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Ricardo Trota Jose Interview

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INT: Characterize revolutionary activity before the actual war began in 1898, before Dewey's invasion.

JOSE: Okay.


JOSE: In 1896, the Filipinos broke out in full-scale revolution against the Spaniards. Ah, they had had too much of Spanish oppression, too much of Spanish control, and they had lost virtually their rights and they were living as secondary -- second-class citizens. And, therefore, Filipinos who had held sporadic revolts before 1896, culminated and got together to launch a major nationwide revolution against the Spaniards in 1896. That revolution started in August of 1896 and continued roughly until December, 1897. Ah, the Spaniards had more weapons and they were better trained, they were better organized than the Filipinos. Although the Filipinos had the fighting spirit and the morale and the spirit to fight, they didn't have the arms. They didn't have the organization nor the training and because of this, by Aug -- by December of 1897, ah, Aguinaldo, who was president of the -- who was leader of the revolutionaries at that time, had to yield to the Spaniards and sign a cease fire, which was called the Pact of Biaknabato. And, therefore, by 1898 you have the main-- major leaders of the Philippine revolution outside the Philippines and in Hong Kong. And that was the situation when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898.


JOSE: At the start of Spanish-American War, the leaders of the Philippine revolution were actually in Hong Kong as a result of the Pact of Biaknabato, which stopped the major part of the fighting in 1897.

INT: Okay. Now what, Aguinaldo was made all sorts of promises while he was abroad.

JOSE: Yes.

INT: What was the nature of these promises and why -- why was it that he made them?


JOSE: Yes. While Aguinaldo was in Hong Kong, he met with the American consul there -- actually the first American consul he met was in Singapore, as Aguinaldo was in Singapore when the Spanish-American War was just about to break out. And realizing that the war was about to break out, he got in touch with the American consul there, a certain consul, Pratt, who promised that the American would lend aid to the Filipino revolutionaries should Aguinaldo be able to go back to the Philippines. Consul Pratt also made a very characteristic statement where he said that the Americans would not take over the Philippines, because, he pointed to the case of Cuba, if the Americans had no interest in taking over Cuba, then what more the Philippines, which was thousands of miles away? And when he went back to Hong Kong, he also met with the American consul there, Consul Wildman, and Consul Wildman virtually told him the same thing. So Aguinaldo was buoyed up by the promise of American aid for the Filipinos to win their independence and Aguinaldo believed that the Americans would pull out after independence was achieved.

INT: Do you think they were lying to him or do you think they just didn't know?

JOSE: Ah, I think personally the consuls believed in what they were saying. It was not a case of official policy, but it was their personal belief. In the case of Aguinaldo, I think he took them -- their word for granted. He took it as it. Aguinaldo was in a way perhaps naive. He didn't understand international politics that much. And yet the American consuls that he talked to seemed so sincere and they were probably very sincere, except that the -- they did not have the authority to make such negotiations. Nor did they have a authority to categorically state the Americans would pull out.

INT: Okay. So moving forward a little bit to Dewey's invasion.

JOSE: Yes.


INT: So moving forward to Dewey's invasion of Manila Bay ...

JOSE: Yes.

INT: ... why would the Filipinos, in a war against Cuba, why would the US invade Manila Bay?

JOSE: Okay.


JOSE: Okay. The reason why the Americans were interested in Manila Bay just at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War was because the Philippines had several, ah, advantages, it had several strategic reasons, strategic purposes that would suit the Americans. One was it was a very strategic position for a naval base. If you un-- if you realize that in 1898 the Western powers, that is, Germany, France, Britain, were cutting China up. The US had not gotten involved there because the US had no base to stage there. Ah, very current in the United States naval circles at that time was the ideas of a, I think it was a captain at that time, a commander, Mahan, who believed that the projection of naval strength was for the projection of political power as well. And to project naval strength, one needed naval bases. And the Philippines provides such a naval base. A second reason was in a way something that has been described as the jingoistic sentiment of many Americans at that time. They felt that they could use the Philippines as an example to show how a developing people can be brought up in American standards, be introduced to democracy, and become an example for other countries to show that you can upgrade a people from -- from very crude civilization to the modern age. So there were idealistic reasons, there were strategic motives, there were also economic motives because the Philippines was a colony, or would be a colony which would suit the American economic interest as well.

INT: Yea, um, what happened aboard the Olympia between Dewey and Aguinaldo after the victory?

JOSE: Okay. After the victory at Manila Bay, Dewey met with Aguinaldo -- in fact, Dewey called for Aguinaldo to come on board his flagship, the Olympia, and the meeting was a very cordial meeting. Aguinaldo felt that, that the act itself of meeting with Aguinaldo on his flagship, was a sign of recognition by the Americans of the Filipinos and Aguinaldo's position. So Aguinaldo ...


JOSE: Okay. Aguinaldo and Dewey met on the -- Commodore Dewey's flagship, the Olympia, and Aguinaldo felt that that itself was a sign of Dewey recognized the position of Aguinaldo as leader of the Filipino revolutionary forces.


JOSE: Yea, Yes. Okay. So, Commodore Dewey met with Aguinaldo on the flagship of Commodore Dewey. That was the Olympia. And Aguinaldo felt that that act of him being invited aboard that flagship meant that he was being recognized as the leader of the Philippine revolutionary forces. So Aguinaldo believed that Dewey was there -- and later on he wrote in his memoirs that Dewey made promises to support the revolution. Later on he actually did in the sense that he gave weapons to the revolutionaries. Ah, but there was one thing wrong, and that was there was no written promise made. Aguinaldo wanted to get a promise, but Dewey said, "My word is stronger than the written -- than the most, the most strongly written statement there is." And Aguinaldo took it as -- took it for granted.

INT: And it turned out that that wasn’t true.

JOSE: Yes.

INT: Um. Okay. So then US forces land in the Philippines, first under Anderson ...

JOSE: Yes.

INT: ... then Merritt follows.

JOSE: Yes.

INT: Could you describe reactions between what did American troops first think of Filipinos when they saw them? What did Filipino troops, on the other hand, first think of Americans...when the land forces arrived?

JOSE: Okay. Most Filipinos don't really know that much about the Americans at that time. They had been led to believe that the Americans were their redeemers, their liberators, and so for as long as Dewey's fleet was there, it was all right. But when the soldiers came in, then the Filipinos began to have their doubts and became suspicious about the American motives. And the initial reaction was not very hostile, but it was a kind of guarded, ah, relationship. It was a little suspicion. Ah, Filipinos wondered what are these Americans doing here if they were -- if they were going to leave after they freed, helped us free ourselves from the Spaniards, why were they sending troops? There was no immediate encounter. It was just suspicion. The American soldiers, on the other hand, arrived thinking that they were really going to educate these people and a lot of them equated the Filipinos with the "niggers" back in the States. So a number of the American soldiers' initial reaction was Filipinos were simply blacks, negroes. And they looked at them, many of them did, looked down on many of them.

INT: How did that, in turn -- how did the Filipinos react to that?

JOSE: The Filipinos --

INT: (inaudible)

JOSE: Yeah. The Filipinos did notice that and they really asked whether the Americans were their allies or not. And from that point on, as the other troops started coming in, then the conditions began to deteriorate. I think it reached its worst point on August 13, 1898, when the Americans took over Manila. And at that point a shooting war might almost have erupted had it not been for Aguinaldo and some of his officers to urge cooler heads and a calmer disposition in the Filipino forces.

INT: Now what, describe what happened a little bit before this point. Dewey is sort of sitting waiting for ...

JOSE: Yes.

INT: ... the troops to arrive.

JOSE: Yes.

INT: And some eventually, but in the meantime what's happened to the Spanish forces?

JOSE: Yes. The Spanish forces, ah, by this time -- this is just -- in the period between the Battle of Manila Bay and the American take-over of Manila, during this period the Philippine forces were re-organized under the leadership of Aguinaldo and were fighting a victorious battle against the Spaniards on almost all fronts. Particularly in Manila, within less than two weeks they had gotten Manila almost completely surrounded to the extent that the Spaniards were running low on water and food. And Aguinaldo at this point asked the Spanish commander to surrender Manila to his forces. But the Spaniards, with their sense of pride, refused to do that. Even if they were eating rats and even if they were eating cows or horse meat, they were virtually starving, but the pride kept them going. So on almost all fronts the Spanish were losing very quickly to the Filipino forces. And in many cases some of the Spanish forces themselves defected to the Philippine side.

INT: Okay now, so describe the seizure of Manila then. What happened? What are the logistics of the seizure of Manila? How was it a staged battle?

JOSE: Okay. Yes. Ah, the -- the Battle of Manila is actually what they called the mock Battle of Manila. For a long time it was considered a heroic engagement, but actually aft-- as the truth came out, it was just a theatrical presentation. The Spaniards refused to surrender to the Filipinos because of several reasons. Firstly, they feared that the Filipinos would take vengeance on them, that the Filipinos would murder them and all this, rape their women. The Americans brought in another idea that the Filipinos might loot -- loot Manila. They might loot Manila, tear it apart, and seize everything that the Spaniards owned. So for both the Spaniards and the Americans, they did not want Manila to fall into the hands of the Filipinos. Although the Filipinos had surrounded Manila since the early part of June 1898, so they had been there for what, two months already. And as the American troops came in, the Spaniards realized they had a – an honorable way out. That was to surrender to the Americans. But they could not surrender without some semblance of battle, and therefore, they arranged, with the Americans, to have a phony shoot-out war, some semblance of fighting, and in the midst of this the white flag goes up, and the American soldiers rushed into Manila without telling the Filipinos what they were going to do. So the Filipinos were caught off-guard. As the battle, as the so called "battle" took place, the Spaniards raised the white flag. The Americans rushed into the city as planned, and the Filipinos were left holding an empty bag. Before they knew what had hit them, they were still surrounding Manila, but Manila had changed hands into the Americans.

INT: Okay, now, still, nonetheless, though as, you know, the surrendered was negotiated and the Treaty of Paris was signed ...

JOSE: Right.

INT: ... the Filipinos still, ah, still thought the Senate might not ratify the treaty.

JOSE: Yes.

INT: What was the thinking actually behind that? What began the Filipinos’ thoughts?

JOSE: Uh huh. Yes. Filipinos looked up to the United States for several reasons. They refused to believe what was happening. They refused to believe that the United States would become, woul become an imperial power, because many Filipinos, some of the leaders, in particular, knew of the American Constitution, knew of the American Revolution. They knew what was happening in Cuba and the Americans were saying, "We have hands off. We are going to free the Cubans." So they could not equate that with what was happening. So it was a kind of shock that they had. "Why are the Americans a two-faced monster? On one hand, they seem friendly, but in our case they are not." So Filipinos still placed hope on more sound American minds, particularly in the Senate, to come to their senses and realize that the Americans were not an imperial power. And so the Philippine government at that time, especially Aguinaldo, he did send -- he sent an emissary to Washington, D.C. to try to meet with President McKinley, to try to win recognition for the Philippine Republic, but he was denied that. Ah, this ambassador would even go to the extent of going to Paris to try to get involved in the Treaty of Paris negotiations, but he failed. Failing that, his last chance was to go back to Washington, D.C. and try to negotiate with senators, to try to impede ratification of the Treaty of Paris, but at that time the Fil-American war broke out and all efforts went to naught.

INT: Ah, can you characterize the period between um, December, I guess or maybe it was later. I guess since the surrender of Manila even.

JOSE: Uh hmm. Yes.

INT: ... was in August and since the outbreak of war in the Philippines, what's going on? I know the tensions get worse..

JOSE: Okay. The -- the period between August of 1898 and up to about January 1899 was a period of gradually increasing tension between the Philippines and the Americans. It was not just centered in Manila, but was also starting to move out into the Visayas regions because by this time the American military forces were strong enough to not just take over Manila, but also start moving into the Visayas region. So you have tension building up all throughout the archipelago and Filipinos beginning to see that the Americans were actually becoming an imperial power and going to take the Philippine as a colony. So the tensions began to rise from, ah, just bad looks between the two lines to throwing of stones to shouting of curses. The American soldiers, of course, didn't understand the Filipino curses and the Filipino soldiers didn't understand the American curses, but they knew what they meant. And so the curses got louder and louder and louder such that by January 1899, it was almost at breaking point.

INT: Okay. How--how did the war outbreak? Describe the point of view (?) you embrace and what, what happened?

JOSE: Okay. Yes. From the American point of view, war started when a couple of Filipinos tried to cross the San Juan bridge at night. And the private Grayson shouted to the Filipinos to halt. The Filipinos replied using the same word to him. And because of that, the American private shot at these Filipinos and he's supposed to have killed one or the other, without fi-- without waiting to investigate, they immediately went on the offensive, launched a massive attack on the Filipino lines. In a way, we might say it was a pre-planned situation because the American forces were ready to move right away. Ah, the story that was leaked out at that time was that the Filipinos instigated it, that the Filipinos started the battle and starting the fighting. But a look at the evidence shows that the Filipinos were not prepared to fight at that time. They were not ready to fight. In fact, the commanding general of the Filipino army was in San Fernando in Pampanga to be with his family. That was a sa-- That was a --February 4 was a Saturday and so the commanding general of the Philippine army was in San Fernando with his family another ranking general was going to get married the next day. So there was no pre-planned offensive on the part of the Filipinos, which was why the Philippine forces were caught very much by surprise when the Americans launched the attack.

INT: (Unintell.) ahead a little bit. So war continues throughout 1899.

JOSE: Yes.

INT: And then there's a switch in US military commanders.

JOSE: Yes.

INT: You know, from Merrick to Otis.

JOSE: Yes.

INT: Ahm, if you can, characterize Otis, characterize or not Otis specifically, but military leadership that came out of the (Unintell.) Palace (Unintell.). What was it like?

JOSE: I would think that actually with General Otis in command, the war became a more thorough and more, what do we say, a more organized campaign to finally do away with the Philippine revolutionary forces. Under Merritt, there was still some, some degree of diplomacy that was still being tried out, but under General Otis it was just about full-scale war that erupted all throughout the country.

INT: What, what sort of new tactics were used by both sides?

JOSE: Well, the Filipinos later on would try to shift to guerrilla warfare, because they feel -- Otis would launch a series of drives, a very organized drive up -- up Luzon, up central Luzon to try to push the Philippine revolutionary forces out of the way and eventually to try to capture Aguinaldo. That was his main plan. He felt that if you captured Aguinaldo, then the revolution would fall. (Unintell.) the resistance against the Americans would collapse.



JOSE: So, General Otis would launch a massive campaign to capture Aguinaldo and push all the revolutionary forces towards a point where he could cut them off and virtually encircle them, thus hoping to end the revolution of the Fil-American conflict.

INT: Okay. But, and then what happened? Aguinaldo escaped, narrowly escaped, but...

JOSE: Yes. Okay. Up until about November, 1899, the Philippine revolutionary forces were using standard European-type military tactics, that is, fixed positions, withdrawal to a secondary line of fixed positions, and then if they were victorious, they could move back and occupy the previous positions. But as the general -- but as the campaign of General Otis mounted, they realized that they could not stand the onslaught of the American forces. And in November, 1899, Aguinaldo ordered a decentralization of command and ordered a shift to guerrilla warfare. So virtually it was various regions in Luzon fighting on their own and using their own resources. So even if Aguinaldo would be captured, these regions would still continue fighting on their own. And he had appointed commanders for each of those regions.

INT: What did this guerrilla warfare consist of? Describe some of the methods they used.

JOSE: Okay. It was a very -- at that time it was a very, ah, very dirty war actually. It involved men without uniforms, so they would be able to fade into civilian populations very, very quickly. It involved surprise attacks, raids, ah, without warning. And so this conflicted with the traditions and the training that the American troops had been trained -- that they had been exposed with, which was really fixed battle positions and, ah, legitimate warfare. The shift to guerrilla warfare meant virtually a no-holds-barred war- type of warfare. So it involved some of the Filipinos would even wear women’s clothing at times to be able to get behind American lines and then hit from the back. And that enraged most of the Americans so much that they resorted to using torture and other methods to try to crush the back of the Philippine, ah, war against the United States.

INT: In your opinion, was the, ah, new methods used by the Filipinos, were they really dirty or could they just not do anything else, they were sort of …

JOSE: I think they were, well, both. The Filipino tactics that they turned to were dirty in the sense that they felt they were fighting on the – fighting on a righteous cause or fighting for a righteous cause. They believed that it was the Americans who were wrong in coming here and trying to colonize the Philippines. So the Filipinos were fighting for independence and they believed anything they did for that aim, for that – to attain that aim would be, ah, legitimate. And so anything that they did to stop the Americans or to kill the Americans, that was considered legitimate.

INT: Um, can you describe -- um, do you know the story of Batangas, what happened in...

JOSE: Oh yes.


JOSE: Yes, as the Fil-American war continued on, ah, this war continued on throughout the Philippines. It was not just a -- it was not just in Manila, it was not just in Luzon, but the Visayan Islands also had their share of warfare. One of the more interesting cases was the resistance in the island of Samar and, in particular, the town of Balangiga. And in Balangiga, ah, the Filipino guerrilla warriors there worked with a very well-prepared plan to catch the American garrison there by surprise. And they did it very much by surprise. They infiltrated the Americans by posing as workers and they attacked on a Sunday morning dressed as women in civilian clothes. The bells of the Balangiga church rang to signal the attack and they attacked while the Americans were eating breakfast. And so they caught the Americans by surprise and this resulted in a very, ah massive loss of life on the side of the Americans. For the Filipinos, this was seen as a victorious battle on the side of the revolution, but to the Americans it was seen as a -- an atroc-- an atrocity of the gravest proportions.

INT: What happened in retaliation? What did they do?

JOSE: Okay. Yes. In retaliation to this, the American commander there, General Smith, ah, ordered that virtually the whole of Samar be leveled to the ground and that all males who were, I think, about 11 or so, about who were of age 11 and above, should be killed. So General Smith ordered that Samar be converted into a howling wilderness, which is why that became his nickname actually. And his troops followed the order to the letter, burning villages, killing men, and actually even women and children and converting Samar into really a howling wilderness.

INT: Okay. Um, now at the same time there's also reconcentration zones...

JOSE: Yes.

INT: ... set up in Batangas.

JOSE: Yes.

INT: Can you describe what they were and sort of the irony that Americans would set up reconcentration zones?

JOSE: Uh huh. Yes.

INT: Can you describe that irony?

JOSE: Yes. Okay. In the -- in the province of Batangas, you also had a very strong guerrilla resistance movement there which refused to die, no matter what the Americans did. And so the American commander in Batangas decided to use what he called the reconcentration policy in which case he decided to relocate whole towns and barrios and virtually establish a kind of concentration camp atmosphere so that everybody in the town could be checked. And that -- ah, through this, he thought he could cut the supply line to the guerrillas, he could cut all the support to the guerrillas, and it proved very effective. The guerrillas did eventually surrender because they were isolated from the -- from the people, but the problem was the concentration -- or reconcentration camps were literally concentration camps. Food was lacking. Medicine was lacking, and what happened was a lot of people died of disease. So this went really very much against the grain of the Americans trying to free the Filipinos and teach them democratic tradition, and it was really completely -- you know, it was a 180-degree turn from what they were promising.

INT: Now this also happened a little bit before, but can you tell the story of how Aguinaldo was captured.

JOSE: Okay. Yes. Aguinaldo was proving very, very elusive to the Americans. He went through a very, very long trek in northern Luzon, successfully eluded all the attempts of the Americans to capture him. Ah, General Otis would use his military forces as much as possible, ah, but still failed to catch Aguinaldo, until finally he hit upon a plan to use some Filipinos and disguise themselves as revolutionary reinforcements. So, together with some American officers, these Filipinos went to Aguinaldo's camp. Ah, they had in the meantime done their scouting, contacted other Filipinos who knew where the camp was. And, ah, they found the camp and the Americans posed as prisoners, ah, captured by these Filipinos, but actually the Filipinos were employees of the U.S. Army. In fact, they were Philippine scouts. They were soldiers for the Americans. And Aguinaldo's men welcomed the arrival of these reinforcements and the arrival of these Americans prisoners of war, not knowing that it was a ruse, it was just a show, and when Aguinaldo was caught off-guard, then the Filipinos open-fired and the supposed prisoners of war cut their, ah, bindings and themselves, fired at Aguinaldo and captured him successfully.

INT: How did Aguinaldo's capture affect the Philippine war effort?

JOSE: Okay. The capture of Aguinaldo resulted in a loss of morale on a lot of fronts, because this was the President of the Philippine Republic who was captured. And so after that, Aguinaldo was forced by the Americans to start making announcements to the other Filipino officers to surrender to the Americans and to stop the war. Ah, he did that, but some of the other Filipinos continued fighting, nevertheless. So the concentration and the crisis in Balangiga and Samar, this would continue on even after Aguinaldo's surrender. So Aguinaldo's surrender marked in one sense the end of one part of the Fil-American war, and so much so that the Americans would declare July 4, 1901 as the date where military government would shift to civilian government within the pacified areas. But the war would easily last another year at least.

INT: Um, in this, in this sort of interim period, what -- how did McKinley's assassination affect the war? Did that have any effect at all -- the transference of power between McKinley and Roosevelt?

JOSE: Ah, it seems that the assassination of McKinley did not have a significant change or did not cause a significant change in American policy in the Philippines, or even to Filipino perspectives of the Americans, because the successor of McKinley was Theodore Roosevelt, believed in the same ideas the McKinley did and perhaps even more so. It was McKinley, in fact, who ordered Dewey to come to the Philippines, to move into a position close to the Philippines. So Dewey was even more of what we'd call an imperialist than McKinley was.


INT: Describe both the good and bad side of US occupation immediately following the 1902 declaration by Roosevelt that the war was ended. If you can, offer a balanced perspective.

JOSE: Yes.


JOSE: Okay. After President Roosevelt declared the Fil-American war over in July 4, 1902, a kind of -- a fairly peaceful kind of situation, ah, ensued in the Philippines. And this was marked by the establishment of civil government which spread throughout most of the Philippines. What was established here very quickly also were schools and, ah, the introduction of American methods of education, English language, and actually the American idea of free press, the idea of freedom of speech. That came out to some extent. So Filipinos were able to voice their views much more openly than they could during the Spanish period. So in a sense the Filipinos were given the forum to speak, except that shortly after that, the American administration in the Philippines passed a law which made illegal anything that was anti-American, whether it was written, spoken, or even a picture of the Philippine flag was banned. So in one sense a negative effect would have been that the struggle for independence would have been pushed down. It would have been made illegal, although Filipinos found other ways to continue the struggle. Ah, on the other hand, the restoration of peace, administration, government, educational systems, this resulted in the development of infrastructure projects. This resulted in a growing development of awareness of local governments, of freedom of speech, or personal rights and all of this. And, therefore, the Filipino was exposed actually to a wider perspective; he was exposed to a different world which the Spaniards had denied him almost completely. And so one would say there were both good and bad points, therefore, that resulted in the years immediately after the Fil-American war.



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