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Balangiga 1901, Borrinaga and Apostol

August 16, 2019

Balangiga 1901, Borrinaga and Apostol 1
MA. ISABEL ONGPIN

AFTER reading Gina Apostol’s historical fiction novel, Insurrecto, about contrasting memories and their consequent influence on identity and behavior, motivation and rationalization, that result finally in the personal evolution of the characters, I felt it was time to be clear about what the principal compulsion was — the Balangiga Massacre (the American term) or “Incident” (the historians’ term) of 1901 in Samar.

This brought me to Rolando O. Borrinaga’s book, The Balangiga Conflict Revisited. Many Filipinos say that in their study of Philippine history in school, the Balangiga event was unmentioned, unknown and unrecorded, resulting in their ignorance about its impact on both sides — Filipinos and Americans. And puzzlement about the importance and polemical feelings regarding the Balangiga Bells is quite widespread.

Well, I suggest that a reading of Borrinaga’s book will bring the whole matter into light, enough for one to know the facts, to have an opinion and be able to explain it to those who are unaware, or even one’s own progeny in the years of growing up as Filipinos who should be aware of their own history.

The Philippine-American War was a war. I am old enough to have seen how it was treated in American-era textbooks that lasted down to our time, as an “insurrection,” which implies that it was a seditious uprising against a legitimate government. That was the American point of view that declared this country as theirs – they bought it, fought for it and were to exploit it. Democracy and education were the excuses. In short, it was empire-building via the colonial route and becoming rich on the resources of the colony.

Borrinaga’s account brings to the fore the background in Samar at the time of the Philippine revolution for independence. Samar is the third largest island in the Philippine archipelago, at the time forested and with a developed rice agriculture, fishing, and other natural resources. Abaca was an important product of the economy. Samar was also far from the center of the conflict though it did have a Filipino revolutionary general in control, Gen. Vicente Lukban, who led a revolutionary force that at the time of the American Occupation turned into basically a guerrilla force. As is true of guerrilla groups, Lukban had to depend on the general population for support and as he was a military man and armed, he made demands that they had to meet under threat of war. Priests who dared to oppose his Aglipayan orientation (part of the rebel attitude towards the friars) were persecuted, re-assigned (though he was not a church official) and maligned.

Lukban was a guerrilla leader under whose hands the general population experienced abuse by way of threats, high-handed demands and general oppression. When the American forces came to Samar, he retreated to the mountains from where he declared that people who collaborated with the Americans would face the consequences. Nevertheless, he was not the enemy, the Americans were.

Meanwhile, the Americans began inflicting their own abuses on the Samar economy for the purpose of withholding resources from the guerrillas. Abaca was the backbone of the economy in the sense that it was an export product traded by British companies there for over 50 years, and whose personnel were in place on the island. For that, the British nationals were harassed by the American military, their middlemen given the water cure and their hemp destroyed. They were commanded not to pay their suppliers.

Rice was discouraged from being stored in case it would be given to the guerrillas who were originally the Philippine revolutionary forces. Rules were imposed that each household should have no more than two gantas at a time. Reports of rice ordered burned were rife.

The impact on the economy was devastating, compounded by the scarcity of ships or boats coming to trade as that too was forbidden. This stoppage of shipping also affected the Americans in some ways, like not getting their mail for months.

With these conditions and the Filipinos living in close quarters with the American forces in small towns like Balangiga with marginal economic activities, tensions rose, incidents occurred. Threats from General Lukban’s men were regularly made against the populace for allegedly collaborating with the occupying forces. Particularly in Balangiga where the American commanding officer ordered forced laborers (the townsmen) to cut every tree and lush vegetation, including food crops, so they could see when the enemy attacked. For this he detained the forced laborers who resisted with minimal food and water. Direct threats to Balangiga, including an imminent attack notice, came from the guerrillas viewing the events from their forested hideouts.

It took only six weeks of demands and threats like these from both sides, for the Balangiga carnage of Sept. 28, 1901, to explode. It was said to be the worst defeat that the US Army suffered in one day: more than 40 soldiers killed, the rest wounded, some of whom died of their wounds days after. Only four Americans were not wounded. All the officers were killed.

There was the Filipino point of view and the American point of view of events in Balangiga. The latter brought on military reprisals, officer investigations, Senate hearings, courts martial and their own history reflecting their perspective. For the people of Samar, Balangiga and its aftermath are embedded in their racial memory for generations. What became collateral damage were their church bells that were carted away to US military bases as souvenirs or spoils of war (no longer an insurrection). The majority of us came to know what happened in Balangiga through the story of their bells.

In her novel Insurrecto, Gina Apostol takes on this event and relates a tale that comes with varying perspectives depending from where and who one is.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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