General Miguel Malvar, the decorated officer who fought in both the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American war, is not a name we think of when we talk about the great heroes of Philippine history. It seems that the only thing casting a limelight on the historical figure is talk of a movie on Malvar’s life, and debates surrounding the choice of casting Manny Pacquiao to play the revolutionary. Either way, it is a shame we don’t have enough knowledge of the esteemed Batangueño general’s position in our nation’s storied past.
One document, however, invites us to consider Malvar’s character and morals. It is called the Malvar Edict, and it is set to go under the hammer at the upcoming Kingly Treasuers Auction of León Gallery, on November 30.
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The Malvar document, signed by the general himself, is basically a set of instructions for how to deal with American soldiers who either surrendered, or were captured while drunk or asleep. It was issued in February 1901, and is written in English, in elegant cursive. The item was contributed by a collector (identity not public) of Philippine-American war memorabilia.
This artifact is known to historians—it was kept by John R.M. Taylor, a captain of the United States Army, in a collection of seized documents called the Philippine Insurgent Records. This is the first time, however, that the actual document will be made available to view for the public’s pleasure.
Lisa Nakpil, historical and cultural consultant for León Gallery, believes that the purpose of the document was to act as propaganda. “It describes the conditions of accepting American surrender. So immediately, he already frames it,” she says. “He describes them as asleep and drunk and throwing down their weapons! So immediately, he’s painting a picture of defeat!” It’s plausible that the edict was designed to intimidate or taunt enemy forces. After all, it was written in English, in a language the enemy could understand. If it was really intended for Filipino soldiers—especially back when English wasn’t as deeply entrenched in our formal education as it is now—shouldn’t the instructions have been written in Filipino?
In other words, the Malvar Edict was wartime trash talk.
At the same time, it can be said that the document demonstrates Malvar’s moral uprightness. It contains instructions to punish Philippine soldiers who act dishonorably as warriors. “If they are sick or wounded, they must be properly cared for. And if anybody beats [up the soldiers] after they have surrendered, or shoots them after they have surrendered, there will be dire penalties,” Nakpil tells me. With a tenuous grasp of English grammar, Malvar states “the present historic moments tests of greater vitality and vigour which the Revolution relies still that had guided to the course of order and discipline, and to avoid further violations of wars Laws that could spring from circumstances.” The document also emphasizes the punishments would be “severe” for violating such war laws. There is a great sense of authority to these instructions— the document begins with Malvar listing his ranks: “Division General, Political-Military Chief of Batangas, First Chief of Operations of Batangas and of the Second Zone of Manila, and Second Chief, Supervising Luzon’s South.” Compare and contrast this to the dishonorable, law-violating tactics of Americans in wartime, who are known to kill and torture political prisoners.
That Malvar had such a finely tuned moral compass and nuanced sense of strategy aligns with testimonies about him from fellow revolutionaries. Emilio Aguinaldo and Andres Bonifacio were drawn to and moved by his struggles. He was a valiant fighter and was popular among his followers.
This is not the first time León Gallery has placed a historical artifact in its auctions. It has also auctioned off documents from Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo. In the upcoming Kingly Treasures auction, León Gallery will also be auctioning off paintings by Ang Kiukok and Fernando Amorsolo.
Bidding for the Malvar Edict begins at P250,000. A high quality digital copy will be turned over to the government, so that its writings can be made accessible to the public, outside of the auction.