When Lolo Joaquin, youngest child of General Pantaleon Valmonte, was past 80, he would drop by my house in Gapan during weekends, on his way to or from the mahjong session he regularly attended at the other side of the block, to share with me with his stories. I was still in college at the Ateneo then and he knew he would find me at home on weekends.
My relationship with Lolo Joaquin – he was a cousin of my grandfather – was symbiotic. He proved to be an unusually rich source of information about local history -- a subject that I had developed quite an interest in -- told in a very vivid fashion, peppered from time to time with expletives when he got too carried away. I, on the other hand, served as an eager audience for his story telling sessions, apparently a better one than his own grandchildren who must have grown tired of hearing the same tales told over and over again by a very persistent grandfather who wanted nothing more than to share his knowledge with the younger members of his family.
He had a sharp memory for events and people and was the acknowledged family historian. It was from him that I learned that my family used to be surnamed dela Cruz until the family adopted the name Valmonte when the Spanish governor general Narciso Claveria decreed in 1849 that Filipinos should change their surnames for the purpose of taxation and because many had the same surnames but were totally unrelated to each other. Remember Jose Rizal whose father is surnamed Mercado? Lolo Joaquin said we came from the same roots as the Belmontes but we changed our surname to Valmonte as our ancestors found it more meaningful – it literally means “valley of the mountain”.
He made me copy the Valmonte family tree, handwritten by him on pages of a grade school notebook which he probably borrowed from a grandchild and never returned, covering five generations from the first Valmonte couple – Bartolome dela Cruz Valmonte and Eulalia Sevilla – down to my grandfather's generation consisting of more than 50 siblings and cousins. The genealogy was traced for a practical purpose -- to determine who should get shares from the sale of the family farm, whose income had to be divided among so many family members after five generations that it became more practical to sell than maintain it.
Lolo Joaquin was a mayor
of Gapan serving two successive terms during the Commonwealth years, then
under the Laurel puppet government during the Japanese Occupation, and
finally retiring from politics after a stint as town councilor in the 1960s.
Not even the high and the mighty got spared when Lolo Joaquin told his stories. Once when I asked him why a certain provincial political figure from Gapan with a very Filipino sounding name had mestizo features, he curtly answered , “Anak kasi ng prayle”. At another time, I asked him why two local ilustrado families had very pronounced Castilian features. Referring to one family, he said ,“Ginahasa ng guardia civil ang lola” and as for the other family, he said said “Pinagtaasan ng kamisola ng lola ang mga Kastila”. In another conversation, I asked why a certain prominent family in Nueva Ecija had such huge tracts of land, and he explained that the clan's grandfather used to head the Bureau of Lands during the American regime, and left the topic hanging for me to draw my own conclusion. He had no qualms in telling me that during his stint as mayor in the 1930s, he summoned a rich landowner who refused to surrender his farmland on which the municipal government intended to build a new public market. He made the guy sit on a stool and repeatedly whacked him on the head with a wooden ruler until he bled profusely and acceded.
But his all-time favorite subject was his father, Gen. Pantaleon, and one could sense from the way he talked how much he idolized the man.
He always carried with him a “prop” -- a rolled up photostat copy of Gen. Pantaleon’s Ateneo de Manila diploma with the name misspelled as “Pantaleon Velmonte”-- which he would unroll and display at anyone's slightest sign of curiosity. He would proudly point out that Gen. Pantaleon was a classmate of the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, and that the latter had visited the Valmonte ancestral house in Gapan. By some coincidence, the Valmontes’ heirloom image of the Virgin Mary called the Divina Pastora is mentioned in an early chapter of Noli Me Tangere. There, Rizal describes a Christmas eve procession that features an image of the Virgin Mary which the friars made to look pregnant, wearing a hat with upturned front brim that Rizal termed as “like that of the Divina Pastora”.
Pantaleon, then the capital municipal or mayor of Gapan (hence his confusing titles: “Capitan” as mayor, and “General” as Katipunan officer ), was quite close to the Spanish authorities. Lolo Joaquin said that the provincial governor, Leonardo Bal, and the head of the Spanish garrison, Captain Joaquin Machorro, were frequent guests for Sunday lunch in their riverside home, with the food cooked by the family's kusinerong Macao. Pantaleon, in the typical Filipino fashion, even tried to endear himself further to the governor. Once, he pointed to Barrio Manikling, just across the river from his backyard and told the governor whom he called compadre that he would name that place after him. Thus, San Leonardo was born, a place whose patron saint is not even named San Leonardo but San Bartolome.
Pantaleon played along with the Spanish authorities, was much hated by the cura parroco for his refusal to bow and kiss his hand, and was a secret member of the Katipunan.
When the Spanish authorities discovered the existence of the Katipunan and began to arrest its members, Gov. Bal found Pantaleon’s name on the list. But a friend is a friend, and he advised Pantaleon to be careful as he could be arrested next, like what happened to some local Katipunan members.
Lolo Joaquin was a 15 year old high school student at Ateneo de Manila in Intramuros when the Philippine Revolution broke out. His father, because of the increasingly unstable situation in Manila after Andres Bonifacio’s “Cry of Pugadlawin” feared for his son’s safety and sent word for him to come home to Gapan.
Lolo Joaquin said that his father asked a lot of questions about what he saw on the way home from Manila. He dutifully reported to his father that he saw many Spanish soldiers on the train heading north.
Upon learning of the arrest and detention of local Katipunan members Mamerto Natividad, Marcos Ventus and others, Pantaleon and Mariano Llanera, the capitan municipal of Cabiao and a fellow Katipunan member, conferred and decided to do something to help their colleagues. They agreed to lead a delegation of officials and citizens from their own towns, to the Spanish garrison in San Isidro -- then called Factoria -- in the afternoon of September 2. The plan was for the Cabiao band to serenade Captain Machorro, a known music lover, and then for Valmonte and Llanera to plead with him for the release of the arrested Katipunan members detained there.
At the appointed date and time, the Cabiao band began to play in front of the garrison. Machorro, roused from his siesta by the music, peeped out from his second floor quarters and saw Capitan Valmonte and Capitan Llanera below, and dressed up to meet them.
Unknown to Valmonte and Llanera, a son of the detained Marcos Ventus, Manuel, had sneaked under the stairway of the garrison, armed with a gun and intent on avenging the arrest and imprisonment of his father.
When Machorro descended the stairs, Manuel emerged from his hiding place and fired, fatally hitting the Spanish official.
The result was chaos. The panic stricken guardia civil secured the garrison, wondering what could happen next. The Gapan and Cabiao delegations rushed home shocked, frustrated and scared after the unexpected and tragic turn of events.
The result of the death of Machorro was described by Lolo Joaquin as juez de cuchillo, literally “justice by the knife”.
The following day, September 3, General Pantaleon, who did not go into hiding as he had no reason to do so, and his bise tininti mayor, Epifanio Ramos, were arrested in Gapan by Spanish soldiers and Filipino voluntarios, jailed in Factoria, then taken to Barrio Calaba on September 4 and shot to death.
Eleven other town officials
were picked up one by one and suffered the same fate.
In honor of General Pantaleon and his fellow officials, now called the "Thirteen Martyrs of Gapan", the townspeople built a memorial called “Inang Bayan” at a junction in Barangay San Vicente in the 1930s, where their names were inscribed on marble slabs that are now long gone. The main roads of Gapan were named after them, with the former main street beside the river, where General Pantaleon’s house used to stand, becoming known as Valmonte Street.
As for General Llanera, he managed to escape the juez de cuchillo and continued the fight against the Spanish -- and later the American -- colonizers, managing to survive both. He died at an old age in the 1930s.
So, did the “three days and three nights of fighting” contained in popular accounts of the Cry of Nueva Ecija really happen? Lolo Joaquin was emphatic -- no, based on what transpired in San Isidro as recounted by his father, General Pantaleon, when he rushed home after the Machorro assasssination that aborted his and Llanera's original mission.
In the light of Lolo Joaquin's story, there are issues that need to be looked into by reserarchers and historians:
1) If, indeed, the siege of San Isidro lasted for "three days and three nights", why were the Spanish soldiers and their Filipino cohorts busy rounding up people even outside the town, whom they linked to Machorro's death, like General Pantaleon, instead of concentrating on fighting the enemy and defending their garrison?The most important question, perhaps: Who was guilty of twisting and embellishing the story of the September 2 incident in Factoria?
The last time I saw Lolo Joaquin was when he was already bed ridden and had difficulty speaking. I had an open reel tape recorder with me – the only kind available at that time -- and managed to tape his story. But when I played it back later, the sound was garbled and he could hardly be understood. Not long afterwards, he died.
I'm retelling Lolo Joaquin’s story not to disparage the memory of my great-granduncle General Pantaleon -- he died a martyr, no doubt about it -- or that of General Llanera who fearlessly led Filipinos in two successive revolutions. I just don't want Lolo Joaquin’s story to be buried with him forever.If he were alive today, he would have been tickled pink at seeing this -- his story on the Cry of Nueva Ecija finally published for everyone to read.