COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
During the Filipino-American War in the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the US government declared that the war was over and insurrection in the Philippines was suppressed with the capture of President Aguinaldo in March of 1901. But in reality, the Filipino revolutionaries in the other parts of the country continued with their resistance to the new colonizers. This time however, the US government conveniently labeled our freedom fighters as brigands or bandits, and thus degrading the battle in Balangiga, in which our forefathers won, as a massacre.
From the military perspective though, the event is defined as “raid—a surprise attack on a stationary or temporarily halted military unit characterized by swift violent action followed by a quick and orderly withdrawal.” According to Captain Emmanuel C. Martin PA in his paper “Balangiga Was Not A Massacre,” the event was “an honorable combat by Filipino revolutionaries-guerrillas that achieved complete surprise which resulted to the virtual annihilation of C Company, 9th US Infantry.” And he categorically called that historical event as “The Victorious Raid At Balangiga.”
When General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite, he reorganized the revolutionary army and instructed his military commanders in Luzon and the Visayas to establish the Philippine Republic. General Vicente Lukban was assigned in Southern Luzon and the Bicol provinces. General Lukban was also instructed to reorganize the local governments in Samar and Leyte as provided in the Decree of June 18, 1898, and thus assumed as head of the political and military affairs of Samar.
But when the United States took control of the Philippines after the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December10, 1898, the extension of American sovereignty over the entire country by force accounted for the Filipino-American hostilities. General Lukban held a strong defense on the island of Samar, especially the hemp and copra trade being a big source of the people’s income. Supported by the masses, the forces of General Lukban “selectively attacked American military patrols in ambuscades,” harassed garrisons, and resorted to guerrilla warfare operations.
So it was the relentless guerrilla activities of General Vicente Lukban that more American reinforcements were sent to Samar. On August 11, 1901, “C” Company, 9th US Infantry, arrived in Balangiga, a coastal town in the southern tip of Samar. That military contingent comprised 74 men under the command of Captain Thomas Connell. And in their pacification efforts in the area, the soldiers got into several conflicts with the natives that ended up in the imprisonment of 143 Balangiganons. But the prisoners were badly treated, with a few subjected to torture. With only the women left to tend the farms, the natives feared of food shortage and eventual starvation. Besides, the American soldiers were becoming intolerable; confiscating bladed weapons, stored rice and crops, and the natives’ domestic animals. Women were even raped.
And so on that fateful day of September 28, 1901, the natives staged a surprise attack on the American garrison—in retaliation, and to retake Balangiga. Feigning to hear mass from inside the church, the townsmen dressed as women and carrying bladed weapons attacked, hacking and slashing the soldiers of “C” Company, 9th Infantry, as they sat down for breakfast. The prisoners who were lined up for the day’s forced labor were armed with daggers and knives smuggled to them in bamboo tubes used for water rations. Other men hiding in the forest fringes raged with their sundangs. Hand-to-hand battle ensued and the encounter was over in less than an hour.
“The dead soldiers of Company C were strewn all over the plaza, inside the convent, the municipal building, inside the collapsed tents and everywhere,” as narrated by a descendant of the cuadrillo of Balangiga who participated in the attack. Finally, the bells of Balangiga tolled for them. Indeed, that early morning battle was the worst defeat of the American forces in the country.
“C” Company, 9th US Infantry was a veteran unit that fought with distinction in Cuba in 1898, in Manila in 1899, and in Northern China in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. Those soldiers should have been sent home to take the necessary rest. In 1901, sumangko sa Samar. And singing songs of US campaigns “Underneath the starry flag/ Civilize them with a Krag/ And return to us our beloved homes” instead placed these men under the Philippine bolo. They had more than enough civilizing with the Krag (rifle) and should have returned to their beloved homes. Unbridled—sumangko sa Samar.