BOOK REVIEW: Ilocano Responses to American Aggression 1900-1901

by Rose Churma

The Philippines celebrates its Independence Day on June 12 in commemoration of the establishment of the first Philippine Republic by Emilio Aguinaldo at Kawit, Cavite in 1898.

Unfortunately, it was very short-lived. Commodore George Dewey struck Manila Bay on May 1, 1898 and sank the entire Spanish fleet there. He then helped in the return from Hongkong of exiled Filipino revolutionaries as allies back to the Philippines.

However, on December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed where the victorious United States forced the Spanish government to cede the Philippines to American sovereignty. When the Americans realized that the Filipinos had no intention of dissolving the new republic to become an American colony, a military campaign was launched to destroy and occupy the islands by armed force.

Very little is known of this period in Philippine history, especially the18-month anti-imperialist guerrilla war waged in the Ilocos at the beginning of the 20th century. This book brings that period to life.

The American forces landed in Ilocos on November 18, 1899 in pursuit of Emilio Aguinaldo, and quickly occupied the towns but were unable to control the barrios and were continually harassed by the guerrilla forces led by the 23-year old Brigadier General Manuel Tinio of Nueva Ecija who was a veteran of the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain and was one of the exiles in Hongkong. Gregorio Aglipay, the Philippine army’s military vicar general organized his own campaign in Ilocos Norte. Both units were reinforced by farmers in the barrios that they called “bolomen.”

In the foreword by Jose Maria Sison (who grew up in the Ilocos), he notes that the American generals would derive methods of conquering other parts of the country from their experience in defeating Ilocano resistance.

These methods “involved torture, arson and looting to enforce the relocation of barrios and the control of food supplies.” The American forces clearly showed these violent methods after the “Balangiga Massacre” in Samar, an island in the Visayas region.

In September 1901, 500 locals mostly armed with bolos attacked an US Army garrison in Balangiga and wiped-out a third of the infantry regiment including all of its commissioned officers. It is described as the worst single defeat of the U.S. military during the Philippine American War.

In response, the U.S. military retaliated with a “kill and burn” policy—its leaders were given orders to kill anybody capable of bearing arms such as those 10 years old and older to reduce Samar into a “howling wilderness” (from The Balangiga Conflict Revisited).

Since the more literate Filipino leaders of this resistance left no extensive account of their experiences, the author pieced together the events of the past from letters and telegrams, station reports and other records from both sides of the struggle, preserved in the US National Archives and the Philippine National Library.

In doing so, the author has clarified many misinformation about the revolution as fought in the Ilocos (such as the anti-Tagalog sentiment brought about by the execution of General Antonio Luna, an Ilocano as ordered by then President Emilio Aguinaldo who is from the Tagalog region).

William Henry Scott was a lay missionary of the Episcopal Church and a former director of the Aglipay Institute in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. He began his research on Ilocano history in Vigan in the 1960s and has written extensively on Ilocano heroes, like Isabelo de los Reyes, and the Candon Uprising of 1898.

In this book, he has rescued from total oblivion the Ilocano struggle to defend the newly formed Philippine republic against foreign invasion. He brings to life Ilocano commanders like Blas and Juan Villamor, Estanislao Reyes and Gregorio Aglipay and the logistical support they received from all social classes, including Igorot and Tinguian tribesmen, that enabled them to maintain contact with their commander-in-chief, Emilio Aguinaldo, and repel a modern foreign army for more than a year.The Ilocanos seem to have forgotten this struggle that contained events that can be part of national legend – it is neither in history texts nor part of popular folklore.

For example, Juan Villamor who fought the enemy at close quarters wrote his memoirs 25 years later – divided them into three parts but never wrote the second part on “Encounters and Combats between Americans and Filipinos.”

Very few Ilocanos are aware that the Ilocos enjoyed 15 liberated months as part of the first Philippine Republic – between the Spanish and American occupations. To read this book is to fill that gap.

ROSE CRUZ CHURMAis a retired architect who now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books, write about them and encourage others to write. Her online bookstore, Kalamansi Books and Things (, promotes Filipiniana books and publications by Filipino-Americans. Email her at

Read More Book Reviews:
Mga Tambay Sa Tabi-Tabi (Creatures of Philippine Folklore)BOOK REVIEW: MAKING MINDANAO, Cotabato and Davao in the Formation of the Philippine Nation-State

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