by Murat Halstead
The Insurgent Leader's Surroundings and Personal Appearance- His Reserves and Ways of Talking-The Fierce Animosity of the Filipinos Toward Spanish Priests- A Probability of Many Martyrs in the Isle of Luzon.
Practically all persons in the more civilized-and that is to say the easily accessible-portions of the Philippine Islands, with perhaps the exception of those leading insurgents who would like to enjoy the opportunities the Spaniards have had for the gratification of greed and the indulgence of a policy of revenge, would be glad to see the Americans remain in Manila, and also in as large a territory as they could command.
Spaniards of intelligence are aware that they have little that is desirable to anticipate in case the country is restored to them along with their Mausers and other firearms, great and small, according to the terms of capitulation. They get their guns whether we go and leave them or we stay and they go. It is obvious that the insurgents have become to the Spaniards a source of anxiety attended with terrors. The fact that they allowed themselves to be besieged in Manila by an equal number of Filipinos is conclusive that their reign is over, and they are not passionately in favor of their own restoration. Their era of cruel and corrupt government is at an end, even if we shall permit them to make the experiment. Their assumed anxiety to stay, is false pretense. They will be hurt if they do not go home.
The exasperation of the Filipinos toward the church is a phenomenon, and they usually state it with uncandid qualifications of the inadequate definition of the opinions and policy made by General Aguinaldo. Representations of my representative character as an American journalist, that gave me an importance I do not claim or assume to have, caused the appearance at my rooms, in Manila, of insurgents of high standing and comprehensive information, and of large fortunes in some cases. I was deeply impressed by their violent radicalism regarding the priests. At first they made no distinction, but said flatly the priests were the mischiefmakers, the true tyrants, and next to the half-breed Filipinos crossed with Chinese-who are phenomenal accumulators of pecuniary resources - the money-makers, who profited wrongfully by the earnings of others.
And so "the priests must go," they said, and have no choice except that of deportation or execution. In few words, if they did not go away they would be killed. When close and urgent inquiry was made, the native priests were not included in the application of this rule. The Spanish priests were particularly singled out for vengeance, and with them such others as had been "false to the people" and treachaerous in their relations to political affairs.
The number to be exiled or executed was stated at 3,000. The priests are panicky about this feeling of the natives, as is in evidence in their solicitude to get away. They at least have no hope of security if the Spaniards should regain the mastery of the islands. Two hundred and fifty of them in vain sought to get passage to Hongkong in one boat. I was informed on authority that was, unquestionable that the eviction or extermination of the Spanish priests was one of the inevitable results of Filipine independence - the first thing to be done.
It was with three objects in view that I had an interview with-General
General Aguinaldo was neither remote nor inaccessible. His headquarters were in an Indian village, just across the bay, named Bacoor, and in less than an hour a swift steam launch carried Major Bell, of the bureau of information, a gallant and most industrious and energetic officer, and myself, to water so shallow that we had to call canoes to land in front of a church that before the days of Dewey was riddled by the fire of Spanish warships because occupied by insurgents. The walls and roof showed many perforations. The houses of the village were of bamboo, and there were many stands along the hot and dusty street on which fruit was displayed for sale.
The General's house was about as solid a structure as earthquakes permit, its roof of red tile instead of the usual straw. His rooms were in the second story, reached by a broad stairway, at the top of which was a landing of liberal dimensions and an ante-room. The General was announced at home and engaged in writing a letter to General Merritt - then his rather regular literary exercise. There were a dozen insurgent soldiers at the door, and as many more at the foot and head of the stairs, with several officers, all in military costume, the privates carrying Spanish Mausers and the officers wearing swords. We were admitted to an inner room, with a window opening on the street, and told the General would see us directly. Meanwhile well-dressed ladies of his family passed through the audience room from the General's office to the living rooms, giving a pleasant picture of domesticity.
The door from the study opened and a very slender and short young man entered with a preoccupied look that quickly became curious. An attendant said in a low voice, "General Aguinaldo." He was unexpectedly small-could weigh but little over 100 pounds-dressed in pure white, and his modesty of bearing would have become a maiden. The first feeling was a sort of faint compassion that one with such small physical resources should have to bear the weighty responsibilities resting upon him. Major Bell had often met him, and introduced me. The General was gratified that I had called, and waited for the declaration of my business. He had been informed of my occupation; the fact that I had recently been in Washington and expected soon to be there again; was from Ohio, the President's state, a friend of his, and had written a book on Cuba, a task which gave me, as I had visited the Island of Cuba during the war, an acquaintance with the Spanish system of governing colonies.
The interpreter was a man shorter than the General, but not quite so slight. His hair was intensely black and he wore glasses. He is an accomplished linguist, speaks English with facility and is acknowledged by the priests to be the equal of any of them in reading and speaking Latin. It is to be remarked that while Aguinaldo is not a man of high education he has as associates in his labors for Philippine independence a considerable number of scholarly men. It is related that in a recent discussion between a priest and an insurgent, the latter stated as a ground of rebellion that the Spaniards did nothing for the education of the people, and was asked, "Where did you get your education?" He had been taught by the Jesuits.
My first point in talking with Aguinaldo was that the people of the Philippines ought to be strongly represented in Paris, and of the reasons briefly presented, the faremost was that they sought independence, and should be heard before the commission by which their fate would be declared for the present, so far as it could be by a tribunal whose work was subject to revision. The general's information was that the Paris conference would be opened September 15, an error of a fortnight, and his impression was that the terms regarding the Philippines would be speedily settled, so that there could not be time to send to Paris, but there had been a determination reached to have a man in Washington.
It is to be taken into account that this interview was before anything had been made known as to the mission which General Merritt undertook, and that in a few days he set forth to perform, and that the terms of the protocol had not been entirely published in Manila. I told the general it was not possible that the Philippine problem could speedily be solved, and made known to him that the transport China, which holds the record of quick passage on the Pacific, was to sail for San Francisco in three days, and he would do well to have his men for Washington and Paris go on her if permission could be obtained, as there was no doubt it could, and I mentioned the time required to reach Washington and Paris - that one could be on a trans-Atlantic steamer in New York six hours after leaving Washington, that the Philippine commissioners going to Paris should make it a point to see the President on the way, and the whole matter one of urgency, but it was certainly not too late to act.
The General said it had been thought a representative of the islands and of the cause of the people should go to Washington, but the man was in Hongkong. He could, however, be telegraphed, so that he could catch the China at Nagasaka, Japan, where she would have to stop two days to take coal. The Washington commissioner might go to Paris, but instructions could not reach him before he left Hongkong, as it would not be desirable to telegraph them. Upon this I stated if it suited his convenience and he would send instructions by me, I was going on the China, and would charge myself with the special confidential care of his dispatches and deliver them to the commissioner at the coaling station, when he should join the ship; and if it was the desire of the General to have it done I would telegraph the President that Philippine commissioners were on the way. These suggestions were received as if they were agreeable, and esteemed of value.
The conversation turned at this point to the main question of the future government of the Philippines, and I inquired what would be satisfactory to the General and got, of course, the answer, "Philippine independence." But I said after the United States had sent a fleet and destroyed the Spanish fleet and an army in full possession of Manila she was a power that could not be ignored; and what would be thought of her assuming the prerogative of Protector? She could not escape responsibility. His views as to the exact line of demarkation or distinction between the rights of the United States and those of the people of the islands should be perfectly clear, for otherwise there would be confusion and possibly contention in greater matters than now caused friction.
I endeavored to indicate the idea that there might be an adjustment on the line that the people of the Philippines could manage their local matters in their own way, leaving to the United States imperial affairs, the things international and all that affected them, the Filipinos looking to the administration of localities. I had asked questions and stated propositions as if it were the universal consent that General Aguinaldo was the dictator for his people and had the executive word to say; but when it came to drawing the fine lines of his relations with the United States as the embodiment of a revolutionary movement, he became shy and referred to those who had to be consuilted.
His words were equivalent to saying his counselors must, in all matters of moment, be introduced. It came to the same thing at last as to his commissioner or commissioners to Washington or Paris, one or both, and he also asserted the purpose of having the congress elected assemble at a railroad town - Moroles, about fifty miles north of Manila - a movement it is understood that. is under the guidance of others than the General, the bottom fact being that if there should be a Philippine Republic Aguinaldos place, in the judgment of many who are for it, would be not that of chief magistrate, but the head of the army. There are others and many of them of the opinion that he is not a qualified soldier. The congress assembled at Moroles, and has made slow progress.
It may as well be remembered, however, that the distinctions of civil and military power have been always hard to observe, in Central and South American states, whose early Spanish education has been outgrown gradually, and with halting and bloody steps. General Aguinaldo, then engaged in evolving a letter to General Merritt, has since issued proclamations that yield no share to the United States in the native government of the islands. But there are two things definitely known, as if decreed in official papers, and probably more so; that the Filipinos of influential intelligence would be satisfied with the direction of local affairs and gladly accept the protectorate of the United States on the terms which the people of the United States may desire and dictate.
The greater matter is that whenever it is the fixed policy of the United States to accept the full responsibility of ruling the Philippines, neither Aguinaldo nor any other man of the islands would have the ability to molest the steady, peaceable, beneficent development of the potentiality of our system of justice to the people, and the preservation by and through the popular will of the union of liberty under the law, and order maintained peaceable or forcibly according to needs.
In continuation of his explanation that he had to refer matters to others called his counselors, disclaiming the presumption in my questions of his personal responsibility for the conduct of the native insurrection, General Aguinaldo said with the greatest deliberation and the softest emphasis of any of his sayings,that the insurgents were already suspicious of him as one who was too close a friend of the Americans and yielded too much to them, and that there was danger this feeling might grow and make way with his ability to do all that he would like in the way of keeping the peace. There were, he said, inquiries to the effect: What had the insurgents got for what they had done in the capture of Manila? Were they not treated by the Americans with indifference?
Major Bell interposed to say that the Americans were in the Philippines not as politicians, but as soldiers, and had the duty of preserving order by military occupation, and it was not possible there could be maintained a double military authority - two generals of equal powers in one city under martial law. There must be one master and no discussion. The United States could take no secondary attitude or position - would treat the insurgents with great consideration; but they of necessity were exclusively responsible for the carrying out of the provisions of the capitulation.
This was exactly to the point, and the interpreter cut his rendering of it, using but few words, and they did not cheer up the General and those about him. Evidently they want to know when and where they realize. It had been noticeable that the greater importance Aguinaldo attaches to what he is saying the lower his voice and the more certainly he speaks in a half whisper with parted lips, showin teeth and tongue; and he has a surprising faculty of talking with the tip of his tongue, extended a very little beyond his lips. There was something so reserved as to be furtive about his mouth, but his eyes were keen, straight and steady, showing decision, but guarding what he regarded the niceties of statement. However, his meaning that there were insurgents who were finding fault with him was not so much indicative of a rugged issue as a confession of impending inabilities.
He had nothing to say in response to Major Bell's explicit remark about the oneman and one-country military power, but the action of the insurgents in removing their headquarters - or their capital, as they call it - to a point forty miles from Manila, proves that they have come to an understanding that the soldiers of the United States are not in the Philippines for their health entirely, or purely in the interest of universal benevolence. The Filipinos must know, too, thet they could never themselves have captured Manila. It is not inapt to say that the real center of the rebellion against Spain is, as it has been for years, at Hongkong.
I reserved what seemed the most interesting question of the interview with the Philippine leader to the last. It was whether a condition of pacification was the expulsion of the Catholic priests as a class. This was presented with reference to the threats that had been made in my hearing that the priests must go or die, for they were the breeders of all trouble. Must all of them be removed in some way or another? If not, where would the line be drawn? The lips of the General were parted and his voice quite low and gentle, the tongue to a remarkable degree doing the talking, as he replied, plainly picking words cautiously and measuring them. The able and acute interpreter dealt them out rapidly, and his rendering gave token that the Filipinos have already had lessons in diplomacy - even in the Spanish style of polite prevarication - or, if that may be a shade too strong, let us say elusive reservation - the use of language that is more shady than silence, the framing of phrases that may be interpreted so as not to close but to continue discussion and leave wide fields for controversy. The General did not refer to his counselors, or the congress that is in the background and advertised as if it were a new force.
The words of the interpreter for him were:
I said my information was that the objectionable Orders expressly proscribed
by the insurgents were the Dominicans, Augustines, Franciscans and
Recollects, but that the Jesuits were not included. This was fully recited
to the General, and with his eyes closing and his mouth whispering close to
the interpreter's cheek he gave his answer, and it was quickly rendered:
The question whether the friars must make choice between departure and death was not met directly, but with repetitions - that they might be at home in Spain, but could not be a part of the independent Philippines; and, significantly, they should be willing to go when wanted, and would be. Two Catholic priests - Americans, not Spaniards - were at this moment waiting in the ante room, to ask permission for the priests Aguinaldo has in prison to go back to Spain, and the General could not give an answer until he had consulted his council. Probably he would not dare to part with the priests, and an order from him would be disregarded. They have many chances of martyrdom, and some of them have already suffered mutilation.
Something had been said about my cabling the President as to the Filipinos' determination to send a representative to Paris, and I had tendered my good offices in bearing instructions to a commissioner from Hongkong to meet the China at Nagasaki, the Japanese railway station, where the American transports coal for their long voyage across the Pacific. But that matter had been left in the air. General Aguinaldo had said he would be obliged if I would telegraph the President, and I thought if the decision was that there was to be a Philippine representative hurried to Paris, it was something the President would be glad to know. I was aware there might be a difficulty in getting permission for a special messenger to go on the China to Japan to meet the commissioners going from Hongkong, and I would be willing to make the connection, as I had offered the suggestion. But it was necessary to be absolutely certain of General Aguinaldo's decision before I could cable the President; therefore, as I was, of course, in an official sense wholly irresponsible, I could communicate with him without an abrasion of military or other etiquette. It was the more needful, as it would be a personal proceeding, that I should be sure of the facts. Therefore I asked the General, whose time I had occupied more than an hour, whether he authorized me to telegraph the President that a commission was going to Paris, and desired me to render any aid in conveying information.
The General was troubled about the word "authorized," and instead of saying so concluded that I must have a deep and possibly dark design and so he could not give me the trouble to cable. The assurance that it would not be troublesome did not remove the disquiet. I could not be troubled, either, as a bearer of dispatches. The General could not authorize a telegram without consulting. In truth, the General had not made up his mind to be represented in Paris, holding that it would be sufficient to have an envoy extraordinary in Washington.
Others, without full consideration, in my opinion, concur in this view. I can imagine several situations at Paris in which a representative Filipino would be of service to the United States, simply by standing for the existence of a state of facts in the disputed islands. I dropped the matter of being a mediator, having planted the Paris idea in the mind of the Philippine leader, who is of the persuasion that he is the dictator of his countrymen, for the sake of his country, until he wishes to be evasive, and then he must consult others who share the burdens of authority, and told him when taking my leave I would like to possess a photograph with his autograph and the Philippine flag. In a few minutes the articles were in my hands, and passing out, there were the American priests in the ante-room, the next callers to enter the General's apartment. Their business was to urge him to permit the Catholic priests held as prisoners by the insurgents-more than 100, perhaps nearly 200 in number-to go home.
When the news came that General Merritt had been ordered to Paris, and
would pass through the Red sea en route, taking the China to Hongkong to
catch a peninsular and oriental steamer, I telegrahed the fact to General
Aguinaldo over our military wires and his special wire, and his
commissioner, duly advised, became, with General Merritt's aid, at
Hongkong a passenger on the China.
updated: March 28, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger