Today is National Heroes Day, and we remember on this day the heroism of those who came before us for the freedom and liberty of our country. So today, the Urban Roamer revisits the city of Las Piñas to pay a visit to a certain place there that has bore witness to such heroism more than a century ago.
The place in question is in the barangay of Zapote, at the bridge which connects the Las Piñas with Bacoor in Cavite, where on February 17, 1897 an important battle of the Philippine Revolution took place, now known as the Battle of Zapote Bridge.
A little background information of this battle should be noted here first. After some decisive victories by early 1897, the Spanish forces sought to reclaim the areas under the control of the Filipino revolutionaries. One of those areas was Cavite under the leadership of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Fortunately, Aguinaldo had a plan to ward off the advancing Spanish troops, a plan significantly contributed by one of his men, a fellow named Edilberto Evangelista.
Born on February 24, 1862 in Santa Cruz, Manila, Evangelista was not just a revolutionary general. Like Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, and the Luna brothers among others, Evangelista was able to go to Europe to pursue his education. Which he did, managing to finish with a degree in civil engineering and architecture. Like them as well, he had the country’s welfare in mind, refusing job opportunities being offered to him in Europe as he preferred to serve his country instead.
As fate would have it, he would get that chance when he returned to the country on September 1896, about a month since the Philippine Revolution broke out. It was an opportune time to serve the motherland, in Evangelista’s case, he did so by joining the Cavite command of the Katipunan movement, (which by then was no longer a secret society but a revolutionary force to be reckoned with) becoming assistant captain general under Aguinaldo.
Evangelista’s engineering education was put to good use then as he helped build forts and defenses against Spanish forces who may attempt to attack their strongholds. He was also becoming a rising figure in the revolution; even though he was part of the Magdalo or Aguinaldo faction of the Katipunan, he was a neutral figure, respected by all factions of the Katipunan. In fact, Aguinaldo recommended Evangelista to be the head of the revolutionary government that was being proposed to replace the Katipunan.
Aguinaldo mobilized about 40,000 men at the southern bank of the Zapote river near the Zapote Bridge. Armed with only armed with bolos, spears, and improvised guns, they hid in the bushes as they waited to face the 12,000-strong Spanish military who were equipped with superior artillery. Evangelista planned the trap to be used: dynamites were planted in the bridge that would be triggered on cue and pointed bamboo sticks were set under the river in case the Spaniards would use the river instead to cross the other side.
As the Spanish forces were halfway crossing the bridge, the trap was sprung. Several Spanish troops were killed by the dynamite explosion at the bridge and several more were severely wounded. The revolutionaries revealed themselves afterward and began engaging them in combat. There were heavy casualties on both sides, which sadly included Edilberto Evangelista who fatally got shot in the head in the ensuring battle. Nevertheless, the battle ended as a decisive victory for the Filipino revolutionaries as the remaining Spanish forces made their retreat.
Interestingly, the bridge would also be the site of another important battle about two years later, with the Filipinos this facing off against the American forces. However, the battle resulted in an American victory, as the Filipino forces would retreat to the superior artillery and technology of the Americans.
Today, the old Zapote Bridge stands alongside the newer one which was built to serve bigger vehicles. The bridge is now a memorial dedicated to the heroes of the Battle of Zapote Bridge. Moreover, the memorial serves to celebrate the heroism of Edilberto Evangelista, a brilliant mind who truly lived and died for the country. May his heroism and that of countless others, many of them overlooked, be not in vain among the current and future generations.