How the Macabebes captured Aguinaldo-A A +A
Monday, August 20, 2012
ONE of the most stunning feats in military history was how the Americans set up a bold-faced entrapment of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo which led to his capture and the end of the Philippine-American War in 1901.
Not even the raid on Saddam Hussein’s lair and the killing of Osama bin Laden came close in terms of complexity of the plan and difficulty of the execution, and the sheer genius of everyone involved.
At that time, American officials considered Aguinaldo their most wanted man, and the American people were fed propaganda about how monstrous this little brown general was. Parents, in fact, used Aguinaldo to scare their unruly children.
The US army in the Philippines had been getting frustrated in its pursuit of the foxy general, and the US government was being pressured by anti-imperialists like novelist Mark Twain to conclude the war and bring the soldiers back home.
The opportunity came in February 1901 when the Americans captured Cecilio Segismundo, a courier sent by Aguinaldo to deliver letters to his guerilla commanders in central and southern Luzon, including cousin Baldomero Aguinaldo.
The prisoner was taken to Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston, officer in charge of 2,400 US troops in the Nueva Ecija area.
Segismundo told his American captors that Aguinaldo was holed up in Palanan, a remote town in Isabela. But even with this information, Gen. Funston knew he could not order a conventional attack because it would mean US soldiers had to walk 90 miles from the nearest village, Casiguran (Aurora), using a dirt trail that was teeming with revolutionary soldiers and informants.
Gen. Funston then hit upon the idea of pulling a surprise attack on Aguinaldo’s camp by disguising his attacking team as Aguinaldo’s soldiers escorting the courier, Cecilio Segismundo, back to camp. Because he wanted to lead the attack himself, Gen. Funston and four other American officers would join the party as prisoners that Segismundo was going to present to Aguinaldo.
Gen. Funston knew that they would meet a lot of suspicious Aguinaldo supporters along the way. Spies might also follow them, so he had to make sure that everyone involved should act their part and stick to the script every step of the way, i.e., the American “prisoners” would walk with hands tied at the back and look really emaciated, their “escorts” would wear revolutionary uniforms and carry revolutionary rifles, and would speak Tagalog all the time, and Segismundo would present Aguinaldo’s letter addressed to village chiefs asking them to give the party safe passage, overnight accommodation and food provisions.
Gen. Funston would fabricate this letter, using an Aguinaldo letterhead earlier seized from Gen. Urbano Lacuna’s headquarters, and forging Aguinaldo’s handwriting based on the letters earlier seized from Segismundo.
As for the soldiers who would play the role of Aguinaldo revolutionaries escorting Segismundo back to Palanan, Gen. Funston must look for volunteers who could be counted on for their loyalty, who could carry out a surprise attack, who could speak fluent Tagalog, and who could act with a straight face.
Only one ethnic group in the colony would fit the bill: the Macabebes of Pampanga.
They belonged to that ancient tribe in southern Pampanga known for their bravery and military skills, having worked as soldiers-for-hire for various armies, kingdoms and empires in Southeast Asia since prehistoric times.
Juan Grau y Montfalcon wrote that “those Indians served as soldiers in war… especially the Pampangos (who were) valiant soldiers, who have performed valiant exploits on the side of Spaniards. They were at the taking of Terrenate and they came to guard the city of Manila.”
According to the May 28, 1899 issue of Virginian-Pilot, a delegation of Macabebes went to visit Brig. Gen. Arthur MacArthur. Their spokesman “read an address assuring the commander of their friendship and willingness to transfer their allegiance from Spain to the United States. They complained that the Tagals murdered them, and burned their villages, and they asked to be protected and given arms to protect themselves.”
(Earlier, in June 1898, Aguinaldo’s forces did massacre an untold number of Macabebes and burn their parish church after the town provided safe haven to Spanish friars, soldiers and civilians fleeing the revolutionaries. In June 1900, the Spaniards returned to pick up Battalion No. 6 under Col. Eugenio Blanco and, as promised, took them to Madrid where they were decorated for gallantry and loyalty and where a street was named Voluntarios de Macabebe.)
To the delight of the Macabebes, Gen. MacArthur agreed to form an experimental special force officered by Americans but manned by natives. On September 10, 1899, during the town’s fiesta (feast of Macabebe patron saint, St. Nicolas de Tolentino), Lt. Matthew Batson of the US 4th Cavalry arrived in Macabebe to a tumultuous welcome. Everyone was wearing white and was out in the plaza to watch the religious procession and apply to Lt. Batson.
According to one account, Lt. Batson only wanted enough for a battalion, but he could have enlisted an entire regiment because the Macabebe women “were eager to have their sons, husbands and sweethearts to go with him.”
On October 18, 1899, two companies of Macabebe Scouts were assigned to Maj. Gen. Henry Lawton’s military campaign in the Pampanga River area.
(A typical Macabebe company had 1 captain, 1 lieutenant, 1 first sergeant, 1 quartermaster sergeant, 6 sergeants, 8 corporals and 92 privates.) They proved to be excellent boat rowers, swimmers, guides and interpreters, being fluent in Spanish, Tagalog and Kapampangan, and very familiar with the landscape and enemy positions.
By December 1900, the Macabebe Scouts had ballooned to 1,402 men. Two months later, all the scout companies from various ethnic regions were organized into the Philippine Scouts. Although their pay was less than half that of American soldiers, they became an elite group of the US Army. Their American officers valued them for their fighting skills and, unfortunately, also condoned their abuses. (By June 30, 1901, the Philippine Scouts numbered 5,500, most of whom were from Macabebe and Ilocos.)
It was in February 1901 when Gen. Frederick Funston picked 79 Kapampangan soldiers from the Macabebes’ Company D, 1st Battalion, commanded by Capt. Russell Hazzard. They were chosen for their combat skills and fluency in Tagalog. (Continued next week)
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on August 21, 2012.