The Capture of Aguinaldo
by Claudine O. del Castillo
During the Philippine-American War, the main concern of the American invading army was to destroy Filipino resistance to their glorified escapade. And, because General Emilio Aguinaldo was the driving force behind the Philippine revolution, the Americans’ main goal was to capture him and destroy the troops immediately under him. To the Americans, it was clear that as long as Aguinaldo was enjoying his freedom, the Filipino’s fight in defense of their republic would continue indefinitely, for Aguinaldo stood for independence and democracy. Thus, a plan for a three-pronged campaign was made.
General Lawton was to go to Pangasinan by way of the Pampanga river. General Wheaton was to go to Lingayen Gulf by way of the sea from Manila. And General MacArthur was to join them in Pangasinan by way of Tarlac.
Bloody engagements resulted in this campaign. As Filipino generals defied the Americans, the war lengthened to two more years at the cost of an immense sacrifice of life and money on the part of the Americans, Aguinaldo was so elusive he was able to dodge the American troops and carried the war farther north. This crafty evasion temporarily paid off.
General Otis, the American military governor, did not know what to make of their continuous failure to capture Aguinaldo. Defending General Wheaton and the others involved in the campaign, he averted criticisms aimed at them alleging that it was always easy for a small “guerilla band” to escape apprehension by larger forces. Unknown to Otis, Aguinaldo was retreating with more than 2100 men and that the topography of northern Luzon was as unfamiliar to him as to the Americans.
November 13 of 1899 was the day General Emilio Aguinaldo started his flight from the advancing Americans. Leaving with him from Bayambang by railway were some members of his cabinet as well as his aides and some ladies.
They went from place to place, climbing hills and mountains, crossing creeks and swamps which were infested with reptiles and leeches, suffering great hardship all the way.
General MacArthur pursued the Filipino leader relentlessly, almost succeeding in trapping him but failing to do so. Aguinaldo was always one step ahead of them. And, unfortunately for MacArthur, American group commanders sometimes bungle their jobs.
The retreat was certainly bitter and hard. Aguinaldo and his men, on several occasions, went without food for four or five days, and at other times ate only what they could pick along the way. Vegetable roots and unripe guavas were the staple meals as they move on. They painfully ascended steep mountains and slid down the other side, only to find out there are more mountains lying beyond. They endured heat and cold, hunger, thirst, fatigue and sickness.
While the enemies combed the trails and riverbanks, they had to zigzag between the hostile forces to escape. At times, Aguinaldo’s band enjoyed days, even weeks, of comparative quiet and rest. But most of the time, they marched through valleys, fields, rivers and hillsides day and night, stopping here and there for brief moments of rest.
In order to spare the women, General Aguinaldo decided to surrender them on Christmas day. Now unencumbered with fragile company, they were able to move through faster.
In passing Pasong Tirad – a crossing in the Cordillera Mountains of northern Luzon, Aguinaldo’s rear guard commander, General Gregorio del Pilar, noted the advantageous terrain. He, therefore, suggested that in order to halt the American temporarily, he would stay behind and make a last stand at Tirad Pass. He thought that such a battle would necessarily delay the Americans and give Aguinaldo sufficient time to widen the distance between him and the pursuing enemy. Aguinaldo, with much regret, approved of del Pilar’s suggestion. The latter died heroically with 52 other defenders. Only eight men escaped alive to relate the tragic news of the battle to Aguinaldo.
A year after the fight at Pasong Tirad, Aguinaldo’s messenger, Cecilio Segismundo fell into the hands of General Friedrich Funston. The American’s who had earlier accepted surrender of Segismundo, decoded some letters of Aguinaldo to his field generals, namely: General Baldomero Aguinaldo – cousin of General Aguinaldo – and General Urbano Lacuna. In the papers, General Aguinaldo was directing the other generals to send reinforcements to Palanan, Isabela. This gave General Funston a clue to the whereabouts of Aguinaldo.
Upon the approval of General MacArthur, who succeeded Otis as military governor, Funston secretly prepared in Manila an expedition for the capture of Aguinaldo. General Funston’s group consisted of five American officers (including Funston), one Spanish interpreter (Lazaro Segovia), four Tagalogs (including Hilario Tal Placido, former officer of General Aguinaldo), and 80 Macabebe scouts, Funston also ordered forging of the signature of General Urbano Lacuna and made appear that Lacuna was sending the needed reinforcements to Aguinaldo.
On the night of March 6, Funston’s party quietly slipped out of Manila Bay on board the gunboat Vicksburg and landed dawn of March 14 at Casiguran Bay. From there, they marched overland through the forests and reached Palanan in the afternoon of March 23, 1901.
Disguised as Filipino soldiers and pretending to be the much-awaited “reinforcements” with five American prisoners, the Macabebes were able to enter General Aguinaldo’s camp. Aguinaldo and his men met the party joyfully and even gave them food and shelter.
Tal Placido and Segovia set foot in the house where Aguinaldo, unaware of treachery, welcomed them. At a given signal, the Macabebes suddenly opened fire on the guards who, caught by surprise, were easily overpowered. While the Macabebes turned against their countrymen, Tal Placido grabbed Aguinaldo from behind. The firing, however, unnerved Tal Placido, who promptly fell on his stomach. Segovia began firing like a madman. Fearing for his general’s life, Colonel Simeon Villa shielded Aguinaldo from the bullets. Aguinaldo, who had whipped his pistol, wanted to fight to his death. But Dr. Santiago Barcelona held him by the arms, saying “My general, you owe it to our people to live and continue fighting for freedom.”
General Funston and his American companions entered the room and arrested General Aguinaldo in the name of the United States government.
Aguinaldo was later taken aboard the Vicksburg and brought to Manila. With his capture, General MacArthur terminated the military conquest of the Philippines.
On April 1, Aguinaldo took his oath of allegiance to the United States of America. On a proclamation he issued on April 19, he appealed to all Filipinos to accept the “sovereignty of the United States.”
Emilio Aguinaldo received lavish praises here and abroad. He was considered a remarkable man both by Filipinos as well as Americans.
Beveridge had said: “There are only three Filipinos who excelled in character and intelligence, namely: Mabini, Arellano, and Aguinaldo. He [Aguinaldo] was a very popular leader, capable, brave, resourceful and clever, devoted, full of initiative and authority with complete confidence of the people.”
And the famous Spanish-American newspaperman, Manual Ugarte, wrote a eulogy about this great Filipino leader: “Let us have a propitious life. Our hero (in moments of crisis it seem indispensable to have a hero) should be Aguinaldo. His heroic deeds are of particular interest to us, because it is the revival of our history.
Aguinaldo’s military achievements could be compared to that of an actor who accomplished prodigious things and astounded the public, but he did not obtain their applause nor the popularity that he deserved, for his deed were confined only in a small city of a province, far from fame and official propagandists.
This thirty-five year old general who became the savior of his people, without sufficient arms, resources and support, was able to wage an unequal war first against one country, then another powerful nation for the sole purpose of giving liberty to his people. He was so obstinate, displaying all his audacity and vigor, and prudence and generosity. He is a national figure who should be given the highest honor like Bolivar and San Martin. We must render him the same esteem.
Perhaps there were many others who had accomplished what he was not able to do. Freedom has eclipses like the sun; but death – never.
Nobody can thwart the triumph of goodness. It is only possible to defer its success. The invaders now were able to dominate the Archipelago with the protection of their cannons, but they were not able to stop the vigilant desire for independence that constantly agitates the Filipino souls. SO, when another uprising is proclaimed, our hopes are revived and Aguinaldo’s memory will be hoisted like a flag over the confusion of a people clamored to be free.”
Source: del Castillo, Claudine O. 1898 (March 1998), p.20-24.