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Edwin Wildman:
A Visit to Aguinaldo, Leader of the Philippine Rebels, 1898

[Tappan Introduction]: The Philippines were visited by Magellan in 1521. Half a century later, the Spanish took possession of them and named them in honor of Philip II of Spain. In 1896, the natives, led by Aguinaldo, revolted against Spanish rule. After the Spanish-American War, Aguinaldo fought against theUnited States, into whose hands the islands had now fallen. In 1901, he was captured and Amencan rule was established throughout the Philippines.

IN November, 1898, I visited Aguinaldo at his capital at Malolos. I was laboring under the popular delusion as to Aguinaldo's greatness, and judged him largely from the documents that bore his name, although I was in possession of some information which aided me in understanding somewhat the situation at Malolos. I was well acquainted with a number of revolutionary sympathizers, and several members of Aguinaldo's cabinet who resided in Manila, and, considering their views and the positions they held, I was somewhat surprised at the open manner in which they depreciated Aguinaldo's ability and deplored the prominence accorded him, even while they themselves admitted that his name was the only one that held the natives in check and united in the aspirations for independence. It was humiliating to them that Aguinaldo, instead of one of their number, held the confidence of the people.

I shall not soon forget my pilgrimage to the Filipino Mecca. Those were the palmy days of the Republica Filipina, and Aguinaldo's name was on every lip. There was a cordon of insurgent soldiers around Manila, and to pass this line one must needs have a pass signed by Aguinaldo. I boarded the diminutive train on the Manila-Dagupan Railroad, and in company with twelve carloads of barefooted natives was soon speeding along the little narrow gauge toward Malolos. In half an hour we had passed the cordon, and I and my Filipino companion were landed on the Malolos platform, which was patrolled by a half-dozen or more Filipino soldiers, who strutted up and down, and, it seemed to me, looked upon me with suspicion. I greeted their looks with an affable smile---we all did then---and they withdrew their stare and passed on.

After the little train puffed out of the station, I pushed my way through a crowd of palm-extended beggars. trading upon deformed limbs and leprous faces, and reached the opposite side of the station, where lingered beneath the shade of some scraggly palms a half-dozen caromettas, attached by crude hemp harnesses to ponies, long strangers to sacati and pali. Though naturally merciful to the animal kingdom, I was prevailed upon by Malolos Ahackmen," augmented by the persuasive rays of the midday sun, to take a seat in one of their crude carts, and was soon bumping and joggling over the occasionally planked road toward the pueblo.

It was tiffin time, and I knew better than to disturb any Filipino gentleman at midday. For a siesta follows tiffin with as much regularity as a demi-tasse does dinner in America. My Filipino friend and myself therefore repaired to a public house and partook of a native meal, which was washed down by native drinks---the combination fitting one for any crime. After visiting the church, the public square, and the town pump, I presented myself at the Casa Aguinaldo. The Presidente made his headquarters in the second story of a large convent, or priest's house, as it is called, adjoining the Malolos church, which was utilized to accommodate the sessions of the Filipino Congress. Two Maxim guns protruded from the windows of the convent, and the entrance was guarded by a patrol of Filipino soldiery.

We passed this gantlet without challenge and ascended the convent stairs. At the top extended a long, broad hall. On either side of this passageway were stationed Aguinaldo's bodyguards armed with halberds. Diminutive Filipinos, almost comical in their toy-like dignity, were ranged along the wall, giving themselves an extra brace as we passed. The halberds were cheap imitations of those customarily used in the palace of the governor-general at Manila upon state occasions.

Our cards were sent in. The Presidente would receive us. Would we wait for a brief space? The dapper but brave little insurgent general, Pio del Pinar, was pleased to greet us. The Presidente knew of my coming. Had it not been telegraphed to him when we crossed the line? Ah, Señor, the Presidente knows everything. He desires to protect Americans when they do him so much honor. But did one need special protection in Aguinaldo's country? No, Señor, but there are Spaniards who yet hope and hate. Too much caution cannot be exercised. Would we look at the council room---and so on. I early learned that if one wished to get information from a Filipino, one must not ask it. Aguinaldo's council chamber was interesting. Down the center of the hall were parallel rows of chairs, Filipino style, facing each other. Here sat the dignitaries of state like rows of men awaiting their turns in a barber shop. The walls were hung with creditable paintings by native artists. A large Oriental rug covered the mahogany floor.

On bamboo pedestals around the rooms were miniature wood-carvings representing Filipino victims undergoing tortures of various descriptions at the hands of friars and Spanish officials for refusing to divulge the secrets of the Katipunan. One showed a native suspended on tiptoes by a cord tied around his tongue, while a Spanish hireling slashed his back with a knife. Another represented a native of the province of Nueva Ecija falsely accused of hostility to the Spanish, so I was told. A cord passed through his nose, as if he were a beast of burden. A Spaniard was cudgeling his bare shoulders with a bamboo stick. Another showed a Filipino hung up by his feet with a big stone bound to each shoulder. Still another represented a native with his back bent backward, a pole passing under his knees, a cord around his chest holding him bent over in a most painful position. And others equally terrible. All these were actual cases. I was told the history of each one. Finally Aguinaldo was ready to receive us. The red plush curtains that separated his private room from the council chamber were drawn aside by guards, and we entered the holy of holies. The little chieftain was already standing to receive us.

His spacious room was adorned with Japanese tapestries. Around the walls were handsome Japanese vases, and emblazoned high on one side of the room was a shield of ancient Japanese and Mindanao arms. On another side of the room was a huge Spanish mirror. Back of Aguinaldo's desk hung from its staff a handsome Spanish flag. I jokingly asked Aguinaldo if he would present it to me as a souvenir of my visit. "Not for twenty-five thousand pesos," he replied. "I captured it at Cavite, mynative town. The Spaniards have offered thousands of pesos as a bribe for the restoration of that flag, so I keep it here." Aguinaldo is short. His skin is dark. His head is large, but well posed on a rather slight body. His hair is the shiny black of the Tagalog, and is combed pompadour, enhancing his height somewhat. On that day he was dressed in a suit of fine piña-cloth of native manufacture, and he wore no indication of his rank.

Through my Filipino friend, as interpreter, I had an extended conversation with him. He told me that he hoped to avoid a rupture with the Americans, but that his people felt that they had been wronged and slighted, and that they were becoming turbulent and difficult to control. He said that his Government was thoroughly organized; that throughout the provinces, where insurrection had been incessant for years, all was quiet, and the peaceful pursuits of labor were being carried on. "I hope these conditions will not be disturbed," he added, not without meaning. I asked him if the charges were true that the Spanish friars were maltreated, and if women, also, were imprisoned. He replied that he was not responsible to any one for the treatment of his prisoners, but that if an accredited emissary of General Otis would call upon him, he would permit him to visit the places where the Spanish prisoners were confined. As to the women, he said that they were "wives" of the priests and voluntarily shared captivity with them. As I left the room he spoke to my Filipino friend, calling him back. Being somewhat curious at this not altogether polite act, I later asked the reason. My friend smiled, and told me that Aguinaldo wished to make a purchase in Manila, and requested him to attend to it.

"But what did he want?" I said. My friend again smiled, and said: "ou know he is vain. He wants me to get him another large mirror like the one in his room. He desires it to be the finest plate-glass, and the frame, also, Spanish style, to be set with mirrors. He wants, too, some other decorations and knick-knacks for his room. He is fond of finery-like the rest of us, you know."

I saw that great French plate-glass mirror several months later. It was removed from the Aguinaldo sanctum, however, and braced up against a mango tree in front of the "palace" headquarters. A big, swarthy Kansan was taking his first shave before it after the capture of Malolos, March 31, 1899.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song, and Art, Volume I: China, Japan, and the Islands of the Pacific, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), pp. 536-540.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, October 1998

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