Days in May
May 19, 1898
He was home. After months of exile, he could once again see the wonderful shores of his homeland. Standing on the swaying deck of the cutter McCulloch, General Emilio Aguinaldo gazed out to see the distant coast of Cavite and watched as the ship moved closer and closer towards the port at Cavite Nuevo. Moving closer towards the edge of the ship and leaning against its railing, Aguinaldo closed his eyes and let out a gentle sigh. He had waited this moment for a long time and now it was here.
Months ago, he had left this land in compliance of a pact he signed with Spanish authorities at Biak-na-Bato. After a string of victories and success, he and his forces were slowly pushed back by the Spanish Army to a thick jungle area in the mountains. There, both the revolutionaries and Spaniards found themselves in a stalemate where one side could not reach the other to deliver a killer blow. So both sides had agreed to begin negotiation for a truce and an end to hostilities.
Back then, the Spaniards on the opposite end of the table had promised two things, a reform in the Colonial government in which the Filipino people would benefit and a payment of money to Filipino revolutionary forces. In return, Aguinaldo and his force would lay down their arms, abolish the revolutionary government they had set up, and set a voluntary exile of himself and chosen members of the revolution.
Giving the order to lay down arms and abolishing the government, Aguinaldo and trusted members of his staff left for Hong Kong, where they received the promised first payment. Many in the country felt confident and victorious about this accomplishment, for they believed that they brought the Spaniards to the negotiating table and made them agree to terms that benefited the them and their country. But Aguinaldo knew better, he had worked with the Spaniards before. Having been Cabeza de Barangay of his town, he was well aware how Spanish authorities think and knew that they rarely held their end of the bargain. So despite complying with the terms, Aguinaldo had looked at them with a weary and distrustful eye. If it were up to him alone, he would not have agreed to the terms. But with war weariness taking over his makeshift army and a lack of arms left with to fight, he had no choice but to agree.
The mistrust he had proved to be correct when reports came to him, informing him that no reforms had been made in the colonial government and that the rest of the payment had not been received by the former members of the revolutionary force. They had been tricked. Many of the exiled members of Aguinaldo's staff were angered by this and demanded a return to the country and renewal of the revolution.
Aguinaldo too wanted a renewal of the revolution, but he had rejected the idea of such a sudden return. It was not the right time, he told them. With revolutionary forces scattered and disarmed, it would be difficult to reignite the revolution in a flick of a finger. There was also the problem of them being exiled and away from the country, with almost no way back. No, he had said, not now. They had to wait and prepare.
So instead of rushing back to the homeland, they planned out how they should retake the country. Staying at Hong Kong, they bought weapons and bullets, getting as much arms they could buy. But they knew that arms alone would not bring them to victory, they learned that lesson after their first attempt at a revolution. No matter how hard they tried, the Spaniards would always try to crush them. Despite great victories, the Spaniards would continue to send more troops to squash them. No, they needed something more than weapons. What they needed is an ally, another nation that would support their cause.
Turning his gaze away from the coast of Cavite and looking at the waters off of Manila, Aguinaldo looked at the squadron of large battleships from the United States of America. The American battleships had waited there in silence, their guns now quiet after facing battle for the first time. Only weeks ago, they had dueled with the Spanish Pacific fleet and won a splendid victory, securing naval dominance for the United States against the Spaniards.
Studying the squadron, Aguinaldo focused on the lead ship, the Olympia. Hours ago he was aboard that ship, talking to the commander of the American squadron, Commodore George Dewey. Dewey was a large man, larger than any man Aguinaldo had seen before. With his thick accent and dominating mustache, Dewey was a very intimidating man. But Aguinaldo felt relaxed in his presence, for he knew that this intimidating man was his ally. Having helped fight the Spanish and having transported them from Hong Kong to here, Aguinaldo felt secure with his new ally.
Sitting in the Commodore's cabin, Aguinaldo and Dewey talked about America's involvement in the Philippines, now that the nation was at war with Spain. Negotiating with Dewey, Aguinaldo consulted the Commodore about the disposition his country was currently in. Despite having bought arms while in exile, many of the rifles and ammunition Aguinaldo had were still stuck in Hong Kong, with no way of getting them to the country. Aguinaldo had asked for assistance from the large man, in which Dewey promised to send a ship to help in the transfer of arms.
Reassured that the Commodore would help them, Aguinaldo returned to the McCulloch, where he prepared himself for the trip back to Philippine soil. It was time to restart the revolution and despite lacking the arms they needed, he still had the job of organizing the forces that would once again rise up against colonial rule.
This time it would be different, he thought. No more pacts or truces, no more stopping until we achieve our goal. They weren't here for negotiations with the Spaniards anymore, no, they were now here for independence.
May 20, 1898
"So far, sir, the shipment of arms is going smoothly." Colonel Jose Leyba told Aguinaldo, as he stood in front of the general and gave his report.
Having placed his headquarters at the Cavite Arsenal, which was now in Filipino and American hands, Aguinaldo used the place as the nucleus for his revolutionary forces. Firmly anchored and secured here, he made use of the nearby port as his main supply center, taking in arms and munitions from there, while gathering and organizing his forces near the arsenal.
He had already sent orders to Colonel San Miguel to head out and organize revolutionary forces throughout the provinces. With his help, he was sure that he would soon have revolutionary forces all over the country. But that would still take time, time that they might not have. Spanish forces could attack their positions at this very moment, and although they were quiet for now, Aguinaldo feared that they may still attack.
Right now, there were only a handful of Filipino forces reaching the area, but with the news of his return spreading throughout the country, he knew that the place would soon be packed with volunteers, willing to join the revolution again. Once that happens, it was certain that they would need arms and equipment. So Aguinaldo made stock of the arms they currently had, taking into account how many of the volunteers they could arm for now.
"Good, good." Aguinaldo said, nodding. "And how about the men? How many men do we have at our disposal?"
"Right now, sir, we have about a couple hundred men joining our ranks, with a steady stream more coming up to join." Leyba reported. "Most of them are volunteers and some have even served in the revolution last year, but we also have defectors from the Spanish native regiments. In fact, sir, we have the leader of the most recent defectors here right now, awaiting your audience."
"Very well then, let him in." Aguinaldo said.
Giving a nod, Leyba saluted and headed out to call the awaiting man, closing the door behind him. The door soon opened, but the man who entered was a sergeant, who wore a dark blue uniform.
Watching the new arrival enter the room, Aguinaldo began sizing up the newest member of his army. Studying the Sergeant as he made his way to his desk, he could clearly see the firmness in each step, as if he were marching to the front. Yes, Aguinaldo thought he is definitely as soldier.
The Sergeant's uniform was neat and clean, well maintained. Unlike the other volunteers who came in with their old civilian clothes, the Sergeant was well dressed for war, wearing a finely made uniform that marked him as a soldier under the Spanish Army. But not anymore, Aguinaldo mused.
"Sir." The man said in a clear and monotone voice, as he stood in front of Aguinaldo's desk and gave him a crisp salute.
Aguinaldo returned the salute, impressed at the Sergeant. It was clear that this man knew what he was doing, well aware how military regulations worked. Must have been a veteran soldier who had served for a long time. He took great pleasure at the thought of having men like this, men who had actually training as soldier. They would prove useful in battle, for they actually know how to fight, how to follow orders, and what tactics they should use. Yes, they would prove really useful.
"I hear you bring soldiers for me, sergeant."
"Yes, sir." The sergeant said with a nod. "Seventy of the best Filipino soldiers Spain could train. If there was anything the Spaniards could do properly, sir, it was train soldiers to fight they're battles, because the Spaniards can't fight a damn."
Aguinaldo chuckled, nodded in amusement. "Yes, I am well aware of that, sergeant. But there is also another thing they are good at. I have faced them many times and learned for myself that they are also good at running away."
The Sergeant grinned.
"You think you're up for the task I'm about to give you, sergeant?"
"Yes, sir." The Sergeant said, stiffening to attention. "Ready at your command."
Aguinaldo smiled. "Alright then, sergeant, here are your orders." Taking a pencil and piece of paper, he began to scribble down the written orders, while at the same time dictating it to the Sergeant. "Although we are safe here, Sergeant, the routes to this place are still vulnerable. The Spaniards can still assault this place and bring battle near our main supply depot. So we'll need to have the roads leading here secure. My orders to you are to take your men to Dalahican and entrench yourselves there. I need good men defending a strong front there, so I entrust the task to you. Create a roadblock and prevent any Spanish force from getting through. Is that clear, Sergeant?"
"Yes, sir, very clear."
"Good." Aguinaldo said. "Now, do you and your men need anything? Rifles? Ammunition?"
"No need, sir, we came here armed and ready. We brought our own rifles and ammunition when we defected and plan to turn them against the Spaniards. Show them how good their training was."
"Ready for war then, Sergeant?" Aguinaldo said, smiling. This Sergeant was confident and Aguinaldo didn't doubt this man's confidence. "Well, that's good. Now, Sergeant, go do your duty."
May 24, 1898
Aguinaldo stared at the draft in his hands, reading it over and over and checking if it needed any revisions. …command of all the troops in the struggle for the attainment of our lofty aspirations, inaugurating a dictatorial government to be administered by decrees promulgated under my sole responsibility…
He knew that not everyone would take this news well, not everyone would like the idea of him establishing a dictatorial government. Many would criticize him for this move, would hate him for it. He can't blame them for that, because at first glance it looked like a selfless grab for power. But although it might look like that, he and some of the members of his staff knew the truth. It wasn't a grab for power, no, it wasn't. Instead it was an installation of a firm government in turbulent times like this pass, till the time for a proper government can be made.
Looking back at the papers before him, he placed his hand on another document and read it. …until the time when these islands, being under complete control, may form a constitutional republican assembly and appoint a president and cabinet, into whose hands I shall then resign the command of these islands.
During the revolution of 1896, he had been elected President of the Revolutionary Government, voted even though he himself had no clue of his nomination. But now that government was gone, abolished when the pact at Biak-na-Bato was signed.
Yet, despite the abolishment of the government, it didn't stop people from calling him, El Presidente. Even when he was at Hong Kong, Filipinos who lived there addressed him as El Presidendte. He believed that because of his early victories in the 1896 revolution, people believed that he was the deserved leader of the country. Someone who had proved and distinguish himself in battle. To many, he was still viewed as the leader of the revolution, the president of a government that no longer existed, yet he wished to recreate.
But how will the view change once he sent out this decree? He was basically telling the people that he has appointed himself as their new leader. He was not appointed by someone higher, he was not elected by the people or a small group of people. No. He, under the advice of his staff, has appointed himself the leader of the new government. And not just any other leader, but a leader of a dictatorial government.
He knew that he could justify this act, for in a war; there was no time for elections, no time to gather all the people and ask them to vote. There was also no time to gather representatives, for unlike before, the country was separate and tattered, with little connection between the provinces. So with no other choice, he had appointed himself as leader, knowing that here, they had a strong force that had support and leadership.
But not all would understand that, some would standup and complain. And although they couldn't really do anything from afar, he knew that they would bite back one day. Bite back and hurt him in ways that he could not imagine.
Leaning back on his chair and sighing, he shook his head in frustration.
No, don't worry about it now. He thought to himself. You have a job to do and that was to lead. Worry about this in another day.
Giving one last glance at the documents, he held them up and started straightening them properly, making sure they were neat and tidy.
"Colonel Leyba!" Aguinaldo called out, and soon the officer who acted both as his secretary and adjutant opened the door and stepped inside the room.
"I want you to make copies of these documents and send them to every town and municipality that we are in touch with." Aguinaldo ordered. "I want the people to be informed of my newest decree."
"Yes, sir." Leyba said, before pausing. Looking at Aguinaldo, Leyba held on the silence for a momnt before finally speaking up. "Is the order about the uprising, sir?" He said, trying to hold down his excitement. "Will we once again take up arms and strike the Spaniards."
Aguinaldo gave Leyba a patient look before shaking his head. "No, not yet. The army is not ready to attack the Spaniards, we still lack arms for many units. But once we distribute all our arms, I'll be sure to inform you, Colonel."
"Ah, yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Leyba said, clearly embarrassed at his eagerness.
"Now, colonel, be sure to get as many copies of those documents." Aguinaldo reminded. "And don't forget to give me the reports on the arms shipment. I need to know how many more rifles have left in our reserves."
"Yes, sir, I will, sir." Leyba said, as he hastily left the room, closing the door behind him.
Sighing, Aguinaldo stood up from his chair and began stretching his legs. Moving away from his desk and heading towards the open window of the room, he looked out and stared at the busy streets in front of him. Watching the movement, he saw carts of rifles move up and down the pathways, carrying precious weapons to the various towns and provinces.
By now, the forces he had his command has grown to at least a thousand, but most of them were still scattered all over the province. With Spanish forts still blocking many pathways and strategic towns, it became difficult for many of his soldiers to leave and head to him. So instead, he had ordered his quartermaster to sneak in the weapons instead, gather the arms into these towns and tell the soldiers to wait. He planned on building up all his forces till he had enough to create a large and simultaneous uprising.
Studying the activity before him, he knew that this uprising would soon come. Only a couple more days, he thought, but not now.
Soldiers passed before him, rifles slung and uniforms rugged. There had been more volunteers coming in to join his ranks and he appreciated all of their presence. As he watched these soldiers passed by, his mind began thinking of his first command, the soldiers from Kawit. How he missed them now. They had served with him in his first campaign and all the officers and soldiers them were fierce and loyal. But they were not here right now, no, they were still in Kawit, waiting arms. He made a mental note to send a caravan of arms and supplies to them as soon as possible. He would not have dared start a campaign without them in his command.
His silent thinking was suddenly interrupted by the sound of cheering happening in front of him and taking his eyes towards its direction, he began to take notice the crowd of soldiers and officers gathering in front of his headquarters and yelling out to him.
"Viva el Presidente!" They shouted, over and over, raising rifles and sabers to emphasize their joy.
Waving back at them, he began noting their presence, which caused them to erupt into a greater cheer. These soldiers were loyal to him too, many soldiers were. With his reputation, many men thought it was an honor to be a soldier in his army.
But how many of you will still cheer for me once you learn I made myself your dictator? He thought to himself, as his mind returned to the documents that he just wrote. He knew it was necessary to have a stable and permanent leader in war, but will they understand that? He may look like a tyrant to them once they learn of it and all traces of him as a hero would be gone.
They could cheer now, but one day they would hate me.
May 28, 1898
Reports had come in of a battle and this worried Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo's forces were still gathering, some still in the process of just receiving arms, while others were still waiting for their shipment. It would still take a couple more days to supply all units in the province with arms and ammunition, while it would take another day or two to properly coordinate the uprising. So Aguinaldo knew that doing battle now wouldn't be to their benefit.
But word came in that forces in Alapan were in a heavy engagement with Spanish forces that were forcing their way into the province and pushing down to Kawit. This was a frustrating report, for only a day before supplies were placed in Kawit in order for the revolution to provide arms and munitions to the area. If the Spaniards captured the town, then a crucial strategic point would be lost.
In order to prevent that, local forces mounted an ambush to stop the Spanish column and halt them were they were. A report had come into Aguinaldo's headquarters, informing him and his staff that revolutionary forces at Alapan were already engaged in heavy fighting with at least two companies of Spanish marines.
Messages from the battle came in slow and with each hour passing, Aguinaldo began to worry more and more. He had expected the Spaniards to attack and felt frustrated that he didn't do more to prepare the province against it. During the revolution at 1896, he had built trenches and defensive fortifications that managed to stop powerful Spanish columns. But now he managed to slip and failed to recreate the powerful defensive lines he used to have.
With little time before him, he had focused mainly on supplying his force and preparing them for an offensive. He stuck so much to the idea of an offensive that he never thought that he could find himself in the defensive. His plan involved the revolutionary forces striking the enemy, not the enemy striking first. With American cannon protecting him, he had been too arrogant and believed that the Spaniards would not dare attack him. But now he was proven wrong and he could clearly see it. His army was in an offensive stance, and now they were struck unprepared by the Spaniards, who wish to crush them before they could strike.
He had paced his headquarters, anxiously waiting for couriers to give reports of the battle. But the couriers either gave him reports of unimportant happenings elsewhere or frantic scattered reports on what was happening in Alapan. It wasn't clear what was happening in the battle and for a long time, Aguinaldo did not know who was winning.
If the Spaniards broke through, then they can head on towards Kawit, where they would not only seize the arms there, but would also have a staging point to strike him and his main supply center here at Cavite Nuevo. If Cavite Nuevo falls, then his entire force would shatter and crumble. He doubt that even the Americans can help him now. With only a couple of marines and their big ships with them, the Americans could barely support them aside from artillery support.
He had to hope for the best, they must stop them in Alapan.
"Sir, another courier has arrived." Colonel Leyba called out, as he opened the door to let in a tired looking soldier, dirt strung all over his white shirt.
Eyeing him as he approached, every member of the staff waited anxiously as the soldiers breathed heavily and stood in attention at attention in front of Aguinaldo.
"Sir, a report from Alapan."
Later that afternoon, Aguinaldo stood by the window of his office and looked out at the victorious soldiers of the engagement. They stood in the plaza proudly, holding their rifles like trophies as they looked at him with joyful faces, displaying to him the bounty they managed to take. By now, a mixed crowd of civilians and American naval officers gathered around the plaza, staring at the presenting soldiers, as they stood in front of Aguinaldo's headquarters and presented to him a large group of captured Spanish naval infantry. Embarrassed and trying to hide their faces under the brim of their hats, these captured soldiers looked down, as admiring spectators looked upon them.
After engaging Filipino forces in Alapan for five hours, Spanish forces found themselves running low and ammunition, as Filipinos closed in on them. Pinned down, with their line of retreat cut off, while their ammunition slowly dwindled thanks to the hours of fierce fighting, the commander of the group, Captain Pedro Castila, reluctantly accepted the faith before them and surrendered his force.
This was the first victory of the renewed revolution, and although unexpected, it was still a victory and a major one. Aguinaldo, who looked at the triumphant force before, felt a sense of exhilaration take over him, as the revolutionary force marked its first victory, even before the campaign has started.
Aguinaldo could see it, the pride and high feeling they had. He had seen victories before and knew the looks on these men's faces, the triumph they felt. Yes, this is your victory. This is the country's victory.
But there was something he felt that was missing, something to make this victory complete. Looking at these men, these united men; he felt that they needed something to place the finishing touch to the event. Something that would help the men feel more about their achievement.
"Colonel Leyba, get the flag."
Leyba seemed to have been caught by surprise at this order, as he stared at Aguinaldo, who only nodded and urged him on. "Go on, Colonel."
Nodding hesitantly, Leyba then quickly marched across the room to retrieve a folded piece of cloth on top of a trunk. Quickly grabbing the silky fabric, he moved back to stand beside Aguinaldo, who now gestured towards the small pole hanging by his window where his old revolutionary banner hangs.
"Replace the flag, Colonel. It's time to show them the new banner of the nation."
Nodding once more, Leyba followed his orders and immediately took down the old revolutionary flag, replacing it with the newer one. Unfurling the flag once it was hoisted on the pole, the blue, red, and white colors were soon revealed, and all who watched stared at this new banner. From his position, Aguinaldo could see everyone in the plaza marveling at this new banner. Even the Americans who stood in the far corner strained their eyes to try and get a look of it. Good, he thought, let them watch. They shall be a witness to the unraveling of our new banner.
"My countrymen!" Aguinaldo called out, in a firm voice as he attracted the attention of everyone. "I present to you the country's new flag. The flag of our united nation. The flag in which we shall rally under and fight for!"
He could see their faces set on him, their expressions admiring as the listened to him. They nodded with each word he said, took in his words as if he were a preacher. He continued:
"This flag shall serve as a symbol of our unity a banner that would remind us and our enemies that we, the Filipino people, our one nation." Standing, tall, he once again stared at their faces and saw more pride being revealed.
The Spanish prisoner, who were forced to stay and listen, tried their best to ignore him, but there were few who did listen, starting at him. The crowds and soldiers nodded when he made his short proclamation and now he could see them cheering him, clapping their hands or raising them up in the air.
"Viva la Filipinas! La independencia de las Filipinas!" A soldier called out from the formation. Soon this cry was followed by another and another, till the entire plaza was filled with the calls of the men.
"Viva la Filipinas! La independencia de las Filipinas!" They all chanted.
No, they weren't just cheering for him, they were also cheering the country, the country they were all helping to create. By now, the fervor and spirit he started was spreading, and from within his office, he could hear his staff cheering with them. Leyba, who was still standing beside him, was also cheering, raising his fists in excitement.
Smiling as they cheered on, Aguinaldo nodded as he watched them and their excited shouts. This is the start of the new country, he thought to himself. Our new country. Our independent country.
"La independencia de las Filipinas…"
So here you go, a little something I wrote to honor flag day and to remind people that the Philippine Flag was not first unfurled in Imus but in Cavite Nuevo (modern day Cavite City).