by Onofre D. Corpuz
© 1996 by Onofre D. Corpuz
All rights reserved
The Filipino Revolution and its ideals
were an inspiration to the nationalists of Southeast Asia of
the late 1890s. Even today, high school pupils in our neighbor
nations that were ruled by European colonial regimes read about
our revolution and our Dr. Rizal in their history books.
It is incredible and sad, that today, a full 100 years since
it began, we Filipinos do not yet have a standard account of
full-length narrative of the Revolution, that epic and noble
struggle that is the watershed of the nationalism of our people.
Without a full-length and
adequate history of that Revolution available to us, how can
we know the spirit of 1896, so that we can honestly resolve
to keep that spirit alive? Rather more troublesome, can we say
that the Spirit of 1896 abides in us, so that we can pose as
the guardians who will keep it alive?
Inadequate histories, futile Katipuneros
What histories we have about the Revolution are grossly inadequate.
They lavish detail on the patriot Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan
as an institution. They do not tell us that tight police surveillance
since January 1896 led to the discovery and decimation by arrest
and exile of Bonifacio's own Katipunan chapter, Ang Katagalugan,
and its sister chapter the Maghiganti in the Diario de Manila
printing plant, by late July 1896.
The exposure of key chapters of the Katipunan forced the outbreak
of the Revolution in August. His Tondo chapters gone, Bonifacio
headed a motley band of Katipuneros in his base in Balara. His
troop was to link up in Sta. Mesa at 11 P.M. of Saturday, August
29th, with the column of Ramon Bernardo of Pandacan for a joint
assault on the Intramuros at midnight. Bernardo waited in vain
in Sta. Mesa. Bonifacio did not keep track of the hour, and
marched from San Juan back to Balara. Bernardo's troop was cut
to pieces early Sunday morning by a composite enemy force of
Guardia Civil Veterana, artillery troops, infantry, cavalry,
and carabineros. The noise of battle reached Balara, and Bonifacio
rushed to succor Bernardo; in San Juan his column met the same
fate as Bernardo's at the hands of the wheeling enemy force.
The Katipuneros of the Manila
region were bands of urban irregulars: mostly artisans, small
tradesmen, employees and service workers, ill-led, with no military
logistic and material, and were doomed to fail.
It is possible that our
scholars find it unpleasant to write about reverses. The histories
now leave the narrative to indulge in a Filipino pastime: depicting
our heroes in conflict, and the story of the Revolution is relegated
to the background and gives way to a detailed story of a supposed
bitter personal rivalry between Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo,
as if their differences and not the sacred cause of our peolple's
war were the essence of the history of the Revolution. With
nothing left to add to the detailed story of the Bonifacio-Aguinaldo
"conflict", our other historians have turned to special
topics and episodes. What we are left with are histories of
bits and pieces that, put together, fall far short of the full
compass of the Revolution.
Our weak collective memory
History weaves the diverse strands of a people's experience
into the fabric of their collective memory. Every generation
adds to that experience, and each new generation imbibes a larger
and richer story into its own memory.
It is this shared memory that undergrids and defines every live
sense of a people's nationhood, their identity as a people,
and their collective destiny. This sense, in turn, steels the
people to face challenges and surmount problems, and moves them
to an unerring consciousness of the common good, so that they
can become the people that they can be and ought to be.
It seems clear to me that
remembering our past from our incomplete histories only rewards
us with an incomplete knowledge of what our people are. We come
out of that remembering with a piecemeal and tenuous persona
of the Filipino nation. The well-meaning among our leaders have
to resort to rhetoric to excite our sense of nationhood, but
rhetoric does not penetrate to the guts of our people, and the
message from an Independence Day oration dies out before the
echoes have faded away in Manila's polluted air.
We can easily see the mischief
that results. Many Filipinos regard laws on the public good
as mere suggestions for private conduct. After being elected
to office, many of our politicians strive to change the rules
under which they were elected; they do violence to the covenant
entered into by them and the voters who elected them; instead
of amending their behaviors, they seek to have the Constitution
At another level of mischief,
we do not have avenues and parks named after the Filipino Revolution,
Republic, or Constitution; instead we still have main roads
named after foreigners (Taft, Otis, Wood, for instance) who
had denigrated our people's fitness for independence; and our
city and municipal councils rename streets after politicians
of inconsequential worth. Officers of the Armed Forces of the
Philippines do not know that President Aquinaldo established
in Malolos, on October 25, 1898, the Filipino Military Academy
to train officers in the revolutionary army for service in the
army of the Republic. What they know is that the Philippine
Military Academy was the successor to the Philippine Constabulary
Academy, established in 1903; they do not know that the Constabulary
was created by the American occupation regime as it's guardia
civil against our patriots fighting in the field.
And it makes me sad to have
to point out that we will not find the final resting place of
a single soldier of the Revolution in what we call the Libingan
ng mga Bayani; maybe, I tell myself, it is because the Libingan
is reserved for Filipino soldiers who fell in battle fighting
I desist from providing
further dreary examples that are due to our inadequate collective
memory of the era of the Revolution, uncompensated for by any
equally heroic national experience since then.
On the other hand, not all
is lost; the sources and data for a coherent, adequate, and
robust narrative of the Revolution exist.
Post-Katipunan efforts spread to the provinces
With the failure of the Katipunan in Manila, the Revolution
flowed into the nearby provincial pueblos or towns. Here, the
fighting men were rural rather than urban. They were in the
main agrarian workers, small farmers and kasama, with a few
independent craftsmen, all small-town folk known to each other,
led and held together by men of the local upper class. Even
the tulisan came down from the hills to join the Revolution.
The tulisan were maligned by the Spaniards and Americans as
ladrones or outlaws; our thoughtless Filipino histories continue
the slander. In fact, the tulisan were good men who lost their
farms to landgrabbing by friar haciendas; the laws upheld their
oppressors and drove them outside the pale of the law. Some
tulisan leaders won officer ranks in the revolutionary forces.
The heartland of the Revolution was not Manila, but the provincial
In August 1896 the enemy regime had 17,659 officers and men
in a heavy artillery regiment, a battalion of light mountain
artillery, seven infantry regiments, plus support units of cavalry
and engineers, et cetera. There was also a marine infantry force
of 900 men in Cavite. Finally, there were the guardia civil
units in Manila and in its nearby towns, and the militia-type
carabineros. Most of the infantry forces were in Mindanao and
Sulu, but there were enough troop in the Manila military district
to cope with the Katipunan irregulars. Soon after the Revolution
began, Spain sent during October 1896-January 1897 reinforcements
of 25,458 officers and men.
The enemy military, effective
in the cramped configuration of Manila, lost early in the rural
towns against agrarian workers fighting on home ground. The
early Katipuneros became a minority as non-Katipuneros joined
the fighting forces. Gen. Edilberto Evangelista, come home from
the University of Ghent in Belgium to join the Revolution, told
his troops in December 1896 that the Revolution was not a "Katipunan
affair" but a struggle of the Filipino nation, pointing
out that he himself and most of his troops were not Katipuneros.
By December 1896 also, Filipinos in the enemy infantry regiments
had begun defecting to the Revolution.
The Spanish governor-general
in August 1896 was replaced in December for his battle losses
in Cavite; his successor recovered most of the province in April
1897, thanks to the reinforcements from Spain but he resigned
because Spain could not give him the twenty additional battalions
he asked for. In October 1897 his successor reported 8,000 casualties
since the previous May, and told Madrid that the Revolution
could no longer be suppressed because Spain, he said, was not
fighting an army, but a united people. He was instructed to
enter a truce with Gen. Aguinaldo.
Aguinaldo, who had no military
intelligence service, agreed. Under the truce of Biyak-na-Bato
he and several of his jefes or leading commanders went into
voluntary exile in Hongkong. But they repudiated the truce on
February 14, 1898, and undertook to buy arms in Shanghai and
Hongkong to resume the Revolution.
Then fate intervened. Spain
and the United States were in a state of war in April, and Commodore
George Dewey's squadron destroyed the Spanish Asiatic Fleet
in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. Aguinaldo and his jefes formally
convened in Hongkong on May 4th, pondering the implications
of the American victory. They decided to go home and resume
the Revolution; they would, they said, rally the Filipinos against
any colonialist designs on the part of the United States; they
identified the latter as the probable "new oppressor".
End of Spanish
rule, last general leaves
The renewed Revolution was immediately successful. On June 2nd
the Spanish commanding general in Cavite surrendered his remaining
troops and arms to Gen. Artemio Ricarte. Other victories followed.
On June 5 Aguinaldo fixed the following June 12 as the date
of the proclamation of Filipino independence.
There was an impasse in Manila. The Spanish city was under naval
blockade from the bay; during June and July Aguinaldo had laid
a complete and tight land siege around the city. On July 7 Aguinaldo
invited the Spanish governor-general (the fourth since August
1896) to surrender. The latter did not reply because Madrid
had instructed him on June 8, and again on June 29, that if
surrender became inescapable, he could do so only to the Americans,
not to the Filipinos.
Aguinaldo proceeded to the
recovery of the territory of the Motherland. The provinces of
Mindoro, La Union, and Pangasinan were taken in July; from Nueva
Ecija, Gens. Manuel and Casimiro Tinio proceeded to Ilocos Sur
the same month. Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya were recovered in
September. This month, in response to a request from the Ilongos,
Aguinaldo sent an expeditionary force under Gen. Leandro Fullon
to Antique, and another under Gen. Ananias Diocno to Capiz.
In October Gen. Vicente Lukban was in control in the Camarines
provinces, whence he went to Samar and Leyte, meeting little
resistance. Gen. Vito Belarmino took over from Lukban in Albay
and Sorsogon. The revolutionary groups in Cebu and Panay declared
their allegiance to Aguinaldo.
Our histories do not fix
a date for the end of the Revolution against Spain, and whether
the end brought triumph or failure. On September 15, 1898, in
Malolos, President Aguinaldo formally declared the victorious
conclusion of the war of liberation, paying due tribute to the
Army of Liberation of Filipinas. The rest was anti-climax. The
last remaining Spanish troops in Filipinas were the small garrisons
in Cebu under Gen. Montero, and in Iloilo under Gen. De los
Rios. Montero and his force delivered Cebu to the Revolution
peacefully on December 24, 1898; Gen. De los Rios evacuated
Iloilo on the 26th. They then sailed for Zamboanga for the long
voyage home to Spain.
The constitution that was
promulgated in Malolos on January 21, 1899, reflected the influence
of the European enlightenment on our intellectual leaders; it
blended European thought and the objectives of the Revolution,
with the most progressive ideas of autonomous and self-governing
local communities, unmatched even today. The Republic was inaugurated
on January 23rd; Aguinaldo was elected our first President.
New occupation forces take over
But unknown to the Filipinos, dark forces and twists of fate
had posed a new enemy to our Revolution as far back as May 19,
1898. On that day American President William Mckinley directed
his war, treasury, and navy secretaries to effect the military
occupation and government of the entire archipelago.
Five U.S. Army expeditions arrived in Cavite by troopship from
San Francisco during July 1-August 21, 1898 carrying 15,058
officers and men. But the occupation could not be implemented.
The United States and Spain were still at war, and McKinley
could not tell his people that he would be fighting the Filipinos
in a second war. He had to wait out the peace treaty negotiations
The negotiations began in
October. On October 21 the American panel demanded cession of
the whole archipelago. The Spaniards were appalled, and adjournment
after adjournment followed until November 21. At this session
the United States panel "sweetened" the demand for
cession by an offer of $20,000,000, which the Spaniards accepted.
A treaty was signed on December 10, 1898.
Now the war was inevitable.
McKinley re-issued his old May 19 orders on December 21, 1989.
Admiral Dewey was the only American commander who had been in
Manila since May 1st. He wrote in his Autobiography (1913) that
the American negotiators in Paris
...scarcely comprehended that a rebellion was included in the
purchase... Now, after paying twenty millions for the islands,
we must establish our authority by force against the very wishes
of the people whom [we claimed] we sought to benefit.
The Revolution flowed seamlessly into the war against a new
enemy, for it was a war in defense of the same ideals of liberty
and independence, for which the Filipinos had invested lives
and hopes, fortunes and resources.
Neutral reports record that the American troops started the
hostilities in the evening of February 4, 1899, a Saturday.
There were actually two
wars: the Christian Filipino-American War in Luzon and the Visayas,
and the Moro Wars in Mindanao and Sulu. To the Moslems in the
South, who had been fighting some covetous enemy or another
since the late sixteenth century, it was just another war. We
have no data on the Muslim fighting forces. When the Muslims
fought a defensive action, all the men, their women, and children,
would retire to a redoubt at the top of a hill, await the enemy,
and fight to the last man, woman, and child. Thus ended the
battle of Bud Bagsak in Sulu, in June 1912, closing the Moro
Wars. The U.S. Army commander in Mindanao and Sulu during most
of this war was Gen. Leonard Wood, a man of prejudice who called
the Muslims "moral degenerates". The war in Mindanao
and Sulu lasted from 1899 to 1912.
In Luzon and the Visayas,
the enemy had 20,851 officers and men in January 1899. A fresh
army regiment arrived in February and another in March. In February
1899 our secretary of war Baldomero Aguinaldo's budget estimates
for the year revolved around an army that was still in a "formative
stage" of approximately 25,000 men.
The tide turns and fortunes reverse
For most of 1899, the fighting involved actions of battalion
and regimental strength, north of the Pasig River in Manila
and towards central and nothern Luzon. The enemy took Bulacan,
Pampanga, Tarlac, and Pangasinan. In November Aguinaldo, his
forces driven back or broken up, ordered guerrilla warfare.
It was a new kind of war. The old Katipunan, abolished in July
1898, was revived to support the guerrillas. Virtually all towns,
including those garrisoned by the enemy, were covered. In these
towns, either the officials elected under the occupation regime
were Katipuneros; or the Katipunan maintained a shadow government
that collected taxes, tried and executed traitors, and serviced
the guerrilla force in the area. To fight this war, the enemy
forces in the Philippines numbered 74,094 officers and men in
McKinley deceived the U.S.
Congress in December 1899, by saying that the U.S. forces in
the Philippines were only fighting a little "Tagalo rebellion"
that would soon be speedily suppressed. This was because 1900
was a presidential election year. He gained a victory of sorts
with the capture of President Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901 in
Palanan, Isabela; Aguinaldo had just celebrated his thirty-second
birthday the day before. But McKinley was assassinated in September
1901, and his Tagalo rebellion was already in its third year,
with the end nowhere in sight.
Gen. Miguel Malvar was commanding
general of all forces south of the Pasig River. To destroy his
guerrilla support, the U.S. Army adopted barbaric tactics. The
U.S. Army ordered the entire population of the provinces of
Batangas and Laguna, men, women, and children, all non-combatants,
to gather into small areas within the poblacion of their respective
towns by December 25, 1901. Barrio families had to bring clothes,
food, and everything they could carry into the designated area.
Everything left behind, houses, gardens, carts, poultry and
animals, were burned by the U.S. Army. The weeks and months
passed. The people suffered but endured their hardship. It was
Malvar, a humane character, who decided to end his people's
suffering by surrendering on April 15, 1902.
In Manila the Philippine
Commission, the civilian part of the occupation government,
reported the end of the "Philippine Insurrection"
after Malvar's surrender. Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley's successor,
was relieved of the embarrassment of McKinley's war; on July
4, 1902 he declared the existence of a "state of general
and complete peace" in the Philippines.
Sporadic fighting continues
But the war was far from over. Luciano San Miguel joined the
Katipunan in 1896 and was a colonel when the war with the Americans
broke out. He saw action in central and western Luzon as a general
in the battles of 1899. He revived the Katipunan in his command
in Zambales. He did not surrender or take the oath of allegiance
to the United States in 1902. In fact, that year, he was elected
national head of the revived Katipunan, and continued to fight
the guerrilla war. On March 27, 1903 he died in action against
the Philippine Constabulary and Philippine Scouts in the district
of Pugad-Babuy, in the hill country of Rizal Province.
We recognize the U.S. Army tactics against Gen. Malvar in 1901-1902
as an early version of the concentration camp and hamletting
tactics used in the Vietnam War decades later. The U.S. military
repeated this war against non-combatants during March-October
1903 in the province of Albay. The guerrilla leaders there were
Majors Simeon Ola, Agustin Saria, and Lazaro Toledo, all formerly
of Gen. Belarmino's command. The same barbarity was resorted
in 1905 against the people of Batangas and Cavite. J.R.M. Taylor
cutely calls the concentration camps "benevolent protection
The end of the First Republic
The rest of the guerrilla resistance in Luzon and the Visayas
steadily weakened among the war-weary people. The occupation
of Leyte Island by five U.S. Army battalions in June 1906 finally
ended the Christian Filipino-American War.
The cost of McKinley's wars in the Philippines began with the
$20,000,000 paid to Spain by virtue of the Treaty of Paris.
As of 1907, according to an estimate in the New York Evening
Post (March 6, 1907), the cost of the wars to the United States
had reached $308,369,155. That, of course, does not take into
account the costs borne by Filipinos, and maybe a search for
the spirit of 1896 might inform us of the costs of patriotism,
instead of the losses we incur today through graft and corruption.
In 1901 the United States
occupation government in Manila enacted the Sedition Act. This
was at the height of the guerrilla war. The law made advocacy
of Filipino independence by whatever means punishable by law.
The display of our flag was a criminal offense. Patriotic associations
were forbidden. Under the United States occupation regime no
Filipino could vote, no Filipino could serve in public office,
and no Filipino could do business with the regime without taking
an oath of loyalty amd allegiance to the United States. These
rules barred all Filipino patriots from full civic participation
or public service; they allowed only pro-American collaborators.
These rules governed the consciences not only of one generation,
but of those to follow-- no Filipino could teach in the public
schools without proof of having taken the loyalty oath to the
The Spirit of 1896
I think I know something about the Spirit of 1896. That spirit
graced the program of government of the Filipino Republic in
1899. In the budget for that year were allocations for the support
of the military academy, and for a national university created
by the decree of October 19, 1898; for schoolmasters and schoolmistresses
in teacher-training institutions; and for the support of ten
young Filipinos each year for university studies abroad. There
were also provisions for the maintenance of model farms; research/experimental
stations on seed varieties, pest control and fertilizers; livestock
improvement; and for the collection of agricultural statistics.
How can we keep the Spirit of 1896 alive? I do not wish to pontificate.
I only say that before any of us can even begin to try to keep
the Spirit of 1896 alive, each of us must first educate ourselves
about what that Spirit was.
Let us begin by filling
the gaps and erasing the cobwebs in our people's collective
memory of that historic, dramatic, colorful, noble, complex
but unerringly human, and therefore enduring, epic of the Filipino
Onofre D. Corpuz, Ph.D. is a former president of the University
of the Philippines. This article was adapted for Internet from
a speech he delivered on June 14, 1996 to the U.P. Alumni Council
at Ang Bahay ng Alumni.
Corpuz, Onofre D. "Keeping the Spirit of 1896 Alive"
in Hector Santos, ed., Philippine Centennial Series; at http://www.bibingka.com/phg/misc/spirit96.htm.
US, 10 October 1996.