TARLAC, TARLAC: Capital of the Philippine Republic, 1899 (To Celebrate Tarlac City Fiesta, 20 January 2013)

by xiaochua

Published by Tarlac Star Monitor:  http://tarlacstarmonitor.com/tarlac-star-monitor-vol-5-no-5/tarlac-tarlac-capital-of-the-philippine-republic-1899-to-celebrate-tarlac-city-fiesta-20-january-2012/

The Tarlac Church, site of the 1899 Philippine Revolutionary Congress (Lino Dizon Collection http://www.oocities.org/balen_net/cabecera.htm)

 TARLAC, TARLAC:  Capital of the Philippine Republic, 1899[1] 

Michael Charleston “Xiao” B. Chua[2] 

Department of History, De La Salle University Manila

I grew up in a time when television news reporting in the Philippines was Manila-centric and I felt that our province was insignificant, despite a Tarlaqueño president, because it was rarely cited in TV Patrol and I even felt that when Ernie Baron gives the thypoon warnings, all Central Luzon provinces would be warned but not even Tarlac has a storm signal.  Even history textbooks seldom mention significant events in Tarlac despite it being one of the first eight provinces who joined the Philippine Revolution in 1896.

Years later as a student of history, while doing research at the UP Main Library, I stumbled over a very old booklet by a Tarlac school teacher, Mrs. Aquilina de Santos entitled Tarlak’s Historic Heritage.[3]  It outlines the legacy of the province in the national history, specifically when it became seat of the Philippine Republic under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo from 21 June to 12 November, 1899.  I also read the scholarly work of our foremost historian Lino Dizon on the Tarlac Revolutionary Congress.[4]   In their writings, and other historical documents I learned that if there was TV Patrol back then, Tarlac could have dominated the news because as capital of the republic, a few significant things happened here that our national textbooks seem to reduce in a sentence or a footnote.

After the fall of Aguinaldo’s capital, Malolos, Bulacan, to the Americans, the Philippine Revolutionary Congress reconvened on 14 July 1899.  Seats for provinces not represented have to be filled in by Luzon people, a number of them Tarlaqueños, such as:  Don Jose Espinosa (Tayabas), Servillano Aquino (Samar), Marciano Barrera and Luis Navarro (Leyte), Alfonso Ramos (Palaos Islands), Capt. Lazaro Tañedo (Zamboanga), Gavino Calma (Romblon), and Francisco Makabulos (Cebu).

The Altar-Mayor of the Tarlac Cathedral with the prominent statue of Apung Basti (San Sebastian). 1930s. (Lino Dizon Collection http://www.oocities.org/balen_net/cabecera.htm)


Ten days after the convening of the Congress, an article appeared in the revolutionary paper La Independencia criticizing the Tarlac Revolutionary Congress.  The article entitled “Algo Para Congreso” (Something for Congress), signed by PARALITICO, pointed out that the Congress was a failure.  No less than Apolinario Mabini, Sublime Paralytic and Brains of the Revolution, wrote the article in Rosales, Pangasinan on 19 July 1899.  He pointed out that the Congress, as convened in Tarlac, was not even a representative of the people; that the elections for Congress should not have been held because the Aguinaldo government was fighting a war; and that a declaration of principles is much more suitable in a revolution instead of using a constitution copied from French and South American Republics, which were made in times of peace.

Yet, despite Mabini’s criticism and the Philippine-American War at the background, the Congress enacted laws.  By doing so, according to University of the Philippines constitutional historian Sulpicio Guevarra, they “marvelously succeeded in producing order out of chaos.”  The Tarlac Revolutionary Congress convened in San Sebastian Cathedral in Tarlac, Tarlac.  This humble sanctuary became a witness to the First Philippine Republic realizing its fullest potential as a government, despite limiting circumstances.

Some significant decrees issued in Tarlac were the prescription of fees for civil and canonical marriages (28 June), the prohibition of merchant vessels flying the American flag from territories held by the Philippine Republic (24 July), the provision for the registration of foreigners (31 July), the organization of the Supreme Court and the inferior courts (15 September), and the promulgation of the General Orders of the Army (12 November).  The latter was even issued a day after the fall of the Aguinaldo government.

Another one of the early decrees of Aguinaldo in Tarlac was that on the establishment of the Bureau of Paper Money, 30 June 1899.  In the printing press of Zacarias Fajardo the first paper money were printed—the one peso denomination, followed later by the five-peso denomination.   Paper bills of two, five and twenty pesos were also printed.  For the coins, a maestranza or mint was established on the building of the Smith, Bell, & Co., at a property owned by Don Mauricio Ilagan in Gerona, Tarlac.

Another one of the early decrees of Aguinaldo in Tarlac was the clemency granted to the Spanish prisoners who defended the Baler Church, 30 June 1899.  Fifty Spanish soldiers, popularly known in Spain as “Los Ultimos de Filipinos,” made their last stand inside Baler Church.  Filipinos held constant siege of the church, yet despite deaths, diseases, starvation and loneliness, the Spaniards held out for 337 days.  On 2 June 1899, the 33 surviving Spanish troops surrendered, Filipinos received them shouting, “Amigos, amigos!”  Aguinaldo recognized the bravery of these men, and decreed that they should not be treated as enemies but as brothers.  They were issued safe conduct passes and were allowed to go back to their Madre España.  The event, which manifested the bravery of the Spaniards, the benevolence of the Filipinos, and the enduring friendship between two sovereign nations more than a former colonizer and colonized, is being celebrated today as Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day on the date of the Aguinaldo Proclamation from Tarlac.

Not only was the Philippine Republic the first democratic republic in Asia, we also had the first Filipino University in Tarlac.  The Philippine Revolution of 1896 interrupted the schooling of most young Filipinos, many of them working in the Philippine government.  This can be attributed as the reason why education was top priority by the First Philippine Republic despite the fact that the times were difficult.  As mandated in a decree dated 19 October 1898, the Universidad Cientifico-Literaria de Filipinas (Scientific and Literary University of the Philippines) was established in Malolos, Bulacan.  When Malolos fell to the Americans, the schools have to close down.  As mandated in a decree dated 9 August 1899, the university, together with the Burgos Institute (secondary school), was re-established in Tarlac.  The Tarlac Convent beside the San Sebastian Cathedral was used as the school building.  But because of the hostilities around Tarlac, all these plans were disrupted once again.  On 29 September 1899, the first and last graduation rites for the Literary University were held, the diplomas signed by Aguinaldo himself.

On 23 September 1899, the Imprenta Nacional (owned by Tarlaqueño Zacarias Fajardo) came out with the booklet Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina with Emilio Aguinaldo as its titular author.  An English version, the True Version of the Philippine Revolution, was also published translated by Marciano Rivera and corrected by a certain Mr. Duncan, probably for American readers.  Aside from being the very first work on the Philippine Revolution ever published, the work also condemned the atrocities of American expeditionary forces in the Philippines.  For Carlos P. Romulo, this added significance to an already important work because it presaged My Lai and other atrocities committed by American Forces during the Vietnam War by over half a century.

On 23 October 1899, the ex-communicated Filipino priest, Fr. Gregorio Aglipay, convened the Filipino clergy in Paniqui, Tarlac (the site is now part of Anao town) to affirm their common struggle against the Archbishop of Manila, Bernardino Nozaleda, and their common stand that the Holy See in the Vatican should recognize their petitions.  They came out with the Constitutiones Provisionales de la Iglesia Filipina(Provisional Ordinances of the Philippine Church), which “provided temporary regulations for the church in the Philippines due to the exigencies of war.”  This gave the impression that the document is a constitution for a new church.  Some even mistake the event as the founding of the new church, which, by this time, was still yet to happen until Aglipay and Isabelo de los Reyes would severe their ties from Rome and establish the Iglesia Filipina Independiente commonly known as the Aglipayan Church.

Tarlac is the terrain where so many battles were fought between the Philippine Army and the superior American Forces.  Yet despite the war that was being fought, it was socially alive during the brief stint there of the First Philippine Republic.  Fiestas and dinners drew crowds.  One such function happened on 2 November 1899, a formal banquet was held at the Teatro de Tarlac hosted by the Asamblea de Mujeresspearheaded by the president’s wife, First Lady Hilaria del Rosario Aguinaldo.

But these would all be over in days time.  By 11 November 1899, Gen. Arthur Macarthur was entering Tarlac Province.  But the Filipinos won’t let him through without a fight.  The 300 to 400 troops under the command of Gen. Makabulos, backed-up by Gen. Servillano Aquino’s brigade, tried to stop the Americans along the Bamban-Concepcion road.  But Macarthur’s 3,000 strong army was too much for them.  When night came, the Americans already had Bamban, Capas and Concepcion.

The next day, Gen. Macarthur and his troops entered Tarlac town, drenched in rain.  They have captured the seat of government, but Aguinaldo and his men were nowhere in sight.  They had fled.  In a few days, the Philippine Army would be disbanded.  For Nick Joaquin, this was the collapse of the Filipino nation, “The Republic had fallen.”

The Philippine Republic in Tarlac was not a mere footnote in history, for in that brief stint of the Aguinaldo government in the province, so many things were tried to be accomplished despite the limiting circumstances of the war.  Economic and educational institutions were raised up to be the foundation of government.  In Tarlac, the republic showed the world that we Filipinos could govern ourselves at that early stage.  Tarlac, therefore, is as historically significant as Malolos, Bulacan.  It is part of the story of our development as a nation, and our government as it is today.

Xiao Chua in front of Apung Basti at the Tarlac Cathedral, November 2011


Therefore, it is vital that young Tarlaqueños, as future leaders of our province, should be made aware of their own historic heritage.  As much as they learn the history of our country, our continent and our world in schools, so must be that they learn their province’s local history. To know our past is to know ourselves.  It tells us who we are, how we were and how did we become what we are today.  It also gives us a sense of direction for the future.  Screw people who think that life is all about the money; history gives us a sense of pride, and a sense of identity, that in no way we would feel the emptiness of non-belonging.

[1]               Expurgated and edited version of an undergraduate paper, “A FOOTNOTE IN HISTORY, Tarlac: Seat of Government of the Philippine Republic, 1899,” originally for Kasaysayan (History) 111 under Dr. Ricardo Trota José in the University of the the Philippines at Diliman.  Presented at  the 4th Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day Conference Workshop at the Aurora State College of Technology (ASCOT), Baler, Aurora on 29 July 2006.  It was published as a commentary in the third issue (December 2005) of Alaya:  The Kapampangan Resesarch Journal of The Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies, Holy Angel University, Angeles City.

[2]               Mr. Xiao Chua, 29, is currently an Assistant Professor at the De La Salle University Manila and Ph.D. Anthropology student at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, where he also finished his MA and BA in History.  He is a native of Tarlac City.

[3]               Mrs. Aquilina de Santos, Tarlak’s Historic Heritage (Manila:  Benipayo Press & Photo-Engravers, 1933).

[4]               Lino Lenon Dizon, Francisco Makabulos Soliman:  A Biographical Study of a Local Revolutionary Hero (Tarlac:  Center for Tarlaqueño Studies, 1994); Tarlac And The Revolutionary Landscape (Tarlac:  Center For Tarlaqueño Studies, Tarlac State University/Holy Cross College, 1997); “The Tarlac Revolutionary Congress” in The Tarlac Revolutionary Congress of July 14, 1899:  A Centennial Commemoration (Tarlac City:  Center for Tarlaqueño Studies, Tarlac State University, 1999);  “The Philippine Revolutionary Government, from Malolos to Bayambang (1898-1899)” in Kasaysayan:  Journal of the National Historical Institute, Volume 1, No. 4, Decdember 2001, pp. 1-15.