Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fidel Castro, the Tough Communist Political Leader of Cuba

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro was a political leader of Cuba who was instrumental in making his country the first and only communist state in the Western Hemisphere. His defiance against the USA and his rhetoric against her had made him a known and controversial figure in the world. A small communist state just right at its immediate doorstep was an affront to the United States the world’s leading superpower and the bastion of democracy and capitalism. American presidents in the past with the help of the CIA planned and made efforts to get rid of Castro. They carried out a CIA orchestrated invasion by Cuban exiles on Cuba, made assassination attempts on him, instigated counter revolutions and imposed economic embargo on that nation, but all of them failed. Castro as Cuban communist leader and dictator outlasted 10 US presidents.

The son of an affluent sugar cane plantation owner who was an immigrant from the Galicia region of Spain, Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926 in Biran Oriente, Cuba. He studied in Catholic schools in his childhood as well as in high school. Although he was just an average student in terms of academic performance, he excelled in sports. In college, he enrolled in law school at the University of Havana. It was there that he learned Marxist Leninist ideology and embraced its ideals. In 1948, he married Mirta Diaz-Balart who was a daughter of a wealthy landlord. Although that marriage had given him further high economic and socially privileged status, Castro was nevertheless averse to a bourgeois lifestyle.

Getting involved in politics, Castro ran for congressional seat in his district, but his aspiration was cut short by a military coup d’état led by General Fulgencio Batista. Castro challenged the legitimacy of the Batista government through legal means, but his moves did not prosper. His frustrations in his effort along with the highhandedness of the military regime prompted him to go underground. He then organized a group in a plot to mount an armed rebellion against Batista.

Castro (second from the left) was under investigation
On July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro, his brother Raul and 160 armed followers, raided the Moncada barracks In Santiago. However, they were repelled by its trained 600 soldiers. Sixty of Castro’s men were killed and he and Raul were captured, jailed and tried in court. The court sentenced him and Raul to 15 years imprisonment. The pleadings of the Catholic Church and Batista’s grant of political amnesty reduced the brothers’ sentence to just 2 years.

After their release from prison Fidel and Raul went to Mexico where they organized the “26th of July Movement” with fellow Cubans. They also met a group of people who were opposed to the dictatorial governments in the Caribbean countries. It was there that Fidel met Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentinean doctor and a fellow Marxist-Leninist ideologue who also became an iconic figure in Latin American Marxist revolutions. Sharing same political views and revolutionary cause, Fidel and Che Guevara developed close association with each other.

Fidel Castro (right)
On December 26, 1956, Castro and the armed expedition of 81 young men of the “26th of July Movement” rebels landed on Cuban soil from a yacht called Granma. However, the group was intercepted by the military and as a result nearly everyone was killed and only Fidel, his brother Raul, Che Guevara and nine others were able to escape and retreat to the mountains of Sierra Maestra.

Fidel Castro (right) and Che Guevara
Eluding capture, Fidel, Raul and Che Guevara continued with their underground activities, drawing people to their cause and organizing them. Their prime targets were the people in the hinterland villages. The group gained many members and supporters especially the poor people in the remote villages so that many areas eventually came under rebels’ influence and control. In contrast, the military government of Fulgencio Batista was popular only to the elites and the middle class but was detached to the poor and ordinary people who composed the majority of the Cubans. As corruption, repression and brutalities of the Batista regime continued the elites and the middle class were also disillusioned with the regime and they too became sympathetic to the rebels led by Castro. Even the United States was appalled by the excesses of Batista and his soldiers so that she withdrew her support to them.

The bad economic and social situations in Cuba along with the withdrawal of US support greatly weakened the government but strengthened the Castro-led rebellion. Castro had slowly gained momentum in the armed rebellion against the now highly demoralized government forces. The rebels who were backed by the people gradually captured towns after towns until it would just be a matter of time that they would take the whole country. With the defeats suffered by his soldiers, General Batista was forced to flee Cuba on July 1, 1959 bringing along with him millions of dollars in government money and lived in exile in the Dominican Republic.

A provisional government was established with Manuel Urrutia as president and Fidel Castro as the commander of the revolutionary army. In July 1959, Castro effectively took over as the supreme leader. Calling himself a moderate socialist at first, Castro implemented social and economic reforms to improve the lives of the Cubans such as undertaking massive infrastructure projects, providing free education and health care and implementing agrarian reform. The US at first was hopeful that Castro would not take drastic moves that would adversely affect her interest. However, in the long run, Castro revealed his real socialistic and nationalistic tendencies by seizing and nationalizing businesses and collectivizing farms including those owned by the Americans. Castro also made an economic cooperation and partnership with USSR that greatly worried the US. The Soviets and Cuba made a deal on which Cuban sugar was traded for Russian oil on a generous terms to the latter. Castro then demanded that American oil companies such as Shell, ESSO and Standard Oil processed the imported Russian oil. When they refused, Castro expropriated those companies. Castro’s actions and his continuous rhetoric against the US resulted to sanctions such as abolition of quota on Cuban sugar in the US market, prohibition of export to that country on specific goods and the severance of diplomatic relation.

In order to protect what he perceived as the gains of his revolution, Castro made drastic measures such as jailing political opponents, curtailing free speech and the freedom of the press and using the military to suppress dissents. Despite his dictatorial policies, majority of the Cubans were still behind him.  However, Castro’s method of governance had disillusioned some Cubans especially those who belonged to the upper classes of society as well as those who were adversely affected with his social reforms. Those people at the height of the revolution had switched their support from Batista to Castro. But now, they have regretted casting their lot on him since he was as repressive and brutal as Batista. While acceptable to most Cubans, Castro’s rule on the other hand resulted to thousands of Cubans fleeing and immigrating to the United States and settling in Florida.

Realizing that Castro was establishing a communist state right near its doorstep, US made moves to deal with him. The economic embargo was not effective enough since USSR was giving financial support to Cuba. With other means in mind, US leadership ordered the CIA to make clandestine training of Cuban exiles in Guatemala with a mission to invade Cuba and topple down Castro. The invasion force called Brigade 2506 landed on the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961. This planned invasion was thwarted because it was intercepted by Castro’s revolutionary forces. The failed invasion only strengthened Castro’s hold of his government and increased his prestige in the world stage.

Believing that the US would not stop in its effort to eliminate him, Castro allowed USSR to deploy ballistic missiles with range capable of reaching major US cities in Cuba as a deterrent to another US invasion or attack. When he knew it, US President John F. Kennedy was very furious and considered that move as an act of aggression by USSR and Cuba. In retaliation the US imposed a naval quarantine around Cuba to prevent Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles and other weapons or delicate materials from entering Cuba. The situation brought the world to the brink of nuclear war between the two of the world’s superpowers. The highly dangerous conflict was defused when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev sensibly accepted US terms of stopping the naval blockade in return for USSR’s taking away all its ballistic missiles in Cuba. In addition US should pull out its nuclear missiles in Turkey and Italy and secretly pledged with the Soviet premier not to invade Cuba in the future. The deal reached by the two superpowers made the world breathe a sigh of relief because a potential nuclear war or a third world war was averted.

Despite Cuba’s isolation to many western countries and the economic embargo imposed by the US, Castro still made progress in his social and economic endeavors for his country. He built massive public infrastructures, implemented agrarian reforms, provided socialized housing and gave free education and health care to all Cubans. Under his watch Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita in Latin America. There is however perennial shortage of food and lack of personal freedom. Cuba was able to get by with the help of the Soviets which always gave it generous financial deals.

An iconic photo of Che Guevara
Like most communist leaders and ideologues, Fidel Castro believed that Marxist ideals to attain a utopian society should be spread throughout the world through armed or unarmed struggle. In this regard, his co-revolutionary and Marxist friend Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia in 1967 while operating there to lay the groundwork for a communist insurgency. Exporting his revolution, Castro sent Cuban forces to different parts of the world to help Marxist inspired rebellions and he also extended help to countries that are just allied with Cuba and USSR. As proxies to the Soviets, Cuban troops went to Angola, Grenada and Ethiopia to help those countries win armed conflicts. Cuba along with China, North Korea and other countries gave assistance to North Viet Nam during the Viet Nam War. Castro's leadership standing and prestige among the leaders of third world countries catapulted him to a position as a head of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) from 1979 to 1982.

Fidel Castro at the UN
The collapse and disintegration of USSR in 1991 was a big blow to Cuba since it also meant that the former could no longer sustain its financial subsidy that was provided to the latter. And there was also the US economic embargo which was still in effect. But somehow Cuba was able to stave off economic collapse by furthering its economic ties with such countries such as Canada, China, Venezuela and others. Cuba also opened its door to the tourism industry which replaced sugar as its biggest money earner.

With the passing of years, ill health, and old age have finally caught up with Fidel Castro. Now physically weak, he temporarily handed down powers to his younger brother Raul in July 2006. On February 19, 2008, Fidel Castro announced he would no longer seek another term as president. Although no longer at the helm, he was still consulted by Raul and other high Cuban officials on issues of high importance. Several years after Fidel’s resignation, a significant development occurred between Cuba and the United States. President Barrack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro re-established the diplomatic ties between their two countries. It was a major milestone that may in the future lead to the lifting of the economic embargo against the island nation. In the present it will not happen since the republican controlled congress will not grant that reward to a country with serious human rights issues.

Although Cubans still wanted to see him get involved in the affairs of the government, Fidel Castro faded from the public view because of his failing health. On November 25, 2016, the Cuban State television network announced that Fidel Castro had died. Like most dictators, Castro was a divisive figure in his country. Many of his countrymen mourned his passing away, while on the other hand Cubans who were opposed to him, especially those in exiles in Florida were glad that the leader who symbolized the violation of civil liberties in Cuba was finally gone.

Fidel Castro will be remembered in history as the leader of a poor, small country who defied a super power and got away with it. Some people may not share his communist ideals, but many others will agree that he was an extraordinary strong, decisive leader with a charismatic personality who had the courage of his convictions to fight for the cause he believed in. In his lifetime his actions as a leader had profound impact on USSR and USA which had also somehow affected the lives of many people in the world.


Monday, November 14, 2016


Report on the supermoon made people wait for this phenomenon to take place on the evening of November 14, 2016. At first, they were however not sure to see the night spectacle considering that the month of November in the Philippines  is full of rains, dark cloudy skies and typhoons that might obstruct their view of the moon. Fortunately for those who were expecting to see the moon on that date the weather turned out to be fine early in the evening with the moon shining brightly. However, at past 9 pm some dark clouds appeared in the sky that intermittently blocked the sight of the moon.

What made the phenomenon worth watching was that the moon on that date was the closest to the earth in 68 years or nearly 7 decades. The last supermoon before this one occurred in 1948.This event won’t happen again until 2034. As expected, the moon reached the closest point to the earth at about 7:21 pm or two hours and 31 minutes before going full moon at 9:52 pm. In that evening the proximity of the moon to the earth made it seem larger in apparent diameter than a moon seen on ordinary evenings. A super moon can be seen 14% bigger and 30% brighter than a full moon that shows when it is farthest to earth according to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).However, untrained eyes, most probably won’t be able to make much distinction in size and luminosity between a supermoon and an ordinary moon. The people in my place were glad to have seen the rare celestial occurrence that is the supermoon.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Tale of Sigbin and Tambaloslos

Most societies in the world have their own share of folktales that are passed from one generation to another through word of mouth. These myths and fantasies have passed the test of time so that their stories are still told even today. In the Philippines there are many folktales about fairies, witches, ghosts, evil spirits and of mythical creatures. In the Southern Philippines particularly in some parts of Mindanao and in the Visayas region some of these mythical creatures include the sigbin and tambaloslos which are the topic of this article.

Sigbin is a mythical creature which is said to be a pet of a witch or aswang. It looks similar to a hornless goat that has a body size slightly larger than that of a cat with an oversized ears and long tail. Its hind legs are longer than its fore legs. The sigbin usually moves at night and unseen at day time because it turns itself into a charcoal that is hidden in a clay jar. When moving, it walks backward with its head pointed down and looking through its hind legs so that it sees objects to its rear rather than to its front. 
There are different kinds of sigbin that are distinguished according to their use to its owner, the witch or the wizard. It could be used as a manslayer by its owner to kill the latter’s enemy. A sigbin could disguise itself as a dog or any other animal, and at opportune time would attack its victim. It is even said that it could sip the victim's blood through the latter's shadow. The sigbin could also be used as a means of conveyance by the owner. The speed of the sigbin is very fast so that it could bring her to any place just within a few seconds. People wonder why she arrives ahead of them when she had not yet even moved from her place when they departed. Another kind of sigbin is one which could be used as food to serve the owner’s guests during a feast. The taste of the meat could be like that of a pork, a beef, a mutton or whatever the owner desire it to be. She should not worry about the number of guests because the supply of meat is inexhaustible. Being served as food on the table is not the end of the life of the sigbin because its owner could restore it back to life through any piece of the leftover bones. The resurrected sigbin is the very same original sigbin that had existed before the feast.

Tambaloslos is a male mischievous mythical creature with a big head and a large mouth that is a denizen of the woods. It plays prank to people who stray into its territory by having them become disoriented. The tambaloslos is delighted to see its victim become confused and lost, and its excitement makes its mouth become bigger so that its entire face would be covered. The only way for the victim to regain his bearings is to take his shirt off and then put it back on inside out. The Bicol region has a sensual version of the tambaloslos story because it prefers women to be its victim. In its usual way, it disorients its victim, and again, the only way for her to escape from the situation is to take off her clothes and put it back on inside out. When she undresses the tambalolos upon seeing her breast becomes sexually aroused causing its genital to rise up to its head so that its vision would be blocked. In that instance the power of the tambaloslos to control her is lost, and it would also be her opportune time to quickly get out of harm’s way in the woods.

In the literary sense, the word “tambaloslos” is used to mean a useless or an inept male person. It is seldom used to refer to a woman. Tambaloslos is a slang word in The Cebuano language. It is a vulgar word and is not used in a polite and formal conversation. Saying the word in such a situation indicates a lack of good taste on the part of the speaker. In rare instances people say it to elicit a humorous effect. The suffix “loslos “is a slang term for the male genital. It is maybe for this reason that the word “Tambaloslos” has not finds its way to acceptance in formal conversational usage despite the fact that the tales of tambaloslos is as old as the Visayan culture. “Tambaloslos kang daku!”is a sentence in Cebuano that is somewhat similar to “You’re such a dimwit!” or something to that effect.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 4- American Victory)

General Nicolas Capistrano's Troops surrendering to the Americans
In the aftermath of Kagay-anon guerillas’ victory in the Battle of Macahambus, the Americans sent the 28th Infantry Regiment troops from Zamboanga to Cagayan de Misamis as an augmentation force of the 40th Infantry Regiment that was already there. This unit was led by General William Kobbe. His subordinates included among others such excellent officers as Major John J. Pershing and Major James Case.

Since the guerillas could not take the American forces head on, they had to resort to unconventional tactics to fight them in a protracted war. They abandoned their stronghold in Macahambus because they could not withstand constant attacks and harassments by the US forces.

The war situation in other parts of the Philippines and the situational developments in Manila would have repercussions in Cagayan de Misamis. In most part of the Philippines, the American forces had been winning battles over that of President Aguinaldo who himself was on the run to avoid capture. Beaten in battles because of insufficient armaments and other logistical needs, a number of Aguinaldo’s soldiers and civil officials surrendered and later allied themselves to the Americans. It would just be a matter of time before the First Philippine Republic would collapse.

On January 1901, in Cagayan de Misamis, General William Kobbe requested Don Manuel Corrales to send letter that asked for a 5-day ceasefire and peace conference to General Nicolas Capistrano. On February 4, 1901 at 9 o’clock in the morning General Capistrano with some of his officers met Major James Case in the house of Julian Gevero in Gusa to discuss the matter. However, General Capistrano did not agree with the terms set by the Americans and refused to make commitments. When he returned to Malaybalay, he was followed by the Americans and an encounter ensued between them and his troops. This resulted to the death of 78 guerillas and the capture of 2,000 others. In addition many firearms were captured. The Americans however were not able to get General Capistrano because he had slipped to Linabo.  

With mounting casualties suffered by his troops and the no let up operations conducted by the Americans, General Capistrano was pushed hardly against the wall, and he had to make his final decision. He sent communication to Major case for the terms of peace. In March, 1901, Capistrano together with Uldarico Akut met again with Major Case in the house of Julian Gevero. Both parties then eventually reached an agreement.  On April 7, 1901, in a small plaza in Sumilao 9 Filipino officers with 160 guerillas laid down their arms and took their oath of allegiance to the United States before Major Case. In addition they also surrendered their 187 rifles and 80 shotguns. As agreed upon, General Capistrano did not anymore attend the ceremony.                                                                                                                                                        
Meanwhile, on March 23, 1901, in Palanan, Isabela in Luzon, the Americans delivered its heaviest blow to the First Philippine Republic. American soldiers led by General Frederick Funston disguised themselves as captives of Filipino “guerillas” who were Macababe collaborators. They successfully entered Aguinaldo’s hideout, and when they were there they neutralized the guards and captured their main target- Aguinaldo. On April 1, 1901, in Malacanang, the seat of US power in the Philippines, Aguinaldo swore an oath accepting US authority. On April 19, 1901, he issued proclamation of formal surrender to the US directing all his Filipino forces to lay down their arms and cooperate with the Americans. However, some of his officers did not agree with his position, and some of them such as General Miguel Malvar swore to fight on. But remaining opposition forces were significantly much weaker than the once solid force Aguinaldo had. Their chance of success was slim.

 On July 1, 1902, the Philippine Organic Act was approved by the US congress. It provided for a bicameral legislature. The lower house or the Philippine Assembly was composed of popularly elected Filipino representatives. The upper house was composed of the Philippine Commission whose members were appointed by the President of the United States. The Philippine Commission also acted as an executive body whose head was the American Governor General of the Philippines. The Philippine Organic Act also extended the US Bill of Rights to Filipinos. Since the Americans already controlled most of the Philippine islands and considered them as pacified, President Theodore Roosevelt, on July 4, 1902, granted general amnesty and pardon to all Filipinos who had participated in the armed conflict.

The end of the war and the magnanimity of the American administration ushered in an era of peace and stability in Cagayan de Misamis and in the whole Philippines. As a matter of fact some personalities of Aguinaldo’s First Philippine Republic became top officials of Cagayan de Misamis and the Philippines during the early years of the American administered Philippine government. General Nicolas Capistrano became an elected member of the Philippine assembly in 1909, and a senator of the Philippines from 1916 to 1919. Colonel Apolinar Velez became the governor of the undivided Province of Misamis from 1906 to 1909 and the mayor of Cagayan de Misamis from 1928 and 1931. Uldarico Akut became the mayor of Cagayan de Misamis from 1912 to 1916. 


Monday, October 10, 2016

Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 3- The Battle of Macahambus Hill)

Fresh from their victories in previous battles in Cagayan de Misamis, troops of the 40th Infantry Regiment, Volunteer Corps would launch another military expedition to an enemy stronghold that was about 14 kilometers to the southern upland area of the town. Their objective was to capture a fort that served as an advance post to the headquarters of Western Mindanao Division at Langaon under the command of Colonel Apolinar Velez.

Colonel Apolinar Velez
Unknown to the Americans, the Filipino guerillas were tipped of the impending military plan. The latter then toiled hard to fortify their area for an expected battle. They made breastworks around their perimeter and beyond them were laid on the ground foliage- camouflaged pitfalls with sharpened woods and bamboos in them. Although not sufficient in armaments, the guerillas occupied a vantage position which were forested hills flanked by natural barriers which was a steep precipice along the Cagayan River on the eastern side and the deep, narrow gorge on the western side. 
When the US troops reached Kabula on June 4, 1900, the Filipino sentry Apolinario Nacalaban, who saw them, hurried d to the fort to inform its commander Lieutenant Cruz Taal of the enemy’s presence.  Meanwhile, the American soldiers, in closing in on their objective, had to move along a trail so narrow that only one man or horse could pass at a time. Near the fort, the trail was closer to the edge of the precipice and the slope of the ground was higher. 

                                                      Lieutenant Cruz Taal                                                           
Lieutenant Cruz Taal gave instruction to his men to hold their fire until the Americans were at a very close shooting range. When the leading element of American soldiers under Captain Walter Elliott of “I” Company was about to reach the entrance of the fort, a soldier shouted “Good Morning!” Filipino guerillas then quickly answered them with rifle and cannon fires. The initial salvoes stopped the Americans right on their tracks and drove them back down. Some of them fell off the high precipice while others stumbled on the concealed pitfalls on the ground. The sharpened wooden and bamboo arrows and spears in the pits were deadlier than the gun fires of the Filipino guerillas. Many of the American soldiers were killed and wounded during the encounter.

Captain Thomas Millar of Company “H”, 40th Infantry Regiment made an attempt to ease the pressure put up by the guerillas. He maneuvered towards the western flank of their stronghold, but to his dismay there was a deep narrow gorge at it so that attacking the guerillas to that direction would be very difficult and risky. An attack to the front was the most ideal course of action. However, Captain Millar had to deal with the thick vegetation and the pitfalls along the direction of the attack. It would also be difficult to outdo enemies in gun battle where they were well concealed and covered on a vantage ground.  

Repeated attempts by the Americans to capture the fort were beaten back by the Filipino Guerillas. Realizing the futility of their effort because of the difficult terrain around the Filipinos’ stronghold, the American retreated from the scene leaving behind their dead and most of the rifles of those who were killed..                                                                                                                                                  
The battle resulted to 20 dead and 20 wounded and one captured American soldiers. On the side of the Filipinos there was only one killed and 3 wounded guerillas. The battle was the first and only known recorded victory of the Filipinos over the Americans in the 1900-1901 Philippine-American War in Mindanao.

Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 1- The Battle of Cagayan de Misamis)
Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 2- The Battle of Agusan Hill)
Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 4- American Victory)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 2- The Battle of Agusan Hill)

The Cry of Freedom Monument
The presence of US troops in Cagayan de Misamis caused animosity to the local residents. A battle had already occurred on April 7, 1900, between the Americans and the guerilla forces under General Nicolas Capistrano right at the heart of the town. Despite their loss, the local warriors were determined to fight on. Captain Vicente Roa Y Racines, commanding Officer First Company, Mindanao Battalion, with other officers met in the house of Juan Bautista. In the meeting they agreed to send a courier to dare the American for an open battle in Agusan, a village about 16 kilometers east of Cagayan de Misamis.   
Captain Walter B. Elliott, the Commanding Officer of “I” Company, 40th Infantry Regiment of US Army Volunteers readily answered the challenge. Bracing for a fight, Captain Vicente Roa got ready with his troops of about 500 consisting of infantry, cavalry and macheteros who were armed with bolos. Captain Roa had 200 rifles and some shotguns for his infantry and cavalry. His initial plan was for the infantry and the cavalry to occupy two hills overlooking a main road to set up an ambush. When the enemies would be pinned down, the macheteros who were hidden in the houses would then rush out to finish them off from behind with their bolos. A contact with the enemies would be signaled with a bugle sound and three gunshots. Pitted against Captain Roa’s guerillas was Captain Elliott’s company of about 80 men. Their smaller number was compensated with their superior weapons and the warship at Macajalar Bay that would give support to the company in the battle.

Captain Vicente Roa y Racines
 On May 14, 1900, while the company of Captain Elliott was approaching to its objective, General Nicolas Capistrano gave last minutes order to Sergeant Uldarico Akut’s cavalry to move farther away from the main force to guard a road leading to Maitum where Capistrano was based. As a result of it, the frontlines of Roa’s troops were significantly affected.    
When leading elements of the enemies were sighted by the Filipino guerillas, a bugler then sounded the call; Captain Roa then fired three shots to alert his men that the battle had begun. Firefight then ensued. With Roa’s troops outgunned by the Americans, the macheteros’ could not carry out their task of hitting the enemies who were aggressively fighting and dictating the tempo of the battle. Disheartened, some of them did not join the fight while others fled from the scene. 

A painting of the Battle of Agusan Hill in the City Archives Museum
Undaunted by the enemies’ superior strength, Captain Roa and his troops who were overmatched were determined to fight till death. When the enemies were about to overpower them, Captain Roa’s rifle ran out of ammunition. He then fought with his revolver, and when that ran out of ammunition too he drew his sword to continue fighting until he was killed. The Filipinos in the hills were eventually overwhelmed by the Americans. Captain Roa was beheaded and his medals in the breast of his uniform were taken off by an American soldier.

In this battle, the American soldiers soundly defeated the Filipino warriors. There were 38 guerillas including Roa who were killed. In addition, the Americans captured 35 rifles from the Filipinos. On the side of the Americans, there were only 2 dead and 3 wounded soldiers.

In 1931, to immortalize the memory of the brave Kagay-anon warriors who died in the Battle of Agusan Hill, the municipal government of Cagayan de Misamis under Mayor Don Apolinar Velez exhumed the bones of the warriors that were buried in the hills of Agusan. They were transferred and interred in a common grave in Plaza Divisoria and over it was built the “Cry of Freedom Monument” with Andres Bonifacio holding a bolo with his right hand and a flag with his left hand. On the base of the Bonifacio figure are engraved words that read: “El Pueblo a sus heroes”or “from the town to its heroes”.

Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 1- The Battle of Cagayan de Misamis)
Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 3- The Battle of Macahambus Hill)
Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 4- American Victory)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 1- The Battle of Cagayan de Misamis)

A painting of the battle from the City Archives Museum
Spain’s harsh dealing with the Cuban insurgents and the United States’ interference in the Cuban revolution and its pressure on Spain to grant Independence to Cuba caused bitter friction between the two powers. This was exacerbated when an American naval ship USS Maine was destroyed by an explosion in a port in Havana, Cuba where many American sailors were killed. The US blamed Spain for the incident but the latter denied the accusation. Their contrasting interests and disputes over the situation in Cuba ended with their mutual declaration of war in April 1898. 
The event had far-reaching repercussions at the global stage considering that those involved were world powers at the time. The Philippines being a colony of Spain would certainly be greatly affected. Even before the war declaration, Filipino revolutionaries, the Katipunan, under Emilio Aguinaldo waged an armed rebellion against Spain. Philippine Spanish Governor General Fernando Primo de Rivera successfully persuaded Aguinaldo and his forces to lay down their arms on a promise of 800,000 Mexican Pesos to be paid in three equal installments and for Aguinaldo to be exiled in Hong-Kong.  
The outbreak of Spanish-American War however would in a way nullify what Primo de Rivera and Aguinaldo had agreed upon. In Hong-Kong, Aguinaldo was approached by US consul E. Spencer Pratt convincing him to continue his armed struggle in the Philippines. He also promised him of American support in the revolution and in the Filipinos’ desire for independence.  
American Asiatic Squadron under Admiral George Dewey entered Manila Bay on May 1, 1898 and defeated the Spanish naval fleet under Admiral Patricio Montojo. Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines in June 1898 and soon thereafter his revolutionary forces joined the battle against the Spaniards. The Filipinos were able to defeat their enemy in many of the battles that resulted to the surrender of large number of Spanish soldiers. On August 13, 1898, US infantry troops arrived in Manila and captured the city.

Embattled Spain which confronted not only the might of US armed forces but also the armed rebellions from its remaining overseas territories sued for peace, and a treaty was signed between it and the United States in Paris on December 10, 1898 to end the war. In the Treaty of Paris Spain agreed for an American administration of Cuba and the cession of Guam and Puerto Rico. The Philippines was ceded to the United States with an amount of $20,000,000 as compensation.

With the Treaty of Paris further armed confrontations between the American and Spanish forces ended. And Spanish soldiers, civil servants and residents were ordered to converge in Manila for their eventual repatriation to Spain. The treaty also gave the Spaniards the opportunity to save face by avoiding defeat and surrender to the Filipinos, and as a matter of course they surrendered to the Americans rather than to the Filipinos.                                                                                                                                                              
 In the wake of US victory against Spain and the impending clean up of remaining opposition forces, President William McKinley on December 21, 1898 proclaimed of Benevolent Assimilation in which he declared the annexation of the Philippines with all possible dispatch.

 When Aguinaldo’s forces tried to enter Manila to proclaim victory, the Americans blocked them, and warned them of a shot out if they insisted. The shooting by an American sentry of an Aguinaldo soldier on February 4, 1899 resulted to a full blown armed conflict. Feeling betrayed by the Americans, Aguinaldo waged another armed struggle against his erstwhile ally. Despite the state of war, he proclaimed victory and independence, and on January 1, 1899 in Malolos, Bulacan he made himself president of the First Philippine Republic. Aguinaldo declared war against the US on June 2, 1899.                                                                                                                                                                  
In Cagayan de Misamis (the original name of Cagayan de Oro which included the present day Opol and El Salvador), the Kagay-anons during rebellion against Spain remained loyal to the Spanish authorities. They even sent personnel to Luzon to help the Spaniards quell the rebellion. However, the cession of the Philippines to the United States and the departure of the Spanish authorities made them give their full support and allegiance to the First Philippine Republic of President Emilio Aguinaldo.

Lieutenant Colonel Cristobal de Aguilar, the last Spanish military governor of Misamis Province and Cagayan de Misamis organized an interim five-man committee composed of prominent citizens that would govern those places to fill the void of leadership when the Spanish officials were gone.  During the advent of the First Philippine Republic, town and provincial officials were elected in 1898 under the auspices of that government. Some of the officials that were elected were Pedro Roa y Casas as provincial president and Toribio Chavez as municipal president. The Philippine flag was flown on January 10, 1899 at the Casa Real, the former admin building and residence of the Spanish military governor of the province which is now the site of the present day city hall.

Torn between the issues of American occupation of the Philippines and their allegiance to the First Philippine Republic under Aguinaldo, civil officials and prominent citizens of Cagayan de Misamis met on January 1, 1900 in Club Popular, the present day location of Saint Augustine Maternity and General Hospital, to take a common stand on the matter. In that meeting they agreed to sign the Pact of Resistance to American colonial rule.

General Nicolas Capistrano and his wife
American forces with warships arrived in Cagayan de Misamis on March 30, 1900. They established their headquarters with four barracks in what is now the site of the present day Gaston Park. The presence of the American soldiers undermined the authorities of Kagay-anon officials who based their legitimacy to Aguinaldo’s First Philippine Republic. Kagay-anons’ aspirations were essentially incompatible with the Americans’ desire to annex the Philippines. Watching in the sidelines were the armed components of Aguinaldo’s government which was called the “Liber Army “or the Liberation Army headed by General Nicolas Capistrano. An armed confrontation between the Liber troops and the US forces was very imminent.

On the dawn of April 3, 1900, bells of Saint Augustine Cathedral pealed for the first mass. At the vicinity of the church in the seemingly serene morning lurked the Filipino forces under the leadership of General Nicolas Capistrano who were preparing to attack the American position in an area by the church. The American soldiers were in the existing buildings which they converted into barracks. Capistrano’s forces were composed of the macheteros (bolo-armed warriors), infantry and cavalry.

For lack of sufficient number of rifles and other modern weapons, the Filipinos had still to use bladed weapons to compensate for their lack of armaments. The macheteros who were armed with bolos were the first to attack the American positions. They had to bring with them ladders to scale the buildings where the Americans slept. An element of surprise was a key for their success; otherwise, without it they would be mowed down right in their tracks by the better armed enemies.                                                                                                
Leading elements of macheteros were able to sneak near the buildings and neutralize some of the American sentries and penetrate the buildings occupied by the Americans. However, a warrior from Bukidnon made a loud battle cry when he killed an American soldier. The sound awakened other American soldiers who then quickly got up to repulse the attackers. They engaged the macheteros in a close hand to hand combat. The local warriors’ bolos pitted against the bayonets of American soldiers. Prominent macheteros who died in the encounter were the commander, Captain Apolinario Pabayo, Clemente Chacon and Casiano Neri who died of multiple bayonet wounds.  
A few seconds after the macheteros’ assault, there was a firefight between the Filipino infantry and cavalry on the ground and the American soldiers who were well positioned in the windows of the buildings, church bell tower and other places. Capistrano directed the attack through couriers and hand signal at the place that is now the old water tank that is turned into a city museum. The well equipped Americans had the better of the battle. General Capistrano, sensing that a continued fighting would be untenable, ordered a retreat of his troops. They escaped to the edge of the town with the Americans chasing them. 

The Americans were able to beat back General Capistrano’s forces in their first encounter in Cagayan de Misamis. The hour long battle resulted to 52 killed, 9 wounded and 10 captured Filipinos. On the American side there were 4 killed and 9 wounded.

On that day the streets of Cagayan de Misamis and the ground which is now Gaston Park were filled with the dead bodies and blood of the dead Kagay-anon warriors. Most of them were young and at the prime of their lives. These brave men gave the ultimate sacrifice of their life for the freedom of their countrymen and the independence of their country.

Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 2- The Battle of Agusan Hill)
Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 3- The Battle of Macahambus Hill)
Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War (Part 4- American Victory)

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Bells of Balangiga

One of the bloodiest battles in the Philippines involving US forces and the Filipinos during the Philippine-American war happened in the small municipality of Balangiga in Samar. Early in the 20th century, General Vicente Lukban was sent to Samar by President Emilio Aguinaldo, the first President of the Philippine Republic. To deal with the insurgents, the Americans sent troops to the municipalities of Balangiga, Basey and Guiwan to control its ports with the aim of preventing foods and other supplies to reach the hinterlands of Samar where Filipino guerillas were hiding. In addition, the occupation of those places could give the Americans the control of the Manila hemp trade which at that time was a commodity needed in the navy and the US cotton industry.   
Charlie Company of the US 9th Infantry Regiment arrived in Balangiga on August 11, 1901. At first the local residents and the soldiers developed friendly relationship. Together, they enjoyed engaging in pastime activities such as drinking tuba, a local palm wine, playing baseball and watching arnis demonstration.                 
When an Army Inspector General was scheduled to visit the company, the commander, Captain Thomas W. Connell required the locals to clean up the surroundings of the town for the planned inspection. However, the communal workers inadvertently cut off vegetation with food value. Reacting to what was happening in the town, General Lukban sent Captain Eugenio Daza, with 400 guerillas to secretly communicate with some of the townspeople to remind and warn them on food security policy violations and on fraternizing with the American troops.  
The amicable relationship between the townspeople and the soldiers made a sudden turn around when Captain Connell confiscated the bolos of 80 local men and the rice that was intended for their families. In addition he detained them in two Sibley tents and left unfed overnight. This incident sparked anger to the townspeople so that they need no agitation from the guerillas to fan their resentment even more.
Amid the brewing situation, Captain Eugenio Daza, a staff of General Lukban, met with Valeriano Abanador, the chief of police of the town, so that they could hatch a plan to attack the Americans with the use of the guerillas that had infiltrated the labor force that cleaned up the town plaza. That force was to be augmented by prisoners who would disguise as members of the work force. The planned visit by a ranking US military officer which coincided with the holding of the town fiesta made a good opportune time to stage an attack. Hours before the attack women and children would stay away from the town, and to mask the absence of women in the church service some of the guerillas would be dressed as women.

In the early morning of September 28, 1901, a group of people bearing coffins was at the town plaza. Private Scharer, a sentry, opened the first coffin with his bayonet, and saw in it a dead child. The bearers said that he died in the cholera epidemic. He then let the procession through, but unknown to him and the other sentries the other coffins contain bolos. The group proceeded to the church as some of the townspeople continued with their cleaning up activity.   
At breakfast time Valeriano Abanador who was supervising the prisoners at the plaza gave a blow to the head of the unwary Pvt Adolph Gamlin and grabbed his rifle. Abanador then gave a shout and fired towards the Sibley tents where the American soldiers were having their breakfast. Then there were peals of church bell followed by sounds of conch shells which were signals for the execution of a simultaneous attack.

As some of Abanador’s men overpowered the sentries posted at the plaza, the others who were armed with bolos made a simultaneous lightning quick attack to the tents of the unwary soldiers where they were eating their breakfast. The guerillas who were hidden in the church also rushed out to join the fight. The men who were detained in the tent broke out and also helped the guerillas. The soldiers who were totally taken by surprise had to use all means and objects to fend off the attack, they had to use kitchen utensils such as fork, steak knives, table and chairs and baseball bat to defend themselves as the guerillas were hacking many of them to death. Although some of them managed to get their rifles and shot some of the attackers, it was too late since the guerillas had almost completely overrun them with the use of bladed weapons.

The result of the battle was a massacre to the American soldiers. Of the 74 men of the Charlie Company 44 were killed, 22 were wounded and 4 were missing and only 4 escaped unscathed. In addition 100 rifles and 25,000 rounds of ammunition were taken from them. Those killed included all of the officers who were Captain Thomas W. Connell, the company commander, First Lt Edward A. Bumpus and a Major Edward A. Griswold. On the side of the guerillas 28 were killed and 22 were wounded. After the battle the guerillas and their conspirators buried their dead and told the townspeople to abandon the town. On the following day, Captain Edwin Victor Bookmiller of “G” company 9th Infantry Regiment stationed in Basey sailed to Balangiga. Shortly after his arrival he buried the dead soldiers and burned the town.

Survivors of the Balangiga Massacre                
When report of the incident reached US President Theodore Roosevelt, he then ordered Major General Adna R. Chaffee, the American military governor of the Philippines to pacify Samar. The latter ordered Brigadier General Jacob Smith to make retaliatory measures against the perpetrators of the attack. In Samar General Smith organized the different military units to carry out the punitive campaign. He primarily tasked Major Littleton Waller, the battalion commander of 315 US marine to go after the attackers. “I want no prisoners. I wish you kill and burn. The more you kill and burn, the more it will please me. The interior of Samar must be made into a howling wilderness”, he said. He also told him to kill males with age 10 years old and above.

The American soldiers went on a rampage in carrying out General Jacob Smith’s orders. They indiscriminately killed people to include their animals such as carabaos and burned their houses. Only the good sense and restraint of some officers in the execution of the general’s order had reduced the possible very high number of casualties on the local populace. Some observers put the range of casualties on the guerillas and the civilians from 2,000 to 2,500. Others put it as high as 50,000 which is obviously an exaggeration.

There was an outrage by the American anti-imperialist groups in the US when they heard the news of the battle and the killings and the destruction of properties that were done by the US troops that followed. In connection with the Samar incidents, US President Theodore Roosevelt through the Secretary of War ordered for an investigation. General Jacob Smith, Major Littleton Waller and Captain Edwin Glenn were subjected to a trial by a court martial for the heavy-handed treatment of Filipinos. Waller was acquitted while Captain Glenn and General Jacob Smith were found guilty by the court. General Smith was reprimanded and forced to retire from the service.

When troops of “G” Company, 9th Infantry Regiment left Balangiga they were replaced by the “K” Company of the 11th Infantry Regiment. And when troops of that unit were relieved there on October 18, 1901, they took with them three of the church’s bells and one 1557 cannon as war booties. These objects were brought by the troops with them when they returned to the United States. Two of the bells are now in museum of 2nd Infantry Division at Francis Warren Air Force Base. The third and the smallest bell is in the possession of the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

The bells of Balangiga
Filipinos have moved on with that sad and bitter episode of that distant past when the Philippines was held by the United States as one of its unincorporated territories. Both countries now are staunch allies. But the happenings or events that shaped their storied relationship must forever be embedded in their history. The bells of Balangiga are some of the historical relics that symbolize the bravery and aspiration of the Filipinos for freedom and independence.

Philippine government officials since the time of President Fidel Ramos have long asked for the return of the bells to the Philippines. However, US officials said that they are US property and that it requires an act of congress to transfer them to other country. Follow up official letters by the Philippine government and the Catholic Church as well as personal representations have been sent and made to the US Presidents and the US congress to convince them to grant the Philippines’ request. But until now the Philippines is still waiting for the return of the bells that rightfully belong to it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Battle of Bayan, Lanao Province

At the start of the 20th century during the American occupation of the Philippines which was then an unincorporated territory of the United States, the Americans were able to bring stability and order to Luzon and the Visayas Islands. But in some parts of the island of Mindanao, the Moros, its indigenous Muslim inhabitants, were not about to submit to the American regime, and preferred to live according to their own traditions, religious belief and tribal rule. The Moros’ distrust and animosity to outsiders came to a head in the Lanao Province when Maranao Moros killed two US soldiers from the 27th Infantry Regiment and stole their Krag-Jorgensen rifles. Lieutenant General Adna Chaffee, the American military governor of the Philippines, gave ultimatum to the Sultan of Bayan to surrender the perpetrators along with the stolen rifles or face adverse consequences.
With an order from Brigadier General George Davis, the commander of Philippine Department, Colonel Frank D. Baldwin, the Commanding Officer of the 27th Infantry Regiment prepared a force to launch a punitive expedition on the strongholds of recalcitrant Moros. He organized his troops numbering 1,025 infantry from his own unit and 65 men from 25th Field Artillery Battery. This was augmented by 10 six-mule teams, 40 packs mule ran by civilian packers, and 300 hired Maguindanao Moro porters to help carry some of troops’ supplies and equipment. Six hundred men from the 10th and 17th regiments were temporarily moved to Malabang, to occupy the base left behind by the 27th Infantry and to act as reserve of the operating troops. It was an arduous trek for the operating troops from their base in Fort Corcuera in Malabang, Lanao to their objective in the southern shores of Lake Lanao. They had to cut through thick forests, waded seemingly bottomless mud and endured the bites of malaria causing mosquitoes.

Along the way they lost their Maguindanao porters because they refused to carry food provisions containing pork and they were replaced with 40 pack mules. On May 1, 1902, the Americans reached their objective after a trek of 17 days that covered a distance of about 32 miles. Col Baldwin then put up a camp. Beyond their location at the lake, they saw on the high ridge two cottas, one at Binadayan and the other at Pandapatan with red battle flags signifying that their occupants were ready to do battles. They could also see figures of combatants carrying rifles on the wall.

On May 2, 1902, Colonel Baldwin sent an ultimatum to the Sultan of Bayan who he believed to be at Cotta Binadayan to surrender before 12 noon. But the ultimatum fall on deaf ears as the Sultan did not reply to the ultimatum until it expired at the specific hour, and an armed confrontation was inevitable. The Americans first attacked Cotta Binadayan which was pounded by artillery fires followed by infantry assault. The cotta’s weak defense enabled the Americans to easily overcome the few defenders manning it with only one killed on their side. They later found out that the Sultan of Bayan and his main force of about 600 men including 150 sent by other datus had moved to the other cotta for their ultimate fight.  

At around 4 PM of that day, the Americans made a siege on Cotta Pandapatan. After passing through a valley, they had to overcome obstacles of layered trenches and some concealed pits filled with sharpened bamboo sticks. Advancing with support of artillery fires, the Americans cut down some Moro defenders at the wall. Their lack of scaling ladders prevented them from penetrating the cotta. When they attempted to breach the main entrance, the Moros launched a counter attack. A close up hand-to-hand combat ensued between the two opposing sides. The creeping darkness, the thick fog and the heavy rain made the situation difficult for the Americans and they had to retreat. Although they were beaten back, the Americans inflected heavy damage to the cotta as well as to the morale of the Moros defending it.

Amid darkness, rain and flashes of thunder, the Americans reconsolidated their forces at the cotta in Binadayan to prepare for the next attack. In the meantime, the troops of the Field Artillery Battery took the task of retrieving the dead and the wounded soldiers.

In the morning of the following day as the Americans prepared for their final assault, they noticed that the red battle flags of Cotta Pandapatan were replaced by four white flags indicating that the Moros were now willing to negotiate peacefully with the Americans instead of fighting it out with them till the end. But the Americans attacked the cotta anyway. Their superiority in armaments was brought to bear against their enemies. In the fight they killed the Sultan of Bayan and his brother. They also captured 83 remaining Moros. However, they reported that of Moros who surrendered only 9 were left because the rest were killed while attempting to escape. The cottas were dismantled by the American soldiers and they took with them kampilans and kris as souvenirs of the battle. At the site of the battle, Camp Vicar was established by the Americans the next day. The name of the camp was in honor to Lieutenant Thomas A. Vicars who was one of the American soldiers that was killed in the battle. Captain John J. Pershing was designated as the commander of the camp.

The result of the battle was a lopsided win for the Americans. The Moros took a heavy casualty of about 400-500 killed, 9 captured and 39 escaped combatants. Total casualties of the Americans were 11 dead and 42 wounded soldiers.

When report of the battle reached President Theodore Roosevelt Jr., he sent a message congratulating the troops for their combat achievement. Behind the scene, however, he was mad at Lieutenant General Adna Chaffee, the military governor of the Philippines for opening  up a new front of an armed conflict in the south when he was about to declare that the Philippines was already pacified.

On the part of General Chaffee, he thought that Colonel Frank Baldwin was impetuous, somewhat insubordinate and incompetent. He thought that had Captain John Pershing not developed friendly and cooperative relations with the Datus on the northern shore of the lake, they could have made a grand coalition to fight the Americans in Bayan. In fact, they stayed neutral and stood down during the battle. Not long thereafter, Col Baldwin was promoted but General Chaffee saw to it that he should be shipped out from the Moro land. Captain John Pershing took over Baldwin’s command. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Higalaay Festival 2016 (Cagayan de Oro Fiesta)

Cagayan de Oro City celebrates one of its most joyous occasions of the year, the feast day of Saint Augustine, the patron saint of the city. Locals simply call it the fiesta. Relative to the celebration, the city government launched the HIgalaay Festival 2016. The Higalaay or friendship in the local dialect is a series of almost a month-long core events that were conducted by the city and other groups or organization that culminated on August 28, 2016, the day of the fiesta. The events included Mindanao fashion summit, city-wide sale from the city’s big malls, kumbira, garden show and agri fair, coronation night of Miss CDO, marathon, carnival parade, cowboy show, Kahimunan regional trade fair, religious and fluvial processions, parade of floats and icons and bisperas fireworks displays and pyro musical festival.   

Celebrating fiesta is a tradition of most Kagayanons. It is a time of reunion of members of families, a time when families treat relatives, friends and guests with sumptuous foods and drinks. The fiesta has been a traditionally religious event of the Roman Catholics who composed the city’s majority population. But through the years it has taken in some elements of secular cultural practices so that it has become an all inclusive occasion. Its events can be enjoyed and participated in by anyone regardless of his religious affiliation. For the city government and its people, the fiesta is also an instrument to showcase the city as one of the premiere tourist and investment destinations not only in Mindanao but also in the Philippines. Viva Señor San Agustin! Happy Fiesta!

Lechon, a favorite food for the fiesta
The city's Saint Augustine Cathedral at dawn

Miss Cagayan de Oro 2016