Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finding Leon

FOLLOW the stories. Find the way.

Last Saturday, we left home too close to noon and had to walk from Plaza Independencia to reach Leon Kilat St. Some streets in the downtown area were already closed to vehicular traffic to clear the route for the 1 p.m. Grand Procession of the Señor Sto. Niño.

Our older son was assigned with his college batch to man the cordon along Leon Kilat St. As we were all preoccupied with our computers till mid-morning, we realized quite late that my son was clueless about downtown Cebu.

He checked Google maps. Thinking a landmark would be more helpful, I mentioned that along Leon Kilat St. was a branch of my favorite bakery. The mention of Chinese “masi,” birdseed “ampao” and special mongo “hopia” only deepened the furrows on my son’s forehead.

Then his friends posted on Facebook a photo of a downtown branch of this international chain of burgers, fries and shakes. New age, new signs.

When roads were closed at the pier area, my husband and I decided to walk with our son until we found his group. Born nearly half a century ago, my husband and I know our downtown. Years of walking these streets made us slip through the crowd. While my husband knows street names and grids, I love the stories.

I wanted to tell my 17-year-old that Leon Kilat St. is named after the great Bisaya, Pantaleon Villegas. Born in neighboring Negros, this authentic revolutionary stumbled on his fealty to Philippine independence by way of Cebu’s lumpenproletariat.

The lumpen: lowest of the low, common and vulgar. Yet this social substrata produced a Visayan patriot and legend. In Cebu, Villegas worked in a pharmacy, bakery and circus before he was recruited into the Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (KKK).

Immortalized in Krip Yuson’s “Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café,” the bravery of Leon Kilat the Legend was as magical as his “anting-anting,” a handkerchief that supposedly enabled him to appear and disappear like lightning (“kilat”) in battles against the Spaniards, as well as shed bullets as if his being was coated with “lana (blessed coconut oil)”.

Yet more unforgettable than the amulet-protected, bullet-shedding warrior-myth is the common and vulgar figure of Villegas, uncompromising and thus undimmed. In college, I first heard the story from a friend who took the pseudonym “Leon” for his work in organizing lumpen and who signed his poetry by the same nom de guerre.

This stirring quote, though, came from the research of Sun.Star Cebu editor Max Limpag, who is also the award-winning blogger known as Leon Kilat. In an Aug. 16, 2005 post on his blog,, Max wrote that Villegas was not cowed even when the Katipuneros in Cebu were exposed and arrested.

“Kadtong saad ayaw na’g hulata, dili ta kini palabyong adlawa,” Villegas reportedly said. In Limpag’s translation: “Let’s not wait for the promised help, we will not let this day pass.”

A few days before Good Friday of 1898, Villegas was betrayed by members of the elite in Kabkab, now known as Carcar. Its skull crushed, the body of Villegas was still stabbed by the killers in a bloody parody of a hanky shredded by “patriots” who believed that by trapping and murdering one of their own, they were buying time and favor from the enemy.

A few minutes before the Grand Procession was due to start, we found Leon Kilat St. My son merged with the crowd. Google maps and the Facebook photo were indeed more accurate than my childhood food trips: my son’s schoolmates were congregating closer to the burgers and fries than to masi, ampao and hopia.

“Okay na, Ma.” The SMS came while my husband and I waited for the procession from the sidelines. One hundred and twelve years ago, Villegas died and set free two myths: that faith resides in any object, stone, hanky or scissors; and that those who have more in life will put first the welfare of the least.

Standing on the street named after a lost liberator, I slurped my sundae.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Jan. 23, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column


konsuy said...

this post got me all intrigued about leon kilat so i googled more. thanks for sparking the interest. mga isog gyud ning sugbuanon. payter.

Mayette Q. Tabada said...

Salamat, konsuy, for reading and sharing your comment. Max Limpag, aka Leon Kilat, texted that he is organizing for April 3 a run from Capitol to Carcar "to commemorate Leon Kilat's retreat and honor his martyrdom". Max writes a regular running column for Sun.Star Cebu, aside from his blog. Cheers ug ayu-ayo!