Looking Back

Crime then and now

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During the New Year we look back on the year just past and look forward to a better one ahead. During this time, memory races further back to people and places that have formed part of our lives.

I don’t know why I remembered Café Adriatico in Malate this year, was it because of the late Larry Cruz, his dad E. Aguilar Cruz who is now memorialized in Abe restaurant in the Fort, or his wife Fely J who is also memorialized in a Greenbelt restaurant? While the food, service and ambience at Adriatico remain the same, there is much that has changed: menus used to be hand-painted or hand-drawn by the late E. Aguilar Cruz; Irish coffee used to be served in John Pettyjohn mugs and its blueberry cheesecake frozen hard as a rock; the “Chocolate eh” described in the “Noli Me Tangere” was made frothy with a batirol and poured into your dainty cup from a copper chocolatera. The hardwood tables were all different because they were antiques. The rustic chairs with cane seats have since been retired either because of age or due to complaints that they ruined the stockings or linen pants of customers. Even the fresh flowers in used patent green Perrier bottles are now just a faded memory.

The bar of Café Adriatico has a wonderful piece of latticework, Philippine art nouveau in wood with an American eagle in the center; it even had an old poster showing Uncle Sam welcoming patrons into the “Quiapo Saloon.” These relics reminded me of the “red-light” districts before they actually had red electric lights as they did in postwar Ermita, Angeles and Olongapo. These bars catered to American servicemen and sailors out on the town for R&R (rest and recreation). In another time and place, the red-light district was on Gardenia Street, Sampaloc, until then Manila Mayor Justo Lukban rounded up all the prostitutes and shipped them to Davao. Gardenia today refers either to a popular brand of sliced bread or a motel discreetly tucked away in Pasig.

Before Gardenia, during the Philippine-American War, enemy soldiers had a choice—Sampaloc, Binondo and Tondo. When they had too much to drink and became rowdy, they ended up in The Manila Times, like one of them did in the newspaper’s July 26, 1899 issue:

“Private Thomas Dillon, a member of the California regiment, created a disturbance in a house of ill-fame, in Binondo last night, by suddenly drawing a revolver from the holster of his companion Corporal Tipton, of the 24th Infantry, and firing three shots through the ceiling. Felicia Nosada, one of the women present, nearly fainted with fright. Hearing the reports, the patrol of Binondo police came into the house and arrested Dillon, who claimed he did not know the revolver was loaded. A likely excuse after firing three shots from the same gun.”

In the same issue of The Manila Times:

“Two recruits of the 3rd Artillery… went into a native gambling joint last night in Tondo and proceeded to make things lively. They played the native games with phenomenal luck, and succeeded as the gamblers phrase it in ‘breaking the bank.’ The natives grew hostile after the soldiers had won their money, and hot words and blows were exchanged. In regard to the fight, reports do not confirm one another. One story is to the effect that a Chinese habitue of the joint gave one of the soldiers a bolo, with which the latter seriously stabbed one of the natives in the neck. The natives, enraged at the sight of their wounded comrade, made a concerted attack upon the soldiers with every conceivable sort of weapon in hand and succeeded in stabbing one soldier in the breast and beating the head of the other. The wounded men are now in the 1st Reserve Hospital. Their names are John Bailey and John M. Gambell. The latter is seriously wounded in the head and stomach. At present his condition is critical.”

Reading the above is like reading the Metro section of the Inquirer. The stories are old but the situation so contemporary.  The Manila Times of Aug. 25, 1899, reported:

“On Thursday night about 7 o’clock a drunken colored soldier belonging to the 24th Infantry entered a house of ill-fame in Tondo and shot two of its inmates. We have been told several versions of the story and it is hard to know the true one.

“One story is to the effect that one of the girls saluted the soldier with the remark ‘Hello Nigger, you’re not so warm,’ whereupon the brute pulled his revolver and shot the speaker and her companion, the former through the arm, the latter in the left side. Both women were taken to the City hospital where they are now under treatment. The soldier was arrested and now awaits court-martial.

“Another version of the affair is much more sensational. The soldier was in the habit of visiting the house and knew its inmates very well. On Thursday night he paid them a visit. He had quite a sum of money on his person and one of the girls attempted to extract it from his pocket. The soldier flew into a rage, pulled his gun and shot both women present. A large crowd was attracted by the shots, and led by a couple of American soldiers they entered the house and found the two victims lying prostrate on the floor in pools of their own blood. The soldier was captured after a hot chase.”

When we read the US military records we should ask how many of the dead and wounded died in actual combat, and form a different view of the Philippine-American War.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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