The 1914 Christmas Eve Fiasco | Inquirer Opinion
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The 1914 Christmas Eve Fiasco

/ 05:20 AM December 18, 2020

An uprising against the US colonial government in Manila was set for Dec. 31, 1914. As it was New Year’s Eve, people would be relaxed, and whatever gunfire that would ensue would be thought of as firecrackers or mischievous police or military men firing their guns in the air to greet 1915 with a bang.

But things did not go as planned, and the revolt failed to explode, ending up a dud. Manila Police Chief George H. Seaver reported that on Dec. 23, the planned New Year’s Eve revolt was moved to Christmas Eve or Dec. 24, 1914. What the conspirators did not know was that all off-duty policemen had been retained in quarters, and additional police were sent out to pick up more information.

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Then as now, you cannot keep a secret in Manila, and the revolt was revealed when some servants took their leave from their places of work, saying they were going to fight for their country. So loyal were some servants that they warned their masters to stay indoors overnight on Christmas Eve. One stole the revolver, saber, shoes, and leather leggings of a colonel in the Philippine Constabulary, but left a note asking for his master’s understanding because he needed these to fight for his country. One man was arrested in Bilibid Viejo that evening, carrying a piece of paper that gave the rendezvous point as the Manila Botanical Gardens.

Secret servicemen were deployed in the Botanical Gardens around 7 p.m and, depending on which report you are reading, the headcount of the “suspicious characters” who gathered there numbered from a low of “about 75” to “100” or even “200,” after an hour of surveillance. After receiving confirmation that something was afoot, the chief of police ordered arrests. Fifteen to 20 men were arrested after some resistance and brought to the police station. Some of the men were wearing new military uniforms in the design of those used during the Philippine Revolution or the Philippine-American War. Eight of the men were found to be carrying “concealed weapons, daggers, anting-antings, military commissions, orders, Katipunan insignia, and a large Katipunan flag.” The military commissions were traced back to the revolutionary general Artemio Ricarte, then in exile in Hong Kong.

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Whatever was planned for the Manila revolt was contained, and, except for a patrolman attacked with a bolo by a man in revolutionary uniform, there was not much to crow about. The patrolman was able to fire at his attacker, who then fled with his companions toward the Cementerio del Norte. Whatever excitement there was to be had that night was reported from Caloocan; it was an uprising in Malabon that led to the disarming and capture of provincial governor Mariano Melendres, who was detained with his bodyguards and a visiting friend from Makati, former revolutionary general Pio del Pilar, who was not recognized by the rebels.

Later investigation revealed that the plan was to assemble in the Botanical Gardens around 7:30 p.m. and wait for a signal, a gunshot, to move against the Cuartel de España in Intramuros, where the rebels were to do what we call today “agaw armas” and from there march to Fort William McKinley and then raid the Insular Treasury and take the money in its vaults. The Botanical Gardens group was to be assisted by another group from Luneta, but only eight people gathered there and their leader stood them up. A group numbering 200 or more gathered in the baseball field in Paco; they did some military maneuvers but dispersed when the signal for the uprising didn’t come. According to the government report, the police broke up the Botanical Gardens gathering “quietly but effectively. Three shots were fired into the air [causing] the revolutionary army to scamper to cover like hunted rabbits.”

When the arrested men were tried, it was revealed that many of them had joined a movement whose initiation also had a blood compact modeled after that used by Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan. Many of the men actually paid for membership and military commissions to various ranks, with colonel as the highest. They were moved by talk that the United States had failed to keep its promise regarding independence for the Philippines and political liberty for Filipinos. The low turnout on the day of the revolt was blamed on those who decided to wait for Manuel L. Quezon’s return to Manila with information regarding America’s intentions. This event is described in forgotten historical documents as the 1914 Christmas Eve Fiasco.

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TAGS: 1914, 1914 Christmas Eve Fiasco, Christmas, fiasco, History, MANILA, revolt, US
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