Looking Back

‘George Washington of the Philippines’

/ 04:30 AM February 07, 2020

On Jan. 27, 1899, Harry Huber, a 20-year-old American volunteer in the US military hospital in Manila, took a train to Malolos to take photos and, as we would say today, “make osyoso.” Accompanied by his friend Albert Sonnichsen, they pretended to be Englishmen to escape suspicion by the Filipinos on the eve of the Philippine-American War. They were spotted in Caloocan, the train’s first stop, and were arrested in the next, Polo, as American spies. That they carried a gun and camera did not help their case, so they were held for almost a year.

Sonnichsen’s account of this adventure can be found in the 1901 book “Ten Months a Captive Among Filipinos.” Half a century later, Huber’s son Gordon visited the Philippines and met the 84-year-old Emilio Aguinaldo, whom he described to folks back home in California as “the George Washington of the Philippines.”


Gordon Huber’s unpublished letters of this 1951 meeting with Aguinaldo were typed on Union Paper Company letterhead and written from the Bayview Hotel in Manila. Huber’s letters and photographs now form part of an important collection of Philippine-American War material that goes on the block at Leon Gallery next weekend. Huber’s account of his visit to Aguinaldo’s Kawit home is of particular interest for some anecdotes in it about artifacts that visitors overlook on tours of the place today. For example, I didn’t know that the Malolos Constitution was drafted on the plain round table in the dining room.

On Sunday morning, Oct. 28, 1951, Huber motored from Manila to Cavite with friends from the Philippine Chapter of the Lions Club and were received by the General, his wife, and Emilio Jr.


Huber described the sala: “Well, I simply can’t describe my emotions as we were greeted and taken into the gigantic living room, located on the second floor. Around the room were photos of all the great men of history of the last sixty years, including all of our

Generals, Admirals, and Governor[s]-General to the Philippines, and Presidents. Each photo was endorsed with words of affection or admiration for the old warrior. One of the most prominently displayed photos was that of Theodore Roosevelt, holding one of his children on his arm. This photo had the place of honor, having been put on the concert-size grand piano.”

From here, Aguinaldo gave Huber a tour: “The General took me to his private museum, where the skeletons rattled. Here hanging before me was the full dress uniform and sword which the General was wearing in a picture I had looked at since childhood (a picture I have in the collection with me). The sword is the one which Aguinaldo prizes highly, probably above everything else. It is the sword the Spanish General surrendered to him at Cavite. It is symbolic of the first throwing off of the colonial yoke. The museum was filled with priceless treasures of the revolution, including pictures of General Funston and party to whom Aguinaldo surrendered, pictures of the American guards who were stationed at Malacañang, the palace where the General was confined. There was one picture of Aguinaldo and his personal guard with whom he played chess during his incarceration.

“One of the most interesting trophies, and I would say the most important, because without it, there would be nothing left of Kawit, is a Royal Japanese Imperial sword, more than 500 years old. It was presented to Aguinaldo by [Taisho] the father of Hirohito, the present Emperor [Showa].

“When the Japanese came storming into Kawit, ready to burn down the place because of the collection of pictures of so many famous Americans, the officers in charge spotted the sword in the trophy case and upon recognizing its imperial significance, went into a 45-degree bow and reverently left the house untouched. Because of Aguinaldo’s possession of this treasure, the whole town of Kawit was spared. There was not a single life lost in this community from Japanese action because of the protectorate established.”

While I have visited Kawit numerous times since the 1980s and have explored every nook and walked in its secret passages, I have to return after reading these long Huber letters to see the place anew, with fresh eyes, and like Huber, experience “walking with ghosts of the past.”



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