The Balangiga Massacre: Getting Even by Victor Nebrida

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by Victor Nebrida and PHGLA
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The Philippine-American War started on February 4, 1899 and was officially proclaimed by President Roosevelt to have ended on July 4, 1902. Although General Aguinaldo was captured on March 25, 1901, there followed no mass surrender of other Filipino revolutionary generals. Fighting went on in Batangas, Pampanga, Tarlac, the Ilocos, and the Visayas. In Samar, General Lukban's control had been set and was holding firm.

Kill everyone over ten.

"Kill every one over ten." - Gen. Jacob H. Smith
Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines. Editorial cartoon from the New York Evening Journal, May 5, 1902.

Company C, Ninth U.S. Infantry sailed into Balangiga on August 11, 1901. Company C consisted of seventy-four veterans, most of whom had seen service not only in China but also in Cuba and Northern Luzon. It was led by Captain Thomas Connell and his second in command, Lt. E. C. Bumpus. This was in response to the town mayor's petition for an American garrison to protect the town from Muslim and rebel raids. The townsfolk needed relief and the policy of benevolent assimilation had apparently come to Balangiga.

For weeks, the outfit engaged in routine duties including the cleanup of garbage by a hundred male conscripts. Later, eighty additional natives from the nearby hills were added to the work force on recommendation of the town mayor. The Americans found them unusually industrious but they happened to be Lukban's best bolomen.

Then the Balangiga Massacre happened. This is how Joseph Schott describes it in his book, The Ordeal of Samar:

On the night of September 27, the American sentries on the guard posts were surprised by the unusual number of women hurrying to church. They were all heavily clothed, which was unusual, and many carried small coffins. A sergeant, vaguely suspicious, stopped one woman and pried open her coffin with his bayonet. Inside he found the body of a child. The woman hysterically cried, "El Colera!" The sergeant nailed the coffin again and let the woman pass. He concluded that the cholera and fever were in epidemic stage and carrying off children in great numbers. But it was strange that no news of any such epidemic had reached the garrison. If the sergeant had been less abashed and had searched beneath the child's body, he would have found the keen blades of cane cutting bolo knives. All the coffins were loaded with them. …

At 6:20 that morning, Pedro Sanchez, the native chief of police, lined up around 80 native laborers to start their daily cleanup of the town. The entire Company C, comprising of seventy one men and three officers, was already awake, having breakfast at the mess tents.

There were now only three armed Americans out in the town- the sentries walking their posts. In the church, scores of bolomen quietly honed their gleaming blades and awaited a signal.

Pedro Sanchez walked behind a sentry and with casual swiftness, he grabbed the sentry's rifle and brought the butt down in a smashing blow on his head. Then Sanchez fired the rifle, yelled out a signal and all hell broke loose.

The church bell ding-donged crazily and conch shell whistles blew shrilly from the edge of the jungle. The doors of the church burst open and out streamed the mob of bolomen who had been waiting inside. The native laborers working about the town plaza suddenly turned on the soldiers and began chopping at them with bolos, picks and shovels.

The mess tents, filled with soldiers peacefully at breakfast, had been one of the prime targets of the bolomen. They burst in screaming and slashing. A bolo swished through the air, made a sodden chunking sound against the back of a sergeant's neck, severing his head.

As the soldiers rose up and began fighting with chairs and kitchen utensils, the Filipinos outside cut the tent ropes, causing the tents to collapse on the struggling...
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