General Gregorio del Pilar - An Officer and a Gentleman  

Posted by Laya in

While we're on the subject of Aguinaldo and Bonifacio, I can't help but remember another person connected with Aguinaldo. Gregorio del Pilar, born November 14, 1875, goes down in Philippine history as the youngest general of the Revolutionary Army, called the "boy general". He died on December 2, 1899, a Brigadier General at age 24, at Tirad Pass, covering Aguinaldo's retreat with 60 men against 3000 American soldiers-- the circumstances of his death were so much like an old Greek legend that he was referred to by some as the "Leonidas of the Philippines" and Tirad Pass as our local version of Thermopylae. (300, anyone?) Hey, to be compared to a Spartan, a member of a race best known in history for their bravery, discipline, and honor (ever read the story about the Spartan boy with the fox under his coat?), is no small thing.

I read Wilfredo Pascual's blog entry about how del Pilar's bones were exhumed in 1930 and brought to the municipal hall of Concepcion, Ilocos Sur, the nearest town to Tirad Pass. That town was later renamed Gregorio del Pilar in 1955, in honor of the boy general. There was a comment by Dr. Ricardo Soler about how some viewed del Pilar as nothing more than a wannabe hoodlum, "a bodyguard of Aguinaldo no different from the bodyguards of politicians who tell their masters, 'Boss, tirahin na lang natin 'yan. (Boss, let's just take him out.)' "


As a child, I was taught about del Pilar's loyalty to Aguinaldo, so that he ultimately died to defend his President. Knowing more about Aguinaldo now than I did before, I can't help but marvel at his misplaced loyalty, but well, he did what he felt was right. According to Teodoro A. Agoncillo's History of the Filipino People, after Gregorio del Pilar's death, Major March, his American opponent, found the boy general's diary. In it, del Pilar had written:

" The General [ Aguinaldo ] has given me the pick of all the men that can be spared and ordered me to defend the Pass. I realize what a terrible task has been given me. And yet, I felt that this is the most glorious moment of my life. What I do is done for my beloved country. No sacrifice can be too great. "

Gregorio del Pilar's body was not buried until several days after his death. American soldiers left his corpse almost naked, stripping it of all valuables for "souvenirs". (And they called us Filipinos barbarians--- pwe!) Finally, an American officer, Lt. Dennis Quinlan, found his body and ordered him buried. It is said that Quinlan admired del Pilar's courage so much that he had an marker placed on del Pilar's grave which read:


The pic of del Pilar on Wikipedia makes him look dandified. His legs are crossed, his right hand is in his tunic, he looks like he's leaning on his sword.

But I found another pic of Gregorio del Pilar on Filipiniana.net. (it's the first pic that comes up when you google search for "general gregorio del pilar"). It's a full-body black and white picture; there's what looks like a house behind him, and perhaps pandan or some tall grass, and palm fronds. His wide-brimmed hat is on the grass near his feet. The boy general is wearing his uniform: a white tunic with epaulets, and dark trousers tucked into high boots. He has a sword hanging from his belt, his arms are crossed. From a distance, you might label it as just another picture of an officer in the Revolutionary Army, and not look any closer.

But this is del Pilar. It was those crossed arms that did it for me, I guess. I was immediately struck by how, in different clothes, and in another time, he might look just like one of my guy kabarkadas when I was still in high school. You know the pose that boys aged 12 to 25 often strike for photographs, trying to look tough and not seem vulnerable. His left shoulder was angled higher than his right, his feet slightly apart. He seems to look off into the distance. Hey, so he looked like some of my friends did in CAT uniforms, I think some of my friends even looked more mature than him. And I'm betting that like all boys, he didn't know what destiny lay ahead of him at Tirad Pass.

I am reminded of the words of Thetys to her son Achilles in the movie "Troy":

"If you stay in Larisa...you will find peace. You will find a wonderful woman. You will have sons and daughters, and they will have children. And they will love you. When you are gone, they will remember you.But when your children are dead and their children after them... your name will be lost.

If you go to Troy...glory will be yours. They will write stories about your victories for thousands of years. The world will remember your name. But if you go to Troy... you will never come home. For your glory walks hand in hand with your doom."

A thug? Would a common thug have felt that no sacrifice done for his beloved country was too great? Would not a common thug if faced with certain death have cut his losses and run? That is the difference between a common hoodlum and Gregorio del Pilar. That is why even the Americans honored him as a worthy foe, "an officer and a gentleman." Because when faced with the option to do the right thing even if it cost him his life, he took it without hesitation. How many people today would do the same?

This entry was posted at Saturday, January 26, 2008 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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You may want to find a copy of Nick Joaquin's A QUESTION OF HEROES. The darker side of the mythic 'Boy General' is explored there. What essentially happened is there was a rivalry between the old generalissimo who had, at best, tentative control over 'his' generals (who were practically warlords in their own territories) and the ambitious General Antonio Luna and his cadre which included many ex-Spanish Army officers and men. Antonio Luna had pretty much sat out the first phase of the revolution but then when the Yanquis arrived rose to the occasion and was joined by many ex-Spanish Army veterans who wanted to get revenge on the Gringos. We all know how that ended up at Cabanatuan. After that apparently it was Greggy Boy's job to hunt down Luna's cadre and neutralize them.

Heroes are never perfect. That doesn't mean they're any less heroic, it just means they're more human.

August 10, 2010 at 8:12 PM

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