Antonio Enriquez: The Betrayal, historical novel, 387 pp. NBDB 2012 grant research & title
Weeks past of September, 1899, the people poignantly felt the gruesomeness of the blockade. A bad harvest in July because of torrential rains and the lack of workers to work the rice and corn fields made the situation worse.
General Alvarez rode into Curuan barrio, an old settlement, with a largely Christianized population, some 30 kms. southeast of the plaza of Zamboanga. As he entered the barrio he smelled it, and a sour taste pricked his tongue, turned his stomach; suspecting its worse source, a ball of revulsion emitted from the pit of his stomach, jabbed the balls of his eyes.
By the narrow trail a farmer, a lean stick in his hand, stood staring at a bonfire.
‘What is that burning?’ said General Alvarez.
‘Corpses, señor,”said the farmer.
‘Did you say ---- ?’
‘You know, hombre, that it is heathen and blasphemous to burn the dead! They should be buried decently, and a prayer said for their soul. A priest … for the last sacrament.’
‘Too late … the mother, children, and the father were found decomposed many days ago maybe,’ said the farmer with the stick in his hand. ‘Far from here … out there on the mountain slope in a hut. On a cart a relative took the bodies here, looking for a priest. He told us the family died because of hunger, no food there in the mountains … h’mn, No road there to bring in food, much needed food since the harvest was worse in a decade.
‘When no priest came he left the corpses there, they lay there, then, abandoned for more days. And the corpses began to rot more, the smell unbearable … becoming worse every day, so I burnt them to stop the smell.’
‘Are there more dead near here?’
‘None, señor. The dead from starvation are found only in the sitios and barrios of Tripa Manok and Vitali, far from here, up there in the mountain ranges. Yes, too far from the plaza if it happens a venturous merchant gets through the blockade with his cavans of rice and corn … But the people are hungry. It is the blockade, señor, that makes them hungry.’
A gust of wind blew a wisp of burnt rotten flesh to his nostrils, and General Alvarez spun his horse and rode back toward the plaza; as the farmer, staring at the burning corpses, stuck his stick into the bonfire.
Quick sparks lifted and fell back on to the bonfire without dying.
General John Bates some time ago had returned to Zamboanga from Jolo. A week after his arrival, he made arrangements to talk with General Alvarez.
He vigorously urged General Alvarez to surrender Zamboanga peacefully, and as peace offering again offered $75,000, presented earlier by General Otis through the Chinese emissaries Macrohon and Cañazares. General Alvarez gave an almost identical reply of his earlier rejection.
Later, Bates told Captain Very: ‘They consider their cause identical with that of Aguinaldo on Luzon. They’re waiting for results of events in the North and wish to be left alone by the United States.’
Blake had better luck with Surigao on September 30, he did not need to offer or bribe; for General Garcia himself there offered the surrender of Surigao to the Americans. But General Bates declined. He did not say why he turned down Surigao’s surrender offered to him on a silver platter, without a drop of blood to fall, a bone broken, or a head bashed in.
This distressed the men of the 23rd Infantry and the troops who had looked forward to the bountiful marine food the town was famous for.
‘It is said that the pompanos and eye-like dotted groupers are as big as your thighs and longer than an arm,’ the sailors said to the infantry men of the 23rd; ‘and the sea crabs as big as a wok and the turtle as wide in width as this mess table.’
‘And I’m President McKinley,’ said the infantry men consoling themselves.
‘And I’m President Lincoln,’ said an infantry man in a dull voice.
There was some sort of peace between Rebel President General Alvarez and proud and arrogant Alcalde Midel of the rancheria of Tetuan. Each had control of his own barrio, like it were a king’s turf ironically after they had totally driven away the last vestiges of Spanish kingship and imperialism. It was mid-October, 1899.
But the peace between the two rebel leaders did not mean peace and quiet in Zamboanga. For neither controlled the peninsula completely, and there lay an imbalance; while in the hinterlands it was ‘every man for himself.’
Rebel deserters roamed the hinterlands, robbed and rustled cattle in isolated villages, and the regular troops without an enemy to fight fought among themselves out of rivalry and faction, Alvarez’s and Midel’s.
A couple of houses in town and the aduana were nearly burnt down were it not for the local Chinese, who, favoring no one, stoic and non-participant during the adversity, put out the fire.
‘I do not understand,’ said the new vice-president Calixto, ‘why the arrogant mayor of Tetuan seems unbothered by his not having any role in the new republic of Zamboanga.’
‘Do you not see?’ said Don Camins, who had refused any political or military appointment President Alvarez offered him. ‘To him, if he shows he does not mind us, it means he does not recognize our authority and this republic. Uh-huh, that is how that goat-headed ranchero thinks.’
‘That could be,’ said the old man Macombong, holding up an old cane, who stopped by to join them in their talk. ‘But only too hard to tell what is in the mind of that upstart who would only be happy as president of this republic, nothing less will satisfy him. Yes, he himself … Ha, ha, ha. Nobody can see what is that man’s next mischief … what he plans to do next.’
‘Mischief?’ said Don Alvarez. ‘His mischief … of that failed assassination. If it had succeeded would have sent me earlier to St. Peter’s door. Mischief, grandfather!’
To this, Datu Macombong, the oldest warrior there, gave this consoling reply:
‘Ay, yerba mala, nunca muera, y si muera no hace falta!’ — obviously also referring to Don Alvarez reputation as a woman’s man. ‘A wild vine never dies, and if it dies it faults no one!’
‘Now you are sure it is Alcalde Midel — not Datu Mandi?’ said Calixto, shaking his head at the president of the Republic of Zamboanga, Don Alvarez.
‘H’mn, both of them,’ he said reluctantly.
The Bates Treaty with Sultan Kiram II was approved by U.S. President McKinley. It was October 27, 1899.
There were a few cries against it in the U.S. Senate; easily it was drowned by the thunderous ‘ays,’ and McKinley, imperialist apologists, fanatic missionaries, and the chest-thumbing Indian-fighters, military bullies continued their knee-jerking march in the Pacific.
Some six months after the rebels’ capture of the Fort of Our Lady of the Pillar and the liberation of the people of Zamboanga from centuries of Spanish bias and oppression, November 14, an officer from Alcalde Midel’s camp rode to the rebels’ general headquarters in Barrio Mercedes. The courier delivered Mayor Midel’s message and, without another word, rode right back to Tetuan.
Said General Alvarez to Don Camins and Major Calixto, who came in just after the messenger left, ‘Mayor Midel believes the Americans will attack the town tomorrow, and wants more guns to defend Tetuan.’
‘What —? General Alvarez, more guns!’ said both Don Camins and General Calixto, incredibly. ‘It is still the same thing … he wants all the guns of the revolution for himself.’
‘Uh-huh, that is nothing new, General,’ said Colonel Ramos, without entering the room but stood on the main door. ‘And what was all the rush of the messenger to return so quickly to his master?’
General Alvarez did not reply. Instead, he said, ‘Mayor Midel wants me also to inspect his guns in Tetuan, the ordnance that you and Don Camins captured from the Spanish gunboats last June. He wants me to see — the messenger said, and Midel wants this emphasized — that he badly needs more guns, badly need now against the Americans, than before when we drove away Governor Delos Rios from Zamboanga. To prepare, you know, Tetuan from a North American attack. ’
‘So, he has he not forgotten Captain … Colonel Ramos’s objection,’ said Don Camins, gazing round the room for an empty chair, ‘about those guns in Tetuan, eh?’
‘No, he has not forgotten yet,’ said General Alvarez. ‘Now he wants me to inspect them, so we can see for ourselves that he indeed badly needs more guns to defend Tetuan .…’
‘It is the same story told in a different manner,’ said Colonel Ramos through the door.
When Don Camins saw a chair nearby, the conversation on the subject had cooled down, and none wished to pick it up. Ramos, at the door frame, looked back at a group of artillerymen idly conversing outside; he showed no interest to come in.
‘Well, what did General Alvarez say?’ said Midel, impatiently waiting outside his office, to the messenger, who, upon his arrival in Tetuan, had hardly taken his second breath.
"‘Yes" — he said “yes” he is coming, Alcalde Midel.’
‘Fool! Presidente. President Midel. Repeat, repeat it! Cunt!’
‘Yes, sir: “President Midel.”’
An hour or so after dark, Rajah Muda Mandi boarded the USS Manila anchored on his island of Manalipa, east of Zamboanga to meet with its skipper, Captain Nazro. Datu Mandi and the Alcalde of Tetuan, Don Midel, were already ‘Americanistas’ — a euphemism for ‘collaborators.’
Not far from shore were some 100 Moro sailing canoes. Datu Mandi offered the American commander Nazro to capture rebel General Vicente Alvarez for the Americans. ‘I will do it myself,’ he said. ‘With no help from you I will capture El General.’
And Commander Nazro said, ‘No-no, thank you, Datu Mandi. Will take care of this business ourselves.’ And so Datu Mandi waved off his warriors.
In Sailing the Sulu Sea: Belles and Bandits in the Philippines (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1940), David Potter wrote this account:
On Tuesday, November 14, 1899, pursuant to instructions received by Commander Nazro during the Manila's last stay in the harbor of Manila, our good ship threw her weight into the scale of things Zamboangan.
About four o'clock that afternoon, we ran into a cove of the small island of Sakol, which lies to the eastward of the southern end of the Zamboangan peninsula. There the USS Castine [1,177 tons, length 204', four 6" guns] lay at anchor. Commander Very came on board, and dined with our captain. At dinner he informed Commander Nazro of the situation of affairs.
An hour or two after dark, the Manila weighed anchor, and stood away to Malanipa, an island still smaller than Sakol and a few miles farther east. Here, with every appearance of secrecy, a canoe manned by Moros came alongside. From it there climbed to the Manila's deck a tall man who, although clad as a Moro chief, had the features, the complexion, and the bearing of a Spanish gentleman. The word was passed around among us juniors that the visitor was the renowned Datu Mandi himself.
Mandi was the son of a Spanish officer and of the daughter of a Moro datu or duke. He had traveled in Spain and France, and was equally at home in the culture of his father and in that of his mother. When a grown man he had chosen to share the lot of his mother's people hence, he was regarded as a Moro. He was the only Moro I ever saw and he was only half a Moro! who impressed me ….
Wednesday, early in the morning, the next day, the insurgents flag, as it had since mid-May 1899, was flying proudly and gallantly over Fort Pillar.
Bunch of clouds, heavy with curls, like eyelids newly awakened, slowly drifted on the Basilan Strait, scudding lazily at the first wisp of wind from the west, where the sun was rising in a landscape of multicolor. Its flapping and waving excited peace, peace on earth!
From the deck of the USS Manila, Lieutenant David Potter, unable to resist the graceful flapping of the insurgents’ flag, raised his eyes to it. Years later, as rear admiral, supply corps, U.S.N, he wrote in Sailing the Sulu Sea: Belles and Bandits in the Philippines:
But certain it is that ballads have been written about Zamboanga, and songs have been sung of it! And, without subscribing to the claim of its being the lovelies town in the Philippines, for I remember Jolo, showered by the vermilion blossoms of its fire-trees and Surigao, inked to the seashore by its splendid rows of palms, and Davao, made glorious by the ten-thousand-foot bulk of Mount Apo behind it, not to mention the mountain capital of Baguio with its forest of noble pines nevertheless, Zamboanga was pretty enough to charm the eye of the most fastidious.
The village lies at the extreme southwest point of Mindanao. In 1899, not only was it a depot for the copra country behind it, but it was the entrepot for the hemp produced about the Gulf of Davao in the southeast of the great island. Furthermore, and perhaps a more important thing in the eyes of the American higher command, it was the point of all others, barring only Manila itself, where the Philippines came in contact with the outer world.
Through Basilan Strait, which separates Mindanao from the not inconsiderable island of Basilan twenty miles to the southward, British, German, French, and Japanese vessels passed in appreciable numbers. Whenever streamers from Hong Kong, Chefoo, Saigon, or Nagasaki, visited Manila, and thence proceeded to Australia or New Zealand, to New Guinea or New Caledonia, they passed through Basilan Strait into the Moro Gulf and on into the Celebes Sea. All such vessels came within a mile of Zamboanga even if they did not stop there. And yet, by the time our gunboat Manila was ordered to lend a hand toward the advancement of American interests thereabouts, the flag of the Filipino insurgents, commanded by ‘General’ Vicente Alvarez, had flown defiantly over the town for six or seven months, and had flaunted in full sight of every passing steamer. The situation became a hissing and a wagging of the head!
For half a year, Zamboanga had been blockaded from the sea side by the United States Ship Castine. The Castine was a real man-of-war in design, although a gunboat of even less displacement than the Manila's. Her captain was Commander Samuel Very, well known in the Navy for his scientific attainments. He was the inventor of the Very signal pistols, a contraption something like a Roman candle. This fired colored lights so regulated as to form a code, visible at night for a long distance. During the World War, the Very lights became famous along the battlefront in France, although the inventor had been dead some years.
For whatever reason, after six months of blockade, the town of Zamboanga remained as untaken as Troy at the end of the ninth year of siege. Two things of importance, however, the hovering of the Castine had brought about. First, they had kept up a blockade so effective that the food resources of the sub-province were much diminished, and, second, they had secured a sort of allegiance….
Potter also wrote that Datu Mandi was busy interviewing 'President' Midel at Tetuan hinterland. This interview was hardly mentioned in journals and reports, as it did here in Potter’s book, as if for lack of content and importance.
The time factor and a second gunboat’s, USS Manila’s, appearance, Potter continued, was a big change in whatever the US had in mind for Zamboanga, although the rebels ignored her and thought her as just another gunboat besides the first, the USS Castine.
Mayor Midel was treacherously waiting for General Alvarez himself to inspect the artillery in his district of Tetuan.
A clear, bright day. Ardently, with eager heavy-eyebrowed eyes, Presidente Midel — he who had proclaimed himself el presidente, it was said, even before the expatriation ship Leon XIII disappeared from sight on the western horizon — stretched his neck and watched the Zamboangueño Voluntarios enter his district ...