by G. J. Younghusband
As before mentioned, hearing that their insurgent allies under Aguinaldo might be guilty of excesses if they were allowed to enter and hold Manila conjointly with the Americans, General Merritt so arranged the terms of capitulation that the American troops should hold the line of defence, with some modifications, recently held by the Spanish troops, whilst the insurgents remained in the outer encircling works which they had held whilst besieging the Spaniards. The two allies were therefore placed in a very curious position, the one having the appearance of defending Manila against the other. General Merritt's precaution was most wise and humane, and undoubtedly saved an immense amount of bloodshed, for if the insurgent troops had gained an entry into the town, it is the candid opinion of British residents here that not a single Spaniard, man, woman, or child, would have been spared, and that the place would have become the most appalling scene of rapine, murder, and plunder, concluding probably in a bloody street to street fight between the Americans and their allies.
In accordance therefore with his agreement with the American General, Aguinaldo, leaving, it is stated, as many as 50,000 troops, fully armed and equipped and assisted by artillery, girdling the City, himself established his headquarters at Malolos a small village some twenty-five miles by rail northwest of Manila. Here, as we have seen, he on September 29th proclaimed himself First President of the Philippine Republic, appointed his great officers of State, and assembled a National Congress.
Being anxious to visit this remarkable man, I asked both Admiral Dewey and the Military Governor whether there would be any objection to my doing so. "None whatever; go right away," was the reply. On the other hand, the British Consul advised me to go casually, so to speak, and without letters of introduction or previous negotiations, on the grounds that the insurgent newspapers exaggerated every small event to such an extent, that the visit of a stray British officer might be magnified into a political move of importance.
The train for Malolos starts at the unwholesome hour of 6.05 A.M., and our hotel lay a mile distant from the station. Appreciating the entire unreliability of the hotel boy as an awakening medium, I determined to rely on myself, with the very usual result that I awoke at 1 A.M. and again at 3 A.M., and yet again at 4 A.M., but slept like a lamb through 5 A.M., and only awoke with a start at 5.40 A.M. This gave me exactly twenty-five minutes to dress and walk a mile through unknown streets to catch my train, for no carriages were up and about. I have never hitherto been able to appreciate the advantage of early morning parades; but their use is now perfectly apparent, for they enable those inured to them to dress in five minutes, and catch a train a mile off without leaving a second to spare. When I command my regiment I shall therefore continue the system of cold-grey-morning parades - for the young officers.
In the first-class carriage into which I was hurtled, hot, hatless, ticketless, and with my bootlaces flying in the morning breeze, I had the good fortune to find an Englishman, Mr. Smith-Alliston, who was on his way to keep a business appointment with Aguinaldo, and who most kindly offered to introduce me to the new-fledged President of the Philippine Republic. Mr. Alliston was in Manila during the whole period of the operations, had secured a dear and near view of the naval battle off Cavité from his steam launch on the bay, and from the roof of the English Club was fortunate enough to have a bird's-eye view, at dose range, of the combined sea and land attack which culminated in the occupation of Manila by the Americans on August 13th, 1898. Many of Mr. Alliston's most interesting reminiscences will be found scattered about this book, and I only refrain from giving them here en bloc as our theme is Aguinaldo, and to Aguinaldo we had perhaps for convenience' sake, better adhere.
A convent which lies about a mile from Malolos railway station forms temporarily the palace of the President, a mile of possibly the worst road in the world, with the exception perhaps of all other country roads in the Philippines. It was from six to eight inches deep in mud, and beneath this comparatively smiling exterior were concealed all the most enticing surprises in the way of pits, boulders, and hummocks the size of a pig, which ingenious nature and man's neglect could supply. Our conveyance was a small hooded bench on two wheels, which two hearty little ponies sent flying along in spite of all obstructions in quite the most jocular manner. To us inside passengers the sensation was much on a par with being placed inside a packing case, rolled down a long flight of marble steps, dragged to the top again and again let rip, the motion being continued until a distance equivalent to a statute mile had been completed.
Arrived at the village of Malolos, we drove with all our remaining dignity up to the" Union" Restaurant, a small pothouse in a side street. Here we had a first-dass omelette, three Oxford sausages (observe the scope of the British Empire), and some café au lait, and thus fortified prepared to beard the lion of the Philippines in his den.
At the high-arched gateway of the convent we found a strong infantry guard armed with Remington rifles. The sentry halted us, and made as if to bar the way whilst demanding our business; but after some discussion we were allowed to enter, and mounting two flights of stone steps found ourselves at the entrance of a long corridor. Here a body-guard soldier, armed with a German cap and a halberd of the pattern prevalent in the days of Don Quixote, kept silent watch and ward. At the far end of the corridor was a desk at which sat the A.D.C. in waiting, and up both sides of the corridor were ranged chairs on which those who were waiting for an audience sat. lt was now 9 o'clock, hut the President's private secretary bustled up to inform us that the great man had been kept up till 2 A.M. the night before with important telegrams and despatches, and was not in consequence yet awake. A weary wait of four and a half hours ensued, part of which we passed in wandering down the only street in the village, and part in criticising our fellow sufferers. A party seated opposite gave us quite half an hour's enjoyment. lt consisted of mamma, in deep mourning, Lucia, Isabella, Dulcia, and mamma's darling Fernandez. Their petition went in, and after an interval an A.D.C. came out, handed mamma a letter, shook hands most cordially with the whole party and especially with Isabella, and escorted them with the greatest politeness to the door. He then returned to his arduous duties, but the party, after a brief consultation, drifted back to their old position opposite us.
After an interval out came the A.D.C. on another job. "Hullo, mamma and family not gone yet! I must see them out," which he accordingly did with the same exuberant cordiality as at first. But no sooner had he gone when again back they all came. Four times did that most urbane of aides-de-camp show that party out, but the fourth time he took them down past the infantry guard at the gate, and if he was as wise as he was polite, gave orders to the sentry to shoot mamma on sight if she appeared again. Anyway, that was the last we saw of the party. At 1.30 P.M. the private secretary, who talked excellent English, came out to say that the President would see me. Passing through a long bw room, used temporarily as a hall of audience, we were conducted into Aguinaldo's private study, where we found him seated at a large desk covered with papers and books. The great man rose and advanced a few steps to meet us, and in a quiet and dignified manner said he was glad to make the acquaintance of an English officer. Aguinaldo is a young man of only twenty-nine years of age, stands about 5 feet 4 inches in height, is slightly built, and was dressed in a coat and trousers of drab tussore silk. He is a pure Philippine native, though showing a slight trace of Chinese origin, of dark complexion, and much pock-marked. His face is square and determined, the lower lip protruding markedly. On the whole a man of pleasant demeanour, even-tempered, and with strong characteristics. Slow of speech, and perhaps also of thought, his past career has hall-marked him as a man of prompt decision and prompter action. Many people, and amongst others Admiral Dewey, were much puzzled to find so quiet and apparently unintelligent and listless a young man the acknowledged and undisputed head of so great a movement. Many thought that he was a mere puppet in the hands of stronger men, others that he was a safe weak man bolstered up by strong conflicting powers on all sides, much in the way that Switzerland as a nation is bolstered up in Europe by strong powers on all sides. But a remarkably prompt action served to show that Aguinaldo was no puppet, but sailed decisively on his own bottom. A short time ago it appears that another of the insurgent leaders began to secure a following which bade fair to shake the supremacy of Aguinaldo. The President stayed to take no half measures, attempted no parleying; he grasped the nettle firmly, and ordering his reputed rival out into the courtyard, had him shot on the spot.
In the course of conversation the subject of an American Protectorate came up. Now up to this date both Aguinaldo and the men of influence around him had openly declared that it was their wish to start their new life under the protection of a recognized power, and preferably under that of the American nation. But on this day, October 31st, Aguinaldo most emphatically declared that he and his followers had fought for complete independence, and that they would shed the last drop of their blood in securing it. These were practically his very words, and forsaking his quiet demeanour, he went so far as to thump the desk with his fist for emphasis. This was a most weighty utterance, and if seriously meant was tantamount to a declaration of war against America should the result of the Peace Conference include a provision that the Philippine Islands were to be handed over to that Power.
The subject was then changed, and we were shown a standard recently taken from the Spaniards. It belonged to the 5th Spanish Light Infantry, and was captured by a young insurgent, general of division, aged only twenty-two years. lt so happened that the 5th Spanish Light Infantry, as prisoners of war in Manila, happened to fill the aisle of a large church in the walled city where we were attending High Mass on the following day. The general demeanour, physique, and bearing of the 5th Spanish Light Infantry led one to conjecture that they would be not unlikely to lose as many colours as a confiding king and country entrusted to their care. They were infants in arms, and remarkably poor infants, and as we have seen elsewhere untrained and badly led. Next Aguinaldo showed us his own colours, which are red, white, and blue; the white in the form of a triangle being next the flagstaff, and the red and blue filling it up to the usual rectangular shape of a flag. On it are a sun and three stars, the emblems of the young Republic. The conversation then turned to the subject of arms, and Aguinaldo was much impressed on hearing of the tremendous execution done by the Lee-Metford rifle at the battle of Omdurman. The President is, and acknowledges himself to be, ignorant of all outside matters, and therefore it was no surprise to be asked whether the Americans or English won the battle.
In spite of the strict embargo placed on the importation of arms, Aguinaldo said that he was then expecting a large consignment of Mauser rifles and ammunition from a German firm.
A small son of the President was running about, a smart-Iooking little boy about seven years old and dressed in uniform. The uniform of the insurgent troops is made of cotton stuff with a thin blue and white stripe in it, whilst a few officers here and there, including the urbane A.D.C., wore kharki uniforms procured from Hong Kong. We were introduced to the Minister for War and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, neither of whom could have been more than twenty-five years of age. I asked where the money came from to fill the Treasury, and learnt that every native in the Philippines has to subscribe a percentage of his pay to Aguinaldo's Government, and that, having none of the expenses of government beyond paying each soldier ten cents a day and providing him with arms and ammunition, the finances are in an exceedingly flourishing condition. Mr. Alliston was of opinion that the - head of the Treasury was in a position to pay one million in cash down on the nail at that particular moment.
Thinking that the President, who was in great trouble over a high collar, which was apparently not anchored down to his shirt, and consequently kept riding up, had now had enough of us, we rose to depart, and Aguinaldo through his interpreter again expressed his pleasure at having met a British officer. Outside we found that the Cerberus of the halberd, having become bored with the whole proceedings, had fetched a couple of chairs, and was peacefully sleeping on them with his fateful weapon propped between his knees. And so to our auberge, lunch, siesta, and home by the evening train.
In Malolos we saw considerable numbers of Spanish prisoners, bare-headed, bare-footed, and in rags, performing all the most menial offices as domestic servants to individual natives or as public scavengers. Every railway station was guarded by insurgent troops, and every train at each station was carefully examined by them. Not even an American can travel without a passport, and the only safe and convenient nationality to assume is that of a British subject.
In the general outline of the history of the short but stirring years of his life, which appears in another chapter, I have endeavoured to lay before the reader a more or less connected narrative of the career of Aguinaldo, who, be his faults and failings what they may, is certainly the most striking personality in Philippine history. He may be ignorant according to a civilised standard, he may appear stolid and wanting in quick intelligence, but if we judge men by their deeds rather than by the tittle-tattle of conventional criticism, Aguinaldo has, in the face of every disadvantage, and at the early age of twenty-nine, placed himself in the ranks of the great and acknowledged leaders of popular risings, which when unsuccessful are stigmatised as rebellions, but which when successful bear the honoured title of legitimate revolutions.
updated: November 12, 1997
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger