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Keeping the Spirit of 1896 Alive

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 amended.

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 America's wars.

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 agrarian pueblos.

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 in Paris.

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 December 1900.

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 zones".

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 occupying power.

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 people.


Editor's note:

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.

To cite:
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.

PHGLA Logo The Philippine History Group of Los Angeles invites you to send your comments to the author, Onofre D. Corpuz c/o the U.P. Office of Alumni Relations, or the editor of this Philippine Centennial Series, Hector Santos.

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