilio Aguinaldo as the first president of the Philippines? Of course, it has been argued, that cheating in the elections is not new. However, isn’t it depressing to think that we have not gotten any better in this area in the last 110 years?

If you visit the Tejeros shrine, which was spruced up for the 1998 Philippine Centennial, what historical lesson do you learn? We are taught that Aguinaldo was elected president here, that Bonifacio had a temper tantrum and declared the elections null and void. But have we stopped to ask why Bonifacio’s temper flared?

The bronze marker on the site installed by the Philippine Historical Committee in 1941 gives us part of the story:

“The Tejeros Convention. A revolutionary assembly was held March 22, 1897, in the building known as the Casa-Hacienda of Tejeros that once stood on this site, presided over by Andres Bonifacio. Toward the end of the session the assembly decided to establish a central revolutionary government and elected Emilio Aguinaldo, president; Mariano Trias, vice-president; Artemio Ricarte, captain-general; Emiliano Riego de Dios, director of war; and Andres Bonifacio, director of the interior. Certain events arising in the convention caused Bonifacio to bolt its action.”

What were these “events” that made Bonifacio “bolt”? The marker leaves the reader to his imagination, or at best pushes the reader to dig up a history book and do research. How are we supposed to understand this part of our history? There is more to Bonifacio’s temper tantrum than being questioned when he was elected director of the interior. In the published memoirs of participants to this event -- Santiago Alvarez, Carlos Ronquillo, Emilio Aguinaldo, Andres Bonifacio and others -- we can attempt to piece the jigsaw puzzle together.

Alvarez wrote of the proceedings:

“The Supremo Bonifacio appointed General Artemio Ricarte as secretary, then, with the help of Mr. Daniel Tirona, he distributed pieces of paper to serve as ballots. When the ballots had been collected and the votes were ready to be canvassed, Mr. Diego Mojica, the Magdiwang Secretary of the Treasury, warned the Supremo that many ballots distributed were already filled out and that the voters had not done this themselves. The Supremo ignored this remark. He proceeded with the business at hand as if nothing unusual had happened.”

The resulting election had Aguinaldo winning (in absentia) as president. And it was a fine birthday gift for him.

When it came to the election of the vice president, we have Ricarte who narrated:

“Severino de las Alas remarked that in as much as Andres Bonifacio had secured the second largest number of votes in the election for president, he should be proclaimed vice president. No one expressed a wish to speak in favor of or against the suggestion of De las Alas, wherefore the chairman ordered that the election proceed, and this being done, it resulted in a majority of votes being cast for Mariano Trias Closas as against Andres Bonifacio, Severino de las Alas and Mariano Alvarez.”

Why was there no motion for or against De las Alas’ proposal? If Bonifacio garnered the second-highest number of votes for the presidency, why didn’t he get enough to be elected vice president? And what about the alleged cheating, the “dagdag-bawas” [vote-padding and vote-shaving]?

History is not dead and useless. We must go beyond textbook history to understand the past and provide perspective on the present.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu.

More Inquirer columns

Previous columns:
A Belgian traveler’s tale – 05/09/07
The fight over the Rizal Law – 5/04/07
Teaching Rizal – 05/02/07
Tolentino and the Calatagan Pot – 4/27/07
A work of art and a message – 04/25/07
Windows to different times and places – 4/20/07

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