Looking Back

‘Agaw armas’ in 1897

When we celebrate the declaration of Philippine independence on June 12, do we remember the other events that led to Kawit? Textbook history tells us the outcome of the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War but forgets the details. How were battles fought? What kind of guns and bladed weapons did the revolucionarios and insurrectos use on the enemy? What kind of injury will these weapons inflict? These details, often ignored as “trivial,” are what make our story move; these details make history come alive.

Living in Tokyo for the past three months drew me on a pilgrimage to the Rizal monument in Hibiya Park across from the Imperial Hotel and also to the Artemio Ricarte memorial in Yamashita Park, Yokohama. Both visits encouraged me to trace the footsteps of other heroes in Meiji Japan who are overshadowed by Jose Rizal and the romantic interlude with Usui Seiko or O-sei san.


It is not well known that Juan Luna visited Japan, leaving us with paintings of local scenery now in the National Museum. It is not well known that Artemio Ricarte’s wife, Agueda Esteban, ran a Philippine restaurant in Yokohama called the “Karihan Luvimin” that was patronized by Filipinos in transit to or from Manila, like Manuel Luis Quezon. It is not well known that Rizal’s friend, Mariano Ponce, lived in 637 Miyokoji Yama, Kitagata, Korakigun, Yokohama, at the turn of the 20th century. From his Yokohama home, Ponce conducted a public relations campaign for the cause of Philippine independence. He entertained sympathetic Japanese journalists and politicians, a Korean prince, and even Dr. Sun Yat-sen, known as the Father of Modern China.

Part of Ponce’s correspondence was published in 1932 as “Cartassobre la revolucion 1897-1900.” It provided details that make boring history move. In a letter addressed to Ferdinand Blumentritt and dated May 1897, Ponce provided an update on the progress of the Philippine Revolution that began in Balintawak (or Pugad Lawin) in August 1896.


These random jottings reminded me of the Metro Briefs section of today’s Inquirer:

“On March 30 [1897] in Pasong Balite (Polo, Bulakan) at nine in the morning, a column of 450 Spanish and Volunteers from Sta. Maria initiated an attack against 120 insurrectos with 10 horsemen(jinetes), cannons (lantacas) and ammunition, all well entrenched under the command of a chief named Capistrano. They resisted combat of five hours, resulting in the flight of the Spanish who shouted ‘Viva España!’ as they fled, leaving 58 casualties on the battlefield including the captain who commanded the column and a lieutenant. The fallen rose to 183, according to the confession of eight wounded prisoners who were well cared for. The well entrenched Tagalogs, suffered no more than three casualties and seven wounded. They recovered 52 Mausers, two Remingtons, and ammunition.

“The Rebel Council of War tried one of the prisoners for having slapped the cadaver of the captain, saying, ‘You’re to blame for what happens.’ The man on trial manifested that he was very resentful because the captain commanded them to advance after seeing the advantageous position of the enemy…

“On April 2 [1897] combined columns from Novaliches, San Francisco del Monte, Caloocan and Polo with around 800 men went to attack Pasong Balite defended by 50 Tagalogs under the command of the same Capistrano. They resisted for seven hours but at the end of their ammunition abandoned the trenches for more strategic locations after causing the fall of 200 Spaniards. Our side suffered only one casualty and four wounded due to their advantageous position.

“In Tanque (Caloocan) on April 14, an advance party of five Tagalogs discovered a loyal column of 200 men. The Tagalogs purposely chose a site and, posted behind some trees, exchanged fire with the Spanish killing a colonel, a cabo and nine soldiers, causing much injury between them and a lieutenant.

“In Marilao (Bulakan) on 16 April six young boys from 14 to 16 years of age armed with puñales (knives) undertook a surprise attack in the train station garrisoned by nine Spanish and four natives. Caught by surprise, seven Spaniards were killed even before they could take their arms. Captured were: two natives, five Mausers, two Remingtons and ammunition.

“In Pamitinan, Montalban, half a kilometer from this province of Manila, was a a well defended Tagalog camp. Columns from Manila, Mariquina, Pasig and San Mateo attempted to attack it on the 7th and 9th April but seeing the situation and defense of the camp, they retired a great distance away without firing a single shot.


“In Jaen, Nueva Ecija, one of the rebel capitals, Enrique Zamora with 11 men attacked the convento at nightfall on April 9 and snatched seven guns from the well armed Native Volunteers  meeting no resistance…”

These are mere tidbits from history, but they show how “agaw armas (weapon snatching)” was done in the past. They show troop movements that we can plot on a map and visualize in our minds. These are details on how the poorly armed but determined Katipuneros fought to gain independence from Spain. Without details, we have no story. Without an engaging story, history remains fossilized in a textbook instead of being relevant to our lives and our times.

( Comments are welcome in my Facebook Fan Page.)

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TAGS: featured column, Filipino heroes in japan, philippine independence, Philippine Revolution, Philippine-american war
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