Lost in translation
In April 1899, Henri Turot, a French journalist, traveled to the Philippines and published, “The War in the Philippines” for the magazine Le Tour du Monde. Turot’s two-part reportage should be included in the reading list of the college course on Philippine history from primary sources because the text, beautifully translated from the original French by the late E. Aguilar Cruz, is accompanied by a folio of contemporary photographs that allow the reader to visualize and appreciate the Philippine-American War as it unfolded. To read contemporary accounts rather than a textbook is more illuminating.
Then as now, reports on a conflict between nations (in this case the United States of America against the First Philippine or Malolos Republic that had not been recognized by the other nations) is fodder for fake news. Turot referenced a glowing report dispatched by US Gen. Elwell S. Otis to New York that read: “General Lawton has returned from the lake region bringing with him the boats he has captured; the insurgents have dispersed: they fight by retreating behind our troops, who are in excellent health and morale.”
After he arrived in Manila and did some inquiries, Turot reported: “The column that Lawton led toward Sta. Cruz suffered a real disaster; a detachment sent in advance fell into an ambush and was taken prisoner; then the Filipinos cut the lines and gave fierce battle. Lawton had to retreat to Manila, saying upon his return that he was recalled by Otis.”
On the morale of the enemy troops, Turot reported mutinies and soldiers dumping their arms and ammunition into the Pasig River! On the excellent health of the enemy troops, Turot mentioned over 500 soldiers returned to Manila suffering from wounds or heatstroke! French accounts of the Philippine-American War I have read are sympathetic to Filipinos and the Philippine struggle for independence. It is a pity that we are separated from these texts and more because of time and language. In the past century, the “praise release” has been that the US came to liberate us from the clutches of backward and evil Spain, that after a period of instruction in democracy and American ways, our independence, already declared on June 12, 1898, would be recognized, and the Philippines became a free and independent nation only on July 4, 1946.
Before sailing to Manila from Hong Kong, Turot interviewed two people: US Consul Rounsevelle Wildman and Galicano Apacible, one of the diplomatic agents of the Malolos Republic. Turot was repelled by Wildman who said: “I would consider [Emilio] Aguinaldo as too insignificant a personality to promise him anything whatever! I considered him like a simple coolie and made him wait with the Chinese in my [office] anteroom.” We know from archival records available to us now that Consul Wildman in Hong Kong and Consul E. Spencer Pratt in Singapore got Aguinaldo to ally with the US forces against Spain by leading him to believe that they would sail away and recognize the independence of the Philippines after Spain is defeated. Wildman described Filipinos as “half-savages incapable of governing themselves and to whom the US wanted to give an outstanding service by condescending to handle their affairs.”
Turot did his homework and interviewed Apacible of the Hong Kong Junta. Apacible was described as intelligent, manly, alert, expressive, and enthusiastic. Upon their meeting, Apacible asked, with obvious anger:
“Do I look like a savage? And is Aguinaldo, who these past months has surprised the whole world as much by his military ability as the wisdom of his administrative actions, not civilized? Savages or rebels [insurrecto was the derogatory word of choice] is how the colonizing countries now describe the peoples that keep in their hearts their love of country and liberty. Is it not enough for them to oppress us? Is it still necessary to make us appear in the eyes of the civilized world like barbarians unworthy of joining the ranks of independent nations?”
After a 72-hour trip from Hong Kong to Manila, Turot resumed his investigations and interviewed George Dewey who, in the beginning, was quoted by the press as praising the Filipinos and describing them as intelligent and better qualified for self-government than the Cubans. By the time Turot spoke to him, Dewey turned 360 degrees and declared:
“I am willing to acknowledge that Aguinaldo’s troops have bravely fought the Spaniards on land while I operated on the sea. But I must correct the terms which you have just used; never have the Americans been allies of the Filipinos. To them I simply said: We have the same enemy, you fight from your side, we fight from ours. That was where our understanding ended; this was a parallel action, not an alliance.”
Since Aguinaldo spoke little or no English, it is understandable that something was lost in translation when he spoke of his American “allies” that he later discovered were enemies in disguise. The Americans did not clarify until later as Dewey explained that their action was parallel, not an alliance. Therefore, on July 4, 1946, Aguinaldo said that the US did not grant Philippine independence. Rather, by recognizing it almost five decades later, the US merely returned the independence the Filipinos declared in 1898.
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