Sugar Sun series location #13: Catbalogan

Catbalogan means “an everlasting place of safety,” and for hundreds of years it was safe—for pirates. The sheltered bayside harbor lies just north of the San Juanico Strait between Samar and Leyte, a key access point to the Pacific Ocean and the primary shipping route for the Spanish galleons. Since these vessels were headed to Manila with silver and then back to Acapulco with a hold full of porcelain and spices, they were ripe targets for pirates, right? And by “pirates” I mean the English and the Dutch privateers, who were licensed by their sovereigns to interdict and steal the Spanish bounty. Catbalogan became a haven for pirates and privateers, their crews, and lost sailors.

Visayas-Maps-Sugar-Sun-Jennifer-Hallock
The southern mouth of the San Juanico Strait is right near Tacloban. Start there and follow the curve north and west into the bay above Leyte. The strait is 38 kilometers long and, at its narrowest point, 2 kilometers wide.

The Americans would find the city no easier to manage in the early twentieth century. For the first year of the Philippine-American War, the Yanks mostly ignored Samar because they had their hands full in Luzon. But then, in January 1900, gunships arrived offshore Catbalogan and sent a messenger to General Vicente Lukban, the Philippine revolutionary in charge of Samar and Leyte. The Americans wanted to negotiate a surrender of the whole island by offering Lukban the governorship of Samar. But Lukban wanted more than a title; he wanted full local autonomy. The Americans refused, so Lukban forbade them from landing. In turn, the Americans began to bombard the town. In other words, things escalated fast. Unable to withstand the US Navy’s firepower, Lukban and many of the locals abandoned Catbalogan, burning it as they retreated.

sailors-Vicksburg-burn-Samar
USS Vicksburg sailors led by Lieutenant Henry V. Butler (later rear admiral) burning a village in Samar, October 1901. Photo courtesy of Arnaldo Dumindin and his excellent website on the Philippine-American War.

What followed was a ruthless two-year war to subdue the revolutionary forces in Samar. Company C of the Ninth Infantry was stationed to Balangiga to prevent Lukban’s men from using the southern port to import arms and supplies. On its own accord, the town ambushed the garrison in September 1901, and the American military took revenge on all of Samar. General Jacob Smith (known in the press as “Hell-Roaring Jake”) vowed to make the island a “howling wilderness.” Dusting off a legal gem from the American Civil War known as General Order 100, the Americans aimed to starve, burn out, torture, and kill as many guerrillas as possible. Catbalogan and Tacloban (Leyte) were the centers of American authority in this period.

General Smith’s “short, severe war” was both. But one might argue that it prompted the April 1902 surrender of Lukban’s forces in a grand ceremony in Catbalogan. (Lukban himself had already been captured.)

Lukban-Capture-Catbalogan

Those surrendering had to turn over their rifles captured from Balangiga the previous year and pledge loyalty to the United States, but then they were freed. Lukban himself would become mayor of the Tabayas province (now Quezon) within ten years. This begs the question of whether it was the severity of the fight or the quality of the peace that pacified the countryside? Amnesty is not used much in America’s modern war playbook, and I wonder if this is an oversight.

There is an interesting fashion note worth mentioning: the Americans did loan the revolutionaries a few Singer sewing machines so they could surrender in style with new (and complete) uniforms. Pride was salvaged all around.

Surrender-Lukban-Catbalogan-Samar-1902

This is not the end of the story, though. This first war—including the destruction of half the municipalities in Samar and the burning of tens of thousands of tons of rice—caused a lingering famine and sparked another war two years later. Today, we call this phenomenon “blowback.” The Pulahan War was both a civil war (inland highlanders against lowland merchants and farmers) and an anti-American insurrection. On the American side, it was fought by the Philippine Constabulary, Third District—a civil police force organized, funded, equipped (not well), and trained by Americans (usually former soldiers). And by the 39th Philippine Scouts, trained and equipped (with better rifles) by the US Army. Both these units had significant troop presences in Catbalogan, along with the 6th, 12th, and 21st U.S. Infantries.

Catbalogan-39th-Scouts-1903
The 39th Company, Philippine Scouts, stands at present arms outside their barracks in Catbalogan, Samar. Both photos (above and below) courtesy of Scott Slaten of the Philippine-American War Facebook group.

Philippine Scouts Scott Slaten by Jennifer Hallock Sugar Moon

Catbalogan was a highly fortified town, but it was still beautiful. The ring of mountains separating it from the suffering of the rest of Samar did make for a stunning backdrop.

Catbalogan-Harbor-vintage-postcard
Colorized vintage postcard of a steamer coming into to dock at Catbalogan, Samar, Philippines. Scan courtesy of Scott Slaten of the Philippine-American War Facebook group.

The city fared better than the rest of Samar through the lean times, too. Though the galleons no longer journeyed back and forth to Spain, Catbalogan was a center of the abaca trade in the 19th and 20th centuries, hence the large buildings and church. Abaca, also called Manila hemp, was in high demand as naval cordage. Its trade was dominated by ethnic Chinese and British merchants, and once Samar was no longer in ashes, the fiber would revive and bring an influx of capital to Catbalogan.

hemp-making-rope-philippines
Filipinos making rope. This photograph shows the hemp as it comes from the leaves and is put on the spool for winding. Courtesy of the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive.
Catbalogan-Birds-Eye-View
Vintage postcard of Samar with a view of the wooden causeway connecting town to the port. Scanned image of the early 20th-century card by Leo D. Cloma.

In the early twentieth century, Americans complained about the lack of poultry, eggs, and fruit in Catbalogan. (I find the fruit claim hard to believe.) They also complained about the lack of dedicated school buildings—not one in the whole town—and the lack of teachers. (Whose fault is that?) And they complained that there were only five miles of road on the whole island. (But how far were civilians likely to travel, anyway?) I traveled to Samar in 2005—and though I would not recommend December for your trip because of the rain, I loved it. The island is just as breathtaking as the postcards from 100 years ago.

Catbalogan-Bulletin-Public-Works

Another view of the coast and causeway from the Quarterly Bulletin of the Bureau of Public Works.

Philippine-American War in the News

What a week for the Philippine-American War in the news! Last October, I wrote a post entitled, “Why a War You’ve Never Heard of Matters More than Ever.” Back then I argued that the Philippine-American War defined the American century, but now I see that it might be redefining the next century, too. Whose century will this one be? I leave that to you.

The war has gotten a lot of attention this week—or maybe notoriety is a better word. If you need to catch up with (1) how this war started; (2) how it grew to include the Philippines; and (3) how the Americans ruled, check out this page of history posts from the website.

But let’s get to this week, shall we?


Pershing and the Moros:

It started with this tweet:

Donald Trump on Pershing

 

This old chestnut, again? My job is not politics, but when politics tries to leverage Philippine-American War history, it’s game on! What President Trump is referring to is his (false) claim that General Pershing used bullets dipped in pig’s blood to pacify the Moros of the southern Philippines. Not true. This myth has been debunked many, many times.

First of all, the Moros were not terrorists:

In the first decades of the 20th century, Muslim Filipinos weren’t targeting American cities or kidnapping tourists. They were attacking American soldiers for one simple reason: The United States had invaded and was occupying their home.

— Jonathan M. Katz in the Atlantic

Therefore, Pershing was carrying out imperial policy, not an Islamophobic agenda. (Not that imperialism isn’t problematic, but you have to remember that it was the official policy of the US government after the 1898 Treaty of Paris, when the Americans bought the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam for $20 million and decided to keep them as “insular possessions.”)

The Moros wanted assurances that the Americans would not try to change their culture or religion; Pershing wanted assurances that the Moros would not challenge US rule. This compact was not as easy as it sounds. One of the cultural practices the Moros wanted to defend was slavery. What would you do? The Americans had already quelled resistance in the rest of the islands, so they decided they could not let slavery stand. And they wanted the Moros to pay taxes, of course. This is where Pershing came in, but his attitude was not what Trump suggests.

Pershing and Moros
Pershing (third from left) at Gen. Sumner’s conference with sultans of Bayang and Oato, at Camp Vicars, Mindanao. Photo from the John Joseph Pershing Collection at the Library of Congress.

In 1911, Pershing suggested that the Moros use the Qur’an as a guide for their behavior. He even gave a Qur’an as a gift to one of the leaders, documents show. And that’s not all:

[Pershing] studied their language to the point where, he boasted, he could take low-level meetings without an interpreter. In return, Pershing was elected a datu, a position of respect and leadership in Moro society. He was the only U.S. official to be so honored.

— Daniel Immerwahr from Slate

Now, I should be clear: Pershing did use force. A lot of it. Over 500 Moros died at the Battle of Bud Bagsak in 1913. This active siege may have included women and children, which Vic Hurley admitted was the “big problem the Americans faced.” He indicated that this was not Pershing’s preferred way to do battle.

(The more notorious massacre of Moro civilians, the Battle of Bud Dajo, happened during Pershing’s absence from the Philippine campaign, in 1906. You can blame General Leonard Wood for that one. And you can blame General Jacob Smith for the campaign to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness” in 1901-1902. The fact that Smith and Wood’s campaigns were so public—and so publicly criticized—means that Pershing would not have risked the same condemnation willingly. Nor would he have used pig blood bullets.)

Bud Dajo Moro for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Bodies of dead Filipino Muslims killed at the First Battle of Bud Dajo during the Moro Rebellion. Photo from the Library of Congress.

Pershing did mention in his memoir that others buried Moro fighters in graves with pigs to deter them, but it was not a practice he took part in. Besides, this threat only made sense in American minds—anything done against one’s will would not result in punishment, according to the Qur’an.

Finally, force itself was only one-half of the US military’s policy in the Philippines. If “chastisement” was the stick, “attraction” was the carrot: schools, medicine, infrastructure, limited self-governance, and so on. And then there was another piece, something surprising: forgiveness. The men who most dangerously opposed the Americans—men like Malvar (in Batangas) and Lukban (in Samar)—were granted amnesties in exchange for the surrender of their men and weapons.

General Vicente Lukbán, center, who led the revolution on the islands of Samar and Leyte. He is seated with 1st Lt. Alphonse Strebler, 39th Philippine Scouts, and 2nd Lt. Ray Hoover, 35th Philippine Scouts. Image in the public domain from the Library of Congress, scanned by Scott Slaten.

Another Roosevelt?

There was another misappropriation of Gilded Age history this week: Vice President Pence compared Trump to Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was the one who put 230 million acres of American soil under conservation. He also first signed the Antiquities Act, which “affords the president the authority to designate national monuments—one of the most important mechanisms for conserving wilderness and wildlife habitat,” according to Field & Stream. Trump, on the other hand, directed the Interior Department to consider withdrawing protected status to 27 national monuments in order to make more room for gas and oil production. Not a great likeness there.

Roosevelt at Panama Canal
President Roosevelt running an American steam-shovel at Culebra Cut, Panama Canal. Photo from the Library of Congress.

Pence made his comparison between Trump and Roosevelt while speaking at the opening ceremonies of the new Cocoli Locks at the Panama Canal. This brings up another contrast: Roosevelt oversaw the construction of this massive infrastructure project, but Trump’s promised infrastructure plans are falling apart after his unwillingness to condemn the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville:

The president’s much vaunted $1tn plan for American infrastructure now lies in ruins. On Thursday, he dropped plans for an advisory council on the issue, following the disbanding of two business advisory councils after an exodus of several chief executives.

There were other ways in which we could compare the two men. Both set out to change the Republican parties that elected them, but Roosevelt’s progressivism ran directly counter to Trump’s proposed tax reform for the wealthy. According to Roosevelt:

A heavy progressive tax upon a very large fortune is in no way such a tax upon thrift or industry as a like would be on a small fortune. No advantage comes either to the country as a whole or to the individuals inheriting the money by permitting the transmission in their entirety of the enormous fortunes which would be affected by such a tax; and as an incident to its function of revenue raising, such a tax would help to preserve a measurable equality of opportunity for the people of the generations growing to manhood.

Roosevelt Rough Riders for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series for author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A Puck illustration by Udo J. Keppler (27 July 1898) and a Scribner’s essay.

Roosevelt also had a bombastic foreign policy like Trump has warmed up to, but remember this: though Roosevelt helped start the Spanish-American War (and ordered Dewey to expand the battle to Manila), he actually fought in it himself. He resigned his post, recruited his own unit (1st Volunteer Cavalry or “Rough Riders”), and shipped out to Cuba. Given how many physical ailments Teddy Roosevelt overcame early in his life, if he’d had “heel spurs,” he would not have told a single person about it.


Conclusion:

I am glad to see attention given to the Philippine-American War and the Gilded Age in general, but none of the claims by Trump or Pence stand up to the test of history.

Duterte and Bud Dajo
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte using the above Bud Dajo photos at a press conference. This is why Americans need to know this stuff.

(Featured Photo: American soldiers of the 20th Kansas in trenches in the Philippines during the insurrection. Note the open baked beans can in the left foreground. Photo from the Library of Congress.)

Sugar Sun series glossary term #8: Insurrecto

Though the conflict began over events in Cuba, America fought its first battle of the Spanish-American War in Manila. Historians debate what President McKinley’s intentions were—did he want to take the Philippines in its entirety, just keep Manila, or defeat Spain and leave? But, as they say, “appetite comes with eating.” Once the Americans had Manila, they wanted all the islands. Only problem? The Philippine revolutionaries who helped defeat the Spanish did not want the Americans to stay—and they controlled most of the rest of the country.

Filipino Army outpost outside Manila. Library of Congress photo in the public domain. Digitized by Scott Slaten.

Instead of calling what followed a war—assuming two equal adversaries—the Americans called it the Philippine Insurrection—with only one legitimate authority. (The Spanish sold the islands to the Americans for $20 million in December 1898, which was the basis of their legal claim. On what authority the Spanish sold the Philippines, that is another question.) So instead of calling the Filipinos revolutionaries, patriots, or nationalists, they called them insurgents, bandits, and ladrones. (The last two are the same thing, the latter in Spanish.) The favorite American term, though, was insurrecto (insurrectionist).

Now the conflict is called the Philippine-American War, and it officially lasted from 1899 to 1902, though hostilities did not fully end until 1913. Despite the name change, Filipinos after 1899 are rarely called revolutionaries, even in the more balanced American textbooks. In my books, I use the term insurrecto whenever Americans are speaking because that term is true to the period. It is not a political statement (as you could probably tell by the tone of my posts).

General Vicente Lukbán, center, who led the revolution on the islands of Samar and Leyte. He is seated with 1st Lt. Alphonse Strebler, 39th Philippine Scouts, and 2nd Lt. Ray Hoover, 35th Philippine Scouts. Image in the public domain from the Library of Congress, scanned by Scott Slaten.