Wednesday, June 20, 2018
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Looking Back

Revolutionary tactics

In a little more than a month’s time it will be the “ber” months (September, October, November and December), and the Philippines will begin observing the longest Christmas celebration in the world.

Christmas carols will be heard in shopping malls, a gentle reminder to consumers to start shopping for gifts. At the University of the Philippines Diliman, fine arts students will soon be at work on the floats and lanterns to be used in the December Lantern Parade that marks the beginning of the Christmas vacation. I don’t know if they still do it, but another of the school requirements was “Paintings Come Alive,” where students make costumes and set designs in the course of acting out famous paintings in art history. Something similar has also become a tradition in nearby Ateneo de Manila University, where students of western history engage in the so-called “Battle of Bell[armine] Field,” where they make costumes and mock weapons and recreate famous battles in ancient history.

If I were younger I would probably require my students to recreate battles from the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War that have been forgotten and are not as well-memorialized as those in World War II. It’s a pity that textbooks tell our students about Andres Bonifacio tearing up his  cedula  and shouting the “p” word to inspire his countrymen to rise against Spain, but not how the revolution was fought. We learn about the declaration of independence from the window of Emilio Aguinaldo’s Kawit home on June 12, 1898, but we don’t know about the battles before and after this that led to the fall of the short-lived First Philippine Republic and the start of the half-century under the United States.


I wonder whether cadets in the Philippine Military Academy learn about the battles of Hannibal, Caesar, Rommel, and MacArthur together with the campaigns led by Lapu-lapu, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo, or Antonio Luna.

The material for the yet unwritten military history of the Philippine Revolution lies in the National Library of the Philippines, in boxes and boxes of documents once known as the Philippine Insurgent Records or “P.I.R.,” which have been renamed “P.R.R.,” or Philippine Revolutionary Records. We are fortunate that some people like Gen. Vicente Lukban in Samar kept records from which we get a glimpse of their struggle. For example, a letter from “K.K.” in Cebu on Jan. 10, 1899, to Lukban was translated from the original Spanish or Cebuano and made part of the exhibits in a five-volume “The Philippine Insurrection Against the US”.

This record was compiled by Capt. J.R.M. Taylor at the turn of the 20th century and published by the Lopez Museum under Renato Constantino in 1971. The letter contains these recommendations:

“As a special charge from the Centre, is the system of guerilla warfare which the people in arms are to pursue, in groups or section of 20 or 25, even less, members, for the purpose of continually harassing the enemy and not letting him rest; with instructions to fire until they are within 40 to 50 meters, so that they will not miss and the bullets may find their target and have the proper effect. The greatest economy possible in ammunition and other elements of war is charged, for the simple reason that they cannot be secured easily, by virtue of the present conditions through which the country is passing, and the means of communication. That soldiers in battle must not kneel or lie down on the ground, because the Americans aim very low, it being a well known fact that since they pursue these tactics many of our men have died from bullets in the head or chest, while if they stood up the bullets would pass or hit them in the leg, feet, or thighs, which wounds are not mortal or serious. However, in your good judgment as commander you will take into consideration the topography.

“Instructions are also given to have large stores of munitions of war and provisions in the mountains, taking into consideration the fact that this war is to be prolonged for a long period, until America or its government grants us our longed-for independence, and our victory lies in the prolongation of the war.”

In July 1899, Lukban sent a report to Antonio Luna regarding the political situation in the Visayas, naming “barrators and pot-bellied pretended patriots who are working to have me removed from here.” Lukban also reported on the manufacture of ammunition using old sewing machines and forest products:

“My arsenal, situated in the mountains of Catbalogan, is already turning out cartridges of various calibers and my ordnance chemist, Sr. Vito Borromeo, is studying how to increase the output of nitrate of potash, without the necessity of ingredients; because I have discovered by the mixture of various substances secured in the woods how chlorate is made, according to the chemist’s analysis.

“The bullets used in the cartridges are made from the bells that I ordered melted; of all of which, General, when the cartridge machines are all working for which I also used worn-out sewing machines, I will make a report, as also of the number of thousand cartridges manufactured per day.”


It is not enough for students to learn about the outcome of battles. Knowing how our forefathers fought may appear trivial to constipated academics, but it makes history come alive and leads to an appreciation of the sacrifice that led to the birth of the nation.

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Christmas, History, Looking Back, opinion, Philippine military, Philippine Revolution
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