OPINION: 'News Beat of the Century' – The Battle of Manila Bay, 1898

Buddy Gomez – CYBERBUDDY

Posted at Aug 31 2018 09:49 PM

America’s entry into the life of “Las Islas Filipinas” began at dawn of Sunday, May 1, 1898.

That was the immensely historic day Commodore George Dewey sank Admiral Patricio Montojo’s ageing Spanish armada of seven ships in Manila Bay. “The Battle of Manila Bay,” as history records it. There is a sidelight to this event, trivial perhaps, but nonetheless interesting and meaningful. A fact unaccented heretofore, remaining unspoken of until today.

There happened to be a newspaperman, a reporter as guest, on board one of Dewey’s ships!

An unprecedented business report on the Philippines followed. That was an eye-opener for eventual financial investment considerations and business opportunities.

Whether one calls it expansionism, imperialism or colonization, depending on one’s of view and political bent, American pursuit of economic interests may already have been part and parcel, albeit unwritten, of her declaration of war against Spain in April 25, 1898.

We recall from readings in history that many weeks before, evidently already in anticipation of war with Spain stemming from the internal explosion, which sunk the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, the US Navy ordered its Asiatic Squadron to Hong Kong, and there to await instructions. Commodore Dewey’s fleet consisted of the flagship, the Olympia and five other warships: Cruisers Baltimore, Raleigh, and Boston. Gunboats Concord and Petrel. From Hong Kong, the US Navy procured two other bottoms, a collier and a supply ship (Nanshan and Zafiro), evidently preparations for anticipated logistical requirements.

We also remember another ship, the USS McCulloch, a revenue cutter (for customs and anti-smuggling purposes). An infinitesimal detail in the Philippine-American War, this was the ship that famously ferried Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo from Hong Kong to Cavite to meet up with Dewey. It was the McCulloch that ran errands between Manila Bay and Hong Kong, after the Battle of Manila Bay. We also remember that Dewey cut off the telegraph cable from Manila to Hong Kong on the day of his victory, intentionally marooning Manila from international communications, tactically to keep Spain unnotified of the fate of her colony in the Orient, thus preventing succor and reinforcements.

As a consequence, US Navy communications to Washington DC and news dispatches were carried by the McCulloch to HK and from there transmitted to the US. I believe this is the reason why official confirmation of Dewey’s victory reached the United States only on Saturday, May 7, 1898. It was not until the day after, Sunday, that the general public came to know of Dewey’s victory. Joseph Pulitzer’s the New York World newspaper carried an earthshaking scoop! America celebrated, scrambling for the nearest map, to locate where in the world lay the Philippine Islands!

The McCulloch (three-masted, steam engine-powered) was not originally a member of Dewey’s squadron. Recently commissioned in December 1897, she was on her transpacific maiden voyage, referred to nautically as a “shakedown cruise.” She happened to be in Singapore on April 8 when she received cabled orders to report for duty to the Asiatic Squadron in Hong Kong. On board was a newspaperman, then, from the Chicago Tribune, Edward W. Harden. It is highly likely that there already was advance unofficial news in New York and D.C. about a forthcoming Spanish American War.

Having found out that there was a newspaperman aboard Dewey’s flotilla in Asia where the Spanish colony lay, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World contracted Edward W. Harden to report on whatever event might be in the momentous offing.

We can call it serendipity--being at the right place at the right time! Edward W. Harden’s reportage on Commodore George Dewey’s victory in the Battle of Manila Bay was hailed as the “News Beat of the Century!” in American circles of journalism. Harden was therefore in Manila from May 1 as witness. He stayed on until October of 1898, continuing his reports to the New York World and accomplishing a special U.S. government assignment he was tasked with as a consequence.

The August 4, 1898 front page of the New York World, headlined: “WORLD SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT CHOSEN FOR AN IMPORTANT GOVERNMENT MISSION.” President William McKinley announced the appointment of Edward W. Harden as a special Commissioner to investigate and report on the financial and industrial conditions of the Philippines Islands. The subhead continued …“Who has been with Admiral Dewey since the Battle of Manila, on which he scored the ‘News Beat of the Century.’”

Harden’s appointment was a joint recommendation of the Secretaries of State and the Treasury, respectively, William R. Day and Lyman J. Gage. His major concentration was to be upon the monetary method and banking system then in place and practiced in the Philippines. The World continued: “Great importance is attached to this inquiry, as the conclusion drawn from it will concern American firms or citizens who contemplate investing money in the Philippines or establishing business relations with islands.”

It is noteworthy that the Harden appointment was made even before the capitulation and fall of Spanish rule in the Philippines, which is August 13, and even before the commencement of negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris. He finished and submitted his report to the Secretary of the Treasury on November 30, even before the signing of the Treaty of Paris which was on December 10, 1898, ending the Spanish-American War.

Harden’s investigative endeavor was titled “Report on the Financial and Industrial Conditions of the Philippine Islands.” It was transmitted to the Secretary of the Treasury and published as a Treasury Department document, printed before the end of 1898, even before the start of the Philippine-American War which was on February 4, 1899.

Harden observed in his transmittal letter the difficulty encountered in assembling financial data. There were no official statistics on trade and commerce. Private sources, mainly the import/export trading houses provided useful and reliable information. He may have produced what could be regarded as the very first and as near complete a compendium of Philippine financial, commercial, geographic, productive resources and other relevant data as best as can be compiled at the time. Harden included an appendix containing information gleaned from annual reports of the three banking institutions then in operation. Banco Espanol Filipino, Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China and the HongKong Shanghai Banking Corporation.

One might likewise surmise that Report to be a prospectus to an IPO (Initial Public Offering) of a new corporate issue raising capital!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a Hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

His e-mail is: [email protected]

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.