Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

by
Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

 
Amigos, Americanos?

A violent explosion, whose reverberation was to shake the Philippines although it happened 10,000 kilometers from Manila, took place on February 15, 1898, exactly two months after the peace of Biak-na-Bato. The American battleship "Maine" blew up at the harbor of the Cuban capital city, Havana. Although the cause of the explosion was never determined, and could have been just an accident, the United States made Spain responsible for the disaster. And not without an ulterior motive. The war of liberation in Cuba led by some kind of a Cuban Rizal, the writer, Jose Marti, was raging at that time. The United States. supported the freedom fighters for humanitarian, democratic, liberal, republican and other motives. But they had no objection either against accelerating through it the collapse of the Spanish empire. And finally, it should not be overlooked that the USA invested 50 million dollars in Cuba which must be safeguarded.

The explosion in Havana was taken as an opportunity to call on Spain, through the Congress in Washington, to give Cuba her independence and leave the island. The Spaniards rejected the intervention and answered it on April 24 with a declaration of war. This was precisely what the Americans were waiting for. For now it is possible for the United States to go to the front, so to speak, "legitimately" against their Spanish rivals in the American-Pacific area. The Spanish-American war began. It would end in December 1896 with the Treaty of Paris under which Spain loses her last dependencies in Latin America and in the Pacific hemisphere; Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam.

The declaration of war took the American Asian fleet in Hongkong by surprise, where its commander, Commodore George Dewey received the order to put to sea with his six ships in the direction of the Philippines. This was recorded on April 27. Three days later the Americans stationed themselves before Manila Bay, and the following day, May 1, 1898, the decisive naval battle took place at Cavite. Seven Spanish ships (among them one christened "Don juan de Austria") faced the six American ships. But the unwieldly and antiquated vessels under Rear Admiral Montojo were no match to the up-to-date equipped and maneuverable Yankee ships. The battle ended in the total annihilation of the Spaniards after seven hours. The US fleet lost neither men nor ships.

This lightning victory of the American fleet has world-wide political consequences. It throws the United States not only into a patriotic frenzy but also into an imperialistic euphoria, which very soon would lead to the final withdrawal of the United States from isolation and to her entry into the world arena. With the naval battle of Manila, the foundation for the ascent of the United States is laid.

The appearance of the Americans had, however, immediate consequences for the Philippines, that is, for the revolution as well as for the future status of the country. Dewey, who rose overnight as an American national hero was promoted to Admiral but he had no land forces for occupying the Philippines. The Spanish Governor-General Agustin ventured upon the desperate as well as hopeless attempt to get help for the Spanish defense by creating a parliamentary representation for the Filipinos and promising to push through the implementation of reforms long due. But to no avail, the Spanish insight came too late.

On the contrary, the hour of the resumption of the Philippine revolution struck. And its first scene of action was Singapore, where Aguinaldo, who was living there in exile was caught unaware by the newest development. It was the Americans who, in the person of their Consul General, Spencer Pratt, and through the intervention of the British businessman, William Bray, got in touch with Aguinaldo, in order to persuade him to return to his native land as ally and to assume the leadership of the revolution again.

Aguinaldo was suspicious and not without cause, as it would tragically become apparent later. He, of course, realized right away that the Americans would rely upon the help of the revolutionaries in the rural areas. All the same, what would America's offer for help? Pratt stated it clearly: independence. And as Aguinaldo still remains sceptical, the consul referred to the example of Cuba, which got the solemn promise of independence. And was Cuba not just located at the foot of the United States while the Philippines were thousands of miles away? A likely logic which cannot elude Aguinaldo, although his misgivings are not removed, when the consul evades the request of Aguinaldo to put down the discussion and promise of indepen dence on paper, which would later be very convenient for the "forgetfulness" of the consul as well as of Admiral Dewey. For all that, it cannot be denied that Aguinaldo was fetched back to the Philippines by a speed boat of the US-Marine dispatched by Dewey, a step which amounted to the recognition of the revolutionaries as ally of the United States.

At all events, Aguinaldo took the real alliance so seriously that irnmediately after his arrival, he enthusiastically summoned support for the Americans, "for the great North American nation, the cradle of true freedom, which has come to grant us protection unselfishly and to help us with liberation from tyranny and the attainment of our independence ..."

Dewey did not contest declarations of this kind. He met with Aguinaldo and made him form and organize his army again, handed weapons himself to the revolutionaries and assisted in their replacement by shipments from Hongkong through the American consul there. The Americans could not really complain about their (official or unofficial) ally.

From the moment of the disembarkation of Aguinaldo in the country, the revolution has spread like bush fire. Detachments of the revolutionary army emerged everywhere, city after city fell into the hands of the revolutionaries, the militia made up of Filipinos, which was under the Spaniards, deserted with all their arms to Aguinaldo's troops. The General landed on May 19,1898 in Cavite. Six weeks later the whole of the main island of Luzon as well as several bordering provinces were in the hands of the revolutionaries. Only the capital city of Manila remained. It was besieged at sea by the Americans and surrounded by the troops of Aguinaldo on land.

Aguinaldo was now strong enough to form a government and to create a state no matter what the relationship with the Americans would be. On June 12, 1898, the proclamation of Philippine independence was solemnly read out from the balcony of the residence of Aguinaldo in Cavite. This date is still celebrated as independence day of the Philippines up to now. The national anthem rang out for the first time, and for the first time too, the national flag was unfurled; blue and red with a white triangle on the left (the three colors, in honor of the USA), a sun with eight rays (for the 8 provinces which first revolted against Spain) and the three stars (for the three land bodies, Luzon, the central islands of the Visayas and the southern island of Mindanao) are golden in color. One of the first decrees of the new republic was, by the way, to declare the thirtieth of December, the death day of Rizal, a national day of mourning and selfcommunion.

Even in the declaration of independence, gratitude and appreciation for the help in the attainment of freedom were expressed "to the powerful and humane North American nation." By that time, however, Dewey was already preparing the treachery, which would be apparent before the whole world on the occasion of the conquest of Manila. For weeks the Americans had prevented the Philippine troops from marching into the capital city with the instruction that they should wait for the arrival of the American expedition corps so that they would be able to seize the city together. Nevertheless, when the US troops arrived (under the command of Brigadier General Arthur MacArthur, the father of General Douglas MacArthur who in World War II was in command of the US troops in the Philippines against the Japanese), the revolutionaries were ordered under penalty of armed force, not to set foot in the city. Even the revolutionary soldiers who were in the suburbs were told to withdraw.

The surrender of Manila was negotiated by the Americans with the Spanish Governor behind the back of Aguinaldo. After a ceremonious exchange of fire between Americans and Spaniards, the white flag was hoisted at 11:00, forenoon, on August 13, 1898 and six hours later the Stars and Stripes was hoisted at the Fort Santiago. The revolutionary army which through its action and the sacrifice of its thousands of soldiers which made this victory of the, Americans possible, had stayed outside. Aguinaldo discerned that he had been duped, that the naval and world power, USA, had used the Philippine revolution only as a pawn in a game with far broader engagement.

The rumor of an intended annexation of the Philippines by the USA was, however, not yet official. The revolutionaries were not diverted from carrying out their programs even by the treachery of Manila. One month after the fall of the capital city, the First Congress, the parliament of the young republic convened in the Church of Barasoain, in the mountainous town of Malolos in order to ratify the declaration of independence, hence to complete the first constitution as well as to float a loan. Worthy of note is that the fourth decree of the congress concerns the establishment of a university for literature.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the chauvinistic and imperialistic ripple reaches its peak. There is no longer doubt that the annexation of the Philippines is a decided matter. To be sure there is an anti-imperialistic camp to which belong, among the most prominent champions, the writer Mark Twain and the German-American civil-war general and national hero, Carl Schurz. But they remain in the minority.

In a document that perhaps ranks one among the most grotesque in world history, the former American president at that time, William MacKinley, gave an acount of how he was prompted by a divine Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one late night it came to me this way - I don't know how but it came:
(1) That we could not give them back to Spain that would be cowardly and dishonorable;
(2) that we could not return them over to France or Germany - our commercial rivals in the Orient that would be bad business and discreditable;
(3) that we could not leave them to themselves - they were unfit for self-government - and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's was; and
(4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace to do the best we could for them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the Chief Engineer of the War Department and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States, and there she was and there she will stay as long as I am president!" (President MacKinley in a talk with the General Missions Committee of the American Methodist Episcopalian Church. Quoted in Robert Leckie, The Wars of America; Albert Kolb, Die USA und die Philippinen; Leon Wolff, Little Brown Brother and others).

One can imagine how the president, in a nightcap and a nightshirt, alone, night after night, might have racked his brains over a country about which he himself had said after the outbreak of the war, that he could not show it within a radius of 2,000 miles on the map! And then, how he finally struggles through the thought of Christianizing a people, 90% of whom have adhered to the Catholic belief for at least 300 years. This was how the destiny of the Philippines was decided.

The divine inspiration of the president was soon converted to a signed and sealed policy. The peace contract between Spain and the USA was signed on December 10, 1898 in Paris. Article III of the Treaty reads: "Spain shall cede the Archipelago, known as the Philippine Islands to the United States. The United States shall pay the sum of 20 million dollars (20,000,000) to Spain within three month after the exchange of the ratification documents of this Treaty . . . The civil rights and the political status of the native inhabitants of the territories handed over shall be determined by the Congress of the United States."

For two dollars per head and nose, the Filipino people were handed over from one master to another. Lawyers in the United States published memoranda about the issue of whether the treaty had a legal basis at all. Because Spain, at the time of the cession of the Philippines, was no longer in possession of the country for a long time and, for this reason, was not at all in a position to hand over her jurisdiction to the country. The Filipino people were completely ignored in the proceedings. Aguinaldo's envoy and Blumentritt's friend, the lawyer Agoncillo, was not admitted to the negotiations in Paris; he was not even allowed to present a memorandum.

All the same the Filipinos made themselves heard. The revolutionary government declared the Paris Treaty null and void, since one of the parties involved was not heard although it exercised official authority over the greatest portion of the Philippines, from Luzon to Mindanao and was even recognized by the greatest part of the non-Christian tribes and the moslems. All the differences were reconciled by the belief prevailing in the population that the Americans did exactly the thing for whose termination they were drawn into a war against Spain - the establishment of the colonial rule over the Philippines.

The Americans who tried to set up a governing body in the captured tcrritories could hardly come to term with a Philippine counter-government. The Philippine revolutionaries likewise were determined not to exchange the Spanish occupation with an American one. Faced with this situation, it was just a question of time before it would come to an outbreak of open hostilities between the two powers.

Just as the USA did not take cognizance of the existence of the Philippine revolution, the revolutionaries ignored the existence of the American occupation power and established their own government. The so-called Malolos Constitution became valid on January 21, 1899. It was acknowledged as democratic even by the enemies and was true to models from Spain, France, Belgium, Mexico and Nicaragua. Two days later, the Republic was proclaimed under the presidency of General Aguinaldo. Its sovereignty was recognized in three quarters of the national territory. Eleven days later, the war between the USA and the young republic was started off by an insignificant exchange of fire. The USA needed barely half a year from the annihilation of the Spanish fleet and the Treaty of Paris, in order to subjugate the Philippines, at least, formally. However, they would have to wage a bloody three year - war that was, abundant with heavy losses before they could subdue the Filipinos.

What developed then would have a striking reminiscence of the scenes in Vietnam half a century later. Aside from governing bodies of the Americans in the cities and villages, the formally loyal underground government of the Filipinos led by one and the same person was also formed. The republican government collected taxes, recruited soldiers, collected food and weapons for the army, above all, however, the civilian population, including women and children acted as spies and emissaries for the revolutionary army.

General MacArthur himself described the situation in a report as follows: "Wherever throughout the Archipelago there is a group of the insurgent army, it is a fact, beyond dispute, that all contiguous towns contribute to the maintenance thereof. In other words, the towns, regardless of the fact of American occupation and town organization, are the actual bases for all insurgent military activities, and not only so in the sense of furnishing supplies for the so-called flying columns of guerillas, but as affording secure places of refuge. Indeed, it is now the most important maxim of Filipino tactics to disband when closely pressed, and seek safety in the nearest barrio, - a maneuver quickly accomplished by reason of the assistance of the people, and the ease with which the Filipino soldier is transformed into the appearance of a peaceful native ..." (Quoted in M. M. Kalaw, The Development of Philippine Politics)

Such reports called the American public abruptly back to a sober reality, after being fed by the mass media for months with the story that the Filipinos would welcome enthusiastically the Yankee occupants, and that only a minority of radical hot heads would continue to fight.

So far the war had been played down. "A splendid little war," it was called in the commentaries which reported about the blessings brought to the "little brown brothers" (also a title of a well-known book on the subject matter), in order to lead them out of barbarism into the arms of civilization.

Suddenly, it was over with the "amigos". The realization of the harsh fact that one was face to face with a hostile people cleared the way for unprecedented atrocities on both sides, which perhaps were still acceptable on the part of the Filipinos, who were in a defensive fight and who were classified as half-wild savages. On the American side, however, the waging of the war by the Yankees gradually led to a reversal of public opinion.

The burning of the villages along with the massacre of the people, including women and children, became commonplace operation of the US troops. The Americans became famous or rather, infamous, as inventors of the "water torture" which is mentioned in all contemporary reports, even in the most loyal ones. If a captured Filipino did not want to reveal secrets which were demanded from him, then water up to 20 liters was poured down his throat until his body swelled up beyond recognition. Then someone knelt down on his stomach or stood on it until the water flowed out again. This treatment was repeated until the prisoner confessed or died beforehand. The reports about tortures, plunderings, destructions and mass executions by the American troops followed one after another. Even President McKinley was so shocked that he appointed a civil governor in the person of Taft, who later on became president, in order to remove the power of the generals.

The superior US-troops marched forward and finally captured the seat of the Republican government in Malolos. It was, likewise, destroyed and burned down. But the revolutionaries transferred their headquarters further up the mountains and did not surrender. The American press began to publish letters of soldiers from the war front. Soldier A. A. Barnes of the third artillery regiment wrote of the order of General Wheaton to burn down every city within range and kill every native within reach. Soldier Jones of the eleventh cavalry reported how his division came across a wedding procession which was open-fired upon. The women, children, and the couple were killed.

In addition to the water cure, the rope treatment was applied. The torso of the prisoner was bound and the rope was thereafter twisted with the help of a stick until the thorax broke or he was choked. The peak was finally reached when the commander of the island of Samar, General Smith, said in a talk to his troops: I want no prisoners; I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn, the better it will please me. (Quoted in Wolff, Little Brown Brother) And on July 26, 1900, the New York newspaper "World" writes in a report from the front: "It is usual to avenge the death of an American soldier by burning all houses down to the foundation wall and to kill, left and right, the suspected natives."

The fight continued and it would not be ended as long as the symbol of the resistance, General Aguinaldo, was the head and incited his people time and again. Thus the American supreme ticks made of gold turned up in the shops when the soldiers returned home. The newspaper "Boston Pilot" reported that the first company of the Colorado infantry brought along enough church treasures to fill a department store when it landed in New York.

The tight continued and it would not end as long as the symbol of the resistance, General Aguinaldo, was the head and would go on inciting the people. Thus the American supreme command concentrated all efforts towards the capture of Aguinaldo. But for years the Americans were not capable of finding even just one Filipino who would have offered himself as informer. It was only in February, 1901 that the Americans succeeded in capturing a messenger of the General, through whom his hiding place was finally found. On March23, 1901, Aguinaldo was taken prisoner.

But even then, for more than a year, the dispersed units of the revolutionaries which were cut off from the main body, did not abandon the fight yet. Only on July 4, 1902, the American independence day, was the resistance officially, but not in fact, declared ended from the side of the USA. President McKinley, however, did not live to see that day. He was shot by an anarchist on September 6, 1901 in Buffalo, Texas. Anyway, American rule in the Philippines began. It would end only exactly 44 years later with the proclamation of the republic on July 4, 1946.

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created: March 28, 1998
updated: March 28, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger