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The Journal of Military History 61 (April 1997): 255-82

The U.S. Army's Pacification of Marinduque, Philippine Islands, April 1900-April 1901


Andrew J. Birtle


[Page 255]

The severity with which the inhabitants have been dealt would not look well if a complete history of it were written out.1



So wrote Philippine Commissioner William Howard Taft concerning the U.S. Army's campaign on the island of Marinduque during the Philippine War of 1899-1902. The pacification of Marinduque was characterized by extensive devastation and marked one of the earliest employments of population concentration in the Philippine War, techniques that would eventually be used on a much larger scale in the two most famous campaigns of the war, those of Brigadier Generals J. Franklin Bell in Batangas and Jacob H. Smith in Samar. This article provides the first detailed account of the story that Taft, the future governor of the Philippines and President of the United States, had felt was best left untold.

The Island and Its People

Marinduque is a nearly circular island situated about eleven miles from the main Island of Luzon. Its 370 square miles make it the thirteenth largest Island in the Philippine archipelago. Graced with palm fringed beaches, the island is a roughly hewn gem of verdant mountains that culminate at the island's southern tip with Mt. Marlanga, a 3,876-foot-high extinct volcano. The island has two major seasons—the dry season (November through February) and the rainy season (June through October), with a transitional period between them.

[Page 256]

At the time of the Philippine War, Marinduque had approximately 50,000 inhabitants. The population was Tagalog-speaking, and only a few islanders spoke Spanish. Agriculture was the population's main pursuit, the island's most important product being hemp, which was of high quality. Marinduque also exported rice, coconuts, and cattle. Political, social, and economic power was concentrated in the hands of a relatively small class of large landowners and wealthy merchants.

Administratively, Marinduque was organized into five towns—Boac (the island's capital), Santa Cruz, Mogpog, Torrijos, and Gazan (or Gasan)—and ninety-six villages (barrios). A coastal path connected the five towns. Communications across the island's interior were more difficult due to the ruggedness of the terrain. The best cross-country route, from Torrijos to Boac, was an exhausting forty-mile trek over narrow, winding trails. Nevertheless, the small barrios nestled in the interior valleys played an important role in Marinduque's economy, for it was there that much of the island's hemp and rice was collected and stored before being sent down to the coast for export.2

Martin Lardizabal, a fifty-five-year-old Boac resident, was the insurgent governor of Marinduque. A wealthy individual, he exercised enormous influence over the island in general, and Boac society in particular. Prior to the Army's arrival, Lardizabal wielded his authority through normal governmental channels. After the occupation, the insurgent civil structure went underground, secretly collecting taxes and providing supplies, information, and recruits for the forces in the field. This network of agents and sympathizers maintained insurgent control over the population and linked the people to the guerrillas. For die most part the insurgents depended upon the population's voluntary cooperation, but at times they resorted to threats, torture, and even murder to enforce their will.3

Lardizabal's military counterpart was Lieutenant Colonel Maximo Abad, a mustachioed school teacher from Luzon's Cavite province. Though not a bold commander, Abad tenaciously adhered to the cause of Filipino independence. He had two forces at his disposal. His primary tool was the Marinduque Battalion—250 full-time, uniformed "regulars" who were fairly well armed. The battalion was subdivided into a headquarters staff and four regionally based "Guerrillas:" 1st (Gazan), 2d (Boac), 3d (Santa Cruz), and 4th (Torrijos). Each Guerrilla had several officers and about fifty-five enlisted men. Unless called together for a special operation, the Guerrillas operated independently in their home regions, moving between mountain base camps. The typical camp consisted of several storehouses/barracks (cuartels) surrounded by entrenchments, with outposts and sentry shacks posted along the routes of approach. Although reasonably well organized and disciplined, the men of the Marinduque Battalion, like the rest of the Filipino army, were poor shots.

Supplementing Abad's regulars was a corps of part-time militia. This corps, 1,000 to 2,000 strong, played the role of "amigos," ostensibly peaceful farmers who actively, though often covertly, assisted the insurgent cause. Armed only with bolos (short machetes), their military value was minimal. Their real service to Abad was in providing Intelligence, logistical support, and replacements for the regulars.

The civil and military leadership of the resistance movement on Marinduque was firmly rooted in the island's middle and upper classes. The insurrection was also in many ways a family affair. Abad's brother-in-law, Captain Pausto Roque, commanded the 1st Guerrilla. Both Fausto's father and uncle were important insurgent leaders in the civilian community, while his cousin, Teofilio Roque, commanded the 2d Guerrilla. Martin Lardizabal also had family ties with the insurrection. One nephew, Pedro Lardizabal, was a major on Abad's staff, and another nephew was a Manila merchant who orchestrated the clandestine transfer of supplies and information between that city and the island. Martin Lardizabal's brother-in-law, Pedro Madrigal, was a lieutenant and adjutant of the Boac-based 2d Guerrilla. Two other members of the Madrigal family served as officers, while the influential Nepomucena and Nieva families each supplied a lieutenant to the cause. Thus American military authorities faced not only a difficult physical environment, but an opponent that was Intertwined with the island's socio-economic elite and capable of using the power and prestige of that class to mobilize support for the insurrection. 4

[Page 257]

Enter the Americans, April-September 1900 After the outbreak of the Philippine War in February 1899, the U.S. Army concentrated its combat power around Manila and the northern half of Luzon in an effort to crush Emilio Aguinaldo's main army. It was not until early 1900 that the Army turned its attention to southern Luzon and the islands further south. The officer in charge of Army operations in southern Luzon was Major General John G. Bates. As Bates extended U.S. control into southern Luzon he became concerned that the guerrillas might use neighboring islands like Marinduque as points of refuge and supply. Moreover, Marinduque was an important source of cattle at a time when there was a shortage of beef in Manila. These factors led him to secure the island.

On 25 April 1900, two navy gunboats and a transport hove to off Laylay, Boac's maritime terminus. On board were Colonel Edward E. Hardin and a battalion of the 29th U.S. Volunteer (USV) Infantry. Hardin landed two companies and proceeded to Boac, where the few townsfolk who had not fled cautiously received him. After setting up quarters in Boac's citadel-like church, Hardin sent his men on two reconnaissance marches, both of which were performed without incident. With the island apparently tranquil, Hardin left one company (A/29) and a Maxim-Nordenfelt machine gun at Boac and sailed off to occupy several other islands.5

With only eighty-eight inexperienced men and a machine gun that no one knew how to operate, Company A was incapable of securing Marinduque, so a few days later Bates reinforced the garrison with seventy-two men of Company D, 38th U.S. Volunteer Infantry under the command of Major Charles H. Muir. A veteran of the Western frontier and the Cuban campaign, Muir was a dynamic officer who was determined to meet and defeat the insurgents. On 8 May he took sixty men from each company on a three-and-a-half day, seventy-five mile hike around the circumference of the island. The enemy was nowhere to be found—nor were the civilians, most of whom fled before the advancing column.

The Army's first contact with Abad's forces occurred more by accident than design. On 19 May, Muir and Captain John L. Jordan took fifty-seven men of D/38 on a exploratory march into the mountains. Muir had intended to camp overnight in the bush, but the mosquitoes were so bad that no one could sleep, and at midnight he broke camp and proceeded towards Santa Cruz. The night march unintentionally foiled the insurgents' normally keen warning system, so that the Americans entered Santa Cruz undetected at 7:00 A.M. Sunday morning. There they found a throng of 1,000 people and several insurgent officers attending early mass. The crowd stampeded at the sight of the Americans. Too weary to pursue their quarry, the tired troops had just settled down to a much

[Page 258]

anticipated rest when they observed several hundred insurgent soldiers deploying on top of a hill south of town. Muir advanced under insurgent fire to a position about 1,500 yards away, at which point he divided the column. Leaving a sergeant and twelve men to maintain a distracting fire, he led the remainder of the command in a display of what Jordan termed "bush tactics or Indian style." For several hours the men crawled undetected up the hill until they reached a thicket 300 yards from the enemy's left flank. From here, Muir unleashed a sudden volley followed by a charge that swept the Filipinos from their trenches, scattering them in every direction. Left behind were six dead and one prisoner. Muir had won the first battle for Marinduque without sustaining a casualty.''

Muir followed up his victory with a four-day expedition into the interior, capturing thirty-six prisoners and a portion of Abad's headquarters train. On the surface the resistance appeared to be near an end. Abad's forces were scattered, and Martin Lardizabal, seemingly stunned by Muir's martial prowess, surrendered. Though still cautious, the citizens of Boac began returning to their homes, displaying an outward friendliness towards the Americans. For his part, Muir fostered the feeling of comity. In accordance with Army policy, he paid for all the garrison's needs and imposed strict discipline over his men. He moved the garrison

[Page 259]

out of the church, thereby allowing religions services to resume. He also arranged for concerts and dress balls, in which the officers mingled with Boac's finest families. During these soirees, Boac's young ladies politely let their dancing partners know that their hearts were with the cause of Filipino independence. True, the Americans were gallant and courteous, but one could expect no less from a nation that claimed to be civilized. Thus American good conduct, while making a good impression, proved Insufficient to persuade the people to accept American sovereignty. From these encounters, Jordan, who wrote warmly of the people of Boac in his letters home, recognized that the U.S. would ultimately have to resort to sterner measures to bring the Filipinos to heel. Though proud of his Southern heritage, Jordan longed to apply on Marinduque the same policies that the federal government had imposed during the Civil War. Ultimately, he wrote, Filipinos "only understand and respect the law of force. If we should go out here and carry on a war as Sherman did in his march to the sea we would bring every one of them to submission quickly."'

Jordan was not to get his wish—at least not immediately. In June, Bates recalled Muir, Jordan, and the rest of the men of the 38th USVs to Luzon, replacing them with Company F, 29th USVs under the command of Captain Devereux Shields. Shields took up station in Santa Cruz. Then, with the advent of the summer rains, the island descended into a state of dormancy. Abad, who had assumed full political and military authority after Lardizabal's resignation, refused to either fight or surrender. Nor did the Americans show much interest in finding him. First Lieutenant William S. Wells, the commander at Boac, was thoroughly content to spend the rainy season in the comfort of the town. Shields showed more initiative, but his unit was tom by his constant quarrelling with his principal subordinate, First Lieutenant M. H. Wilson. The situation was so bad that Colonel Hardin had decided to order both men examined for fitness before the issue was overcome by events.8

In fact, the American hold over Marinduque was quite tenuous. Not only were the two companies of the 29th USVs poorly led, but with fewer than one hundred men at each location neither garrison could adequately protect itself and undertake offensive operations at the same time. Moreover, Bates did not deem the garrison important enough to rate anything more than sporadic naval support. Without a ship to transport men and relay messages, the two outposts could not readily support

[Page 259]

one another. Coordination was further impeded by Manila's failure to appoint an overall commander for the island.

The precariousness of the American position became evident on 31 July, when Teofilio Roque's Guerrilla ambushed one of Lieutenant Wells' rare forays into the countryside. Roque's force wounded two Americans and captured two others before the patrol escaped. That night the victorious guerrillas set fire to a portion of Boac in an effort to drive the Americans out. In this they failed, though many of Boac's inhabitants fled, leaving the town virtually deserted. The episode also succeeded in paralyzing Company A, which retired to the church, venturing out only twice over the next two months. 9

While the Boac garrison cowered, Shields endeavored to maintain some semblance of pressure on the guerrillas, making thirteen expeditions during July and August. None of these operations went more than ten miles from Santa Cruz, which, like Boac, was down to about twenty-five percent of its pre-occupation population. Protected by the people and the island's difficult topography, Abad easily avoided Shields. In August, however, Shields made some headway on the civil front, organizing the election of a pro-American mayor and arresting twenty-five civilians on charges of aiding the guerrillas. 10

On 11 September, Shields decided to take advantage of a visit by the gunboat U.S.S. Villalobos. Leaving Lieutenant Wilson and forty-one men to hold Santa Cruz, he loaded fifty-one enlisted men, a hospital corps-man, and his black servant onto the gunboat and sailed to Torrijos, disembarking that evening. The next day he had his first contact with insurgent forces since his company had been on the island, dispersing a band of twenty guerrillas and destroying their cuartel.

On the thirteenth, Shields led his detachment into the mountains with the intention of returning to Santa Cruz. Well informed about Shields's movements, Abad had concentrated nearly his entire force of approximately 250 riflemen and 2,000 bolomen along a steep ridge overlooking the trail. Shields walked right into the ambush. A fire fight ensued for several hours before Shields ordered a retreat into a covered ravine. What began as a slow withdrawal quickly turned into a race down a rocky stream bed, as the Americans scrambled to escape the pincers that were moving to surround them. After retreating for about three and a half miles, the beleaguered detachment entered a rice field near the barrio of Massiquisie. Here renewed enemy fire forced the Americans to take cover behind some paddy dikes. Shields fell seriously wounded.

[Page 260]

After ordering that a message be passed to the senior NGO, Sergeant James A. Gwynne, to lead the command out of the closing trap, Shields raised a white flag to surrender himself and the other wounded. The insurgents thought the flag meant that the command was surrendering. So too did Gwynne, who later claimed never to have received the escape order, and thus the entire force lay down its arms. All told, the Insurgents killed four Americans and captured fifty, six of whom, including Shields, were wounded. Shields later claimed that the Filipinos lost thirty dead, though this number was never confirmed. After months of hiding, Abad in a few short hours had destroyed nearly a third of the entire American garrison on Marinduque. 11

News of Shields's surrender reached Lieutenant Wilson the following day. As word of the battle spread, the mood of the townspeople of Santa Cruz turned ugly. Faced with the possibility of assault from without and insurrection within, Wilson moved his men and most of the company's supplies into Santa Cruz's church and convent. This task was almost completed when, on the evening of 15 September, guerrilla infiltrators set fire to part of the town, destroying many houses as well as the garrison's former storehouses and their remaining contents. During the confusion, the guerrillas also assassinated the town's mayor, Pedro Celistino, and wounded his son. By the following morning, Santa Cruz was deserted and besieged. Without a government vessel, Wilson was forced to rely on "friendly" Filipinos to carry his call for help to the outside world. None of these messengers arrived at their destinations, and it was not until 20 September, a week after Shields's defeat, that word of the disaster reached Manila via Lieutenant Wells at Boac, who had heard rumors of the battle from the inhabitants. 12

Lacking official confirmation of the battle, Bates waited several days before ordering Colonel George S. Anderson, an energetic ex-cavalryman with extensive experience in Indian warfare, to take 152 men from the 38th USVs (including Captain Jordan and his Marinduque veterans) to Santa Cruz. Bates instructed Anderson to investigate the situation and, if necessary, rescue Shields, Anderson arrived on 26 September, finding Wilson's beleaguered garrison apprehensive but intact, as Abad had been content to surround rather than assault the church-convent. After shoring up the garrison, he sailed to Torrijos to search for Shields's party. For several days Anderson crisscrossed the island, capturing twenty-six bolomen but failing to locate the elusive Abad and his prisoners. Passing one deserted barrio after another, he became convinced that Marinduque's entire population

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