Aguinaldo’s Long March

The Long March is associated with Mao Zedong and the Red Army’s retreat during the Chinese Revolution. Facing decimation along the coastal cities, the Red Army embarked on a long tortuous journey fighting their way to northwest provinces controlled by warlords and Chiang Kai Shek’s garrisons until the survivors, a tenth of the original exodus, reached the caves of Yenan to rebuild the Red Army that would liberate China from Kuomintang rule and Japanese/western occupation.

The Long March of General Aguinaldo during the 1896-98 Revolution and Philippine-American War was of much smaller scale. This odyssey began in March 1897 after the Tejeros convention and the fall of Imus, the revolutionary capital. Mao’s series of interrupted marches involving several armies took 370 days, Aguinaldo’s, five years. Pursued by General Lachambre, Aguinaldo retreated to Naic where he consolidated the revolutionary government, thence to Maragondon, the highlands of Cavite down to Talisay, Batangas, back to Cavite where at Paliparan, he left behind his family, and took off with 400 men to the lake towns of Laguna and Morong. At Mt. Puray, his and General Licerio Geronimo’s troops routed the Spanish pursuers.

Reaching Biak-na-Bato in June 1897, Aguinaldo formed a republican government, while directing guerrilla war against the enemy besieged in many more provinces than the original eight. Unable to get reinforcements, the Spanish governor-general agreed to a truce with Aguinaldo who also had to get more arms for his growing army. Hence, the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, now recalling the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact in 1939, where both dictators were portrayed by Philippine Free Press cartoonist Izon as having pistols under the table aimed at each other.

On December 17, 1897, Aguinaldo and his staff departed for Hong Kong, by train and steamer to the Crown Colony where they stayed for more than four months, buying arms with the “indemnity” fund and dealing with duplicitous US consuls in Hong Kong and Singapore, before returning to Cavite by US gunboat McCullough. Equally duplicitous was Admiral Dewey who promised independence, not in writing, for Aguinaldo to intensify the war against Spain, trusting that the US was an ally.

From Cavite port, now US- occupied, Aguinaldo moved his headquarters to Kawit, where he proclaimed independence (“under the protection of the Great North American republic”) on June 12, 1898. He later corrected the proclamation in Bacoor, removing “the protection” phrase. Feeling vulnerable within range of US naval guns. Aguinaldo transferred the seat of government to Malolos, where the First Philippine Republic was inaugurated, with him as president. By then Aguinaldo’s army had already liberated the country, and surrounded Manila.

War broke out on February 4, 1899 in the suburbs of Santa Mesa and San Juan, and quickly spread, enabling the enemy, under cover of their naval fleet, to capture Filipino trenches—massacring civilians in Paco, Sta. Ana, and other suburban towns.

The US northern offensive forced the Aguinaldo government to move from Malolos to San Isidro, thence to Caba-natuan and Tarlac. In Bayam-bang, Pangasinan, Aguinaldo ordered that guerrilla warfare be waged. His march continued to northern Luzon. With US troops in hot pursuit, General Gregorio del Pilar and sixty soldiers fought to the death, defending Tirad Pass to enable Aguinaldo to slip into the hinterlands. Aguinaldo’s contingent now reduced to about a hundred including relatives hiked through forests, ravines, and steep slopes of the Cordillera, reaching Cagayan valley. At Talubin, Aguinaldo’s wife Hilaria, head of the Filipino Red Cross, agreed to be left behind and captured with son Miguel and some women, escorted by two officers, so as not to slow down Aguinaldo’s march with 118 officers and men with him.

Reaching Cagayan valley, they were welcomed by the townspeople with fiestas, provisions, and guides. In one town, upon learning that the enemy was near, Aguinaldo’s group crossed the Sierra Madre —braving natural hazards, leeches, and malaria. They finally reached Palanan, an isolated town in the Pacific coast, where Aguinaldo communicated with his field commanders. Unluckily one of his couriers was intercepted. Within a year, Aguinaldo was captured under a ruse of the wily Colonel Frederick Funston, using Macabebe scouts dressed in rayadillo of the Filipino army, bringing five American “prisoners” including Funston himself.

The first phase of Aguinaldo’s Long March is a journey to Biak-na-Bato from the beleaguered towns of Cavite. The second phase was the retreat from Central Luzon to Northern Luzon in a circuitous route ending in Palanan. Hongkong was an interlude that enabled Aguinaldo to plan and defeat the Spanish army, even before the landing of US troops in Manila.

Not getting recognition from other nations, the First Philippine Republic was doomed— leading to the Philippine American War. Mark Twain and the US Anti-Imperialist League vigorously opposed the US annexation—to no avail.

Aguinaldo’s capture in Palanan on March 23, 1901 signalled the end of the Republic but not the struggle for independence. In Mark Twain’s anti-imperialist essay, Filipinos and other peoples victimized by colonial powers are the “person (s) sitting in darkness” (Matthew, 4:16); in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “White Man’s Burden”—the “new caught, sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child.”

Note: This article written by Dr. Elmer A. Ordonez first appeared on Manila Times (06/04/2011 issue). The author has allowed Mr. John Sun to repost it on PH.CN.

Image: via Wikipedia, public domain

J. Sun E.

Sun, a Filipino based in China, writes PH.CN on ProPinoy, a weekly column on Philippines-China relations, politics, history, and current events. He studied Political Science, History, and Foreign Languages in Philippines and China. Follow him on Twitter @phdotcn

  • winne

    good article