The Revolution in the Spanish press
Reading the dispatches from the Philippines reported from Manila and sent on by cable to Madrid via Hong Kong 120 years ago made me wonder how news was gathered and what merited publication in newspapers or onward transmission to Spain. On Dec. 23, 1896, the mail ship Covadonga arrived in Barcelona from the Philippines carrying 50 sick people cared for by the Red Cross. The passengers from Manila were of pessimistic mood following the outbreak and spread of the Philippine Revolution.
On Dec. 24, 1896, it was reported that the trial of Rizal, charged with rebellion and illicit association, would begin on Dec. 26 at 8 a.m. In other news, the rebels attacked Muntinglupa at dawn of the 23rd, resulting in one soldier dead and eight wounded. From Bulacan came news of a victory of the Spanish troops in San Jose against an attack of over 1,500 rebels who left 51 dead in their retreat, against only three government soldiers dead and 13 wounded. Ten of the 51 dead from the rebel side were deserters from the Spanish forces. Manila had good reason to rejoice at this Christmas news, together with the public profession of loyalty to the crown made by the Municipal Captains to the Governor-General and the Archbishop of Manila. After the necessary speeches, the military band ended the ceremony by playing the Marcha de Cadiz.
On Dec. 25, there was news about the rebellion from the regions: Zambales and Bataan reported 4,000 rebels, few with firearms and lantacas, who had little or no organization. From Bulacan and Morong the count was 30,000 rebels who accomplished propaganda in Manila, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Laguna. This group had a fair number of arms. Batangas had the better part of 400 men [perhaps we are missing a zero here] while Cavite had individuals counting upwards to 20,000 that had many arms, old and new, enough lantacas and 30,000 bolos. From this province only Carmona remained faithful to Spain. There was no head count or estimate given for Manila but it was known that the rebels in the capital were in close communication with those in the provinces. The number of the rebels increased with deserters from the Spanish forces. Even the prisoners in Bilibid were closely monitored as it was believed that if they escaped they would occupy nearby San Mateo. Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo are identified as principal leaders of the revolution.
It is significant that on Dec.19 the Japanese battleship Joshino arrived in Manila together with two North American cruisers. On Dec. 22 the German cruiser Irene left Hong Kong for Manila under the command of Vice Admiral Tirpitz. The arrival of foreign vessels in Manila Bay in those troubled times was not just to observe events to report back home but also to provide aid and, if necessary, evacuation of their nationals and business interests in the Philippines.
Accuracy of the newspaper accounts of the period are suspect because of government censorship. Filipino victories, no matter how small or insignificant, are never reported in the Spanish press. Later, in 1898, French correspondents reporting from Manila provided reportage sympathetic to the Filipino cause. So in the Spanish press we read about the aborted plan to burn the jail in Santa Cruz, Laguna on Dec. 24 and the encounter in Santolan and San Juan del Monte that resulted in 5 dead and 15 wounded on the rebel side and the confiscation of a falconet, a dozen bolos, gunpowder and ammunition.
It was reported that on the morning of the 26th the trial of the “mestizo chino” Jose Rizal began. He was accused of the crimes of rebellion, sedition, and illicit associations. It was a trial that drew great interest and while waiting for the appearance of the accused the curious public cast their attention on two women, known in Manila, as Rizal’s sister and his lover of English nationality. [In another newspaper report Josephine Bracken is called Irene and made a Canadian!] Rizal entered the court with his arms tied; he wore black coat and pants that contrasted with his white tie and vest. He was carefully groomed and felt or pretended to have great serenity.
So began the trial of Rizal that ended with a death sentence everyone expected. (Conclusion on Friday).
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