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Then and now, problems of government

opinion / Columnists
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Looking Back

Then and now, problems of government

Surrender” and “guerrilla” were words that caught my attention as I read about recent New People’s Army attacks on government targets and the yielding to authority of all types of people involved in drugs, or influential types seeking to evade, even temporarily, being thrown into a city or police jail with “ordinary” criminals.

These were also words that came to mind as I browsed through the 5-volume compilation of captured documents that Capt. J.R.M. Taylor put together as “The Philippine Insurrection Against the United States,” the publication of which was blocked by the US War Department.

Before the publication of a limited number of copies by the Lopez Museum in 1971-73, Filipino scholars researching on the period had to endure perusing the material in microfilm. We have to thank the late Renato Constantino, who proposed the publication when he was director of the Lopez Museum. An army of researchers working from a print of the microfilm supplied by Teodoro Agoncillo took years just to transcribe the text and to  weed out most of the typographical or obvious factual errors in the original text.

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In the end Constantino threw in the towel and just published the volumes without the promised commentary on the anti-Filipino history as written by the biased Captain Taylor and supplementary notes or annotations on the various documents appended to the work as exhibits.

Despite the bias of the compiler who wanted to present the First Philippine Republic as incapable of self-government, and the problems of translating the captured documents from the original Spanish, Tagalog, and other Philippine languages, the work is still the first step in trying to understand what we now know and accept, not as the “Philippine Insurrection” which was a mere uprising against an established government, but as the “Philippine American War” which was a conflict between two nations. If we are to trace the birth of the nation to the short-lived First Republic, we accept that Filipinos declared themselves free of Spain on June 12, 1898, that they established a government and Congress in Malolos in 1899, and that our freedom was taken from us when America bought the Philippines from Spain at the close of the Spanish-American War for $20 million.

“Guerrilla” and “surrender” are words that caught my attention while I read some of the circulars and orders issued by Gen. Vicente Lukban (1860-1916), who was the political-military chief of Samar and Leyte during the Philippine-American War. On Feb. 4, 1900, Lukban issued general orders for guerrillas from his stronghold in Samar that consisted of items covering: obedience from the leaders down through the chain of command; that officers should look after their men’s health; that they be responsible for their men’s behavior; and that they prevent any abuse, destruction of property, robbery, or the unlawful collection of war contributions. It is interesting that Lukban issued a revised version of the same orders on April 26, 1900.

Agaw-armas was in place even then. Lukban ordered a promotion for any soldier who captured arms and ammunition: 25 guns led to promotion as 2nd lieutenant; 50 guns to 1st lieutenant; 100 guns to captain; and 300 guns to major. In the February orders, Lukban told officers to “try in every way to make prisoners of our enemies, and in case they make any resistance he is to shoot them.” In April this was revised to: “If he should meet and give the enemy battle and be victorious, he shall treat the enemy with greatest courtesy, he shall respect the wounded, giving them hospital facilities and giving them kind treatment if possible until they arrive here, and he who shall abuse them or cause their death shall be executed.”

He was more direct about punishing those who “take the guise of guerrillas and are nothing but a gang of bandits who are disturbing the common welfare.” He warned against “those who collect taxes in my name without my authority.”

These documents can be read in two ways: first, as primary-source documents that tell us how our freedom was won; and second, as painful reminders that, human nature being what it is, there were problems of government that ruin the picture of the past we wish to have, problems that are still around more than a century since Lukban’s time.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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