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He forgot the ‘howling wilderness’




Gemma Cruz Araneta

Gemma Cruz Araneta

You have probably heard about how Samar was reduced to a “howling wilderness” at the turn of the 20th century.  If you have not, then you had better read this column to fill in those black holes.

Allow me to refer you to a formidable book, Colonial Crucible, co-edited by Alfred W. McCoy and Francisco A. Scarano (University of Wisconsin, 2009, reprinted by ADMU, 2010). There is a political cartoon on the cover showing a white-haired, bearded and paunchy Uncle Sam straddling the USA and Hawaii, with a bayonet planted on the Philippines.

Read the chapter by Joshua Gedacy about the massacres of the American imperial forces from South Dakota to the Southern Philippines. He said that in 1901, the island of Samar was still a “vexing theater of guerrilla warfare” that reminded the invading forces of the USA of the Indian Wars, in particular what they had faced in South Dakota. The Americans believed that the Filipino “insurgents” belonged to the pulahanes, which they considered a “heathen cult” as fierce as the Lakota Sioux Indians.  Gedacy wrote: “Such a volatile cocktail of perceived racial and religious disorder   primed soldiers for an engagement that would not meet the standards of ‘civilized warfare.’” Author Gedacy described the Balangiga massacre as “ a well-coordinated attack “ that destroyed the American garrison, killed 74 American soldiers, thus eliciting widespread calls in the army and metropolitan media for revenge.”

General Jacob Smith, famous for his racist attitudes and below-par military performance, ordered his subordinates to “kill and burn” every male above 10 and to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness.” So, between October and December 1901, 22 unarmed Filipino civilians were summarily executed, countless Samareños were tortured to death, and 759 “insurgents” were killed or captured. The American soldiers got the three bells of Balangiga church as trophies of war and transported these to the USA.  However, news of General Smith’s excesses infuriated the Anti-Imperialist League; Sen. William Jennings Bryan, standard bearer of the Democrats, condemned the heinous abuses, and US media called General Smith “Butcher of Samar.” Subsequently, General Smith and three of his officers were court martialed.

Through the years, Filipino historians, local government officials, and members of the House of Representatives have demanded the return of the bells of Balangiga, to no avail.  Their efforts have served to keep the memory of the Balangiga alive, in Samar at least, where that audaciousmassacre was a patriotic act in defense of the First Philippine Republic.  The capture of Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo  in Palanan, Isabela on 23 March 1901, did not end the Philippine-American War.

The breaking news is that the American government will return the Balangiga bells this month, through the intercession of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte.  In anticipation, the   Kaanak 1896 sent me a project paper  with the names of (Ret.) Gen. Edgar Aglipay,  chairman, and Mar. Eugenio Roy Daza, president.    “Historical Documents about 1899 Philippine-American War in Samar, Battle of Balangiga” is its title.  The first page  lists five published works by the Leyte-Samar Studies presented from 1974 to 1978, with topics ranging from the Pulahanes of Samar (Richard Arens), the Moxica-Lukban leadership issue (Donald Chaput), guerrilla warfare in Balangiga (Kenneth R. Young), and two authorless works about the General Lukban and the American press and the war crimes of General Smith. The writers used many primary sources such as Philippine Commission reports, records of the US Army Overseas Operations and Commands, of the Adjutant General’s Office, the Judge Advocate General, and US periodicals and magazines.

There is a brief biography of Don Eugenio Salazar Daza, born in Borongan, Samar, on 15 November 1870, a product of Jesuit education. He was the mastermind of the Balangiga massacre. At the outbreak of the Philippine-American War, he moved to Catbalogan, seat of the Revolutionary Government under Gen. Vicente Lukban. Don Eugenio became an infantry captain under General Claro Guevara and was sent to command the forces in the east coast of Samar, which included the town of Balangiga.

According to his sworn statement dated 23 December 1935, a company of American soldier onboard a vessel (Liskum) landed in Balangiga on 11 August 1901, led by a major, captain and lieutenant. They occupied the convent, the municipal building and private houses, “without paying rent.” Immediately, the American captain instructed town officials to organize a police force, so the municipal president appointed Mr. Valeriano Abanador chief of police. The Americans did not know that this man was holding the same position in the First Philippine Republic. Abanador appointed 45 municipal policemen.

Aside from being Infantry captain of the Philippine Revolutionary Army, Don Eugenio Daza was procurement officer, in charge of collecting taxes, food supplies, arms and ammunition. With a sense of urgency, he summoned the eminent town residents to a secret meeting in the house of the municipal president, Mr. Pedro Abayan, and urged them to defend our independence. They planned an uprising against the Americans on 6 October 1901. In the meantime, the American soldiers, “forcibly took possession of chickens, pigs, cows, bananas, camotes, coconuts, and other properties of the people without paying for their value,” wrote Don Eugenio. That provoked the resentment of the Samareños who could not wait until October “… to wreak vengeance on the American soldiers and their officers.”

This was Don Eugenio’s plan:  The designated date of the attack was 28 September; so on 24, 25, and 26 September Don Eugenio went around visiting the barrios of Balangiga, meeting secretly with various revolutionary groups, appealing to their patriotism, enjoining them to unite all forces, and meet in Canlara, an area very near Balangiga. He told them to bring all the weapons they could collect– lances bolos, clubs, daggers, old Spanish guns and cannons, everything they could lay their hands on.  On 27 September, they organized a pintakasi, a traditional community activity during which everyone participates in cleaning the town. It was not unusual to see hundreds of town people sweeping streets, plucking weeds from sidewalks, cleaning gutters and alleys for better sanitation. Because of the pintakasi, 500(armed) revolutionaries assembled in Canlara did not arouse any suspicion.    Don Eugenio Daza with 200 men joined the pintakasi in Balangiga town.

According to his sworn statement, at the crack of dawn of 28 September, the women, children, the elderly, sick, and disabled quietly trekked to the hills while the revolutionary forces divided into five companies surrounded the town at points assigned to each one. At 6 a.m., the 6th company headed for the church and convent. Some were cleverly disguised as women praying. The 7th company, led by Chief of Police Abanador, went directly to the quarters of American soldiers while another  besieged the municipal hall.

Two young lads had been assigned to climb the belfry to ring the bells upon a signal from Chief of Police Abanador’s cane. Don Eugenio Daza wrote: “The rebels kept their word and performed their duty in a patriotic manner, throwing themselves as one man and like hungry wolves against the American soldiers who were taking breakfast outside their respective quarters where they had left their arms.”



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