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Gregorio del Pilar: a victim of Tirad Pass?

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Today, the Philippines, particularly the people of Bulacán, Bulacán, commemorate the birth anniversary of the boy general of who died at Tirad Pass…

GREGORIO DEL PILAR
(1875-1899)

If the ancient Greeks had their valiant King Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae, Filipinos have their General Gregorio del Pilar and the Battle of Tirad Pass.

General del Pilar, youngest officer of Emilio Aguinaldo’s revolutionary army, met his gallant death defending Tirad Pass on December 2, 1899. With only 60 men under him, del Pilar held the pass against pursuing American troops until an enemy bullet felled him, ending a brief but brilliant military career, but giving Aguinaldo much precious time to escape.

A nephew of the illustrious Marcelo H. del Pilar, Gregorio was born on November 14, 1875, in Bulacán, Bulacán, the fifth son of Fernando del Pilar and Felipa Sempio. He was a student at the Ateneo de Manila when the revolution broke out.

His exceptional feats of valor in the battles of Malíbug and Kakaróng de Sili earned him his generalship. He was only 23 when he was struck down by a sniper’s bullet at Tirad Pass. –Jesús C. Guzon (Eminent Filipinos, National Historical Commission, 1965)–

GREGORIO DEL PILAR

One of his men saw him killed instantly by a sniper's bullet -- but that was due to his carelessness!

Some fastidious students of Philippine History, however, treat his heroism with some doubt and a lot of questions. And with regard to Guzon’s comparison of King Leonidas to del Pilar, National Artist for Literature and historian extraordinaire Nick Joaquín has this to say:

“The wrong thing to do about Tirad Pass is invoke Leonidas and Thermopylae, because we would be invoking to our hurt another people fatally flawed with the inability to unite and organize. Besides, the parallel with Leonidas, king of the Spartans, is neither exact nor flattering: it was not Aguinaldo who fell at Tirad. Moreover, the annals of war show that in mountain warfare, especially in actions on a mountain pass, the advantage is with the defender, not the invader, and victory must be expected from the defender.” (A Question of Heroes by Nick Joaquín, Filipinas Foundation, Inc., 1977)

Joaquín went on by citing several other mountain battles which happened in other parts of the globe. And he showed that in all those mountain battles, it was the defenders who always won. And there was this particular case that happened in World War II when the British took two years to dislodge the Japanese army from the mountains of Burma.

“But Tirad Pass was taken in six hours.

“There were, you will say, only 60 men to defend it. Precisely. And that was the stupidity. Our improvidence always forces us in the end to improvise, when it’s too late even to improvise. We will not plan ahead, we will just muddle through, and then at the last hour we send men to die for our blunders, our lack of foresight. If there were any justice, it’s Aguinaldo, it’s Mabini, who should have perished on Tirad. But so that Aguinaldo can flee in futile flight, 60 men are sent to pay with their lives for the monstrous botch he has made of the Revolution. And now we read Tirad as a symbol of heroism, not stupidity.

“A few more Tirads and we’ll be the most heroic people in extinction.”

PASO DE TIRAD

Tirad Pass: Thermopylae it is not.

And according to the diary of Telésforo Carrasco y Pérez, a Spaniard enlisted in Aguinaldo/del Pilar’s army, the boy general, who in stories was said to have died heroically and fighting to the last bullet, died due to his own carelessness:

“At dawn we saw the enemy climbing the slope and moments later the firing began in the first entrenchment, which was under Lieutenant Braulio. At around nine in the morning two Igorots climbed to the peak and told the general that the Americans had suffered losses at the first entrenchment and could not advance. Heartened by the news, the general decided that we were to descend in his company and take part in the combat.

“This we did and an hour later found ourselves where nine soldiers were defending the left flank of the mountain in the second entrenchment. Hardly had we got there when we saw the Americans climbing up, only fifteen meters away, whereupon the soldiers started firing again.

“The general could not see the enemy because of the cogon grass and he ordered a halt to the firing. At that moment I was handling him a carbine and warning him that the Americans were directing their fire at him and that he should crouch down because his life was in danger — and that moment he was hit by a bullet in the neck that caused instant death.”

But this “stupidity” is just the tip of the villainous iceberg.

In the classrooms, it is not taught that Goyo del Pilar was actually one of Aguinaldo’s high-ranking hatchetmen. The blood of assassinated general Antonio Luna’s friends is upon del Pilar’s hands. Murdered under the boy general’s helm were Luna’s allies such as Manuel and José Bernal. And some of Luna’s staff were harassed, tortured, and ordered arrested.

I wonder most of the time what the word heroism really mean in this country. Marami tayong mga bayani na hindí namán dapat tinítiñgalà. What should be the attributes of a true national hero?

As an ardent observer of Philippine History, there is one shocking fact that I’ve learned: countless villains in this country are regarded as heroes; and the integrity of the true heroes of the nation are perpetually besmirched. This will not stop until we have freed ourselves from the fetters of neocolonialism and the blind hispanophobic rage that we have against our glorious past.

That is why if only I have registered for the 2010 Philippine National Elections, I would vote for the lesser evil whom the current administration have unjustly incarcerated for six years.

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