Last Thursday, December 29, was a special day for me as it was the birthday of my late grandfather, Tomas Gonzales Paredes. It was also the 118th anniversary of the Independence of Cebu from Spanish rule. And, somehow, my lolo’s ancestors had shed blood in that struggle for our freedom more than a century ago.

My lolo was a descendant of the Gonzalezes (for some reasons, some members of the family would change the original Spanish spelling of the name with two “z’s” to a Portuguese one ending with “s”.) of Surigao who, according to the American historian Michael Cullinane, were a family of filibusteros.

It was from this Spanish mestizo family in Surigao that also came Florencio and Fortunato Gonzalez who migrated to Cebu and later became involved in the local Katipunan. Two other siblings, Wenceslao, who stayed in Manila, and Simon, who remained in Surigao, were also staunch anti-clerics and critics of the Spanish administration. After graduating from the Seminario-Colegio de San Carlos, Florencio went to Manila to pursue further studies and got married there. He returned to Cebu and lived with his brother Fortunato in San Nicolas in 1884.

A comerciante and propetario who took charge of family businesses relating to real estate and mining in Surigao, Florencio also became a notario-escribano by virtue of his education. Yet, despite this privileged position, Florencio became involved in the controversy regarding alleged illegal acquisition of lands by the Agustinians in Talisay-Minglanilla. He

The year 2016 started with the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in January in Cebu City with the theme “Christ in us, Our Hope of Glory” that sent a strong message of hope for the faithful. The proclamation of Cardinal Bo, the Pope’s representative, at the concluding mass of the 51st IEC that the Filipinos are the missionaries of Asia posed a challenge to all Catholics to strengthen their faith.

After the jubilation over the success and the impact of the IEC Congress, that faith was immediately challenged by the election fever which brought so much divisiveness among the citizenry from the campaign to the six months of the new administration. The war against drugs has triggered extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses that will put to test our faith. Events in the rest of the world are greatly affecting us particularly the crisis in Syria and the rippling effect of the massive displacement of people. This is compounded by the cold attitude of nations towards the immigrants from war torn countries.

As we look back to the year that was, we need to tighten the ties that bind us – family, friends, barkada, colleagues. Fellow workers neighbors and help influence those who are in a position to tear us apart.

Personally, 2016 was a year of wonder and surprise for me and I have so much to be thankful for. First of all, this year was my seventh year of my twice a week dialysis sessions and I feel very good. Friends and former students surprised me many times this year with calls or text messages that they would like to help me with my medical concerns. It is so took the side of the residents against the friars in this case, which later led to his removal from his position in the local judiciary. His having “subversive contacts” was cited as one of the reasons for his dismissal.

In 1897, in one of those visits to Manila to attend hearings on his case with his co-worker Luis Flores representing him, he got in contact with Katipuneros in Tondo. Upon his return to Cebu, Florencio and his brother Fortunato were recruited in the Katipunan and helped establish the local movement. They were among those who conspired the revolt in Tres de Abril 1898. That plan was foiled and the brothers Gonzalez were arrested, tortured, and executed along with other fellow Katipuneros in Fort San Pedro.

Their executions sparked the now famous Tres de Abril revolt led by Leon Kilat. Although, armed only with machetes and a few rifles, the Cebuano insurgents employed effective combat tactics that defeated the wellarmed Spanish soldiers and loyalists, leading the latter to retreat in Fort San Pedro, where they were holed up for three days while the Katipuneros took over the city until Spanish reinforcement came in a battleship.

That was the start of the bloody revolution in Cebu that eventually led to the victory of the Katipunan in December of 1898. In December 24, after their formal surrender to the revolutionaries, which were already starting to occupy the city using an effective strategy of encircling it from the mountains, the Spaniards and their loyalists finally boarded their boats and left Cebu.

Christmas day was thus celebrated as the first day of freedom from Spanish rule as residents roamed around the streets under the new leadership of the Philippine Republic headed in Cebu by General Arcadio Maxilom.

On December 29, 1898, the newly-established Philippine government celebrated a mass at the Cebu Cathedral with the Spanish Bishop Martin Alcocer, who had been sympathetic to the revolution, as celebrator. After the mass, shots were fired and shouts of “Mabuhi ang Katipunan!” and “Mabuhi ang Pilipinas!” broke out from the big crowd. General Maxilom formally declared independence of Cebu from foreign rule.

So, it was a triple treat freedom came to Cebuanos in between Christmas day and the New Year’s. This “3-in-1” celebration was theme of the special commemoration of the Independence of Cebu in 1898 last December 29 at Palm Grass Hotel, the heritage hotel located in Junquera Street. The 118th anniversary of Cebu Independence was marked with a mass celebrated by a priest from the Cebu Cathedral and ended with bursts of confetti and the singing of “Alerta Katipunan.”

I attended that celebration in behalf of my late grandfather and the rest of the Gonzales clan in Surigao del Norte. So my lolo’s birthday this year was special as it became a moment of recollection of his proud ancestry whose struggles and sacrifices had led to the liberation not only of our hometown in Surigao but in Cebu as well.