Sunday, August 30, 2015

Domingo Franco

Faceless martyrs have long fascinated me. While tapping out this article, I’m looking at an old photo showing thirteen valiant men, standing in a row about eight feet apart from each other, facing the firing squad. That was the “killing fields” of Bagumbayan in the early morning of January 11, 1897. On that day, El Supremo of the revived La Liga Filipina, and twelve of his compatriots sprawled on the ground, “kissing the soil of their beloved country” for the last time.

It is said that a nation without heroes is a sad nation. True, because without heroes there can be no inspired leadership among our people and that makes our nation even sadder. But what difference does it make if we, as a people, limit ourselves with historical bywords like Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo and other towering figures of the Philippine Revolution? Sadly, as I look around the corridors of heroes, there are still many unknown patriots that deserve the sidelights of history. One such obscure figure that needs illumination is— Domingo Franco. His name is not a byword in Philippine history. Nor was he even mentioned in our history textbooks except that fact he was one of “The Thirteen Martyrs of Bagumbayan.”

Who was Domingo Franco?

Scantily, history tells us that Domingo Franco was a native of Mambusao, Capiz, who later rose to become a highly successful leaf tobacco businessman in Manila. With the emergence of Masonic societies in the Philippines, Franco, together with his friend Numeriano Adriano joined the seminal Filipino Masonic Lodge Nilad in 1891. The great Mabini, on the other hand, joined the Lodge Balagtas. Franco took the symbolic name “Felipe Leal” (Loyal Philip) and was said to be the man in whom Rizal and Mabini reposed “the greatest confidence.” True to form, it was Franco who courageously received the first shipment of Noli that was sent by Rizal, clearing the “contrabands” in the Customs to avoid confiscation, and took care of distributing them.

The revived La Liga Filipina

After Rizal’s disengagement from La Solidaridad, he went on to challenge Mother Spain in the home country and launch La Liga Filipina—a front organization of the movement for reforms and unification of the Filipino nation. Upon Rizal’s return to Manila in June 1892, it was Franco, along with Timoteo Paez, who organized that historic meeting at the Onjunco house in Tondo where Rizal proposed the idea of La Liga. Three days later, however, Rizal was arrested, and the Liga was quickly dispersed.

The paragon reformist that he is, a year later, he and other patriots sought the revival of Liga; not only to carry on the goals as formulated by Rizal but also to raise funds for Soli. Soon, Franco was elected President of the revived La Liga Filipina and Mabini became Secretary of the Supreme Council. In charge of recruitment in the outskirt provinces was no less than the supreme revolutionist from Tondo, Andres Bonifacio. Altogether, they ran the gamut of the organization, from vice to virtue, from opposing views to winged innocence.
Rise of Katipunan—fall of La Liga

Rizal’s deportation to Dapitan, however, signaled the coming of revolutionary radicalism. For Bonifacio and the working class, the time for armed revolution had come. And so, although he was one of the active members of the revived Liga, in truth, Bonifacio balked the idea of having to use Liga as an instrument for raising funds to support reformist ends. To him, the Spanish masters could no longer be won by words. Franco and Adriano, of course, disagreed. And so, the organization splintered into two factions: the Cuerpo de Compromisarios, composed of moderate ilustrados, who still wanted to carry on openly seeking reforms without bloodshed, and the Katipunan, the plebian base of La Liga, which already believed that reforms were no longer possible except by secretly preparing for violent upheaval.

At this stage, we could say that Bonifacio was indeed an excellent organizer, but he just wasn’t good at keeping secrets, at least not for too long. A month later, the Katipunan was discovered, and many were arrested. One of them was Antonio Luna, the chemist who later became a famous revolutionary general. It was Luna who admitted to the authorities, wittingly or unwittingly, that Rizal’s La Liga was the parent organization of the Katipunan.

Path to martyrdom

Two weeks later, first to be arrested was Domingo Franco, a non-Katipunero. It was said that Franco was arrested in his office while playing with his six-year-old daughter, Conching. There, his elbows were tied up behind his back, shoved him into a horse-drawn rig and paraded him all the way to the dungeons of Fort Santiago. For several weeks, Franco endured all forms of torture while confined in a small cell. He was chained, flogged, and given the water cure. But Franco, the “Felipe Leal” of his compatriots, remained loyal to the end and never confessed to authorities the ‘truths’ they wanted to hear.

Just twelve days after Rizal’s execution, Domingo Franco, with twelve others, calmly faced the Spanish firing squad in Bagumbayan. Like Rizal, they too suffered humiliation at the hands of the colonizers even unto death. Their lifeless bodies were unceremoniously piled up to on a horse drawn cart and dumped them in an unmarked grave. To this day, the remains of the “thirteen martyrs” have not been found.

Franco’s legacy

Domingo Franco never thirsted for office, power, and the chance to make history. But without Franco and his paisanos, La Liga would have been almost dead at birth after the arrest of Rizal; it was them who resuscitated Rizal’s vision to work for reforms. Without the revival of La Liga, Bonifacio would not have had a front organization to disguise the work of the Katipunan; consequently, without the Katipunan there would not have been a revolution and no Philippine Republic to begin with.

Not much has been written about Franco, even historians of today have failed to highlight his contributions, and the travails he went through just to support the seemingly impotent propaganda movement at the turn of the century “One of the tasks of grateful generation,” as one Filipino statesman sought to remind us, “is to give due recognition to all our heroes, especially those who are unsung.” Thus, it is fitting after more than a hundred years to remember a genuine patriot like Domingo Franco— one of the unsung heroes of the Philippine Revolution.


Celia Diaz-Laurel. My Lolo Domingo Franco. Philippines, 2011.

Agoncillo, Teodoro. The Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan. Quezon City: UP Press, 1956.

Photo credit: The Pinoy Pulse

Carlos P. Garcia in Retrospect

The nation was stunned in tears, with uncertainty afloat. On March 17, 1957, dubbed as the “blackest day in our history,” presidential plane christened as “Pinatubo,” bound for Manila, crashed in Mt. Manunggal just fifteen minutes after it took off in Cebu. President Ramon Magsaysay, the most likable of the towering political figures in the 50s, was killed and so was the entire complement in the plane save one. His vain death—which deserves a story of its own, for whatever it was purposed, was as widespread as his humble rise to power. Ultimately, his death had a profound impact on the masses not only because Magsaysay was their ‘savior,’ but he was also perceived to be one of their own.

But reality had to set in soon, no matter how dreadful. The next day, before a rapt and morose audience, a new president was sworn in to take over the reins of government for the remaining eight months. Against this background, the Herculean task fell squarely on the shoulders of Magsaysay’s subaltern— Vice President Carlos P. Garcia.

In the “Guy’s” shadow

Carlos Polistico Garcia was not a charming politician. That was the truth. Small, dark-skinned, curly-haired fellow, almost Moorish in appearance, Garcia lacked Magsaysay’s charm that had enthralled the hoi polloi to his side. Nor was he able to mesmerize the masses with bombastic oratory, create dramatic pauses and raised hubbubs. Though he always thought and spoke on his feet, Garcia’s poetic prowess was clearly overshadowed by Magsaysay’s magic. It was said that had Magsaysay lived to run for a second term, Garcia would have been replaced as his running mate with a better vote-getter candidate. Not that Garcia was unaware of these criticisms early on—quite the contrary. He found his supposed weaknesses to be his strength.

In a broader sense, it is not easy to classify Garcia. He had the mind of a chess grandmaster, eager to take challenges, grapple with facts through calculated moves, rather than a populist’s mesmerized by abstractions with their what ifs and wherefores. This was clearly demonstrated when Garcia, the seemingly uncharismatic candidate, confounded his opponents by winning his own presidential mandate in 1957 with apparent ease. All the same, if Garcia was ever anything, he was a nationalist.

Garcia’s politics

Born on November 4, 1896 in Talibon, Bohol, Carlos P. Garcia belonged to a middle-class family who valued education more than anything else. After high-school, he went on to pursue a preparatory law course in the prestigious Silliman University, and Philippine Law School where Garcia obtained his Bachelor of Laws degree. After placing first in the 1923 bar examinations, Garcia had a brief stint teaching law until politics caught up with him.

Elected representative of the third district of Bohol for six years, Garcia had gone the opposite path and became the provincial governor of Bohol for three successive terms. Then the turning point came when both Quezon and Osmeña, Nacionalista bigwigs at that time, drafted him to run for senator in 1941, and he won. His jubilation, however, was short-lived when the Japanese invaders arrived in the Philippines. Instead of collaborating with the enemy, Garcia went up the hills and fought the Japs as a leader of a guerilla force.

Garcia’s service in the trenches served him well when he resumed his political career after the war. While a senator, Garcia’s nationalistic fervor enabled him to function well as chairman of the Senate committee on foreign affairs advocating claims for reparation and war damages. He too was instrumental in opposing the “No money, no parity” policy that was being pushed by the Liberal Manuel Roxas. This was a brilliant move, and Garcia rapidly made himself one of the top honchos of the Nacionalista Party (NP). But the odds were stacked against him, at least momentarily.

After being elected three times to the senate, Garcia was tapped by NP as Magsaysay’s running mate for the 1953 presidential elections. Magsaysay was a true blue Liberal but jumped off to NP after disagreements with his erstwhile boss, President Quirino. Both won overwhelmingly. After Magsaysay’s death, Garcia completed his term and then won his own presidential term in the same year.
The nationalist president
Wafted by the winds of nationalism fanned by the likes of Recto and Laurel, Magsaysay was no match to Garcia’s fierce devotion to the ideals of being a true Nacionalista—“Country above all else.” For Garcia, the espousal of nationalism requires the convergence between words and actions; between theory and practice. In his own words, Garcia lamented so poignantly that, “A President must be deedless in words and wordless in deeds.”
The meaning was fairly simple: deeds must be louder than words and not otherwise. That was Garcia’s credo.

“Buy Filipino”

By the time Garcia became president, the specter of American colonialism was still very much in vogue in the country. But Garcia, an avid admirer of Quezon, would have none of it. More than his accomplishments in the realm of foreign affairs, Garcia’s name became synonymous with “Filipino First” policy, a nationalist policy that encouraged Filipinos to inculcate the much-needed national pride. In a word, Garcia’s economic nationalism gave preference to Filipinos over all other foreigners in the acquisition of land, capital and in the operation of business in the country.

Under the Garcia administration, almost all banks were in the hands of Filipinos; local industries began to flourish and landed estates exchanged hands. True to his ideals, Garcia espoused the policy of import controls by making sure that dollars were well used for economic needs of Filipino entrepreneur. As a result, by assisting new entrepreneurs to get dollar allocation, Filipino enterprises developed, which in turn led to the establishment of many Filipino-owned companies.
Of course, this did not sit well with foreign businessmen such as the Americans. They swear never to allow a nationalist like Garcia to win another election. He had to be stopped at all cost. Corruption charges then were hurled against Garcia, some even mocked him as a draconian fascist, but nothing came out of it. And so Garcia lost his re-election bid to Diosdado Macapagal, the Liberal populist candidate whom the Americans supported in the 1961 elections.

Carlos P. Garcia was tested by fate yet he faltered not. In fact, in so brief a time, his achievements as a “presidential caretaker” and later on as the president himself, became more significant than the bigger shoes he had to fill in. This month, we commemorate his death and celebrate his life – veneration duly accorded to a man who may not have saved a president from a plane crash, but who has saved the country from a similar downfall.