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University of San Carlos Publications

THE "ILOILO FIASCO"


Author(s): Henry F. Funtecha
Source: Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, Vol. 14, No. 2 (June 1986), pp. 75-85
Published by: University of San Carlos Publications
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Philippine Quarterly of Culture & Society
14 (1986): 75-85

THE "ILOILO FIASCO"

Henry F. Funtecha

University of thePhilippines in theVisayas

One importantevent in thehistory of theAmerican occupation of the


Philippines is what American writers have referred to as the "Iloilo
Fiasco." This event, however, is not even mentioned in the more popular
Philippine historybooks1 used as college texts.This paper, therefore, is an
attempt to fill the gap by presentingwhat this eventwas all about, what
circumstances led to it and what was its significance.
After the surrenderof theSpaniards to theU.S. government inManila
on August 13, 1898, the relationship between the Americans and the
Filipinos deteriorated. It was aggravated by the exclusion of the latter
from the peace conference in Paris between the Spaniards and the
Americans. As a result, the Philippine Revolutionary Government headed
by Emilio Aguinaldo became worried as to the real intentions of the
Americans in the archipelago. Great concern was especially expressed for
places outside Manila not under the effectivecontrol of the revolutionary
government.
Thus, in earlyNovember 1898, the Ilonggos were warned by President
Aguinaldo against the Americans and instructed not to allow the
foreignersto land in Iloilo, nor to permit them to go into the interiorof
the province.2
The traditional enmity of the Ilonggos for the Tagalogs was not
sufficientto prevent their cooperation with the latter in the central govern?
ment of Luzon, especially because of the American threat. According to
John F. Bass, war correspondent of Harper's Weekly, who came to Iloilo
with theAmerican Expeditionary Force, this cooperation was not due to
force, for only a few Tagalogs came to Iloilo.
By the firstweek of December 1898 the Ilonggos were already worried

Teodoro A. Agoncillo and Milagros C. Guerrero, History of the Filipino People


(Quezon City: R.P. Garcia Publishing Co., 1977); Renato Constantino, The Philippines: A
Past Revisited (Quezon City: Tala Publishing Services, 1975).
- Exh. 1187 -
Philippine Insurgent Records (Hereafter referred to as P.I.R.) Tagalog
-
draft in the handwriting of Emilio Aguinaldo; also, P.I.R. 481.8 Document addressed to
Don Raymundo Melliza, Malolos, November 4,1898.
3
John F. Bass ofHarper's Weekly, as quoted inPhilippine Information Society, Facts
About theFilipinos (Boston, 1901), pp. 5-6.

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76 PHILIPPINE QUARTERLY OF CULTURE & SOCIETY

about American intentionswith regards to Iloilo and Panay, as a whole.


This was aggravated by the fact that the armed expedition sent by
Aguinaldo fromLuzon to help the local forces had not landed yet on the
shores of Panay.4 The Ilonggo leadership at this time felt that they lacked
sufficientresourceswith which to repulse theAmericans.
Contributing to the feeling of inadequacy on the part of the Ilonggo
revolutionarieswas the request the foreignconsuls in Iloilo City addressed
to the Ilonggos not to attack theSpaniards in the cityas the solutionwould
soon come without the shedding of blood. To thismay be added the
proposition made by theSpanish governor-general,Diego de los Rios, in a
conference held with him by two members of the local revolutionary
government5 thathe would give all kinds of facilities to the revolutionaries
in order that "they might come to an understanding with theAmericans
just as soon as the latter should come."8 Most of all, the Ilonggo
revolutionaries did not want anything to happen to the three principal
towns of Iloilo, namely, Jaro, Molo and Iloilo City, in the event of
fighting.
Apolinario Mabini echoed the concerns of the Ilonggos regarding
American intentions in Iloilo. In his letterto President Aguinaldo, Mabini
stated that theAmericans should not be permitted to land inplaces already
taken by the revolutionary troops, even if this should lead to an outbreak
of hostilities. The more serious problems, he pointed out, were places still
occupied by the Spaniards, as the city of Iloilo. If the Spaniards were to
surrender the place to the Americans, and the Ilonggos insist upon holding
it, there would be a useless war, Mabini added.7
Mabini's suggestion toAguinaldo was to send JoseNer (a Visayan who
had been summoned by Gen. Elwell Otis of theAmerican Expeditionary
Forces in order to ask him whether the people in Iloilo were antagonistic
toward theAmericans) to Iloilo in order to tell the Ilonggo leaders that if
theAmericans insistedon occupying a place held by the Spaniards, they
should yield on condition that theAmericans "would promise to occupy it

4 -Exh. 1197 -Letter of J.Hernandez toEmilio


P.LR. Aguinaldo, December 4,1898.
5This was the government formed by the Ilonggo revolutionaries, whose forerunnerwas
the "Comite Conspirador," which was formed inMarch 1898 inMolo, Iloilo. Itwas under
itsorders and plans that the revolutionarymovement against the Spaniards in Panay was
-Exh. 1186.
initiated,principally at Iloilo. See P.LR. Original inSpanish.
6P.LR.-Exh. 1197

P.LR.- Exh. 1205 - Letter of Apolinario Mabini to President Aguinaldo, December 24,
1898. P.I.R. 9.8 shows that on December 23, 1898,Aguinaldo leftMalolos to spend a few
days inCavite Viejo and left routinematters in the hands of Mariano Trias. All important
matters were to be kept until his return.

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THE "ILOILO FIASCO1 77

only to protect the foreign interestsand not to take possession of it." In


case theAmericans refused this condition,Mabini requested the Ilonggos
to publish a manifesto protestingagainst such an action.9
On December 25, 1898 another set of instructions10was sent to the
Ilonggo revolutionary leaders byMalolos reiteratingthe previous warning
by telling them: 1) not to recognize the sovereignty of the American
Government; 2) to fireupon theAmericans in case theyattempted to land
in Iloilo; and 3) to dig trenches in preparation for American
bombardment.
The instructions stated further that the Americans could only be
allowed to land if they signed a document stating that "they were thereas
friends and promising to leave afterwards." This document would have
to be signed by theAmerican general and a notice of itscontents sent to all
consuls and foreigners,especially to those living in Iloilo.12
The instructions also informed the Ilonggos that the individual
American was weak and feared bolos very much. An excerpt of this reads:

If theAmericans do commence, attack immediatelyand do not give up


until killed. I must tell you something for the people of Iloilo, to wit, the
individualAmerican isweak and fears bolos verymuch; at firsthe appears
strong and valiant, but if he meets valor and resolution on our part he

yields. This has happened more than twenty times here in Luzon in the
neighborhood ofManila.13

Evidently, the Ilonggo leaders consulted or tried to consult Aguinaldo


as towhat they should do in the event of an American landing, as seen in
the following excerpt:

... we would like to send a representative to greet you in person as well


as your Government, and at the same time to secure instructions regarding
our organization, and thepolitical and military attitude we are to adopt
(italicsmine) if theAmericans arrive.14

8
Ibid.
9
Ibid.
-
10P.I.R.- Exh. 1208 Instructions, Malolos, December 25,1898.

"ibid.
12Ibid.
,3Ibid.
14
P.I.R.- Exh. 1198 -Letter of Roque Lopez, President, to theHonorable President of
thePhilippine Republic, Sr. Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy, Jaro,December 5,1898.

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78 PHILIPPINE QUARTERLY OF CULTURE & SOCIETY

The sending of a military expedition to Iloilo fromManila by General


El well Otis, commanding general of the American forces in the
Philippines, was a move to extend American sovereigntyover the entire
Philippines. The ?pportunity fordoing this came inmid-December, when
Governor-General de los Rios offered to turn the city over to the
Americans, and a group of foreign merchants there requested American
protection in the face of the fightingbetween the natives and the Spanish
15
troops.
The petition, however, also asked theAmericans not to take any drastic
action against the Ilonggos in order not to displace their business in the
city,as shown in the followingportion:

We, the undersigned merchants of Iloilo, beg you to take into con?
sideration our large interestsand the probable result of a conflictwith the
natives, which inour beliefwould seriouslyprejudice and harm the trade of
these islands foryears to come.We ask you to consider theorders theyhave
received from theirchief,Aguinaldo, ofMalolos.16

General Otis, on his part, was instructed to be conciliatory and to


avoid conflictwith the Ilonggos as gleaned from the followingmessage
from theU.S. Secretary ofWar, dated December 23,1898:

Answering your message, December 14, thePresident directs that you


send necessary troops to Iloilo, to preserve the peace and protect life and
property. It ismost important that there should be no conflict with the
insurgents. Be conciliatory (italics mine), but firm.17

Otis tried immediately to reachGeneral de los Rios and to request the


latter to continue in possession of Iloilo City until the arrival of the
American troops.18 Promptly, a vessel was secured to sail to Iloilo with an
American officerwho was directed to try to communicate in person with
General de los Rios. Before this American officer arrived in Iloilo,
however, Rios had already turned the city over to the native troops under
General Martin Delgado. Thus, when theAmerican mission arrived, Iloilo

15
Annual Reports of theWar Department, Report of theMajor-General Commanding
theArmy, Part 2 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899), p. 64; also, Philippine
InformationSociety,Facts About theFilipinos (Boston, 1901), pp. 82-83. Hereafter referred
to as P.I.R., Facts....

16ibid.
17Ibid.,p.55.
18
Ibid. Otis message toRios was dated December 23,1898.

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THE "ILOILO FIASCO" 79

City was quiet and thePhilippine flag was flyingover it.


Therefore, when the American expedition20 under General Marcus
Miller finally sailed into Iloilo harbor on December 28, 1898 the citywas
already under the complete control of the Ilonggo revolutionary troops.
Immediately on learning of the presence of theAmerican ships in the
harbor, the Ilonggo leaders, headed by General Delgado, sent a
representative toMiller to find out what theAmericans wanted.21
Miller, reportingon the above incident, said that on December 28, an
aide of Delgado came aboard the ship he was on and "desired to know if
? 22
we had anything against them were we going to interfere with them."
Miller at this timewas under imperativeorders fromGeneral Otis to be
conciliatory and under no circumstances to have a clash with the Ilonggos,
the U.S. Administration's most earnest desire being to avoid a clash, at
leastuntil the treatywith Spain (Treaty of Paris) should be ratifiedby the
U.S. Senate.23
General Miller's response to the Ilonggo inquiry was to send a
commission of field and lineofficersof his staffashore with a letterto the
local authorities, explaining the nature of his mission of protecting the
foreign businessmen in the city.24 Miller "courteously asked per?
mission"25 thathe be allowed to land his troopswhich came on board the
transports "Newport," "Arizona," and "Pennsylvania" escorted by the

Elwell Otis' in P.I.R., Facts. . . , p. 84; also, Annual the


19General Report Reports of
War Department, Part 2. pp. 55-56. Iloilo City was occupied by the Ilonggo troops on
December 26, 1898.
20
With the naval expedition was a battalion of the Iowa Volunteers, the Sixth Artillery,
-
and a Signal Corps detachment. See P.I.R.- Exh. 1219 Malolos, January 19, 1899, signed by
Apolinario Mabini, Secretary of the Interior; also, John Foreman, The Philippine Islands
(New York: Scribners and Sons, 1899), p. 631.
21
Apolinario Mabini claimed that itwas theAmericans who, upon arrival, landed a
commission and appeared before the Ilonggo leaders. See P.I.R.- Exh. 1219.
22
War Department Report, Vol. I, Part 4. (Washington: Government Printing Office,
1899), p. 62; also, James Blount, American Occupation of the Philippines, 1898-1912
(Quezon City: Malaya Books, Inc., 1968), p. 153. Blount was an officer of theU.S. Volun?
teers in thePhilippines who participated in the fightingagainst the Ilonggos; laterhe became
a district judge in thePhilippines from 1901 to 1905.

23Blount,p. 152.
24A protest was lodged by General Ananias Diokno of the Luzon expeditionary force
with the Ilonggo officials forallowing theAmericans to land. See P.I.R.- Exh. 1235 - Incom?
plete letteraddressed to Seflor Baldomero Aguinaldo, Camp San Miguel, Iloilo, March 14,
1899.Original inSpanish.
25Blount,p. 152.

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80 PHILIPPINE QUARTERLY OF CULTURE & SOCIETY

battleship "Baltimore." He assured the Ilonggos that theAmericans did


not come as enemies but as friends and liberators.27 The Ilonggos at once
asked the Americans if they had brought along any instructions from
28
Emilio Aguinaldo but General Miller's aides answered in the negative.
To this the Ilonggo leaders answered that, as the Iloilo government was
"dependent on the one in Luzon, it could not accede to their request
without an express order from the Honorable President (referring to
Aguinaldo, 29in cases affecting the Federal Government of the
Philippines.
General Miller, in view of the Ilonggos' reply, notified them that the
followingday, December 29, at 12 o'clock, he would land his forces at all
costs. The following day and the hour fixed arrived, but Miller did not
carry out his threat. Instead, he changed his approach and tried to
convince the Ilonggos, bymeans of persuasion, of the "right attaching to
the United States to take possession of these islands, and of their
30
obligation to obey the authorities of the formernation." What right or
authorityMiller here meant is not clear, considering especially that the
Ilonggos at this timewere inabsolute control of their internalaffairs.
An emergency conference was held among the Ilonggo leaders, and
General Delgado pointed out to his colleagues that they should not allow
theAmericans to touch land without written permission from General
Aguinaldo, whose authority the Ilonggos recognized.31 A letter to
General Miller was drafted and signed by Roque Lopez in his capacity as
president of the Council of State of the Visayas. A portion of the letter,
dated December 30, 1898, states:

the return of your commissioners last night, we. . . discussed the


Upon
situation and the attitude of this region of Bisayas in regard to its relations

p. 631; also, P.I.R.- Exh. 1235.


26Foreman,
27
Mabini's version of this event was that theAmericans appeared before the Ilonggo
leaders,4Requesting, by order of General Otis, thedelivery of the port and of theCity." See
P.I.R.-Exh. 1219.
28
Annual Reports of theWar Department, Part 2, pp. 62-63.
29
P.I.R.- Exh. 1219; Report of the Lieutenant-General Commanding theArmy, 1900,
Part 4 (Washington: Government PrintingOffice, 1901), p. 442; Blount, pp. 153-154. Evi?
dently, despite theirpledge of union and unconditional support to theMalolos Government,
the Ilonggo revolutionaries preferred a federal set-up of government to be established in the
- to E. Aguinaldo,
archipelago. P.I.R.- Exh. 1197 Letter of J. Hernandez Jaro, December 4,
-
1898; Exh. 1212 Document addressed to the inhabitants of the island of Panay, Jaro,
January 5,1899, signed by Roque Lopez and Francisco Soriano.
30P.I.R.-Exh. 1219.
31
Foreman, p. 631.

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THE "ILOILO FIASCO" 81

and upon the central government of Luzon, and ... I have the
dependence
honor to notify you that, in conjunction with the people, the army, and the

committee, we insist upon our pretension not to consent... to any foreign


interference without express orders from the central government of
Luzon... with which we are one in ideals, as we have been until now in
? 32
sacrifices. . .

Meanwhile, the Malolos officials had expressed serious concerns of


American intentions in Iloilo. An unsigned letterdated January 4, 1899,
contains the following statement:

It appears that conflictwith theAmericans is imminentand inevitable.


Several of theirvessels with thousands of soldiers commanded by General
Miller were sent to Iloilo on December 20th last to take thatport together
with thewhole Visayas and Mindanao.33

On January 5, 1899,Aguinaldo himself issued a proclamation which


contains the following:

The said generals (referring to the American generals) accepted my


concessions in favor of peace and friendship as indications of weakness.

Thus, it is, that with rising ambition, they ordered forces to Iloilo on
December 26, with the purpose of acquiring for themselves the title of
conquerors of thatportion of thePhilippine Islands.34

What follows is a warning to the Americans that the Malolos


government would not tolerate any attempt to take forcible possession of
Iloilo. The document continues:

My government cannot remain indifferent in view of such violent and

aggressive seizure of a
portion of its territory by a nation which has

arrogated to itself the title, Champion of oppressed nations'. Thus it is that

my government is ready to open hostilities if theAmerican troops attempt


to take forcible possession of the Visayan Islands. I announce these rights
before the world, in order that the conscience of mankind may pronounce
its infallible verdict as to who are the true oppressors of nations and the
tormentors of human kind.
35
Upon theirheads be all theblood which may be shed.

32
War Department Report, Vol. I, Part 4, 1899, p. 64.
33
P.I.R. 40.8 -Unsigned letteraddressed to Senor Galiciano Apacible, January4, 1899.
- to Galiciano
P.I.R. 1186.10 Letter Apacible, Malolos, January 6, 1899.
35
Apolinario Mabini, La Revolution Filipino, Tomo Primero (Manila: Bureau of Print?
ing, 1931), p. 246; also P.I.R. 1186.10.

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82 PHILIPPINE QUARTERLY OF CULTURE & SOCIETY

Three days later, on January 8, the proclamation, which sounded


almost like a declaration of war, was reissuedwith a significantchange in
the last one of the passages quoted, thewords "attempt to take forcible
possession of any part of the territorysubmitted to its jurisdiction" being
substituted for the words "attempt to take forcible possession of the
Visayan Islands."36
Foreseeing the imminent landing of theAmericans, General Delgado
ordered all troops in the interiortowns to converge at the city. So quick
was the response to his orders thatwithin the short period of three days
since the arrival of the Americans, 12,000 men, 2,500 of whom were
37
well-armed, had come to the city. Thereupon, the native troops fortified
theharbor and theold Spanish fort (San Pedro), sank cascoes loaded with
stones to block the river entrance, dug trenches, barricaded the streets and
mounted old artillerypieces leftby theSpaniards.
Seeing that the Ilonggos were preparing for battle, General Miller
wrote Otis on January 5, 1899begging permission to attack the city,on the
ground that upon the success of the expedition of which he was in charge
"depends 38the future speedy yielding of insurrectionarymovements in the
islands." longer we wait before
"The the attack," he argued, "the
harder itwill be to put down the insurrection. . . Let no one convince you
39
that peaceful means can settle the difficulty here." Bass of Harper's
Weekly, who was in Iloilo at the time, echoed this predicament when he
wrote to his paper that the effectof theAmerican indecision on the natives
"will be incalculable all overthe islands."40
Commodore George Dewey, on his part, believed that the proper thing
to do at that timewas to recall the expedition as the Ilonggos were in full
41
possession of the city and "will not probably give up without a fight."
The appeal of Miller to Otis to permit commencement of operations
against the Ilonggos was without avail. According to Blount, Otis was the
Manila agent of theAldrich Old Guard in the Senate, in charge of the

-
36Dean C. Worcester, The Philippines Past and Present, Vol. I (New York: The Mac
millan Co., 1914), p. 137.
37
Report of General Elwell S. Otis. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899),
p. 61.

38Blount,p. 154.
39
War Department Report, 1899, Vol. I, Part 4, p. 166.
40Cited by Blount, p. 154.
41
Annual Reports of theWar Department, Part 2 (Washington: Government Printing
Office, 1899), p. 61.

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THE "ILOILO FIASCO" 83

pending treatywith Spain. He simply sent the disgusted Miller a reply


not to be nasty,warning him that the firingof a shot in Iloilo would mean
the precipitation of general conflict around Manila and all over the
islands, and that thiswould be most disappointing to thePresident of the
United States, who continually urges extreme caution and no conflict."43
Cautioning Otis against any clash at Iloilo, President William
McKinley wired January 9th:

Am most desirous that conflict be avoided. . . Such conflict would be


most unfortunate considering the present, and might have results
the future. . .Time the insurgents cannot
unfavorably affecting given injure
us, and must weaken and
discourage them. They will see our benevolent
purposes and recognize that before we can give them good government our

sovereignty must be conceded and unquestioned.44

On January 15,General Otis wroteMiller again cautioning him against


any clash in Iloilo, and sayingof conditions inManila and Malolos: "The
revolutionary government (referringto the government of Aguinaldo) is
very anxious for peaceful relations."45
General Otis was obviously trying to help President McKinley nurse
the Treaty of Paris through the U.S. Senate. The Administration was

counting senatorial noses at the time and was anxious to obtain the
46
ratification of the treaty. So General Miller and his men had to stay
aboard their transports, and the Iowa Volunteers had to be sent back to
Manila on January 29, 1899 because they had been on board their
transport continuously for three months since leaving San Francisco,
California, all idea of taking Iloilo before theU.S. Senate could act having
been abandoned/7The Harper's correspondent, mentioned earlier, left
Iloilo, returned toManila, and wrote his paper on January 23: "I returned
to Manila, and well knowing that there was nothing more to be done in
99 48
Iloilo until the Senate voted on the Treaty of Paris. This event has gone

42
Blount, p. 157.
Art
War Department Report, 1899, Vol. I, Part 4, p. 59.

44Reports of theWar Department for theFiscal Year Ended June 30, 1899, Part 2
(Washington: Government PrintingOffice, 1899), p. 79.
45SenateDocument 208, p. 58, cited by Blount, p. 163.
46
That theU.S. Administration's anxietywas justified is apparent from the fact that on
the final vote whereby theTreaty of Paris was ratified, ithad but one vote to spare. Blount,
p. 157.
47
Blount, p. 155.
48
Cited in ibid, p. 157.

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84 PHILIPPINE QUARTERLY OF CULTURE & SOCIETY

down in the history of theAmerican occupation of the Philippines as the


"Iloilo Fiasco."
The "Iloilo Fiasco" did well for the Ilonggos and the Filipinos, in
general. It swelled the ranks of the native troops who were willing to fight
the enemy. Blount, writing along this line, states:

The Iloilo fiasco did indeed furnish to the insurgent cause aid and
comfort at the psychologic moment when itmost needed encouragement to

bring to a head. It presented a spectacle of vacillation and seeming


cowardice which heartened the timid among the insurgents and started
among thema general eagerness forwar which had been lackingbefore.49

Also, the inactivityon thepart of theAmericans enabled the Ilonggos


to make the necessary preparations for war in terms of building
fortifications and training of troops. These strengthened their resolve to

repel any attempt on thepart


50
of the foreignersto land in the city.
In one of his bulletins to Otis, General Miller tells of two boat's
crews of the 51st Iowa Volunteers who attempted landing on January 5.
They were met by a force of armed natives who asked the Americans their
business and warned them off. The Americans heeded the warning and
returned to their transport.
More importantly,the"Iloilo Fiasco" delayed theoccupation of Iloilo
City and Iloilo Province, as well as the Philippines as a whole by the
Americans. Itwas not until February 10, 1899 thatGeneral Miller was able
to commence the attack on His
Iloilo. long awaited order to take Iloilo
came as a result of the outbreak of the Filipino-American War in Luzon
on February 4, two days before the ratification of the Treaty of Paris

by the U.S. Senate. Miller's attack came after he had lain in Iloilo harbor
for forty-four days.
Furthermore, the shock waves of the Iloilo Fiasco were felt not only in
Manila and Malolos but also in the United States, where intellectuals, such
as Mark Twain and theAnti-Imperialist League, were fightingvigorously
against annexation of thePhilippines.
A sector of the American press criticized the mess the American

government was making of the Iloilo episode. Typical of this was the
report filedby Bass of "Harper's Weekly":

Why, if we were not ready to act and had no definite plan for the
islands, did we startan expedition to Iloilo? Why, ifwe were going, did we

49Ibid., p. 155.
50
War Department Report, 1899, Vol. I; Part 4, p. 67.

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THE "ILOILO FIASCO" 85

not start in time to relieve the Spanish garrison? Why, when once started,
did we not land; instead of making threatsand then lying inactive in the
bay? American prestige is gone in the Philippines, and it will take
bloodshed to reestablish it. All foreigners say, "What a mess your
government ismaking of this affair!" All natives say, "The Americans are

afraid of us!"51

Also, the heroic spectacle of the Ilonggos battling for survival under
the imminent threat of American warships revealed the high caliber of
Ilonggo leadership. This can be gleaned from the polite tone of their
communications to the American intruders, their civil way of dealing with
American negotiators, their courageous integrity, and the state of
discipline of theRevolutionary troops.

51
Wilcox, Marrion (ed.), Harper's History of theWar in thePhilippines (New York:
Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1900), p. 74.

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