Truth in biased documents | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Truth in biased documents

Albert F. Gudatt is a name you will not find in Philippine history textbooks. He is but one of many young men who served with the United States Army during the Spanish-American and the succeeding Philippine-American War. He stands out among the rest of the soldiers simply because he left a written record of his time in the Philippines, which includes service with the Manila Police between 1901 and 1902. Historians going over Philippine material at the Clements Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor may come across Gudatt’s experiences in a 154-page handwritten journal written in what appeared to be a ledger or notebook used for accounting.

The first entry in the journal is dated May 15, 1898, roughly two weeks after George Dewey sank the Spanish fleet under Patricio Montojo in Manila Bay, but there is nothing in the journal of interest to Filipinos until Oct. 26, 1899, when he notes the first sight of Cavite. He was assigned to Northern Luzon mostly in Pangasinan and La Union as he references the towns of San Fabian (that was bombarded by the Americans), San Jacinto, Manaoag, Namacpacan (now Luna), Bangar, Santa Rosa, and Santa Maria. The last entry is dated Feb. 16, 1904, and it is unfortunate that the last part of the ledger suffered water damage and the writing on it is too faded to read.

While there were daily entries in the journal, there was little historical or ethnographic interest aside from some rather understandable but racist observations. He referenced a fiesta in Binondo at the end of October that had what appears to be a procession of saints he describes as “idols.” Then there is a reference to the execution of a Black American in Fort Malate who was found guilty of murdering boys. He experienced frequent earthquakes that made the house he was in sway to and fro like the transport ship that took him to the Philippines and made him seasick. The US transport Thomas, which transported soldiers and teachers from the US to the Philippines, gave the name “Thomasites” to the first American teachers who volunteered to serve in the colony. Gudatt records that two female stowaways were discovered on the Thomas. They had boarded and escaped early detection by wearing military uniforms.


To provide readers with a taste of Gudatt’s language and racism, I transcribed an entry from Nov. 12, 1899:

“Off duty today. Samar is about starved out. Lucban [Gen. Vicente Lukban (1860-1916)] is preparing to surrender. An American adventuress has married a Filipino, and is in on Filipino highlife. Manila is a drawing card for characters of all description, and women seem to play an important part in the everyday life on this Island. The union of an American woman to male Filipinos is universally disapproved. The[y] are at best, but negroes, though different in facial expression from that of an African negroe (sic), they are of the same breed, and the most immoral and dirty people on the globe, unless indeed it is the Mexican. Half of them are unmarried, but live as if they were, the children, many of whom are in doubt about their father, many have no name, but that they have been dubbed with, such as Juan Pedro not having nor knowing any other. Yet these very people, especially the wealthy consider themselves far superior to any European or American race. Some of the native women imitate the American woman in dress, and they look, about as well in them as a monkey would. Very near all wear diamonds the size of a hazelnut, yet they cost no more than two or three hundred Mex[ican] currency. Someone has evidently made a fortune on diamonds on these Islands. The most are reported to have come from Australia …”

In a lecture I gave for the Lopez Museum and Library last weekend, I focused on primary sources on the American occupation of the Philippines I have consulted both in libraries in Manila and abroad. After the lecture, someone told me, “You make me feel like I don’t read enough.” I replied that it is I that have not read enough because every visit to a library, archive, or museum turns up more things I did not know before, and how much is left to be known. Over the years, I have learned not to be upset by racist descriptions of the Philippines and the Filipinos because a competent historian can always find truth even from a biased primary source document.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: historical documents, Looking Back, Philippine history

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