Makati's hero
- Carmen Guerrero Nakpil () - November 9, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - No, it isn’t Jojo Binay or Zobel de Ayala, although they’re in the running too. Makati’s hero was someone who earned his spurs and his title much earlier and at infinitely greater cost. He stands in his corner, between Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue, by sheer chance, on probably the same spot where he stood on 25 February, 1899 when he and his bolomen recaptured Makati from the US infantry, in the first year of the Filipino American War.

For the last few decades, since the building of the Ayala Commercial Center, he has stood on top of an elegant pedestal, frozen in bronze, in a rumpled uniform, cocked hat and shining boots, feet apart in a mighty lunge, thrusting a sword with one arm and pointing an ancient pistol with the other, eyes distended in angry defiance, while the luxury sedans, SUV’s and vans of Makati traffic swirl and toot around him.

He is Gen. Pio del Pilar, although that was not really his name (as we shall learn) but Pio Isidro, like his father, an unschooled farmer and teniente del barrio of Culi-Culi, an outlying district of San Pedro (Sanpiro) de Makati. He became one of the most celebrated warriors of the Philippine Revolution of 1896 and our War with America.

The story of his life is very much like that of the luminous Makati City he never saw. Like the Makati we know now, Heneral Pio was tough and formidable, conflicted and made of many parts, of humble beginnings but amazingly successful, brilliant but also flawed. He’s the perfect hero for Makati.

Born in 1865 (or 1860) in Culi-Culi, Pio was a tall, attractive mesticillo, as they called quadroons then, his mother being a Spanish mestiza of the middle class Castañeda family. He claimed he had been too poor to acquire a diploma from a colegio, and he knew neither Spanish nor English, being literate only in his native Tagalog. He was a typical Batang Makati, growing up around the stone church at Guadalupe and the Spanish Casa hacienda. He married at 17, and the same year was forcibly conscripted into the Spanish army, a dire prospect that was cut to four months by the intervention of a family friend. To avoid further grief from the Spaniards, his father, Isaac Isidro, changed the family name to del Pilar, an unwise choice since that name would soon sow trouble from the famous dissidents Marcelo H. and the soldierly Gregorio.

In his twenties, Pio was elected teniente of Culi-Culi and fell into the company of a filibustero (the name for rebel). He met Rizal at a meeting and was so inspired, he began to distribute his forbidden novel Noli Me Tangere. He had not yet joined the Katipunan, Bonifacio’s secret society, when he was unexpectedly arrested, beaten and left to die in a dung-filled carabao hole. He was rescued by another friend of his father. After centuries of colonial, whimsical cruelties, the indios had learned to soften the blows of outrageous fortune by using a network of godfathers or compadres, compare, one of the most enduring institutions even now of Filipino life.

Embittered by his unjust arrest, Pio del Pilar joined the Katipunan with a vengeance. An unlettered farmboy, he had a certain elemental ferocious intensity about him, born out of the hot, tropical sun, the voluptuous currents of water and wind that surrounded him, and the genetic Malay skills from that long sea-faring adventure from the underbelly of the Asian mainland which his (and our) ancestors undertook to arrive at our archipelago.

Pio chose the Katipunan name of Pang-Una (Leader), became the secretary of the Makati chapter of the Katipunan. The flag he designed for his unit was unique. Red and white, it had a field of blood-red to denote valor, a triangle of pure white to stand for the purity of its values, marked by three K’s for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, with the eight-rayed sun rising behind the curve of a mountainside, to represent a nation, referred to by Bonifacio and his ideologue, Jacinto, as “Katagalugan.” 

By the way, “Katagalugan,” often taken to mean only the Tagalog tribe, actually included all the people inhabiting this archipelago. It covered people who lived along the water, or Taga-ilog. It was a concept tragically brought home recently by September’s calamitous storms and floods. This country is indeed a waterworld. Almost all Filipinos, lowlanders and highlanders alike, live along some body of water, an ilog which may be a mountain spring, a waterfall, a river, creek or lake, an estero, the Pacific Ocean, the China Sea, the Mindanao Deep. The Katipunan meant all Filipinos, although they were still called indios.

As secretary of Magtagumpay (Victorious), the Makati chapter Pio led about a thousand men in the latter stage of the first battle in San Juan in August 1896. They took part in the barely remembered battles fought under Bonifacio around what is now Metro Manila, and the subsequent move to Cavite under Aguinaldo. They did not join the Magdalo as refugees, however but as a valuable fighting unit of Manileños (Makati was then considered part of Manila).

Heneral Pio fought and vanquished the Spanish forces at Aliaga, Binakayan, San Isidro, San Mateo, Pandacan, Talisay, and (his greatest victory) at Bacoor in Cavite, and other towns in Batangas, side by side with the brilliant, Belgium trained engineer Edilberto Evangelista who built the network of trenches which turned the tide in favor of the rebels so that the Spanish government called for a truce and offered a monetary settlement at Biyak-na-Bato in 1897. Pio was one of three Lt. Generals (the others being Llanera and Ricarte). Although he did not sign the Acceptance of Truce document, he received more than P20,000 as an indemnity for his troops but was not given a letter of safe passage. It was also said that he also owned a large herd of horses and carabaos.

Heneral Pio’s biographer, Orlina A. Ochosa, whose book is my reference material for this article, wrote, “Where did all those animals come from and where did the peace money go?” Those were not the only questions being asked about Pio. For instance, he kept a mistress in Pasig and Mabini reported that he “traveled in the company of the ever-beautiful Monica.” In April 1848 he was one of the ex-rebel leaders who was given a commission in the Spanish Volunteer Militia but served only “a few days.” The Americans wrote that Pio was “a cattle thief and an inveterate gambler.” How very 21st century Makati.

In May 1898, Heneral Pio wrote a formal report to Aguinaldo who had returned from exile in Hong Kong about his readiness to attack Manila with 300 volunteer Katipuneros waiting in Las Piñas. That new unit, the Brigada del Pilar, participated effectively in the siege of Manila, first driving back the Spaniards in a famous battle at Zapote. As Commander of the Second Zone, he attacked the Spaniards at the English Cemetery in Makati. His bolo men had no rifles and were about to enter the Walled City from Pandacan and Paco, “but Aguinaldo dilly-dallied” wrote Ochosa. On 13 August, US Gen. Greene blocked the Filipino troops, and entered Spanish Manila. Mad as a raging bull, Del Pilar warned “that there would be trouble.” He had begun his own war with America, blocking US navigation on his side of the Pasig, disobeying all orders from Aguinaldo and, like Gen. Antonio Luna, continuing provocative attacks on American troops.

In September, the Philippine Republic moved its headquarters to Malolos, inaugurated its congress and republican government under a Constitution. It also made Gen. Pio del Pilar a member, the only former farmboy among the ilustrados, scientists, scholars, land-owners. He was the only representative of the emerging “masa.”

After Feb. 4, 1899 when the first battle of the Filipino-American War broke out, Heneral Pio and his men were considered by the American enemy as “the most arrogant and the most hated.” The US forces took no prisoners from Del Pilar’s unit and vowed to wipe it out. Pio was everywhere; skirmishes flared at Manila, at Bulacan, Morong, Antipolo, Malapad na Bato (Fort Bonifacio City) at Guadalupe in Makati, Pasig, Pateros, Cainta, back to Bulacan with headquarters at San Miguel de Mayumo. He was beaten badly by the Americans in Nueva Ecija. Now he was guerrillero. The US called him “Sly Pio, the Bandit.” On 8 June, 1900, the American secret police tracked him down and captured him in his native Guadalupe, Makati.

Thinking to avoid Bilibid Prison, he took the oath of allegiance to the US, but continued his undercover activities, was declared an “intransigente” (irreconcilable) by the US authorities and deported to Guam. Even in exile, Pio was an outstanding deportee. The group which included Mabini, Ricarte, Pablo Ocampo chose him to be their president, although his lack of English was a decided disadvantage. They must have recognized his superior abilities as an organizer. He was amnestied by Theodore Roosevelt on July 4, 1902.

Several contradictory documents exist about Pio del Pilar’s continuing anti-American activities after his return to Manila in November 1902. Most historians now agree that they were falsified as part of US determination to convict and hang Sakay, the last Filipino general, who was executed in 1907. Heneral Pio never returned to Makati, but upon his release from exile in Guam, went to live in Pasay, where he died on June 21, 1931.

The government marker on his statue at Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue calls him the Hero of Makati. He must have glimpsed the grandeur of Makati City today, only through his tears as he dreamed of the freedom, progress and prosperity of the country he had loved so well.

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