Looking Back

Christmas Eve fiasco, 1914

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Textbook history records the rivalry between two Cavite factions of the Katipunan. “Magdalo” was headed by Emilio Aguinaldo, who chose his nom de guerre Magdalo in honor of Mary Magdalene, the patron saint of Kawit. Contrary to popular belief, “Magdiwang” was not headed by Andres Bonifacio, whose nom de guerre was “Maypagasa” (There is hope). Bonifacio, as head or “Supremo” of the Katipunan, tried to patch things up between these rival factions by calling a meeting in Tejeros in 1897. Unfortunately, the agenda of the meeting was discarded and a “snap” election was held to create a new revolutionary government from the Katipunan. Some textbooks provide the list of the men elected to office starting with Aguinaldo, who was chosen president over Bonifacio who was later elected interior secretary.

For lack of space, or to avoid complicating the story, our textbooks do not explain the context of the Tejeros election held in Cavite with predominantly Caviteño electors. Why did two Cavite factions speak for the entire Katipunan? Textbook history does not mention that the election may have been rigged, because it is hard to explain to our children and our children’s children that the Founding Fathers cheated in our first election. The secret to making history engaging is to make it relevant to our times. Perhaps one of the lessons we can learn from history is that nobody loses in Philippine elections. Winners are always challenged with election protests.

Expanding our knowledge of the context for historical events means that we learn about other, more colorful or controversial characters in the story, like the Ilocano Artemio Ricarte who was elected captain-general in Tejeros. Ricarte’s nom de guerre was “Vibora” (Viper). His tragedy, like Emilio Aguinaldo’s, was a long life. Had he died in battle against the Spanish or the Americans he would be celebrated today, but in the twilight of his years he was returned to the Philippines from exile by the Japanese during World War II to rally his people against America. Like Rip van Winkle, Ricarte lived in a different time and place; he did not realize that the Philippines and the Filipinos had changed.

From Hong Kong Ricarte plotted an uprising for Dec. 24, 1914, which failed. It is now a historical footnote known as “the Christmas Eve fiasco.” The New York Times reported from Manila:

“Riot guns are being distributed to American civilians on Carabao-Fraile Islands and 100 rounds with full equipment have been distributed to soldiers in Manila. Barrels supposed to contain cement were shipped to Corregidor and found to contain bolos. Two native scout officers and companies were disarmed and confined on Corregidor. The plan was to free prisoners by a sudden night attack overpowering scout guards and capturing the island. The day was fixed for between Christmas and New Year’s. In the last few months there has been a notable increase of so-called Boy Scout organizations, composed mostly of grown men, drilling throughout Manila provinces.”

Francis Burton Harrison, who is best remembered today for a busy street in Pasay City, sent a cable to the US secretary of war on Dec. 27, 1914, that reads:

“On Christmas Eve there was a small and unsuccessful movement in Manila, connected with the Ricarte campaign. Ricarte has for several years conducted from Hong Kong, revolutionary propaganda, appealing to the most ignorant classes of Filipinos and selling through his agents in the islands commissions in his so-called army, for sums from a pestat [peseta?-ARO] to 10 pesos (10 cents to $5). During the last three months, five of the Ricarte leaders have been arrested and sentenced to four and six years including Ricarte’s right-hand man. It has been regarded as a grafting scheme under a revolutionary guise, but from time to time arouses excitement among uneducated classes.

“[On] Christmas Eve about 75 men, extremely ignorant, without firearms, met at the Botanical Garden in Manila and were dispersed by the municipal police without disorder except that three shots were fired into the air by police, and 20 men arrested. Eight of the latter were held upon the charge of carrying concealed weapons—knives and bolos. Nobody was injured, except one man shot by a policeman, later in the night, in another part of the city, when he attacked a policeman with a bolo.

“Movements of a similar character occurred at Navotas, 10 miles from Manila, where about 40 men assembled and endeavored unsuccessfully to loot the municipal safe, taking the Provincial Governor prisoner, who afterward escaped uninjured. Twenty of this party were captured by the constabulary or the municipal police.

“Ten men with two firearms in Laguna de Bay attempted to make trouble last night [Dec. 26], with no results. Everything is quiet and a vigorous attempt will be made to secure the leaders, the chief of whom is believed to be a man under sentence of imprisonment for homicide who has jumped his bail. Nobody of any standing or influence is concerned in this movement.”

Aside from the New York Times there are documents in the US National Archives and the Library of Congress waiting for a Filipino researcher interested in the Christmas Eve fiasco of 1914.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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