The Philippine Foreign Legion-A A +A
Saturday, September 28, 2013
GREAT armies have always relied on mercenaries to bolster their numbers ever since the very first battle in recorded history (the Egyptians hired Numidian mercenaries), and sometimes even foreign officers and generals would offer their services to aid armies who fought for causes they thought were just, such as General Horatio Gates -- a British officer who served in the Colonial Army of the United States fighting against his own countrymen for a cause that he believed in -- the independence of the colonies.
Now, the Philippines could never aspire to hire foreign mercenaries to fight our enemies, but yet foreigners did serve under the Philippine flag during the revolts against the Spanish and the United States. One would be surprised to hear how the Katipunan had renegade Spanish officers serving under its banner, or how a Spanish officer was part of Aguinaldo’s entourage, or how we had a black American war hero who saved the lives of dozens of Filipinos.
Before the Philippine revolts of the late 19th century, Filipino soldiers were being used by Spain to fight its wars all over the world -- against the Dutch, against the Cubans, and even against Napoleon when he came to invade Spain. The Filipinos had earned a reputation as Spain’s bravest soldiers and the Philippines was said to be Spain’s “most loyal colony”. The seemingly indomitable Filipino spirit earned the admiration of many Spanish officers commanding Philippine regiments, and some even defected over to the side of the Katipunan when the revolution came about.
History speaks of a certain Colonel Sityar, a Spanish mestizo who had originally served in the Guardia Civil. He was the son of an Indio mother and a Spanish duke who served as a commodore in Spain’s royal navy. Sityar was the first person to suspect the existence of a revolutionary movement in the Philippines. He reported to the Governor General of Manila that certain men were signing documents in their own blood and joining an organization whose purpose was yet unknown. The authorities in Manila, probably dismissing this as some sort of a cult, ignored Sityar’s warning. Two months later, the newly-formed Katipunan attacked the Spanish armory and the first shots of the revolution were heard. Two years later, he declared, “I have served the country of my father with blood. Now I will serve the country of my mother with blood.” and joined Aguinaldo’s army. He served as part of Aguinaldo’s entourage until the revolutionary forces surrendered. In 1900 he was knighted by the Queen of Spain and later went on to become one of the founding founder’s of Spain’s Federal Party.
Another foreigner who served with distinction in the ranks of the revolutionary forces was a Chinaman named Paua. A gunsmith and a martial arts expert, he joined the revolution at the very beginning in 1896. Being a gunsmith, he was responsible for putting up one of the first Filipino weapon factories in Imus, Cavite to supply the forces of the revolution. The factory employed Chinese gunsmiths and was overseen by Paua himself. This weapon factory produced and repaired all sorts of firearms for Aguinaldo and his men, ranging from paltiks and lantakas to Spanish Mausers and European field guns. He was later called to serve the revolutionaries in battle, against the forces of the Spanish Governor General Ramon Blanco. It did not matter to Paua that the enemy had rifles and all he and his men had were bolos -- he charged them and reportedly “fought like a wild cat” and achieved a heroic victory. Despite the Governor General’s superior arms and numbers, he was forced to retreat back to Manila in shame. After fighting the Spanish, Paua fought the Americans as well. His Tagalog regiment was well known for its Chinese-style martial arts training and struck fear in the hearts of the Americans whenever they encountered it. After the war, Paua retired peacefully in Albay and was once elected mayor of a town called Manito in that province. He died of cancer in 1926.
One of the stranger foreign nationals who fought for the cause of the Filipino was a man named David Fagan of the United States 24th Infantry Regiment. Now, in this day and age, an American fighting alongside a Filipino wouldn’t be much of a shock -- but in those days, the United States and the Philippines were at war. Now, you have to understand that the 24th Infantry Regiment was a “colored regiment” led by white officers, and Corporal Fagan was a black man. Being a black man, he was the subject of racism in his unit and frequently had quarrels with his officers. And, just like blacks, the Filipinos were being called a bunch of “niggers”, “black devils”, “jungle bunnies”, “ladrones (Spanish; thieves)” and “gugus” by the white Americans. One day Fagan decided he wasn’t going to take any more crap from his officers and decided to seek out a Filipino officer and defect. He found General Alejandrino, the commanding officer of a Filipino regiment that had suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of the Americans. Fagan gladly joined up and was soon promoted from corporal straight up to captain. He fought at least eight battles against the Americans, and was known for his guerilla-style method of fighting. When Aguinaldo surrendered, Fagan did not follow the example of the other Filipino officers who surrendered along with him, but instead went into hiding. The United States colonial government put a $600 price on his head and labeled him a “bandito”, offering the reward for anyone who captured him dead or alive. One day, a Tagalog hunter approached US authorities with a sack containing a head of a “negro” and some personal items -- some weapons and clothing, a pair of field glasses, Fagan’s commission and a West Point class ring of one of Fagan’s former captives. However, when the head was shown to his officers at the 24th Infantry Regiment, it was deemed to be too small, and they further added that it could be that of an aeta. Some say that Fagan faked his death and lived up in the mountains with his Filipina wife until the war’s end.
It’s sad that these brave heroes are not recognized in mainstream history classes and that their names will probably be lost to history, so this article is dedicated to those brave men who truly believed that the Filipino was worth dying for.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on September 28, 2013.