Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

The Lonesome Struggle

These exciting events, this entire development, Blumentritt lived to see as witness of his time. Nevertheless, not just an observing scholar. Not for a moment did he hesitate to review, analyze and interpret the events. Quite alone, at best supported by friends in other countries, he takes it upon himself to make the objectives of the Philippine revolution known in Europe and the US, and above all, to win over the sympathy for it, in a world full of misinformation and prejudices against the "rebellious savages". All the same, Blumentritt was able to sketch a full picture of the whole spectrum of events. Moreover, it must not be forgotten how miserable the sources of information were, how little and how late Blumentritt was often informed of the events. There were bad postal connections, false reports, gaps. Today, thanks to extensive researches, which have been undertaken since then, it is easy to obtain a general view of the tumultuous history of these years.

First of all, he succeeds in gaining an important facet of the problem which up to then eluded all observers. The events surrounding the "Katipunan" and the first Philippine revolution coincide with the Chinese-Japanese war of 1894-95, which ended with the total victory of Japan. The Chinese were driven back up to Yalu in Manchuria; had to cede among others, the island of Formosa in the Treaty of Shimonoseki and also lost their protectorate over Korea. Japan had developed into a modern and proud state and her success did not fail to carry weight on Filipinos fighting for their freedom.

"The revolt in the Philippines is, for this reason, so interesting; it proves, so to speak, to be tlle indirect consequence of the Chinese-Japanese war", as Blumentritt writes in the political "Globus", Braunschweig, September, 1896. Because after the victory of Japan, "a certain self-confidence motivated the colored Filipinos . . . the splendid victories of the Japanese army and fleet must have awakened the belief in the Filipinos that the Asian race was called to terminate the European supremacy in East Asia and to give at least the latter back to the Asians."

The analysis, which by itself is correct, certainly misleads Blumentritt at first to a wrong analysis, leading him to support the Spanish side. He is afraid that the Philippines would become a colony of Japan, or at least could come under her influence in case of a victory of, the revolution. For this reason, he wants the victory of the Spanish army because "accordingly, the Spanish soldiers are fighting not merely for the Spanish property foothold, but also in defense there of the most vital interests of the Western Christians as against the orientalism of the Japanese."

For all that, Blumentritt proved his sincerity when a year later, he did not hesitate to admit that he made a mistake and that after the arrival of extensive information, he realized, that he had drawn wrong conclusions. Blumentritt recalls his point of view of the summer of 1896, "then I was still of the opinion, shared and expressed in the noble groups in Spain, that Japan, in relation to the insurgents of Luzon (the main island of the Philippines) played the role with which Uncle Sam played vis-a-vis the Cuban rebels. Subsequently, it became apparent, that Japan behaved quite correctly . . ." (Österreichische Monatsschrift für den Orient, (Austrian Monthly Journal for the Orient) Vienna, October, 1897.)

Blumentritt cites numerous reports, which state, that the revolutionaries were extremely miserably armed and could not have received accoutrements of any sort from the Japanese side and he comes to the conclusion that: "It was just Japan's history, her magnificent victory over the Chinese, from which the colored and halfbreed people learned a lesson . . ."

Yet, Blumentritt does not stop with that. He attempts to enlighten, in the most multifarious form, the people of his native land and Europe about the true character of the Philippine revolution. "Since then, another image of the insurrection has been, generally speaking, won," he says, as introduction, and reports that the revolutionaries were by no means pursuing an anti-Catholic policy in the liberated areas, rather, on the contrary, they did not hinder the activity and practice of the church. "The rebels are anything but irreligiously-minded, indeed, throughout the half year that Aguinaldo governed the province of Cavite as absolute commander; this rebel district seemed to have become a kind of model Catholic state . . . and although Aguinaldo proclaimed the republic with the familiar slogan which has already lost its value in Europe: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", still its character became quite evident: it was not red, not a violet-blue, rather a black republic, a good clerical government form."

In his report, Blumentritt openlv supports the revolutionaries without reservations. He holds the cruel repression in the Philippines and the refusal of the Spaniards to enforce reforms long overdue which were responsible for the revolution. He reports that in a prison cell, 59 prisoners were suffocated in one night and that the dungeon was so crammed.

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