Looking Back

‘10 Commandments’ for guerillas

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Command responsibility is something no one should take lightly. A responsible leader ultimately takes credit or blame for the outcome of things undertaken by underlings. Vicente Lukban (1860-1916) was the Filipino military leader in Samar and Leyte during the Philippine-American War. He is either praised or cursed whenever the Balangiga Massacre is discussed. Command responsibility meant the buck stopped with Lukban who only found out about the events in Balangiga after the fact. Although Lukban did not participate in the Balangiga massacre, he remains an important figure in our history for his heroism and his ability to reinvent himself after his capture in 1901. Lukban was elected governor of Tayabas (now Quezon Province) in 1912 and again in 1916, but death overtook him in November of that year.

Lukban’s papers were captured by the enemy and shipped to Washington, D.C. were they formed part of a huge collection, labeled the “Philippine Insurgent Records,” in the War Department. These valuable primary source documents were later classified and microfilmed by the US National Archives and Records Administration before they were returned to the Philippines after World War II. If they have not been pilfered or have not disintegrated naturally, many of these original documents should now be in the National Library of the Philippines where they are part of the collection now known as the “Philippine Revolutionary Records.” The microfilm copy is still the most convenient way to consult the collection, and we can only dream that with more government funding these can be digitized and ultimately be searchable online.

I was drawn to Lukban’s papers where I came across a letter to the local presidente of Katibug in 1900, recommending a lethal poison known in their language as “dita” that was to be applied to the points of their “balatik” (spears) and “sura” (traps) for use on the enemy. Should Filipinos be accidentally wounded with this potent poison, the antidote was to treat the wound with the stem of “badian” mixed with “lingaton.” Lukban’s correspondence contains many orders and decrees that are now obsolete but worth rereading if one must get a sense of how the Philippine-American War was fought in Samar and Leyte.

One document dated April 1900 was written in the mountains of Samar and descended like Moses and the tablets on the guerilla forces. Here, Lukban detailed the chain of command and decreed a system of rewards and punishments—in 10 parts, just like the Ten Commandments.

“1. The commander of the guerilla shall appoint one sergeant and two corporals if their number amounts to 50, and two sergeants and four corporals if their number amounts to 100.

“2. The sergeant immediately below the commander in rank shall punctually carry out all the orders which the commander may give him, and shall be tried by court martial should he not do so.

“3. The guerilla soldiers shall show due respect to their commander and to the sergeants and corporals of their company, obeying their orders provided they are in favor of our cause.

“4. The guerilla commander shall respect the orders of the Inspector of guerillas with regard to military tactics and battles, obeying them blindly.

“5. A guerilla commander who shall secure 25 rifles and much ammunition shall be promoted to the actual rank of second lieutenant, to the rank of first lieutenant on the regular roll if he secures 50, to captain if 100 and to major if 300.

“6. The commander shall endeavor to keep the state of health of his guerilla band in good condition if it be possible, and properly manage rice contribution furnished him by the head of the town; and he shall inform the chief of the town in advance of any scarcity in provisions.

“7. The commander shall be responsible if he allows the commission of abuses by the guerillas in the houses of peaceful people; he shall send such persons to me or to the commanders of my column, as well as all those who commit robbery, murder, and other things contrary to the good of the nation.

“8. If he should meet the enemy and give battle and be victorious, he shall treat the enemy with the 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.

“9. It shall be the duty of the commander of the guerillas to pursue those who take the guise of guerillas and are nothing but a gang of bandits who are disturbing the common welfare, sending them to me if they are taken or to any of the commanders or inspectors of my column.

“10. It shall also be the duty of the guerilla commanders to persecute all those who collect taxes in my name without my authority properly issued, which persons shall be brought to me or to the commanders of my column.”

Reading Lukban’s 10 commandments for guerillas gives us a sense of the times: He demanded blind obedience from his men; rewarded successful “agaw-armas” with promotions in rank; tried to contain abuse against the innocent, the noncombatant and even the enemy; and did not tolerate crimes or the use of his name to exact unofficial revolutionary taxes. Historians should go over these old records again if only to know how difficult it is to forge a nation in war.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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