The First Philippine Republic in Banguet

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By Linda Grace Cariño

Baguio Stories

Friday, December 6, 2013


IT IS the latter half of 1899. The Philippine-American War has begun. The US armed forces, which have decided to annex the Philippines have declared the Aguinaldo government a band of "insurrectos."

Republican President Emilio Aguinaldo and his government retreat to Northern Luzon. In La Union, the government party is split by a pursuing American column, one group having among them Republicans Pedro Paterno, Sergio Osmeña, and Julian Gerona. They head for the mountains, entertaining the hope that they can keep the Republic alive in Benguet.

And then it plays out, the little known footnote to the history of the first Philippine (Aguinaldo) Republic: its Benguet “chapter,” so to speak. This chapter, written about in the local municipal records of the Benguet town of Tuba, has it that the Republicans do make it up to the mountains of Benguet and do establish an official presence in the place.

In 1899, Benguet is home to the Ibaloi tribe in the south and the Kankana-ey tribe to the extreme north, two mountain peoples which have largely managed to resist Spanish domination, unlike much of the rest of the islands. Perhaps Paterno will prove right, that the first Philippine Republic does have a chance of staying alive in Benguet, given the place’s reputation, even then, as a bastion of resistance to domination.

But, as with the rest of Republican history, the American presence is not far behind. There is a Filipino-American war going on, after all. US Army forces in pursuit of Philippine Republicans find their way up to Benguet, too, hunting down the "insurrectos." The Republicans go into hiding, transferring from hideout to hideout, housed and hosted by Benguet’s leading families, who count among their ranks a number of staunch Republican supporters.

How does the Republic fare in Benguet? What is it like, this “last stand”? This paper answers these questions by relating, from extant resources, a chronological sequence of events that detail the Republican presence in Benguet. This paper likewise relates how native clansmen and Republicans together try and save the first Philippine Republic, how they are apprehended by militarily superior American forces, and imprisoned.

And finally, this paper recounts the subsequent American occupation of Benguet and the forces that drive this hasty occupation, namely, the search for a “cold place” in the burning tropics and the lure of “gold in ‘em mountains.”

First, the backdrop.

What is now identified as the province of Benguet are, before and during the Spanish colonization of the Philippine islands, simply places with names, native ones. They have names like Kafagway, now Baguio City, 1.) Benget, now La Trinidad, 2.) Ipit, and Lubas, areas now called Camp John Hay, 3.) and so on. The native Ibalois who live in much of what is now called Benguet are at the time mostly miners and cattle owners whose properties are vast tracts of land which support these activities. The segment of Benguet population which thrives on these industries have been referred to as the time and place’s “petty plutocracy,” 4.) among their very ranks a good number who in 1899 support the Republican stand in Benguet. A significant number of historical accounts likewise document this same population’s historical defense of land, gold, and lifestyle through centuries of armed resistance to Spanish conquest. 5.) The Ibalois of Benguet, as do some other Cordillera tribes, effectively resist Spanish domination until the mid-19th century. Among a good number of historians who record this is William H. Scott, 6.) who, in not one but several books, chronicles the numerous attempts of Spanish conquistadores to subjugate the Cordillera tribes they call "Igorotes." I there means from and gorot comes from golot, meaningmountain in a good number of Malay languages. 7.) The Spanish incursions into the "golot" are a series of attempts to track down “Igorot” – actually Benguet, – gold. 8.)
The first of these incursions is made by Juan de Salcedo, grandson of Miguel de Legazpi, whose name goes down in Philippine history as the first of Spain’s “governor-generals” to “Nueva Espana,” in 1572. 9.) A later incursion by Salcedo literally costs him his head; his body arrives back in Manila without it. With cause, Marcos notes it strange that an earlier account has its author attribute the state of Salcedo’s decapitated body to the natives’ reverence for Salcedo. Never mind that decapitation, as Marcos further observes, is a widespread ritual element of native culture, an element which has little to do with reverence, all over the islands now called the Philippines, and not just among the Cordillera tribes, 10.) as seems to be a presently preferred belief. Just like acknowledging the widespread practice of slavery before and during Spanish incursion into the islands 11.) is not at all a popular preference. Throughout the four hundred years of Spanish rule in the islands, Benguet Igorots, especially the Ibalois with a well-developed gold industry, demonstrate a most stubborn refusal to subjugation, and battle Spanish forces with consistency. One particular battle, fought in 1759 and recounted by several sources, among them Scott, 12.) Scheerer, 13.) and more recently, Carino, 14.) relate a particularly vicious expedition of Spanish and conscripted lowland forces to “punish” the stubborn “Igorotes.” Recounted as the battle of Tonglo, it is actually fought in Lumtang, a town on what is now the Naguilian Road, arrived at before reaching Tonglo, a prosperous Ibaloi settlement. Said battle has Benguet warriors stoically withstanding five hours of artillery and more than 200 dead, massacre proportions, even by today’s standards. After the survivors retreat the next day, a previously abandoned Tonglo is razed to the ground by the “punitive” forces. Still, said forces, which not incidentally include Mexican miners, themselves retreat, without Ibaloi gold. This expedition is carried out, of course, within the supposed comfortably “acceptable” context of a Spanish “just war” waged on the “Igorotes,” a war both civil and religious authorities agree upon, for once agreeing. 15.) From the point of Salcedo’s first incursion and for 300 odd years thereafter, Spanish attempts to get a foothold on Benguet gold mines prove to be fruitless, repelled by the Benguet Igorots’ refusal to allow foreign entry into their territory. 16.) Only with Guillermo Galvey, decorated with the impressive title of Comandante del Pais de Igorotes y Partidas del Norte de Pangasinan, who from 1829-39 wages a grand total of 45 “punitive expeditions” into Benguet does Spanish incursion see some success. In 1856, the Sociedad Minero Metalurgica Cantabro-Filipino de Mankayan is established to exploit Benguet gold and copper in Mankayan, 17.) in what is largely Kankana-ey territory. Still, Ibaloi gold mines, found mainly around the vicinity of Kafagway and Itogon, remain in the control of the Ibalois. By this time, too, there are some Ilocanos and foreigners living in Benguet. 18.) Spanish entry into Ibaloi turf sees fruition mainly in a place called “Benget,” which Spanish Commandant Manuel Scheidnagel in 1874 “christens” La Trinidad, “in honor” of Galvey’s wife. 19.) "La Trinidad” has “European” weather, if you will, and Spanish forces seek to establish here a “sanitarium,” for health reasons, of course. It also looks as if they will succeed, since a description of the town at that time has it:

"After the pattern of the lowland plaza complex, private dwellings were loosely clustered around a nuclear area which consisted of a small plaza, an imposing Catholic church with attached convento, priest’s building, a jail, a school, and a teacher’s house. But in addition to these, La Trinidad also featured a number of edifices that clearly revealed its unique character as a major comandancia capital and as a nascent hill station. These included a substantial military barracks, a parade ground, an armory, a fine district headquarters encircled by formal gardens, and four small general stores… "

Galvey’s repeated expeditions, however, change things some, because residents retreat to places where they are free from Spanish "taxation," and thus reduce the population to a dispirited 400. Also, the Philippine Revolution happens, interrupting Spanish plans for a sanitarium in La Trinidad. 20.) Enter the first Republic of the Philippines.

Sadly missing from the pages of Philippine Republican history is an account of the Republican presence in Benguet. The account is documented from local records by Wilson:

"The last Spanish Comandante Politico Militar of Benguet district was Antonio Bejar y Ayuso… The Comandancia was then at Pukis (in SW La Trinidad) and there was a force of about 40 men. Counting the officials, there were around 35 other Spaniards in the area. The name of the priest was Padre Antonio Lezano. There were also two Spanish and one German store as well as a hotel-sanitarium operated by a Spaniard, Jose Ocampo.

"The natives and Ilocanos finally rose (500 strong) under the leadership of Juan (or Ora) Cariño, Mateo Carantes, and Piraso (all from what is now Baguio), Magastino Larauan (of Tublay), and others.
They were about to attack the Comandancia one night, but there was a shout, which warned the Spaniards, and the attack was called off."

"Sometime later, Magastino Larauan, on coming back from a trip to the lowlands, stated that a large Republican army of several thousand was coming up. So, near the end of July, 1899, Bejar, accompanied by his wife and family and associates left for Bontoc… The natives had evacuated ahead of them and some attacked them with stones at Lutab, Kabayan. The native cargadores led by Lucio Almazan and Benito Sombrano who had gone with the Spaniards returned, hungry and unpaid." (To be continued)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 07, 2013.

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