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The Life and Times of Gregoria de Jesus, Mother of the Philippine Revolution

The Lakambini of the Katipunan played an important role in the Philippines’ struggle for independence.
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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One quiet evening in March 1893, a young couple stood in front of a gathered audience in Oroquieta Street, Santa Cruz, Manila. The house was owned by Restituto Javier and his wife Benita. The young couple had been married barely a week before, but on that day, they were to be married again—this time under the rites of their secret organization, the Kataas-taasan, Kagalanggang ng Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan.

The newlyweds: Andres Bonifacio and his wife, Gregoria de Jesus, would eventually have their names etched into the annals of Philippine history. Bonifacio would become the Supremo of the Katipunan and spark the Revolution that would eventually kill him some four years later.

But what of Gregoria de Jesus? Who was Oriang, and what became of her after?

Small Origins

Gregoria de Jesus was born on May 9, 1875, in Caloocan to a middle-class, pious family. Her father, Nicolas, was a carpenter who would eventually become the gobernadorcillo. Like other prototypical middle-class Filipino families at the time, young Oriang had other siblings: a younger sister and two older brothers.

Oriang was by all accounts a bright student. Once, she won a silver medal at an examination organized by the governor-general and the local parish priest. As she grew older, her brothers moved to Manila to continue their education and her parents urged her to stay at home and look after her younger sister. Feudal society would have consigned Oriang to the mediocre life of a housewife, but fate had other plans.

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The de Jesus family was by no means poor or distant. They were part of an emerging class of relatively well-off bourgeoisie—small landowners and others with just enough political clout to rise above the toiling masses of peasants and workers. Of course, they weren’t as rich as the Rizals of Calamba or the Del Pilars of Bulacan, but they were rich enough to send their sons to study in Manila.

They also had family connections. One such connection was Oriang’s cousin, Teodoro Plata, a court clerk. Plata, at the time, was sharing a dorm room with two other people—University of Santo Tomas law student Ladislao Diwa and warehouse clerk Andres Boniacio.

It was Plata who introduced Bonifacio to Oriang. The three of them would frequently go to Oriang’s house to discuss secret matters, sometimes with her parents. This continued for nearly a year. She would eventually find out that Bonifacio wanted to court her.

Her father, Nicolas, wouldn’t approve, however. He didn’t like Bonifacio on account of his freemasonry; this despite Bonifacio trying to win his approval for over a year. But the 18-year-old Oriang slowly warmed up to the 29-year-old Bonifacio. He might have been much older, and his previous wife had died of leprosy, but there was something irresistible about Bonifacio that Oriang couldn’t stay away. Eventually, Nicolas gave his consent to the couple and they were married.

Bonifacio and Oriang were married twice. First in the Roman Catholic tradition in Binondo, then again in the Katipunan. In both times, Restituto and Benita Javier were their sponsors. Restituto was an old friend of Bonifacio and one of the first members to be inducted into the secret society.

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The Katipunan insisted that they be married under its rites. In its eyes, the Roman Catholic Church was an illegitimate colonial institution, and it didn’t accept its authority. Oriang had no qualms with the Katipunan and joined that same evening, taking on the name Lakambini.

Lakambini of the Katipunan

As Lakambini, Oriang was by no means a passive member. She took on the duty of keeping the Katipunan’s documents safe. She also sewed the first flag of the Katipunan alongside Benita Javier. Meanwhile, the couple moved from Javier’s residence to a house in Calle Anyahan along with Emilio Jacinto, who ran a printing press inside the house.

As the Katipunan’s record-keeper, Oriang frequently had to avoid suspicion from authorities. In her autobiography, she recalls:

“Many times on receiving some warning that the house would be searched by the Veterana police, regardless of the hour, I would immediately gather all the papers, the arms, and the seal, and ordered a quiles and, abandoning my meals, for quite often this happened at noon or eight o'clock at night, I would go driving until midnight along the bay front of Tondo and the streets of Binondo in order to save our countrymen from danger.”

Being members of the Katipunan didn’t mean Bonifacio and Oriang had no time for love. Their son, Andres Jr., would eventually be born in Oriang’s family home in Caloocan. Dr. Pio Valenzuela was his godfather at the baptism. After a few months, the couple moved to a house in Cervantes Street (now Rizal Avenue). The house continued to be a hotbed of Katipunan organizing: At one point, Emilio Aguinaldo was sworn in as a member in that very house.

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Tragedy would strike Oriang twice. At some point before 1896, the couple moved to Dulongbayan, Tutuban, when a fire burned their house down. They were forced to move from house to house before moving in with Valenzuela. At this point, the second tragedy struck: Their son Andres caught smallpox and died an infant.

Who knows what would have happened had Bonfacio’s son lived to adulthood. Nevertheless, Oriang and Bonifacio continued their revolutionary tasks. The Katipunan had reached national notoriety. It had long since graduated from the ideas of Bonifacio and the other members of La Liga Filipina disgruntled by the inadequacy of reforms. Its members were getting ready to take up arms.

Life in the Arms of Revolution

The Katipunan would eventually be exposed when Teodoro Patiño revealed the society’s existence to colonial authorities, forcing the revolutionary organization to act. Spanish authorities were quick to crack down on the Katipunan, and many were arrested or executed for their links to the organization, whether real or imagined.

Bonifacio and Oriang went on the run. Bonifacio left Manila quickly, eventually resurfacing to lead the Cry of Balintawak. Oriang, in the meantime, was left with her parents in Caloocan.

But not even Caloocan was safe. She quickly found out that the authorities were planning an arrest and, thinking quickly, decided to leave at 11 p.m. with the intention of going to Manila. Oriang found difficulty in seeking refuge, however, as she recalled:

“I was treated like an apparition, for, sad to say, from every house where I tried to get a little rest, I was driven away as if the people therein were mortally frightened. However, I learned later that the occupants of the house I visited were seized and severely punished and some even exiled—one of them was an uncle of mine whom I visited that night to kiss his hand, and he died in exile. My father and two brothers were also arrested at this time.”

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She arrived in Manila at 4 a.m., staying at her uncle Simplicio’s house for a few hours before moving on to her sister-in-law Espiridiona. At this time, she assumed the name Manuela Gonzaga and lived quietly for a month.

The two would find themselves in each other's arms soon enough. On November 1, 1896, Oriang and Bonifacio met again in San Francisco del Monte. From there the two rode on to Cavite, at the time the heart of the Revolution, where they waged their war.

As a soldier, Oriang didn’t shy away from any task. She “learned how to ride, to shoot a rifle, and to manipulate other weapons which [she] actually used on many occasions.” She was present in many of the battles in Cavite as a fellow soldier and revolutionary.

The End of Love

The revolution would take a dark turn, however. Tensions at the top of the leadership created a split between Bonifacio’s Magdiwang faction and Aguinaldo’s Magdalos. The Tejeros convention, which was supposed to consolidate political gains and establish a formal Republic, instead created a rift between the two factions.

In the end, Aguinaldo felt that he had no choice. There was not enough room for two leaders of the Revolution. Every day that Bonifacio was around subverting his command was another day of potential disaster for the revolution.

And so, in 1897, Aguinaldo ordered the arrest of Bonifacio. He sent his two lieutenants to do the deed: Agapito Bonzon and Jose Ignacio Paua.

The events that followed were nothing short of horrific. Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were arrested; Paua stabbed Bonifacio on the shoulder and would have killed him too was he not stopped. As for Oriang, Bonzon cornered her in one of the rooms of the house the Bonifacios were staying at and raped her.

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Things only took a turn for the worse. A trial was held and Bonifacio was found guilty on charges of treason. He and his brother were executed by cowards in the mountains of Maragondon on May 10, 1897, the day after Oriang’s 21st birthday.

Life for Oriang was not as exciting after that episode. She found solace in her grief through Julio Nakpil, Katipunan commander and a man personally loyal to Bonifacio. They fell in love and were married a year later.

Oriang would then settle in Quiapo, in what is now known as Bahay Nakpil-Bautista. The two had six children. Not much is known of Oriang’s life after the Revolution, except that she died in 1943, when the Philippines was occupied by Japanese forces.

It is a shame that Oriang never saw her dream of seeing “unfurled the flag of an independent Philippines” fulfilled. But her fingerprints are undeniably found in the most important episodes of the Philippine Revolution. She may not have written any documents or led any armies, but there is no title more apt for her than “Mother of the Revolution.” 

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Justin Umali
Justin is left-handed, left-leaning, and best left in a cool, damp place. He listens to Vampire Weekend when he's down and Car Seat Headrest when he's not. He usually writes about Philippine history and politics, and believes that you cannot change the world without understanding it first.
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