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Saturday, July 08, 2006
Philippine-American relations began with a guerilla wa whose goal was to deny the Americans access to the prized city of Manila.

"He who success becomes an emperor.
He who fails becomes a bandit
- An ancient Chinese saying -

In 1898, fresh from its near-victory against colonial Spain, a fledgling Filipino nation deared to take on a rising western power, the United States. THe prize, independence. The sacifice, over a million civilian casulaties and the loss of independence for another 50 years.

Filipino success would have dealth a symbolic blow to American prestige and colonial ambitions in Asia. The first blood was spilled in Manila, when Filipinos tried to wrest it back from the Americans.

The battle for Manila was the culmination of events that began in August 1896, when Andres Bonifcaio's Katipunan launched an armed struggle against the Spanish who had ruled the Philippines for over 300 years. After a few unsuccessful skimishes in the outskirts of Manila, Bonifacio retreated tot he surrounding countryside, from where the poorly armed rebels fought hit-and-run battles with the Spanish.

As the conflict shifted towards the provinces south of Manila, the prominence of Emilio Aguinaldo of the Kaptipunan's Cavite Magdalo branch grew. In 1897, he seized leadership from Bonifacio, presiding over a new government and army. When Bonifacio rejected the new order, he was arrested by Aguinlado's men, tried and executed.

Under Aguinaldo's leadership, the Spanish were brought to a stalemate. To gain respite for his army and to collect more arms and funds, Aguinaldo agreed to a ceasefire and self-exile in Hong Kong. His army was to be disbanded and allowed to rejoin colonial society without fear of reprisals.

As Aguinaldo bided his time in Hong Kong, some of his officers reverted to guerilla activity. The secret Katipunan organization was reactivated and harassed the Spanish in the provinces. Thus, when Aguinaldo returned, Spanish rule was all but ended, its remaining power confiend to the walled city of Manila.

Unted States intervention provided Spain a n honorable exit from this debacle. When the USS Maine mysteriously blew up in Spanish Havana, war was declared between the two nations. Admiral Dewey was sent to Manila to neutralize the Spanish armada and secure Manila. The "Battle of Manila Bat" was fought near the Cavite Naval Base, where Dewey's modern fleet made short work of Admiral Montojo's againg armada. The capture of Manila gave the Americans the chance to do a little saber-rating and proclaim its interest in the Pacific and the Far East.

Aguinaldo had returned to the Philippines under Dewey's auspices. He had been led to believe that American arms and recognition of his government were forthcoming in exchange for his coopeation. It was a fatal assumption, one that Aguinaldo held for so long it dulled his sense of tactics.

Aguinaldo's army controlled most of the town of Luzon and the areas outside of Manila's walls. On June 12,1898, he procalimed the independence of the Philippines, but the Americans officially ignored the event. To have Spanish Manila surrender to the Filipinos would have been a symbolic prize.

On August 14, however, Soabnish Manila surrendered to the American instead. As part of the surrender terms, the American barred Aguinaldo's army from marching victorioulsy into the walled city. Instead he was forced to march his troops in review on the street outside the walled fort. Deprived of Manila, Aguinaldo set up his government in Malolos, a few miles north. He now had to play a waiting game with the Americans. In the meantime, he had to ensure the loyaltyo the wealthy and educated Filipinos, some of whom where already collaborating with the Americans. He also had to control the impetousness of his officers, who were finding the American presence more intolerable day by day. Most of all, he had to prepare for the inevitable confrontation with the American army.

Manila was the focus of Aguinaldo's preparation. ON advice from Teodoro Sandiko, he souhgt to organize upper-class Filipinos into "popular committees" that would raise funds and provide recruits for the Filipino army. By November 1898, the suburb of Tondo had been organized by Rudiguindo Simon; Trozo, by Vicente Reyes; Bindo, by Luis Yangko; Kiapo, by Guidencio Elesgue; Sampaloc, by Bonifacio Arevalo; San Miguel, by Martin Garcia, and Ermita, by Leon Guerrero. Each committee had about 26 members. Meetings were disguiesed as athletic (swordsmanship to disguise arnis) or cultural events, and American officers were even inivted to improve their cover. The "Committees" were to serve as a Manila-based underground leadership structure in the event of open conflict with the Americans.

The Americans, who had spies everywhere, knew of the committees. However, General Otis, commander of the American forces, was less concerned witht he educated class than with the "worst social elemnets in the city"-- the Sandatahan who were, in Otis words, "the radical characters" organizing within the city.

The Sandatahan were part of the early Katipunan. When the army was organized, they became auxilliaries who dug trenches and hauled ammunition and supplies without pay. On September 10, Aguinaldo ordered General Pantaleon Garcia to organize the Sandatahan. By November, some 4,000 Sandatahan organized in branches called "Armas Blancas" with full complement of officers, cooled their heels in Manila's suburbs.

Meanwhile, the city, according to longtime British resident John Foreman, became a place of incenssant street brawls, drunkenness and orgies under the Americans. Natives were insulted and called "gu-gu". The privacy of homes were violated with impunity.

Occassionally, the Filipinos resorted to "dukut"-- the kidnapping of stray soldiers. Tnesion in the city increased when in December 1898, Spain officially ceded the Philippines to the United States under the Treaty of Paris. On January 4,1899, McKinley issued his "Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation", its announcement posted in the streets of Manila. The two events confirmed Aguinaldo's worst fears. He denounced America's imperialistic ambitions.

The battle lines were drawn, but neither party was anxious to begin hostilities. Otis needed more men and Aguinaldo, more preparation. ON January 9 Aguinaldo issued secret instructions to the Sandatahan.

The Sandatahan should watch out for American symphatizers. Their leaders must reconnoiter the weak points in the American positions that could be used in a suprise attack. Before this attack, four guerillas should divert suspicion by presenting the American commander with a gift. A Sandatahan dressed as a woman should then approach a sentinel and silence him. Compete surprise was necessary.

The attackers must be resolute. They should slash their bolos left and right and not even pause for the rifles of the fallen. In case bolos was not available, lances and arrows should be used. "Experience has taught me", Aguinaldo's instructions went, "that rifles are useless in this kind of combat".

From the rooftops, the Americans should be assaulted with stones, timber and red-hot iron. Heavy furnitutre, boiling water, oil and molasses, rags soaked in coal oil should be thrown at American soldiers passing below. Throwing glass must be avoided -- the Sandatahan went barefoot. Women and children should pass on hot liquids to Sandatahan who would hurl these as bombs or pour these over the heads of the enemy by using bamboo tubes.

The combat should be short, Aguinaldo's instructions went on. Prisoners should be respected. The property of foreigners, including Chinese, should be respected. Officers and men must set the examples for good comduct.

Manila was brought to a panic as these instructions spread through the grapevine. Rumor was that 200,000 rebels and former employees of American and Europeans would commence as attack on January 15, 1898. At that appointed date, the rumor went, the rebels would cut the electrical lines and massacre the Americans.

The situation made everyone jumpy. When someone shot a dog in the Divisoria district, a report sent to Aguinaldo read like this: "Americans much alarm ran aimlessly with fright, appearing where they could, some from fear of throwing themselves into the river".

Fearful for their safety, Filipinos began an exodus from the city. Even the railroad had to run a special train on an hourly schedule and in 24 hours served a traffice of 5,000 people headed north.

The long drawn tension finally came to a head on Febraury 4,1899, when an American sentry fired on Filipino soldiers. Caught by surprise, the Filipino lines were quickly psuched back by superior American arms. Otis, however, proceeded caustiously and waited for more reinforcements from the United States. Aguinaldo used this lull in American activity to reorganize and discuss plans for taking Manila. An attack by the regular army under General Antonio Luna would keep the Americans engaged in the nOrthern Manila while other units would infiltrate the city through the swamps of Tondo and link up with the Sandatahan to sabotage American defenses. To signal their advance, Tondo, Santa Cruz, and Malate were to be set on fire.

Luna planned to attack at 8PM. The Sandatahan were to take up positions on San Pedro street. The Zorilla barracks housing American soldiers would be attacked. Simultaneoulsy, allies from inside would liberate the prisoners in Bilibid prison and given them arms. Meanwhile, the Filipino servants of American and Europeans were to set fire to their master's houses. Two red balloons and rockets would signal this. Tondo sharpshooters would then open fire, catching American soldiers in their crossfire, while the Sandatahan from Tondo, Binondo, Kiapo and Sampaloc would follow the attack from the streets. By midnight, the Sandatahan from Paco, Ermita, Malate, Santa Cruz and San Miguel were to send reinforcements. At 3AM, Spanish vounteer soldiers would attack Fort Santiago.

The actual attack occurred on Febraury 22. On the appointed hour, the Sandatahan went to work. Fire broke out in the wealthy quarter of Santa Cruz. John Bass, a correspondent from Harper's Magazine, describes the events as "Manila's night of terror."

Fire spread towards the Escoplta business area, and firemen had trouble containing it. John Bass reported: "Someone was cutting the hose. The firemen were suspected. At last a soldier caught a Malay bending over the hose and prodding it with a large knife. The soldiers bringing his rifle down with violent blow, broke the native's back".

Hardly had the fire been subdued when another one broke out in Tondo. Luna's men led by Colonel Franciso "Paco" Roman had infiltrated the rest of the American lines and pushed towards Tondo. Another element from Roman's group rushed deep into Calle Jolo (now Juan Luna st.) The fire, the blare of guerilla bugles and the shooting confused the Americans. Gathering their wits about, they make their stand on Calle Iris (now Claro M. Recto st.) near the Bilibid Prison and waited for reinforcements.

By now the Binondo market was on fire, but Lucio Lucas' men retreated towards Calle Azcarraga but found their route blocked. In hand to hand combat they broke through the American detachment and managed to disappear into the night.

The Americans counter attacked the next day. Reinforced with fresh troops and gunboats, they pushed the Filipino into Tondo. At the Pritil tramway station. Paco Roman's men resisted until late in the morning. Others were able to hold a block house but had to withdraw for lack of ammunition. General Luna assessed the situation and on the 24th reported to Aguinaldo that hat it not been for the refusal of the Cavite soldiers to attack when ordered, "our victory would have been complete."

General Otis, horrified by Luna's bold plan, admitted that the attack was "successful in its inception and primary stages". Aguinaldo took propaganda advantage of the small victory even as lUna accused him of holding back the Cavite soldiers (Aguinaldo's provincemates.) Insulted by the breach of discipline, Luna later resigned his post.

Sensing disarray in his opponents ranks, General Otis pushed his advantage. With fresh troops from the U.S. mainland, his forces captured Aguinaldo's capital in Malolos by the end of March.

The battle of Manila illustrated the problems that beset Aguinaldo's campaing to win independence for the Philippines. First, there was the issue of secrecy, on which successful military action is premised. Lucio Lucas attack on the Meisic police station was thwarted because as easly as Febraury 15, Otis had known about the plan. On the basis of this information, General Hughes the Provost Marshall, was able to round up 125 leaders of the underground. Obviously, someone from Aguinaldo's camp provided the information.

In 1901 Colonel Crowder received a letter from the soldier whose assignment was to free the Bilibid prisoners. This officer served as the prison surgeon at the time of the Manila attack.

"Luckily, not only the same measure prescribed was never carried into execution, but it was impossible to attack the American army, the men who have been detailed to do it in Manila having only a gew hundred bolos as arms, and the chiefs of the militita understood that with such arms they could not think of resisting the rifles and cannons of the Americans."

No doubt, this awe for American militaty superiority also reflected the feelings of many among the Filipino intelligentsia. This thinking weakend the resolve of the educated class that Aguinaldo had hoped to keep loyal. But Luna, Aguinaldo and other leaders were not easily intimidated by American power. Aguinaldo naively failed to seriously turn to unconventional warfare against a superior foe, Luna, a student of military science, was more flexible and believed they had a chance against Americans by waging a guerilla war. A letter sent to him by a certain A. Guzman advocated "guerilla warfare for the space of six months" This, Guzman said, countering Aguinaldo's preference for conventioal warfare, "would inrritate the Americans and perhaps, justify powerful reasons would compel the nations to definitely resolve the recognition of our nation".

Luna even asked the aid of Aguinaldo's adviser Apolinario Mabini as early as April to convince the leader to adopt guerilla warfare. Mabini wrote hsi friend Galiciano Apacible on the issue: "The people greatly desire guerilla warfare, in the hope of infiltrating the provinces. Since they are more or less scattered, it will be easy to destroy,(the Americans) troop by troop."

Aguinaldo chose to fight with a regular army as a sovereign nation would, only to be forced to revert to secret guerilla units by the end of 1899. By then the Americans in full offensive. Their effective military tactics and counterinsurgency policies soon defeated the Filipinos. Those who chose to remain in the fills to figt, men like Macario Sakay who fought until 1906, was branded as "bandits"

Aguinaldo was captured in 1902 by the Americans, effectively ending the "insurgency" that to the Filipinos known as the Philipine-American War.

(Source: FILIPINASMAG by: Michael Gonzalez First published in Katipunan Newsmagazine. A former history professor of the University of the Philippines, Michael Gonzalez is now with Stanford University.)
posted by infraternam meam @ 2:46 PM  
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