Fourth of a series on Filipino American History Month
There exist in history many facts and facets antecedents to the Filipino-American love affair. Depending upon one’s disposition, favored aspects are marshalled to form one’s sentiments and opinions. Here are mine, although the facts are not, because they belong to history.
That this enduring Fil-Am relationship drew blood and anguish at its dawn cannot be expunged from patriotic memory. Happily over the dozen of decades, however, nurtured healthy and sturdy, despite bouts of emotional peaks and valleys, stormy, hurtful as well, infatuated and saccharine at times, a Filipino American History Month is now observed and celebrated in the United States.
It is recognition that the Philippines is part of the American story.
Lest we forget, didn’t this affair begin as a bloody war of conquest? Tell me, there is no war without body counts of the dead and maimed, right? The truth is that the Philippine-American War was brutal, on both sides. Aside from the killings, Americans burned villages and tortured suspects while Filipino fighters likewise tortured captured US soldiers and terrorized civilians cooperating with the Americans. Ugly, as all wars are!
Of the Philippine-American War, perhaps nothing recalled and retold could be any bloodier than the Balangiga episode, as it happened and in its aftermath. Bloody on both sides, before and after. Momentous was September 28, 1901 in Balangiga, that seaside town in southernmost Samar, then an unpartitioned island province. One remembers when it was initially referred to as “Massacre” in our history textbooks. Then cooler heads and maturation relabelled the Battle of Balangiga, variantly, as either ‘Encounter,’ ‘Incident,’ or ‘Conflict.’
Speaking of love affair blooming from a blood-letting, Samar truly stands out. I am not aware of any province in the archipelago, other than Samar — a theater of a fiercely fought war and violent deaths — to have become a love nest, bringing forth the most number of the earliest Filipino-American families and children, when peace descended.
Many American veterans of the Philippine-American War stayed behind in Samar, despite Balangiga, to marry, settle and raise families. Off hand I can cite the Hatton, Hill, Moore, Rumohr, Burns, there are at least 2 Smiths, Lauder, Newman, Muttach and Lovely families. I am certain I have omitted several more. A vast number of progenies from these families have immigrated to the US after WW II. I would consider them the early microcosm of the larger Filipino American community in the U.S. today. Evidently they are the earliest human exemplars of America’s success in their late-coming colonial enterprise.
Let us take note that the US was the last and youngest of Christian nations to venture into colonial adventurism. In the 1500s, there had been Spain and Portugal, of course. Then followed by the Dutch, the British, France, Belgium, Germany over the centuries. The Spanish empire crumbled upon the emergence of the United States, a nation imbued “with a sense of moral responsibility” none of the previous colonizers had brought with them in their conquests, as noted by an eminent English historian, Sir W. Wilson Hunter. It was also an assessment of what was to become America’s future policy in the Philippines. “The American conscience could be depended on to safeguard properly the interests of the Filipinos,” the desire for commercial opportunities notwithstanding.
The dominant colonial philosophy of the emerging American power, as espoused by ‘expansionists” the likes of the celebrated Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan, was summed up thus: “…a nation had a moral duty to expand in order that its powers for good — its ideas, its civilization, its culture, its religion — should be spread abroad, not for selfish aggrandizement but for the benefit of the more backward nations.” America was to be a different colonialist, eager to display her exceptionalism!
When the Americans came, the Philippines had already been in revolutionary turmoil for almost three years. Such was the political situation, at least in the Manila environs and in the provinces immediately to the north and to the south of the Spanish metropolis. Hence the enduring alternative description of the revolt against Spain as “The Tagalog Insurrection.”
The American assessment of the then prevailing political structure deemed the country still incapable of self-government. Additionally, the objectives of America’s expansionist ambition frowned upon the idea of the Philippines (or parts thereof) being taken over by another foreign power. After all, there were the British, the Netherlands, Germany, the French and the Japanese hovering, standing by and ready had Dewey sailed away after sinking the Spain in Manila Bay!
The US decided to stay and take the entire archipelago, holding all of the Philippine Islands until…..!
Enter America’s “Manifest Destiny,” “Benevolent Assimilation,” and “Policy of Attraction.” But not quite after a significantly bloody toll in human lives, mostly Filipino.
To this day, statistics of Filipino casualties remain sketchy although history books tally 20,000 Filipino combatants killed, while those of the Americans, about 5,000 to 6,000 lost in combat as well as to disease. About 200,000 civilians are supposed to have perished through disease, starvation or violence as “collateral damage,” believed to be intentional.
Unfortunately, what remains unaccounted for, even by audacious guesswork, are such Filipino casualties felled by fellow Filipino militants and ‘freedom fighters’ livid over of the fast developing friendship and cooperation with the ‘occupiers,’ a measure of support and adherence towards novel policies of congeniality, generosity, tutelage and tolerance. Thus the growing throng of “Americanistas” signaled the irreversible waning of what once was the revolutionary appeal and fervor, caused by Spanish-time excesses, both civil and ecclesiastical. A paradigm change had arrived!
Next week, let us attempt to explore exemplary acts by the Americans that partook of the so-called ‘policy of attraction’ effectively manifesting the benevolence of American intent.
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.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.