Newly unearthed letters from Emilio Aguinaldo’s ancestral home in Kawit, Cavite reveal that the first Philippine President’s barber was the one to blame for every questionable and downright disgusting decision Aguinaldo had made throughout his life.
The trove of correspondences yellow with age and of priceless historical significance sheds new light on the murkier side of our country’s history from the Spanish to the Japanese occupation era. The letters were penned by Aguinaldo’s barber himself and were anonymously signed “Your loyal barber.”
The team of local historians and archaeologists who discovered the letters released some of the shocking excerpts today, such as this one written around the time Aguinaldo was retreating from the advancing American forces in Northern Luzon in 1899.
“Dear El Presidente,
Word has reached me that you and your troops, in a word, have your boots stuck in unbelievably deep excrement with your hopeless guerilla warfare against the gringos. I warned you long ago that this would happen if you keep your ridiculous and evil flattop. Please let me cut it; I will go to your location even if it costs me my life…”
According to the team’s lead historian, the key word here was “evil.” It appeared that Aguinaldo’s barber firmly believed that the iconic haircut (arguably the flattest flattop ever documented) had supernatural, almost “occult” influences on the President. Another excerpt reads:
“I tried and tried to convince you to adopt a more conventional hairstyle, perhaps a wavy, side-swept one like Dr. Rizal’s or a tidy brush-up like Apolinario Mabini’s, but you insisted on this weird, taboo flattop that my barber family has refused to offer our customers for decades.
You even went absolutely nuts when I suggested Andres Bonifacio’s neatly parted mop had more appeal to it, and suggested I was committing treason against the Republic. Your insecurity towards that man was truly boundless.”
The team’s investigation into the haircut trends in Aguinaldo’s time shows that the President sported an extremely rare hairstyle that both made him into a legend and the constant butt of jokes of Katipuneros during secret meetings.
The barber even remembers the very moment he completed cutting the infamous crown:
“I remember it like it was yesterday. As soon as I lifted my scissors, your eyes literally glowed red. It was as if the innocent boy bursting with selfless bravery turned into a conniving, power-hungry man who will stop at nothing to conquer the country for himself. All because of that cursed flattop.”
“Yes, the hair gave you immense strength and tactical knowledge that allowed you to win key battles in Cavite while Bonifacio embarrassed himself with his losses, but those victories came with a price: your soul.”
The barber’s beliefs–while truly extraordinary–were not without merit, said the team’s lead historian. Aguinaldo’s top was so distinctly flat that he stood out like a sore thumb in the battlefield, allowing every soldier to recognize him even far away, with the unintended effect of boosting troop morale. It was like Aguinaldo gave an inspirational dugout speech every time he took off his hat.
The shock of shocking flatness also unified Cavite revolutionaries–the “Magdalo” faction–like no other conceivable force could. The straightness of the top and the uniformity of the strands, in the eyes of revolutionaries, symbolized strength through unity. The lead historian even went as far as to suggest the flattop was the key determining factor in the 1897 Tejeros Convention at the end of which Aguinaldo was elected the first president of the Philippines and Bonifacio was relegated to the pathetic post of Director of the Interior (so much for starting the whole revolution). As is now famously known, Bonifacio deemed the elections unjust and tampered with, and his subsequent condemnation of the process resulted in him being accused of treason, and eventually being executed.
But Aguinaldo’s barber had a more interesting take on the whole event:
“I witnessed first-hand how your initial decision to commute Bonifacio’s death sentence was immediately overturned when he screamed in your face that ‘your hair was flatter than your unbelievably flat personality’ and that “no wonder we’re losing the war because our enemies are using your head as crosshairs to aim for our soldiers.'”
Apparently, the brilliant general Antonio Luna was also the recipient of Aguinaldo’s ire stemming from his crop of square hair.
“Poor Luna once broke his serious character to make an admittedly tasteless joke about what the difference was between Apolinario’s legs and your hair. The answer being that your hair stands. The savage look on your face afterwards told me that that man–as important as he was tactically to you–was as good as dead. And sure enough, a month later, Luna had more holes in him than Manila.”
The one-sided correspondences between the first President and his barber continued throughout the years as the hairstylist tirelessly implored his rogue customer to cut his hair and end the curse once and for all.
“Shame on you for surrendering to the Americans! Miguel Malvar was still fighting his heart out while you were taking an oath of allegiance to the invaders and making a secret pact to spread your laughable hairstyle among the young generation of Filipinos who will be reared in American culture. You were the one responsible for this revoltingly bad hairstyle being prescribed in our schools.”
“The demon in your hair was also whispering in your ear when you cooperated with the Japanese as you made speeches on their behalf, even radioing an appeal to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Corregidor to surrender! If you had only let me nip your mane even an inch, you would not have uttered such unpatriotic nonsense!”
Emilio Aguinaldo never listened to his barber but he nevertheless collected some of his letters, presumably to remind him of the supernatural origins of his ‘do. Whether the barber was speaking the truth or not, it is now undeniable that one man’s bad hair changed the course of history and its ripple effects will be the subject of fierce debates in universities and scholarly journals for years to come.