The Three-Cornered Sun: A Character Guide

The Three-Cornered Sun: A Character Guide

Written by Toni Potenciano
Illustrated by Chapy Fadullon


“History as it recedes becomes confused. By raising the past to the level of imagination—by the leap that comes from knowledge itself and the respect for truth that is all that matters in life—a novel can preserve the essence of the past and give us a sense, a vision, of what we are.” 
—Zacarias Clemente in The Three-Cornered Sun by Linda Ty-Casper, 1979

Linda Ty-Casper’s The Three-Cornered Sun traces the events of the Philippine Revolution of 1896, from the outbreak of the revolution at Balintawak to the pact at Biak-na-Bato in 1897. Ty-Casper merges recorded history and the memory of Gabriela Paez-Viardo de Velazquez, offering a fresh perspective on the Filipino colonial experience at the tail end of the Spanish occupation. 

In 28 chapters, the novel navigates through contrasts and conflicts, both external and internal, as months pass, locations change, and the book’s central consciousness shifts. TTCS follows the Viardo family and those ensnared in their orbit. These characters present a diverse set of motives and perspectives about the revolution. When put together, they create a detailed picture of the Filipino in a time of crisis. Less about crafting the authoritative narrative of the Revolution itself, TTCS is an attempt to uncover what it means to be a Filipino in a time of conflict and how we are ultimately transformed by it. 

Get your copy of The Three-Cornered Sun here.

Below is a character guide to supplement your reading of TTCS:


The novel opens with Simeon Viardo, an ilustrado returning from Spain to a Philippines on the brink of violence. A man of peace, Simeon spent ten difficult years pushing forth reforms in the streets of Madrid and Barcelona to no avail. After watching his friends die from hunger and the cold, Simeon returns to Manila gaunt and emaciated, virtually unrecognizable to his family. His young son Fermin has become mute and his wife, Paz, has distanced herself completely, preferring the company of saints or caring for his blind mother. 

Trapped in a spiritual agony over his failures, Simeon begins to question his stance on reform, wondering if any government could “deliver man from all his hungers, from misery and hopelessness” (Chapter 2). When the revolution breaks out, Simeon becomes unmoored—his politics of peace are now obsolete in a time of violence. For the rest of the novel, he remains trapped in the safety of the family home, tormented by his role in the revolution.


 Blas is the Viardo family dilettante and hedonist. He is said to be the son that most resembles their father, a Portuguese nobleman who was described as “virile.” Prone to gossip and flamboyance, Blas could be mistaken for a Spanish official the way he is never seen without his pearl-encrusted cane and gold cufflinks. He is addicted to gambling, borrowing money from his brothers and various creditors, and recklessly losing it all at monte or at the bullring. His debts are often left to his wife, Amparo, who pays them with the money earned from the season’s harvest and what remains of the family estate. 

In contrast to his son Cristobal, Blas is arguably the most politically indifferent character in the book. He views the revolution as a way to escape his debts and his wife, Amparo. He is willing to pledge loyalty to the side that approaches him first or to the side best poised to win. Despite their differences, father and son have a lot more in common than what is on the surface. 


As the eldest Viardo brother, Angel took it upon himself early on to be the family’s provider. He worked his way from a lowly Binondo clerk to the legal front of wealthy Chinese merchants forbidden to own farms, ships, and buildings in the Philippines. He mastered the art of corruption: lining the pockets of the church and government in order to receive favors. This brownnosing and ill-acquired wealth gained the family a measure of privilege, although not quite enough for the standards of his egotistical wife Vitoria.

Angel cares most about appearances. Afraid to fall out of grace with the church or the Spanish officials, he’s learned to throw money at his problems, such as providing for Simeon’s family, paying off Blas’s debts, or offering to send the rebellious Cristobal to Europe. His stance on the revolution is driven by self-preservation to maintain the security and comfort of his world that he worked hard to achieve. While generally on the side of the Spaniards, Angel has given a token contribution to the revolutionaries in case they win. 


The youngest Viardo brother—barely older than Cristobal—who fulfilled their mother’s wishes to become a priest, does not appear until Book Four. A man devoted to his faith and the Filipino people, Jacob joins Cristobal’s group of revolutionaries as they make their way back home towards San Isidro. He is a quiet, pious, andsimple man in contrast to the Spanish friars with their cigars, alcohol, and severe opinions of Filipinos. He is described as someone who doesn’t care to “take the time to preserve appearances.” Save for the large crucifix he wears, his looks do not indicate that he is part of the clergy (Chapter 26).


Mrs. Viardo

The mother of Angel, Blas, Simeon, and Jacob. A daughter of a dato whose beauty caught the eye of a Portuguese fidalgo or nobleman who saw her from his ship. They were married, and thus started the Viardo y Gatmaitan family, a Filipino mestizo family. While she isn’t often present, her sons’ recollections of her tell of her courage and perseverance. She speaks perfect castila, but once double-crossed the local friar by sneaking in Simeon’s calls for reforms in their pamphlets that denounced the revolution. For the entirety of the novel, she is afflicted by blindness and remains bedridden in the home of Simeon and his family. She and her sons believe that the answer to all her troubles is if her eye doctor “Don Jose” could just come to see her, even going as far as waiting on the docks for him to arrive. He never comes. 


Simeon’s wife, mother to Fermin and a few other nameless children who passed away right after they were born. A forlorn character, Paz doesn’t usually appear in the same scenes as Simeon, indicative of an estranged relationship. When Simeon and Fermin go out for a walk, he wonders if Paz kept their son at home out of shame for his condition. In Simeon’s absence, Paz was dutiful to the Viardo family. She sold the San Isidro estate in order to pay his debts and devoted herself to the care of her mother-in-law. During the day, she is often cloistered in a church or parish, repenting for her and her family’s sins. 


Blas’s wife, mother to Cristobal, Federico, and Andres. She lives with her two sons Federico and Andres in San Isidro, where she manages the family estate and farm—the family’s primary source of income. Her father was a municipal captain, a well-respected figure in their hometown. She dreams of one day buying that same political position for Blas should he ever come around. Despite the fact that Blas actively avoids her, Amparo relentlessly pursues him. She pays his debts, or even pays the parish priests to allow Blas to hide in the church from his debt collectors. She confesses Blas’s as well as Cristobal’s sins in absentia. She sends her farmhands to search out his location in order to bring him back home. She prays that the revolution will not take away her son. 


Angel’s wife who is obsessed with status and privilege, and often bemoans her husband for their family’s lack of it. Vitoria was just a common girl from Galicia, Spain, but when she moved to the Philippines while working on one of the ships, she met Angel and hoped he would help her realize her dreams of attaining wealth and status. At forty years old, she is deeply resentful of her husband and her life in the Philippines. While having earned some measure of wealth and status, she can never seem to escape her reputation as “the woman who married an indio.” She distracts herself by tormenting her servants, wearing gowns fashioned after the Spanish Queen’s portraits, or projecting her hopes on her children Leon, Ursula, and Alfonsa—hoping they might provide her the opportunity to move back to Spain, whether it be through Leon rising the military ranks or her daughters marrying into Spanish high society. 



Blas’s eldest son, the nephew Simeon wishes were his own son, and the Viardo family’s most committed revolutionary. Cristobal is arguably the novel’s central figure, given the number of chapters written in his perspective.

Possessed of a penchant for rebellion, Cristobal pursued painting instead of chemistry. He was said to be a talented painter, one that could surpass Luna and Hidalgo. But he abandons this life for the cause of the revolution, which he holds to high standards. He believes the revolution is the answer to finally attaining a fair and just society. He is motivated by his ideals, saying that he joined the revolution because he longs for “the simplest life that will take nothing from another” (Chapter 5). He derides Simeon’s stance on reform and harshly judges the sincerity of his friends, believing that they see the revolution as something to be done in their leisure time.

When the revolution begins to falter and implode from the inside, Cristobal’s selflessness is put to the test. He refuses a promotion after a key victory in Zapote because of his need for self-effacement, but resents it when others are recognized for doing far less. Soon he wonders if his refusal was because of his disdain for attention or out of fear to be responsible for more than himself. As the revolution splinters into factionalism and the elites take over the plebeian movement, Cristobal no longer recognizes who the enemy is anymore. His internal moral crisis is one of the main focal points of the novel, which culminates when he returns home to San Isidro to surrender. 

Simeon’s young son, who in his father’s absence, grew up mute. Paz never wrote to Simeon about the condition of their son, which only adds to Simeon’s guilt and regret about being away for so long. But Simeon loves Fermin, believing that his son’s mind is intact despite what anyone else may think. 

The eldest son of Angel and Vitoria, Leon was commissioned in the king’s army in Spain. We encounter him later on in Barcelona, when he is sent back to the Philippines to fight the king’s war on the insurrectionists. He is conflicted by both his return to the motherland and his sojourn in Spain. When he was abroad, he was often ashamed of his birthright, but when asked by the captain aboard the ship Maia, Leon proudly recounts his time in Manila (Chapter 14). Alienated and struggling with internal conflict, Leon feels neither at home in Spain nor the Philippines and thus doesn’t know where he stands on the side of the revolution. 

Angel and Vitoria’s daughter, Ursula is the object of what might be considered Cristobal’s romantic feelings. Unlike her sister Alfonsa who is devoted to Catholic asceticism, Ursula is self-indulgent and independent. In the latter part of the novel, she and Cristobal face off in her family’s chapel, where she asks where Cristobal’s loyalties lie. “I’m not an indio and I won’t let you kill Leon. This is our country, too,” she says (Chapter 19).


Toribio Nin
The only Spaniard whose perspective is explored by the novel, Toribio Nin is an acquaintance of Blas and Simeon Viardo. He is identified as a liberal, but also an agent of the friar and the monarchists. He calls on the Viardo home soon after Simeon returns from Spain to make a proposal: To start a journal in the Philippines calling for reform but denouncing the revolution with Simeon as its figurehead. He calls himself an exile in the Philippines, in a bid to recover his dreams of “old España” at the height of its glory. Like Simeon, he is afraid to commit to either side of the conflict but longs to leave his mark on history. 

Don Pedro Claro
A medico cirujano—a physician—specializing in internal medicine, Don Pedro Claro holds secret meetings in the old cistern of his home for their group of reformists and masons who discuss topics of reform and revolution. Sympathetic to the revolution, Don Pedro believes that there is no use trying to stop the future from happening. 

Anacleto Verano
Anacleto Verano was once a close friend of Simeon’s, both of them writers who had their zarzuelas published in several papers. But Anacleto eventually turned his attention from the country’s progress to his own. After building a considerable fortune from good investments in Escolta and Madrid, Anacleto was eventually trading coal in China. He dreams of attaining a seat at the Spanish cortes, inheriting a noble title, and a pension from the king. Thus, Anacleto denounces the revolution, calling it a “challenge to the Power that made us” (Chapter 3). 

Felipe Austria
Felipe Austria was once an attendant at a military hospital who eventually rose the ranks to become a cirujano ministrante, or a pharmacist-chemist. Like Anacleto Verano, Felipe too is doubtful of the revolution. “Men with everything to gain and nothing to lose have nothing to give,” he tells the group (Chapter 3). But if the revolution is inevitable, he believes that it is important that they—the ruling educated class—hold their positions of control regardless of what happens.

Honorio Magno
In this group of confreres, HonorioMagno supports the revolution and sees it as a matter of moral duty and honor. “Anything that can be measured in money is trivial. Property can be forfeited. Even life. But honor is another matter,” he tells the group (Chapter 3). But Anacleto Verano chides his bravado, reminding Honorio of the time that he publicly burned all his copies of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo at the first hint of the censor’s disapproval with him. 

Tomas San Gabriel
A wealthy haciendero from Lian, Batangas, Tomas San Gabriel doesn’t think much of the revolution or, at the very least, doesn’t see how it could possibly affect him. He is concerned at most for their sons, specifically his son Juancho, believing that they’d be the first to join when the fighting starts. “How about a small revolution? … I know that when revolution breaks out, our sons will be the first in the field. … Maybe just a little fighting, so the young ones will not be bored until we can send them to Europe” (Chapter 3). It is on his estate that Cristobal and the others hide a shipment of guns they received in Zambales, which sets off a series of unfortunate events for the San Gabriel family. In jail, Tomas saves only himself, not his tenants or friends. 

Zacarias Clemente
Zacarias Clemente is a writer and the group’s teacher, who once ran a school for indios that stressed the ideals of humanity, and the rights and duties of men. When he received an award for the school, he refused to wear a European suit and instead wore clothes woven of plant fibers and trousers. The school closed while Simeon was in exile. Zacarias sees the revolution as a way to overturn the system that perpetuates inequality, or as he states: “It is our duty, if the revolution breaks out, to see that it destroys only what is harmful in the old system, to see that no one group or class influences events for its own special interests” (Chapter 3). 

But Zacarias remains an observer of the conflict, out of fear and his own timidity. In the latter part of the book, he asks Cristobal to tell him about the revolution. “Has it revealed anything to you about yourself, about the rest of us? Do we deserve to be free or merely to die?” (Chapter 20)


Juancho San Gabriel
The son of Don Tomas San Gabriel, Juancho San Gabriel joins Cristobal Viardo’s ill-assembled group of rebels who are waiting to receive a secret shipment of guns hidden aboard the SS Marcelo. He is a frivolous young man, who at first has no real attachments to the revolution. He knows that even if the revolution succeeds, it will not change his life for the better. He recognizes his privilege and the security of his future. He brings along with him three men from his father’s farm—Tante, Celso, and Ernesto—who do his bidding without complaint. When the authorities find the guns in the San Gabriel farm, Juancho flees arrest and eventually joins the armed struggle in earnest. However, unlike the self-effacing Cristobal, Juancho has mastered the art of being a master. He orders those below him to do his bidding and chases after recognition. This allows him to rise through the ranks in Emilio Aguinaldo’s battalion, to the frustration of Cristobal. 

Marcos Verano
The son of Anacleto Verano and a close friend of Juancho San Gabriel, Marcos Verano similarly joined the revolution without much thought to how it might impact his life. Set to move to Europe to study at the Academia Militar de Toledo, he joined the revolution because he was “certain that the revolution would not last until he returned, afraid it would not start before he left.” 

Ramon Arroyo
A mestizo, a poet, and the son of a Catalonian native who moved to the Philippines to repair churches, Ramon Arroyo claims the revolution as his own despite the color of his skin. Cristobal Viardo lashes out at him, saying he has no loyalty to the Philippines, but Ramon answers, “As much as you are, I am an indio. My scar is as deep as yours … I was born here, Cristobal. I know no other country” (Chapter 5). Ramon is sworn into the Katipunan with Cristobal as his sponsor. 

Tante is one of the men that Juancho San Gabriel brought with him from his father’s farm, knowing that if they didn’t follow, they’d be punished by his father. A long-time tenant of the San Gabriel farm, Tante is bound to Don Tomas because he had to borrow money  to bury his five dead children. Despite being older than Juancho and his friends, Tante speaks lowly and defers to the young men. He tells Celso, the younger tenant, to always submit to the wishes of the masters. He doesn’t remember the last time he was outraged and believes that everything—good or bad—happens out of God’s will and that it is not man’s place to question fate.

Celso is one of the younger tenants from the San Gabriel farm. He once lived in a hut in the mountains with his family, but he was forced to leave for town when his father—who once turned the whip on his own landlord—died of poison by his own traps. He is curious about the young masters, the way they move, and the way they speak. Unlike Tante, who says that they cannot approach the young men because they “speak Spanish and Latin, and converse intimately with saints” (Chapter 5), Celso looks to be close to them and to know them more. When he is eventually captured and tortured by the Spanish guards to confess who brought in the guns, he says nothing.

Ernesto is another one of the tenants from San Gabriel who joins Juancho’s expedition. He once turned on the older San Gabriel by challenging his right to choose a wife for him. After receiving severe punishment and a lashing, Ernesto never rebelled again. When authorities search the San Gabriel farm after finding the shipment of guns on the property, Ernesto eventually dies trying to save his master, Don Tomas.


An old man who joined the Katipuneros in Malabon, Pasio sticks close to Cristobal Viardo because he likes the young man’s face. He says he is “old enough to recognize meanness, selfishness, and arrogance no matter how concealed” (Chapter 8). He is hopeful about the outcome of the revolution, not so much for his sake, but for his young grandson Filo who joined him in Malabon. Generous to those around him, Pasio cooks food for the revolutionaries in their battalion and tells Cristobal that he would be treated like a king in Pasio’s home even if it is of modest means. When Cristobal is gravely wounded in the battle at San Juan, Pasio and his wife nurse him back to health. 

Pasio’s grandson, Filo joins the revolution and sees it as a place of “enchantment.” He looks up to Cristobal Viardo and hopes to one day grow up to be like him. Despite Filo’s young age, Pasio teaches him how to hold a gun. His father was a soldier who was killed by the Spaniards when they accused him of conspiring with bandits and rebels. Filo is killed in a bloody battle at San Juan. 

A Katipunero, Lucio assumes the role of second-in-command to Cristobal Viardo due to his skills with assembling and disassembling guns. He recruits people to their group and claims that Cristobal is the leader they need. He sees the revolution, specifically his proximity to Cristobal, as a way to escape the more harsh punishments of the Spaniards. He tells others that they only need to stay close to their leader, “so they will be spared once the Spanish recognize Cristobal and he is sent to Europe” (Chapter 8).

Nephew of Pasio, Quintin saves both Pasio and Cristobal during the battle of San Juan. He urges both Pasio and his wife to abandon their home, saying that the Spaniards will soon set fire to the place. He becomes a close companion of Cristobal’s, eventually asking him to lead their group. He believes in the revolution but, at times, wonders if they are in the right. He asks Cristobal if it’s true that God is on the side of the Spaniards. “All images of the saints look like [the Castila]. Is there a saint that looks like an indio?” (Chapter 18)

The brother of Tante, Amado is assigned by Juancho San Gabriel to be Cristobal Viardo’s gun carrier. Juancho says it is for safety reasons  but Cristobal suspects it is just so Juancho can keep an eye on him. When Cristobal joins Quintin’s group, he directs Amado to lead the prisoners back to Juancho in Batangas. On his own, he is afraid to make decisions without his young masters. Once reunited with Cristobal, he begs him to take charge of their group again. He follows Cristobal until they surrender in San Isidro. 

Additional reading:

Lim, Jaime An. “The Three-Cornered Sun: Portraits of the Revolutionary.” Philippine Studies 40, no. 2 (1992): 255–66.

Rosca, Ninotchka. The Journal of Asian Studies 40, no. 4 (1981): 859–61.