Cavite, turbulent Cavite, surpassed even Rizal Province as being the most troublesome during both the Spanish and the American occupation of the Philippines. Long before the United States acquired these islands, Cavite had earned the name as being the “mother of ladrones.”
Coats, George Yarrington Coats. (1968). The Philippine Constabulary: 1901-1917
Interpretations can certainly be forced, or simply insinuated, but the viewer does not have to follow. Forming alternate interpretations—of resisting the direction of prescribed readings—is eternally possible.
Benito M. Vergara Jr. (1995). Displaying Filipinos
Allow me to reflect on a series of photographs that are organized under the category Tagalogs of the Province of Cavite. The man in the photograph is probably in his 20s or 30s, of slightly muscular build, mustachioed, and with a full head of black hair. The first of the series of four images is accompanied by a caption “Felizardo, ladrone leader from Bacoor, Cavite, after post mortem, front view; showing bolo cuts.” The next three are of the same man; photographed from the side; left arm, with scars of identification; and legs, showing hair and shape of ankle, and scar on right leg. The date of recording, 1906.
In the midst of the lockdown, I have been trying to gather literature that can help me to understand with greater clarity who this man was. Public libraries were still closed and access to Universities with libraries known to hold collections related to the early American colonial period was limited to researchers who were officially connected to them. But it was impossible for me to simply accept the description of Felizardo as a ladrone. I relied on relatives, friends and contacts who hold an interest in the subject and could be keeping, in their private collection, books that I could borrow.
The first lead was Renato Constantino’s 1975 The Philippines: A Past Revisited (Pre-Spanish – 1941). Constantino, devotes a section to the most well-known post 1902 resistance leader, Macario Sakay. Constantino constantly makes mention of a Cornelio Felizardo, whom he described as a Major General in Sakay’s Tagalog Republic who occupied a prominent role in the military operations against the Americans in the Pasay-Bacoor area in the northern part of Cavite. A daring December 8, 1904 raid in Parañaque, Rizal, was attributed to Felizardo, who led seventy-five men all dressed in Constabulary uniforms in the capture of a garrison that netted “a rich booty of carbines, revolvers and ammunition.”
The second lead was a book titled Bandoleros, Outlawed Guerrillas of the Philippine-American War 1903-1907 by Orlino Ochosa that was published by New Day in 1995. Ochosa devotes an entire section not only to the elevation of Macario Sakay but to shattering the myth of Julian Montalan as a bandit and scamp. Cornelio Felizardo figures prominently in the story of fellow Caviteño Julian Montalan, and like Constantino, Ochosa refers to him as a General who signed up with Sakay’s forces in 1903. Bandoleros made me seek two more books, Antonio Kabigting Abad’s General Macario L. Sakay, the only president of the Tagalog Republic which supposedly holds anecdotes that illustrate the personality of Felizardo and American writer Vic Hurley’s 1938 Jungle Patrol, the story of the Philippine Constabulary (1901-1936). I succeeded in accessing only the latter.
Hurley likewise connects Felizardo to Macario Sakay whom he condescendingly acknowledged as the President of the Filipino Republic, but with quotation marks. Hurley spares no punches in describing Felizardo as a notorious leader of an outlaw band who was “slippery as an eel and as dangerous as a black panther.” “One of the most bloodthirsty villains of the period,” and one of the chief murderers and torturers of Julian Montalan, Lieutenant-General of the Army of Liberation, also in quotation marks. Hurley provided more details about December 1904 raids which supposedly led to the reimposition by the Americans of martial law in the region:
A large band of armed bandits descended upon Paranaque, seven miles from Manila city limits, and raided the Constabulary station of that town. The victory was complete. With arms and ammunition taken in that raid, the bandits then made their way to Taal, where they looted the municipal treasury of 15,000 pesos and carried away all the weapons of the police force.
These same ladrones, then, uniformed in captured tunics of Scouts and Constabulary, raided San Francisco de Malabon in Cavite Province. Here, on January 21, they rushed the cuartel and secured twenty-one rifles and a great store of ammunition. Dr. J.O. Neill, medical officer of the Scouts, was killed by rifle fire while escorting his wife and daughter to safety. The outlaws tried to capture Manano Trias, who was the Provincial Governor. Failing, they carried away his wife and daughter, who were later released when Constabulary pursuit became onerous.
What provided the clarity that I needed was how Ochosa divided the Filipino revolutionary continuum of 1892-1907 into three distinct phases. The first phase being from 1892-1896, which began with the founding of the Katipunan led by working class Filipino leaders Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto who “envisioned not only national liberation” from 300 years of Spanish Colonial rule but also “social transformation” from within. The second phase is from 1897-1902, which Ochosa clearly describes as “the Revolution because, in spite of the clannish character of its leadership, it was a national movement of classes and tribes,” and within this period the revolution against one foreign colonial master to resistance and war against another, and the third and last, 1903-1907, with the official declaration of the end of the war by the Americans and with that the emergence of the myth of the “bandoleros.”
The recording of Felizardo’s photograph and the branding of his person as a “ladrone leader from Bacoor, Cavite” falls squarely within the last period.
It took many months before I was able to access Jungle Patrol. Certain that it was impossible, I was close to settling for Constantino who gave a brief account of how Felizardo continued to elude capture but finally meets his end. Not at the hands of the invading Americans, but by the hand of fellow Filipinos, recruits of the newly formed Philippine Constabulary who pretended to be deserters in order to penetrate Felizardo’s lair. The Filipinos “cut his throat and took his corpse to the Americans, and received a P5,000 reward.” Where I read that this took place in March of 1906, I have yet to remember.
In the absence of more passages about Cornelio Felizardo, I envisioned using the last words of his President, General Macario L. Sakay, who was captured a few months after Felizardo’s death, and sentenced to be hanged, the following year with Lucio de Vega, another Colonel of the Tagalog Republic.
Constantino narrates that on September 13, 1907, standing on the death platform in the prison plaza, General Sakay was said to have shouted at the top of his voice:
Death if Death comes to us sooner or later, so I will face the Lord Almighty calmly. But I want to tell you that we are not bandits and robbers, as the Americans have accused us, but members of the revolutionary force that defended our mother country, the Philippines! Farewell! Long live the Republic and may our independence be born in the future. Farewell! Long live the Philippines!
But Vic Hurley provides the missing details that led to the death of Cornelio Felizardo. Allow me to quote passages from Jungle Patrol at greater length so as to not lose the spirit and tragedy of what transpired in March of 1906:
For some time the trail was lost, but the Constabulary never relinquished its efforts, and one day in the little barrio town of Batangas, a bandit appeared and demanded food from an old Filipino. The Filipino tapped him on the head with his rice pestle, killing him. He and his companions took the body to a cliff and threw it over. They hiked into the nearest Constabulary station and reported that they had surrounded a bandit who had leaped to his death rather than be taken. Baker was so impressed by the bravery of a ladrone who would jump to his death than be taken that he ordered the body sent through to Tanauan for identification. Many natives looked at it and said, “Felizardo.” The last man to identify it said that he had a broken tooth. Baker was convinced that Felizardo was dead, because they opened the bandit’s mouth and found the broken tooth on the left side. The 5,000-peso standing reward was paid.
And as a conclusion to the campaign, Van Schaik was sent to the province of Cavite as Civil Governor. He had not been there very long before he crossed to Manila to have lunch with his old friend, Harry Belden. Mrs. Belden said, “My washerwoman told me a remarkable story. She said she was in Bacoor the day Felizardo’s funeral took place. ‘I saw Felizardo’s mother,’ said the washerwoman, and as the body came down the street I stepped out and put my hands around the weeping mother’s shoulders. “Do not cry anymore. Nothing could be done.” The old mother, without turning her head spoke out of the corner of her mouth and said, “Get out. I saw him half an hour ago.” Then she let out a fresh wail and followed the body down the street.’”
The story had a ring of truth , so Van Schaik left at once for Constabulary headquarters to check on the washerwoman’s story. At headquarters it was decided to start all over again and to question his death until the definite identification of his body.
A fine officer named Aurelio Ramos and two enlisted men, started the campaign. Ramos abused the two soldiers at drill in the presence of witnesses. He let them work all day in the hot sun on the parade ground, and the two men would at night go down to a tienda where an old mistress of Felizardo lived. Ramos further set the trap by refusing to trust the rest of his men, taking all their guns away at night and locking the arms up in a little nipa house. The two soldiers went to the woman of Felizardo and told her that they were deserters and asked her where they could find Felizardo. She told them to go to Bacoor to the house of Captain Damaso Mareuz. They went, and Damaso told them to go to a certain point in the woods at three o’clock in the morning and camp until daylight. They followed his instructions, but nothing happened. They went back to Damaso. He told them to do the same thing the next night. Out of the shadows came a guide to lead them to Felizardo. They told Felizardo how badly they were treated, how crazy Captain Ramos was, how foolish he was to put all the guns where they could be stolen so easily. Finally they suggested to Felizardo that they go to Camp Nicolas and capture the guns. Felizardo consented, and turned out fifty barrio people, who helped him. Felizardo told the barrio people to wait and took the lead himself, with the Constabulary soldiers following him closely. As they passed under the shade of a great mango tree, the two soldiers laid down their guns, because the last time Felizardo was killed, he did not stay dead and they wanted to be sure and finish him this time. After they dropped their guns, the two soldiers closed in on Felizardo. The arm of one of them went around his neck from behind. The fight was a terrific one. Finally one soldier had been kicked entirely to one side, and as the other started to come in again, Felizardo half lying, half sitting, stopped them with the very force of his personality. He said, “Carpio, you are my cousin. I did not expect this from you. Don’t you think we had better stop and talk it over?” Carpio weakened, but the other man who had been kicked to one side reached for his bolo, and creeping up from behind, crushed Felizardo’s skull. Then the two soldiers paraded to their camp and Ramos, with a group of men, surrounded the mango tree. He ordered them to step forward and pick up the body. Not a man moved. They still felt that Felizardo would not stay dead. Ramos himself lighted a flare and took the body and shoved it so as to show the men that Felizardo was dead. Ramos and one of the men climbed into a little carromata. They put the body on the seat between them and drove twenty miles to Manila. There, the body was positively identified by a thirteen-year-old boy named Lucino who had been Felizardo’s muchacho, as well as by other people. So the second reward was paid to the men of the Constabulary who had rid the country of another notorious bandit.
So here lies Caviteño resistance leader Major General Cornelio Felizardo, who, under the command of Lt. General Julian Montalan and General Macario Sakay, President of the Tagalog Republic, continued the fight of the Katipunan long after his ilustrado and elite compatriots surrendered and collaborated with the Americans. That he eluded death in the hands of the Americans but for 5,000 pesos died in the hands of his fellow Filipino—his cousin, his brothers—was the greater tragedy.
Restore his image and rewrite the script. Return Felizardo and our other dead Filipinos to their proper place in history as revolutionaries, not ladrones.
Coats, George Yarrington. (1968). The Philippine Constabulary: 1901-1917. Ohio State University
Constantino, Renato. (1975). Vol. 1 The Philippines: A Past Revisited (Pre-Spanish – 1941). Quezon City: 38 Panay Avenue, Quezon City.
Hurley, Vic. (1938). Jungle Patrol, the story of the Philippine Constabulary (1901-1936).
Ochosa, Orlino. (1995). Bandoleros, Outlawed Guerrillas of the Philippine-American War 1903-1907. Quezon City, New Day Publishers.
Vergara, Benito M. Jr. (1995). Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th Century Philippines. University of the Philippines Press.