Kawit: Aguinaldo Shrine, Birthplace of the Philippine Independence
This is one of the country’s most distinguished and prominent landmarks. The Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite, left a lasting legacy in the country, is the site where the historic Declaration of Philippine Independence was made on June 12, 1898. The house was constructed in 1845 made of wood and thatch (pawid). It is also here where Aguinaldo was born on March 22, 1869. It was then rebuilt in 1849, and further modified in the 1920s. Years before Aguinaldo passed away, he donated this property to the government, and the site was eventually made a National Shrine after his death in 1964.
While there had already been several occasions that the Tupang Gala has already set foot on Cavite, we had still not yet been able to reach this historic site. We already made sure that during our next Cavite trip we would not be missing an opportunity to visit this place. It was Sunday afternoon when we went here and we are not expecting that the shrine itself is open at that time (but we hoped to), and if it’s closed, at least we are able to have a glimpse of it.
Located near the Tirona Highway and just beside the river, the Aguinaldo Park was developed in front of the mansion as part of the 1998 Philippine Centennial celebration. The park has a long promenade, a small plaza and a wide space that were later on dedicated to food stalls. The park’s prominent feature is the bronze statue of Aguinaldo on a horseback standing on a black marble pedestal. At its either side are marble walls, written on it is the Act of Proclamation of Independence of the Filipino People in Spanish and English, together with the signatures of prominent cabinet members during that time.
We were overjoyed when we learned that the shrine is open on Sundays (it is closed on Mondays, however) and most of all, entrance is free. There aren’t many people when we went there, freeing us from any pressure in queuing at the galleries. The April atmosphere is hot and humid outdoors, and we were relieved with the cool, refreshing indoor air at the mansion’s ground floor.
The museum is just one of the new shrine-museum managed by the National Historical Commission. The museum proper was reopened to the public last March 20, 2015, three days before Aguinaldo’s 146th birth anniversary.
Upon entrance, what can be readily noticed is the bowling alley, readily reminding that the previous owners lived a luxurious lifestyle. It was converted into a museum, with the original structures preserved to compliment with the site’s theme.
The museum contains multimedia presentations, dioramas, holograms, as well as relics and artifacts connected to the life of the first President. The original relics like the rayadillo uniforms, presidential sash, epaulets, presidential car plates, buttons, and even chess piece sets are also exhibited. Also on display are campaign materials used in the 1935 elections, during which Aguinaldo pitted against Manuel Quezon (and lost) in the Presidential race.
After visiting the museum, we went to the mansion’s second floor. Here we met with Mang Vener Valez, who for more than 36 years is working here to help maintain the shrine. Mang Vener knew every corner of the shrine, the tales behind each artifact and hallways, as well as its secrets, like the hidden tunnels leading to the church, the ice storage leading to another tunnel, hidden doors and pieces of furniture with hidden compartments.
The mansion has seven floors, including the spired tower at its top. The mansion’s architecture is influenced by Hispanic and Colonial design, and you have to climb through narrow ladders to complete the climb from the bottom up to the topmost floor.
At the second floor is the master’s bedroom, the grand hall, dining hall, and kitchen, as well as the rooms of Aguinaldo’s children and the balcony. The balcony/window where the Declaration of Independence was made is kept shut, being opened only during Independence Day.
The most distinguishing feature here is the Grand Hall, where the revolutionists once deliberated on their plans and critical decisions for the young nation. It is also noticed that the entire room is filled with national symbolism, even at the ceiling (“Inang Pilipinas”, Mother Philippines), the sun with eight rays symbolizing the first eight provinces that stood up against the Spanish regime, furled flags, and dove. Even the symbol of the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations) is emblazoned on the ceiling, symbolizing the President’s desire for the country to be part of.
Normally visitors can roam only up to this point, but because we were with Mang Victor he quietly told us that we can go beyond, even at the upper floors, for a short time.
We went into the room with a hidden passage leading to the mezzanine library, where the grand hall can be viewed, and exited at another room.
We then went upstairs to the Ambassador Room, where it was once used by the late Ambassador Jose Melencio, Aguinaldo’s son-in-law, as a place for study and rest.
Climbing to another floor, we reached Aguinaldo’s yet another room. It is said that the General spend his last years in this room. Out of curiosity, we asked Mang Vener how the furniture were hauled up here, given how narrow the stairs leading to this room were. He explained that the furniture were disassembled, climbed up piece by piece, and was then reassembled at the room. There is also an outdoor terrace where the shoreline of Cavite and the Manila Bay can be seen.
At the topmost floor is the watchtower, and it is the most challenging to climb because of the narrow stairs. We did not pursue climbing it further because we were told that the wooden stairs are now weak.
As we walked around the mansion, we admired the General even more. Not only he is a valiant general, but he also proved himself as a smart architect because of the numerous secret passageways and secret doors of his home.
The garden grounds are surrounded by greenery and trees. Behind the house is the tomb where the late President, who died of coronary thrombosis on February 6, 1964, was interred. Also seen here is an ancient washing machine, cannon, and gazebos whose locals are fond to visit. There is also a souvenir shop located near here.
BATTLE OF ALAPAN MARKER
When going home to Imus from the shrine, we noticed a large flag in Barangay Alapan. This place is historic as it is in this site where the Filipino flag was first waved on May 28, 1898, just two weeks before the Declaration of Independence (and the date is later on designated as the National Flag Day which is also annually celebrated). A marker is placed beside it, as well as a statue that commemorated this historic event.
“to perpetuate the spirit of the Philippine Revolution of 1896 that put an end to Spanish colonization of the country”
– Aguinaldo on donating his home to the Philippine government, June 12, 1963
Contrary to the popular belief, the declaration of independence and the waving of the flag was made not at the balcony but at one of the mansion’s second-floor windows (at the grand hall). The closest representation of the event can be seen on the reverse side of the old five-peso bill (where Aguinaldo is portrayed on the obverse side). The balcony was only added in 1919.
The Philippine National Anthem was also first played on the grounds of the Mansion by the marching band of the San Francisco de Malabon (now General Trias, Cavite) but as an instrumental music. The lyrics were not written until 1899 by Jose Palma.
Take the Coastal Road/Cavitex and exit at Cavite City. Turn right going to Tirona Hi-way. The shrine is located along the highway. There is a wide parking space nearby.
From Cubao or Pasay ride a bus going to Bacoor and alight at SM Bacoor. From here you can take a mini-bus going to Cavite City / Rosario and get off at the Aguinaldo Shrine.
Parking, Tour Guide, Entrance – Free
Monetary donations are highly appreciated.