THE PORTUGUESE INSURRECTO

by Rolando F Villacorte

A Macanese who took part in the Phillipine rebellion.

Edited version of an article on Arnaldo Frederico da SilvaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (6138) to be taken to his personal page

June 19, 1957

Recorded Philippine history has immortalized many a great hero-including those who, in the strictest sense, cannot quite measure up. On the other hand, there are historical figures who, in their own quiet way, rendered truly heroic services but whose names have never graced the pages of history books.

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Arnaldo Frederico da Silva

One such unknown man is Arnaldo F da SilvaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (6138) to be taken to his personal page, the young Portuguese friend of Dr. José Rizal, who joined the Filipino revolutionary forces under General Emilio Aguinaldo. His interesting life story is now being written by his architect son, Carlos E. da SilvaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (45656) to be taken to his personal page, who is a solid and respected citizen in Manila.

Arnaldo F. da Silva's story began way back in 1888, when he was barely fourteen years old. He was listening in profound admiration as Dr. Rizal eulogized Luís Camões, the greatest Portuguese poet, historian and patriot of the 16th century, at the Camões shrine atop a hill in Macao. The pilgrims, who had come all the way from Hongkong, included José Maria Basa (Dr. Rizal's compatriot), Dr. Uladislau Cesarião da SilvaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (6081) to be taken to his personal page (the lad's father and family physician of the Basas), and Dr. Lorenzo Pereyra Marquez (also Portuguese, who later became an intimate friend of the national hero).

José Rizal self-portrait
José Rizal self-portrait
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General Emilio Aguinaldo

"You know," Dr. Rizal was telling the Portuguese in their own language, "you and we Filipinos have something in common. We're both seafarers and great adventurers, and because of that we're freedom-loving."

From then on, the boy had felt a strong attachment to Rizal, who eventually became his patriot idol. Rizal. however, stayed only briefly in Hongkong. and their association did not become real close until three years later, when the Filipino hero returned from Spain to the Crown Colony. Upon the suggestion of Drs. da Silva and Marquez, Rizal established his own clinic there as an oculist. (It was in this same clinic where he successfully operated on his mother's eye for cataract.)

Young Da Silva promptly volunteered to serve as guide whenever Rizal wanted to take a walk around, an activity that became an almost daily routine. Rizal found a guide's services indispensable, for a stranger like him was bound to get lost-as he did several times-in that place where the houses and the hilly streets looked almost all alike.

The hike-loving pair often repaired to the public library, the museum and other interesting spots. Always curious, Rizal would talk to people they met on the way-in their own languages, of course. Those regular excursions turned out to be more of linguistic exercises for the faithful "valet," for the Filipino doctor kept teaching him either Spanish or Tagalog bit by bit. From Rizal young Arnaldo also polished his English, which he had learned from high school.

Turning Point

"How's life in Manila?" It was an innocent, almost casual question young Arnaldo asked Rizal, but which later on proved to be the turning point of Arnaldo's life.

Rizal painted a rosy future in Manila for the young adventurous Portuguese. With your knowledge of English," he goaded, "I'm sure you'll have no difficulty landing a job there."

It was all settled. Rizal had induced young Arnaldo's father to let his son seek his own fortune in the "Pearl of the Orient." The arrangement was for the Filipino hero to go ahead, and if the lad did not hear from him for sometime, he would just follow.

No word came from Rizal, so young Arnaldo set sail for Manila that same year in 1893. True enough, the Portuguese youth immediately found employment in the Warner Barnes & Co., a British firm. But where was Dr. Rizal?

To his dismay, young Arnaldo learned that the patriot had been exiled to Dapitan by the Spanish authorities. He never saw him again until that fateful morning of December 30, 1896, when Rizal was executed at Bagumbayan.

A few months back he had witnessed the massacre at the same place (now the Luneta) of some 57 insurgents captured at the Battle of Pinaglabanan. His soul rebelled, but he was able to take it. Now it was his idol!

Young Arnaldo decided to join the underground; forthwith he contacted Ramon Basa, relative of José Maria Basa in Hongkong. But the management of the Warner Barnes & Co. smelled the dangerous plot. People who have anything to do with the underground don't live long, the firm tactfully warned him.

Peace came in 1900, and life soon returned to normal. If at all, the Filipino-American war turned out to be a "melodrama" – with its happy ending – for the devil-may-care Portuguese insurrecto. Gen. Betts, who became the first military and civil governor of Albay, settled down with a Filipina with whom Da Silva had often danced. The American veteran is still living with his family in Legaspi.

Arnaldo Frederico da Silva and Mercedes Perez Valles

For his part, Da Silva got married in Cebu to Mercedes VallesClick on the SEARCH icon and enter her number (45599) to be taken to her personal page, a Spanish lady from Barcelona who immigrated to Misamis, Mindanao. in 1897. The beauteous señorita later bore him seven children, including Arnaldo da Silva JrClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number 45655ID) to be taken to his personal page, who was killed by the Japanese for his guerrilla activities, and Carlos E. da SilvaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (45656) to be taken to his personal page, now a prominent architect.

The "happy ending" came when Carlos married Mary BettsClick on the SEARCH icon and enter her number (45706) to be taken to her personal page, daughter of the American general. Carlos' father, who became a naturalized Filipino on March 28, 1921, while serving as accountant and business consultant in the office of former President Sergio Osmena Sr., succumbed to cancer at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Intramuros, Manila, at the age of 56.

Among the Da Silva children, Carlos perhaps has the fullest grasp of Filipino nationalism inspired by the heroes of yesteryears. A Filipino citizen like his father, Carlos has been an avid student of Rizal. He has, among other things, served as a member of the now defunct Committee on Rehabilitation of Fort Santiago, created by the late President Quirino in 1952. He has drawn up plans for two Rizal monuments to be erected in Laguna.

"I'll donate my architectural services to any Rizal project," Carlos told this writer. "My father would have willed it this way were he alive today."