EuroFilipino Journal Jan-March 2007
War in the Philippines, 1898
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The Diary of Lieut X.

Reviewed by Jun Terra


He tried to see the events through the eyes of others, one of them, the pilot of one of the Spanish ships that sank. He interviewed participants as well as observers like the Frenchman, known as the Commander, who lived between Cavite and Manila, a long-time resident of the Philippines. More importantly he went on fact-finding missions. One of these occasions was when he and a party of nine went on board one of the American ships to survey the aftermath of the naval battle: "Each brought his own equipment for expedition, binoculars, cameras, pencils, note pads, etc. I am determined to scrutinize every detail.." he said.

On May 30, he wrote:

"We visited the markets of Binondo and San Miguel. There is an enormous crowd of Tagals and Chinese. Baskets full of fish and delicious fruits are everywhere...there is an abundance of lively colours and movements...people discussing among themselves...and yet fighting began this morning. very early, at Las Pinas, at the very threshold of Manila.."

On June 7, our intrepid diarist observes: "Martial law is declared...there are a few speedy executions without trial...the atmosphere in the city is tense. The Tagals are not threatening the merchants, bankers and businessmen who are all foreigners...Aguinaldo could have benefitted from this bold coup de force if Admiral Dewey had not officially prevented him from doing so...Manila is no longer recognizable as the city it used to be. Escolta is sad almost desolate. The Chinese have fled, the shops are closed, there are no more strollers, no more buyers, no more coquettish ladies...and the off-key piercing voices of the Tagals, the mandolins the guitars."

Philippines’ central role in the Pacific

Manglapus could not be more mistaken when he says that Lieut X "could not be expected to perceive through the mote in the eye of the Frenchman." Far from it, throughout the diary, Ernest Motsch shows very sharp powers of analysis and strong sense of geopolitics. He looked at events beyond narrow French interests in the Philippines and the region. He saw the impotence of France to influence events in the Philippines with sadness, even as he noted the strategic importance of the country:

"An incomparable situation now exists. Manila is the key to the Far East, being the geometric center from which all places radiate where colonies are of utmost importance to the powers with interests in the Pacific. With Manila at the center, having a radius equal to five days at sea, one can establish a circumference consisting of all the important commercial routes and all the trade between the north of Asia and the South of Europe, the Far East, Australia and the United States...The strategic importance of the Philippines in the Pacific is superior to that of the Azores in the European context. Besides this, the Philippines has a bigger surface area, a larger population and countless natural resources. These islands and Cuba are Spain’s most beautiful colonies...these fertile lands feed some 10 million and can sustain easily some three or four times that number."

And he analysed events in the Philippines within the wider context of the emergence of the vast Pacific Basin as one of the most important areas in the future history of the world. In another prophetic observation Lieut X could well have been speaking of today’s Pacific Basin where the whole of the world is once again rushing to control or at least be a significant participant in the enormous trade opportunities in the area and partake of its riches, when he wrote:

"Today, we are witnessing the creation of a new sphere of commerce in the Pacific. The immense basin which lies between the Russian part of Asia, China and Australia, on one side, ad the two Americas, on the other, is destined to be an area of immense wealth. From now on, the future is assured for those who settle in these areas, and power is assured to those who will rule over them. Europe in its blindness, does not realise that if England and the United States agree to dominate both the west and the western pacific, there will soon be no place left for other countries."

Does this not echo Seward’s panegyric, sans the rhetoric on America’s manifest destiny to rule the area, quoted earlier?

His analysis of foreign contention over the Philippines uncannily confirms Mabini’s view that the Americans, the Spaniards and the Europeans coveted the Philippines. It is as though they read each other’s mind. Lieut X writes: "the struggle for the possession of the islands (July 26) has assumed such proportions that the United States would not know how to accept the loss of the spoils of war." In the meantime, the various interests were waiting in the wings, ready to pounce should there be any mistake on the side of one of the principal protagonists: "the unstable situation is responsible for the feverish activities and nervousness of the Germans. This is also the reason for the friendship, colored with envy, shown by the British towards the Americans from whom they are still awaiting compensation for their services. Then there are the contrite and watchful Japanese. The appetites of all are whetted by the prey. Each one wants to take his bite and remove his piece but dares not, since each is fearful of the other."

He did not look at events only from one point of view , from that of the French, but from all the contending forces, giving a particularly sympathetic attention to the point of view of the Filipinos or Tagals as he calls them.

Ameican Duplicity

More pointedly, he saw that the Americans did not really come to help the natives but to replace the Spaniards:

"I have been observing these Filipinos for almost a year. Once again they find themselves being oppressed, a state from which they thought they had been freed...they had not conquered the Spaniards but rather they found themselves once again beneath the yoke, except that this time their chains were riveted by the Americans...the Americans, desirous of becoming masters of the Philippines, are beginning to behave as the Spaniards did. They too are convinced that there is barely any difference between the natives and monkeys.."

Anticipating Dewey’s testimony to the US Congress, Motsch says: "the Filipinos are only a pretext for securing a stronger position in the country. There certainly has never been a question of returning the islands to them."

In fact, from early on in his diary, he voiced out his doubts several times about American sincerity and intention, almost shadowing Mabini’s prophesies. On the other hand he also rebukes the Spaniards who "prefer vengeance to the most noble of interests." "Spain," he continued,"would rather deliver the Filipinos to the United States than recognize them as a nation born of her colonization. In spite of high-sounding words, the narrow-mindedness of the Spaniard is evident." Each event, as it developed, convinced him of American hegemonic intent and European impotence before the advancing American juggernaut.

Aguinaldo dithers

His analysis of Aguinaldo’s actuations during this period and the direction which the events were taking should be another confirmation to scholars and historians of the need to re-examine more closely Aguinaldo’s role in the ultimate defeat of the revolution in the hands of the US, the new coloniser:

"June 2, Aguinaldo has not lost time. Within a few days he has established a revolutionary government in Cavite...The American squadron is in no position to attack Manila. It has exhausted its ammunition and is waiting for new supplies...Asiatic cunning is not evident in Aguinaldo. He appears to have implicit faith in the ability of the Americans to bring independence to his country which shows a limited knowledge of history. One must hold to what one has, and if this is not done from the start, one eventually loses one’s rights to his possessions. As long as the American soldiers have not landed, Aguinaldo remains master of ths situation. With the arrival of each American regiment from San Francisco the threats to the young republic increase...the provinces around Manila are all in a state of rebellion... If Aguinaldo has or pretends to have, such confidence in the Americans, this is not shared by the Tagals. Actually they are neither for the United States nor the Spaniards, they hope to use one against the other."

In an earlier entry dated May 29 long before the American reinforcements arrived Lieut X underlined the revolutionary forces’ dominant position: "Essentially, the insurgents are at the moment the masters of the situation. It is their word that prevails on land."

Aguinaldo’s failure to analyse the situation properly and push on for the capture of Manila and the surrender of the Spanish authorities - when American reinforcements had not yet arrived, while they were short of ammunition, and while the enthusiasm of the revolutionary forces was at its peak, flushed by victories in the provinces and at the gates of Manila is an area that historians ought to study in detail.

Why did he trust the Americans so much, despite being rebuffed by Dewey on several occasions? Why was he so obedient to Dewey ( "He was most obedient, he did what I told him to do," said Dewey)? Did he enter into some secret deal, or was he just naive? Why did he not listen to the wise counsel of Mabini, and the demands of his own fighters who were in control of the situation and were ready to enter Manila? Had the revolutionary forces captured Manila and demanded surrender from the Spanish authorities, they would have been in a stronger negotiating position vis-a-vis the Americans and the international community. Why did Aguinaldo allow himself to be dictated by Dewey not to enter the city at this point when the revolutionaries had the upper hand? Capturing the city could have prevented the Spanish authorities from surrendering to the Americans and giving them the rights of a victor to occupy the city, and gain a foothold in the country.

Lieut X admiringly observes the loftiness of spirit that propelled the Philippine revolution and how well the Filipinos understood it:

"In their manifestos and their proclamations, as well as their gatherings, it is remarkable that the Filipino leaders are haunted by the French revolution. Added to this is a religious undertone which recalls the American independence. Whether one likes it or not, these Indians are talking of a republic, of liberty, equality, fraternity, of a natural law reminiscent of western concepts. All revolutions resemble one another, based on the vindication of an ideal and of human dignity. It says a great deal for the Filipinos that this sublime symbol is recognised."

"Prelude to the Fil-American War"

In anticipation of things to come Lieut X observes the behaviour of the Yanks when they landed:

"A considerable number of American troops seen at close range show no sign of order or discipline. It is obvious why the Germans look down disdainfully on them. They look like an army organised for manhunts...The American soldiers are hefty and tall but appear narrow in the chest in relation to their height..... It seems their Achilles heel is tuberculosis. These men who exude self-confidence are more comfortable wearing cowboy outfits than military uniform...they all wear gaiters and belts of cartridges. During the day they are in their best behaviour and pay for all their purchases. At night they rid themselves of their inhibitions, drink excessively and, when quite drunk on whisky, become unbearable savages, killing at the slightest provocation. They do not unleash their brutish behaviour on each other but on the natives. As soon as they see one, the manhunt begins. This sport enjoyed by these who champion humanity was inherited from their forefathers, who pursued the redskins and the negroes. This war has certainly given Americans the opportunity for magnificent manhunts in the Philippines and Cuba at very little cost."

In contrast he notes how in the areas controlled by the Filipino revolutionaries:

"Order reigns in most areas in spite of the war and that a high level of discipline is observed. Some excesses, naturally, have been committed, but which war has ever been exempt from them? In any event, there have been no massacres or shedding of blood.

Retaliations have been limited to certain forms of vengeance directed mainly towards the monks...A certain method is evident in this revolution. Their troops are not very different from the regular troops, and they handle their arms rather well…Neither does the discipline of the Tagals suffer by comparison with the mediocre standards of the Americans."

In another entry Lieutenant Aime Motsch notes that the Filipinos would not easily accept subjugation, since they were aware, after all, that they defeated the Spaniard forces in actual combat. He writes sagely:

"The real wealth of a country lies in the people themselves. They represent the work force, the land, the culture, the enterprises all of which cannot be sustained without them...A Filipino rebellion is not simply a political movement, it has the capacity to stop life itself. This is why exploiting the Filipinos could be a grave error on the part of the Americans. If it is their intention to make the Philippines their private fiefdom, they will have to eliminate the Filipinos or reduce them to slaves."

With the Americans gaining the Philippines through duplicity and not wanting to relinquish this prize; given Spain’s unbending pride dictating it to cede the Philippines to the US at the Treaty of Paris, rather than recognise defeat in the hands of its former colony; and given furthermore that the Filipinos would not allow themselves to be enslaved once more so soon after they had freed themselves at great sacrifice, the stage was set for the Filipino-American war.

In his last entry dated August 31, 1898, Lieut X prophetically writes: "If the Filipinos deserve freedom, all they need to do is to have a mass uprising." The following year, war between the Filipinos and the Americans would erupt.

This war that would determine the shape and direction of Philippine history in the 20th century broke out in February 1899. Towards the end of the first decade of the century when the war petered out, more than 250,000 Filipinos had died in a terrible war defending their revolution and brief independence. The Americans, on the other hand, gained the piece they needed for their grand design on the Pacific, and a rich colony whose economy, politics and culture they still largely dominate with the help of their native collaborators long after they have relinquished direct political control.

The Diary of a French Officer on the War in the Philippines, 1898 by Lieutenant X, Translated from the original French by Marietta Enriquez de la Haye Jousselin, Published by the National Historical Institute, T.M. Kalaw St., Ermita, Manila, Philippines, 1994

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