On Sept. 27, we will mark the 150th birthday of my maternal grandfather, Miguel Carpio Malvar, the last Filipino general to surrender to the American forces during the Fil-American war for independence. The province of Batangas and its municipality of Santo Tomas will join forces with the National Historical Commission to celebrate this important milestone with official ceremonies and festivities.
My Lolo Miguel was fundamentally a man of peace. Before he decided to join the revolutionary forces against the Spaniards, his only desire was to contribute to the wellbeing of his community through his passion for agriculture. Only the abusive practices of the friar in his parish provoked him to go to the hills. After he surrendered to Gen. Franklin Bell of the US occupying forces, the two became the best of friends, and my grandfather again devoted the rest of his short life to farm entrepreneurship. The only favor he accepted from the Americans was the grant of scholarships to some of my uncles, who traveled to the United States to pursue studies in agriculture.
I have no doubt that my grandfather deserves to be a national hero for his valor in leading his men to put pressure on the Spanish colonizers to grant independence to the Philippines, and later to fight the Americans for their betrayal of deciding to annex the Philippines as a colony of the United States. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the Philippine revolutionary army, who wasted a lot of time in sowing political intrigues instead of fighting in the battlefield, the Batangueño general spent practically all of his time leading his men in battling for independence from Spain, from August 1896 to December 1897.
Malvar’s first armed action was the immobilization of his town’s police force. Then, with his 70-man army who were mostly relatives and friends armed with bolos, a few revolvers and shotguns, he raided the Spanish quarters in Talisay, Batangas. From that moment on, he abandoned the comforts of home and business, seeking sanctuary in the wilds of Mount Makiling, which he made his headquarters as he waged guerrilla warfare, first against the Spaniards, then against the Americans until his surrender on April 16, 1902.
As military commander of Batangas, Malvar coordinated offensives with Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, leaders of revolutionaries in Cavite, and his close friend Paciano Rizal, a brother of our national hero and leader of the revolutionaries in Laguna. After the Tejeros Convention, from which Aguinaldo emerged as president, Malvar decided to side with Andres Bonifacio, the Supremo of the Katipunan. Unfortunately, in a struggle for power, the Aguinaldo camp succeeded in eliminating Bonifacio and his brother Procopio; the brothers were executed on May 10, 1897, in the mountains of Maragondon, Cavite. With Aguinaldo in complete control of the revolutionary forces against the Spaniards, he arrived at a pact (called the pact of Biak-na-Bato) which subsequently led to the exile of Aguinaldo and his ilustrado cohorts to Hong Kong.
In this stage of the struggle for independence, Malvar proved his integrity by not following the example of other rebels who took the money paid by the Spaniards for the upkeep of the exiles in Hong Kong and pocketed the amount instead of turning it over to Aguinaldo. Only Malvar went to Hong Kong to turn over his share of P8,000 to the revolutionary funds to buy arms.
After his surrender, Malvar was happy to go back to his growing family and once more devote his efforts to agribusiness. To prove that my constant reference to my grandfather’s passion for agriculture is not just a product of my imagination resulting from my own magnificent obsession with farming, let me quote profusely from the biography written by University of the Philippines historians Doroteo Abaya and Bernard Karganilla:
“Malvar devoted his remaining years to business concerns, raising poultry and growing sugarcane, rice, oranges and other fruit trees, shipping his product to Manila and neighboring provinces. He also had a bungliw (trees used for making match sticks) joint venture in Bataan and dealt with Germans … and other foreign partners. Malvar supplied a German match factory in Manila with lumbang trunks that earned a weekly net of P500… Like his father, Malvar’s first love was agronomy. He poured resources into the vast tract of land at Makiling that he had bought with hard-earned earnings before the Revolutionary Wars. He was so suited to tilling the soil that he managed to develop a new variant of the orange which was named after him—the ‘malvarosa.’ He was consulted by fellow farmers from Laguna and Tayabas. In 1907, he told an agri-conference in his hometown that they should all grow more oranges, coffee and cocoa, punctuating the priority of cultivating one’s own yard with banana, eggplant, gabi, kamote, papaya, squash and string beans.”
If a liver disease that he contracted in the forests of Makiling had not led to his early demise at the age of 47, as an influential leader during the US Commonwealth, Malvar could have laid the foundation of a development strategy based on a focus on agricultural and rural development, in an analogous way that the passion of the Thai king for agriculture has significantly influenced the outstanding success of Thailand in agricultural development. That is why I consider my Lolo Miguel a hero in both war and peace.
Bernardo M. Villegas (email@example.com) is senior vice president of the University of Asia and the Pacific.