balangiga

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The Crossdressing Fighters at Balangiga,

In 1898 military forces of the United States kicked the Spanish out of the Philippines.  While the Americans came as liberators, many Filipino’s were enraged when the United States made the Philippines a territory rather than granting the country independence.  As a result many Filipino’s revolted against the Americans, especially the rural population and the Philippines’ various native cultures.

The war in the Philippines was bloody, and American troops are noted for conducting terrible atrocities during the war.  As the bloody war dragged on, the Americans began a policy of occupying small villages across the country to deny the rebels safe haven.  When soldiers of Company C of the 9th US Infantry set up a garrison in the small town of Balangiga on the Island of Samar, things were peaceful at first.  However as time wore on the soldiers conduct degraded over time.  Things came to a head when two drunk soldiers attempted to molest a girl, only to be fended off by her two brothers.  In response the commander of Company C, Capt. Connel ordered all of the male villagers to be rounded up and detained.  143 townspeople, including small children and old men, were rounded up and detained in two small tents for two days.  In addition all bolos (machetes) were confiscated as was every family’s supply of rice, which was destroyed.

Enraged, the townspeople decided that the American’s had to go, and concocted a bold plan to kick them out.  The townspeople contacted the local Filipino resistance and asked for fighters and weapons to help out in the cause.  Since the villagers and fighters had few guns, only swords and machete’s, the plan revolved around a fiesta to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the local church parish.  The Americans were invited to the party, where the villagers got the soldiers drunk on tuba, a local made palm wine.

In the meantime all of the village’s women and children were evacuated.  So that the soldiers would not notice the absence of women, the Filipino resistance fighters cross-dressed as women, tricking the Americans into believing that nothing unusual was going on.   As the fiesta continued the Filipino’s smuggled weapons into the church in caskets, under the guise of a funeral.  When a soldier demanded to see what was in the caskets, he luckily opened one in which the corpse of a young boy was placed.  The soldier apologized profusely and didn’t check the other caskets.

The next morning the men of Company C were suffering a terrible hangover when they heard the bells balangiga chime.  On that signal, the Filipino fighters threw off their women’s clothing, armed themselves and the villagers, and stormed the army garrison.  The assault was swift and terrifying as the fighters stormed the barracks and hacked down ever American soldier in their way.  Out of Company C’s 72 men only a few dozen were able to escape.  As well the fighters captured all of the garrisons weapons and supplies.

Newspapers touted the “Massacre at Balangiga” as the worst US military defeat since the Battle of Little Bighorn.  While the villagers of Balagiga were victorious, American retribution for the attack would be swift and cruel.  The entire Island of Samar was declared a “kill and burn” zone.  Towns and villages on the Island were put to the torch, including Balangiga.  In one of the worst American war atrocities in history, in which Brigadier-General Jacob H. Smith reportedly gave orders to kill anybody capable of bearing arms over the age of ten. He would later be court martialed by personal order of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. Officers of Company C were also court martialed for unfair treatment of the people of Balangiga.

Today the surprise attack at Balangiga is celebrated by Filipino’s as a source of national pride and patriotism.

“Kill everyone over ten.”

So shall September 28, 1901 be remembered, when American soldiers went to Samar to make it “a howling wilderness” in retaliation towards Filipinos who took part in the surprise attack against the American soldiers in Balangiga. The Balangiga Massacre (as it will be called) slaughtered not only Filipino men, but women and children as well. The whole town population of Balangiga in Samar was then wiped out.

The Balangiga Bells (these were used as a signal of the Filipino guerrillas disguised as civilians to attack the American soldiers) until now has never been returned to the Filipino people despite the pleading of the Philippine government.

This is what happens when the American eagle puts its talons on another people’s land (to borrow Mark Twain’s fitting description of American imperialism).

This conflict was one of the painful highlights of the Philippine-American War.

The church of Balangiga, Samar, aka St. Lawrence the Martyr parish church. 

When my mom told me we’re going to visit the town of Balangiga as part of our road trip, I was excited. The Balangiga massacre is my single most favorite historical anecdote. My college history professor told us that after the locals killed most of the American soldiers, the surviving few ran to the nearest available boats to retreat. When the soldiers looked back at their still-burning-camp, they noticed that the American flag was still hoisted up in the flagpole. So in a goosebump-generating act of bravery, they all went back, knowing they are going to be hacked to death by the bolo-wielding locals, to get their beloved flag. Out of the 7 (i think) who went back, only 4 were able to make it back to the boats. 

And that is the image that stuck with me for years. That high drama of going back for a piece of fabric in the middle of hell. Now, I needed to blog about it so when we got back home, I immediately searched for the flag story in the Balangiga massacre, just to make sure I get the facts right. To my surprise, I could not find any story on that, in the entire world wide web. And slowly, I realized that…omg, we’ve been had by our history teacher. That bitch. Because, really, if that going back for the flag story really happened, it would not have been missed by the history books. And if something like that was intentionally left out by historians, then good luck making history interesting to students. 

And it all makes sense…because this fairy-tale weaving history professor is the same woman who actually told us that the reason Apolinario Mabini was paralyzed was not because of polio, but because he jumped out of the window to avoid being trapped in a shotgun wedding (err…pikot?). Apparently, he was called to a Katipunero’s meeting in a certain house, but found himself inappropriately (at that time) alone with a girl. And yes, supposedly, at that time, that would lead to a shotgun wedding, so to save himself, Apolinario jumped out of the window, broke his legs, and was forever paralyzed, earning himself the title “And Dakilang Lumpo/Paralitiko.”

I am starting to rethink every lecture we had in Philippine history, and I’m starting to doubt my Atenean education.