Remembering Macario Sakay
More than a century ago on July 4, 1902, US President Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation officially ending what Americans referred to as the “Philippine Insurrection.” In the proclamation, he announced that “peace had been established in all parts of the archipelago except in the country inhabited by the Moro tribes.” He
commended the American Army for “its courage and fortitude in defeating the great insurrection against the lawful sovereignty and just authority of the United States.”
The so-called “insurrection” was expensive and bloody for both sides. Americans spent some $600 million—or roughly $10 billion in today’s currency—and lost 4,234 men who were killed in action. Filipino losses came up to some 20,000 soldiers and 200,000 civilian casualties. Stanley Karnow, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “In Our Image,” used a different measure. He reported “the devastation of the country was reflected in a single statistic. The number of carabaos, without which the rural population could not plant or harvest rice, the staple food, shrunk by 90 percent during the war.”
The proclamation did not reflect the reality. It was issued mainly in response to domestic pressure from anti-imperialist elements in the United States. They were horrified by the slaughter taking place (particularly the Balangiga massacre of American soldiers in September 1901), leaving the American public more frustrated than ever by the seemingly endless struggle. Roosevelt feared that a prolonged conflict would damage his bid for reelection.
The surrender of Gen. Miguel Malvar in April 1902, provided the United States with a basis for declaring that the war was over. All other anti-American activities after
Malvar’s surrender were considered the work of bandits or tulisanes.”
The reality of the situation was that the Philippine-American War continued for almost a decade after the Roosevelt proclamation.
One of the revolutionary heroes who continued the fight was Macario de Leon Sakay. Sakay was born in Tondo, Manila, in 1870. His first job was that of an apprentice in a calesa shop. Later he became a tailor and stage actor before joining the Katipunan Movement led by Andres Bonifacio.
From 1902 to 1906, from his stronghold in the mountains of Laguna province, he led an effective guerrilla campaign against the Americans. The main area of operations of Sakay’s resistance movement was in the southern Tagalog provinces of Rizal, Batangas, Laguna and Cavite. So successful were his exploits that the Americans resorted to “hamleting” (concentrating of villagers in one location for more effective control) in areas where Sakay had strong mass support.
In 1905, Governor-General Henry Ide sent an ilustrado, Dominador Gomez, to speak to Sakay with an offer of amnesty for him and his men. Part of the offer was the establishment of a Philippine Assembly as a starting point toward eventual independence. The idea appealed to Sakay who dreamed of Filipinos freely participating in determining their course as a nation.
As a result, he surrendered in July 1906. It was a trap. He was welcomed in Manila, but while attending a party tendered by the Constabulary chief Col. Henry H. Bandholtz, Sakay and his chief subordinates were disarmed and arrested. Accused of being a bandit under the Brigandage Act of 1902, he was sentenced to death and hanged on Sept. 13, 1907. (The Brigandage Act held that persons refusing to give allegiance to the American government in the Philippines were liable for arrest and execution.)
His last words: “Death comes to all of us sooner or later, so I will face the LORD Almighty calmly. But I want to tell you that we are not bandits and robbers, as the Americans have accused us, but members of the revolutionary force that defended our mother country, the Philippines! Farewell! Long live the Republic and may our independence be born in the future! Long live the Philippines!”
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On Sept. 13, 2007, centennial commemorations of the execution of Sakay were held in Manila and the University of the Philippines. The commemorations, including a Senate resolution honoring Sakay’s sacrifice, symbolized a renewed advocacy to rectify Philippine history by honoring Sakay and other freedom fighters of the early American occupation as patriots, not as the bandits and tulisanes that the colonizers portrayed them to be.
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In 2007, a young Army officer, Maj. Ronald Jess Alcudia (first captain of PMA Class 1993), published an article on Sakay in the Army Journal. He cited the need for a reexamination of Philippine history to honor the maligned and forgotten heroes of our struggle for independence. He called on the AFP to reassess “its cultural identity as an army of the Filipino people” by “acknowledging the cause of Filipino freedom fighters at the turn of the century as our own and signaling a willingness to rectify American-inspired historical distortions.” He added that “the political and historical controversy surrounding the place of General Sakay in Philippine history parallels that of the divergent but equally passionate views of Filipinos and Americans of the events that transpired in Balangiga, Samar, on September 28, 1901. Like the bells of Balangiga, Sakay is a symbol of the Filipino’s struggle for independence.”
Last year, Lieutenant Colonel Alcudia submitted a proposal for the renaming of Camp Eldridge in Los Baños, Laguna, as Camp General Macario Sakay. (Who is
Eldridge? Eldridge was an American serviceman and US Medal of Honor recipient who fought bravely against a band of tribal Indians in 1870.) The proposal to rename the camp was seconded by the Philippine Historical Association (PHA) in a resolution submitted to the Department of Defense. The PHA commended Alcudia for spearheading this advocacy. Alcudia also requested favorable endorsement from Gen. Ernesto Carolina, administrator of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office. To date, we are still awaiting positive action on this proposal.
Camp Murphy was changed to Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo; Fort McKinley is Fort Bonifacio; Nichols Air Base is now Villamor Air Base. It is time for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to remember and honor Macario Sakay and other Filipino freedom fighters.
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