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IX. Conflating Pamitinan and Tapusi: elite error

[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

How then did Tapusi become not merely associated with but actually conflated with Pamitinan and the cave of Bernardo Carpio, if it is a geographically distinct location?

Santiago Alvarez, when speaking of Bonifacio’s intention to assault Manila from San Mateo refers to Bonifacio’s hiding place in the mountains of San Mateo as ‘Tapusi.’1 Alvarez was a mestizo land-owner from Cavite, whose alliance with Bonifacio in opposition to Aguinaldo reflected the continuation of a long-standing regional rivalry between two ruling class factions. His account is an important one for our understanding of the events in Cavite leading up to the arrest and execution of Bonifacio. The greater the remove of an event or person from Alvarez’ class and geographical ambit, however, the more tenuous are the facts which Alvarez records on the subject. Thus, when Alvarez writes of Maestrong Sebio, a charismatic leader from Bulacan, he misidentifies him as Eusebio Viola, a wealthy mestizo landowner. Maestrong Sebio was in truth Eusebio Roque, a local school teacher.2 Another wealthy Caviteño, Carlos Ronquillo, also conflated Tapusi with Pamitinan in his 1898 account of the revolution. There is more involved, however, in Ronquillo’s account than simple error.

Fray Mariano Gil, a Spanish priest, revealed the existence of the Katipunan to the colonial authorities after hearing the confession of a wife of one of the members. In his report he stated that the Katipunan was amassing weapons at Tapusi. Tapusi was not a mountain in this report, nor did it have any geographic specificity at all. It was simply a fabled place of resistance. The response of the Spanish authorities was not to rush to San Mateo, but to hunt for Bonifacio and his companions in Tondo. Gil’s testimony is not evidence for the conflation of Pamitinan and Tapusi but rather for a hazy fear of Tapusi in the minds of the colonial and religious authorities.

Pedro Paterno

Pedro Paterno [ca. 1906. Filipinas Heritage Library]

Pedro Paterno, writing his self-aggrandizing memoirs on his role in mediating the pact of Biaknabato, stated, “I climbed mount Tapusi, with its famous cave, eternal refuge of tulisanes and afterwards lair of General Luciano San Miguel, who afterwards died gloriously at Pugad-Babuy under the fire of American cannons…”3 Thus, in 1910 Paterno identified Tapusi with Pamitinan. It is worth pointing out that Paterno, the extremely wealthy and laughably pretentious Bulakeño, could not speak passable Tagalog and was carried in a hammock from Manila to Biaknabato and back again. He never went anywhere near Pamitinan and he certainly did not “climb” anything.4

The conflation of Pamitinan and Tapusi occurred among outsiders, those excluded by class from the sociolinguistic register of the peasantry and by spatial and temporal remove from the actual geographical specificity of Pamitinan. Tapusi and Pamitinan were connected, in history and in legend. They were not, however, the same.

On the basis of these conflations, Ileto goes on to identify ‘Mount Tapusi’ with Meru, a center of power in Southeast Asian conception.5 This misses the point entirely. Tapusi was not a mountain, it was not in San Mateo, it had no cave; the idea of Bonifacio’s journey being a ritual ascent of Tapusi makes no sense in light of historical evidence.6


  1. Santiago V. Alvarez, The Katipunan and the Revolution: Memoirs of a General, with the original Tagalog text, trans. Paula Carolina S. Malay (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1992), 156.
  2. Ibid., 98.
  3. “Subí al monte Tapusi, en donde se halla su famosa cueva, eterno refugio de tulisanes y entonces amparadora del General Luciano San Miguel, más tarde muerto gloriosamente en Pugad-Babuy bajo el fuego de los cañones americanos…” (Pedro A. Paterno, El Pacto de Biyak-na-Bato [Manila: Imprenta “La República”, 1910], 72).
  4. On Paterno, see Resil B. Mojares’ excellent Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T.H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes and the Production of Modern Knowledge (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2006); and Portia L. Reyes, “A ‘treasonous’ history of Filipino historiography: the life and times of Pedro Paterno, 1858-1911,” South East Asia Research 14, no. 1 (2006): 87–122, doi:10.5367/000000006776563686.
  5. Ileto, “Rizal and the Underside of Philippine History,” 39.
  6. This makes even more embarrassing the strange new age academic attempt to ‘revive’ this tradition. Consolacion Rustia Alaras, a professor of literature at the University of the Philippines, in her work Pamathalaan: ang pagbubukas sa tipan ng Mahal na Ina (Quezon City: Bahay-Saliksikan ng Kasaysayan, 1988) based on Pasyon and Revolution, has advocated the revitalization of the nation through sacred sojourns to ‘Tapusi,’ in the steps of Bonifacio, who was a great spiritual leader. She leads these treks every year. These sojourns seem more reminiscent of the wide-eyed jaunts into the wild made by European tourists in the late nineteenth century than anything to do with Bonifacio.
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