December 29, 1896
Steps echoed in the darkness of Pepe’s cell, an odd occurrence considering his guard had already tossed dinner onto the floor. He peeked out from between the bars to see who was coming. A hooded friar was walking down his way, a candle and bible in hand, accompanied by a prison guard. Pepe returned to his seat and waited. His execution was tomorrow; these were to be his last rites.
The rusty gate screeched open, and the friar entered Pepe’s cell. He motioned the guard away. “Please, allow this man to receive his blessings in peace.” The guard grunted and hesitantly walked out.
The friar turned to Pepe. “Doctor Jose Rizal?” Pepe nodded.
A hand extended from the holy man’s robe. “Unus Instar Omnium,” he said.
Pepe looked up at the priest, startled. He knew those words all too well – he wrote them himself years ago, when he formed the Philippine League. He took the friar’s hand and rose to his feet. “Do I know you?”
“No, doctor. But the Supremo does.”
“What does Bonifacio and his Katipunan want from me?”
The friar removed the hood from his face. Pepe was taken aback – he could see the subtle differences, but there was no denying that the man who stood in front of him bore an incredible resemblance to himself. He hadn’t had much time to marvel at this doppelganger when he realized his significance.
“You are to take my place?”
The friar nodded. “And you are to leave a friar.”
“They know who I am,” Pepe objected. “They’ll know it won’t be me tomorrow.”
“All indios look the same to these guards,” the friar snorted, his voice bitter with disgust.
Deep inside, Pepe knew this was true, and he felt embittered himself. It would be so good, so satisfying to turn these Spaniards into a joke, their prized captive spirited away without their noticing. Reality set in, however, as did his conscience. Pepe’s expression turned grim. “I can’t allow this. I can’t let someone else die in my place.”
“You must,” the friar implored, “For the revolution.”
“Bonifacio’s revolution? I’ve withdrawn my support for it!” Pepe objected. “I’ve stated, time and again, that we are simply not prepared to win this war. Bonifacio knows I don’t believe in his abilities as a tactician. His revolution is doomed to fail!”
“The Supremo understands this,” the friar answered back.
“Then why go through with it?”
“Because the spirit of revolution runs strong in many of us, so much so that it cannot be stopped. We will have our independence, or we will die fighting.”
Pepe composed himself. “A noble sentiment, but one I unfortunately cannot support.”
“With all due respect, doctor, we will continue with or without your support.”
“Then what have you got to gain from my survival?” Pepe asked.
The friar reached into his robe and brought out a sealed letter. He handed it to Pepe.
Pepe cracked the seal open and read, in Bonifacio’s handwriting, “The heart of the revolution must continue to beat for those of us who still believe in it.”
He looked to the friar. “Are you here under orders?”
“The Supremo asked me to do this.”
“Why did you agree?”
“Because your words gave me the will to fight for our independence. Because they continue to do so for countless others. Because you have already done so much more for this revolution than I ever can, and because you are capable of even more.”
Pepe shook his head, sank back into his seat, and buried his face in his hands. “I cannot let you die.”
The friar put a hand on Pepe’s shoulder, “I can’t let you die either, doctor.”
Pepe pondered for a moment, struggling with the ideals of the man before him and his own. “If I agree to go through with this, what am I to do?” he asked.
“Whatever you deem necessary for this country,” the friar replied, “whatever you think will earn us our independence.”
“You understand that if I continue to live, I will be acting in secret, as a ghost of this revolution?”
“If you believe this is the best recourse, then so be it.”
“And you understand that you may very well be forgotten in the course of history?”
“Glory pales in comparison to freedom,” the friar answered.
Pepe let out a deep breath. He had contemplated the matter enough. “What is your name?”
“Antonio de la Cruz, doctor, from Lucban.”
Pepe stood up and shook the friar’s hand. “Thank you, Antonio.”
In the darkness, the two men exchanged clothes. A friar left the prison that night, his face obscured by the shadow of his hood.
The next morning, Pepe watched from a distance as the men gunned “Rizal” down. The deception was complete, but his work was far from done.
May 10, 1897
General Lazaro Makapagal broke the seal on the envelope entrusted to him before the trek to Mt. Nagpatong. He furrowed his brow as he read the contents and, with a heavy breath, declared for all present to hear:
“Upon the orders of General Mariano Noriel of the Highest and Most Respected Society of the Nation’s Children, I hereby carry out the execution of our former Supreme President, Andres Bonifacio, and his brother, Procopio Bonifacio, on the charge of treason and the attempted assassination of President Emilio Aguinaldo. The two are to dig their own graves, and shall be shot, with utmost respect, in the back of the heads so as to minimize their suffering.”
Andres spat at the ground. “So this is how we meet our ends? Put down like dogs by the man we once called ally?”
“I’m afraid so, Supremo,” Makapagal answered. “Were it up to me, we would never have set foot on this mountain, much less have you tried for treason. Orders are orders, however.” He walked over to the brothers, handing Andres the letter that sealed his fate.
Andres and Procopio gazed at the paper the former held. The words were written by Noriel’s hand; Andres knew the style well. He looked up at Makapagal, and his eyes were met with those of a soldier, honor-bound to follow orders to his very end. He handed the letter back, and with the weight of a martyr’s resolve said, “So be it.”
Makapagal ordered two of the soldiers accompanying the troop to walk over to the brothers and hand them their helmets, so that they could have something with which to dig. Andres and Procopio took the helmets in hand and proceeded to the mounds prepared for their burial. The grim task went quickly, as the soil was soft from the May rains. Procopio was the first to lay his helmet down and kneel before his grave. Andres followed shortly afterward, defiant in his stature.
Raising his own rifle in the air, Makapagal bellowed, “At my command!”
The two remaining soldiers at his side gripped their weapons firmly in hand.
The clack of rifles echoed through the mountain air.
Suddenly, the brothers dropped into the pits before them. Without warning, they emerged with pistols in hand, shooting the unprotected heads of the soldiers near them. Makapagal turned his rifle to the executioner at his right and blasted him squarely in the chest. The remaining soldier instinctively tried to flee, but Procopio leapt out of his would-be grave and chased him down, knocking him to the ground and slashing the soldier’s throat open with a knife.
At the burial ground, Makapagal walked over to Andres and offered him a helping hand out of the pit. “General Noriel sends his regards, Supremo.”
“Well received,” Andres smirked. Taking Makapagal’s hand, he pulled himself out of the shallow earth. “I trust you have other orders?”
“Yes, Supremo.” Makapagal brought out a second envelope from his pack, its seal already broken. “There are Spanish forces surrounding the area at this very moment; Maragondon will be lost. In my testimony of your execution, I am to report a skirmish with the Spaniards following your death, leaving me as the only survivor and witness.”
Procopio called out as he made his way back to the site, “And what of the men we just killed?”
“A necessary sacrifice,” Makapagal answered.
Andres looked at the three bodies that lay at his feet, and one in the distance. “Aguinaldo’s men?”
Makapagal turned to Andres. “General Aguinaldo didn’t order your execution, Supremo. It was General Ricarte’s words that led us down this path.”
“A political move?” Procopio interjected.
“We don’t know,” Makapagal answered. “All we know is that the revolution needs stability if we are to survive this war.”
The brothers looked at each other and understood. Aguinaldo’s place in the new government was much too secure to challenge at this point; doing so would have plunged the battle for independence into chaos. Loathe as Andres was to admit it, Aguinaldo was also his superior in battle. If anyone could lead a successful assault on the Spaniards, it was he. “Martyrs for the greater good, I suppose,” Andres said. Procopio nodded.
Andres turned back to Makapagal. “Why did Noriel keep us alive, then?”
“Because the heart of the revolution must continue to beat for those of us who still believe in it,” Makapagal said, raising a salute to his Supremo.
Andres smiled at the familiar words, understanding what exactly saved his life that day. He returned the salute to Makapagal.
Andres placed his arm on his brother’s shoulder, and the two walked deeper into the mountain, dead men.