28 June 2017

The Hard Luck and Suffering in San Juan and Balayan after the End of the Philippine-American War in 1902

Entitled "A native nipa shack."  From the Everett E. Thompson Photograph Collection at the University of Michigan Online Digital Collections.

With the surrender of General Miguel Malvar in April 1902, for all intents and purposes, the Philippine-American War also came to an end. Batangas was the last province to yield to American imperialism. In fact, the American General J. Franklin Bell had to resort to forcing civilian populations in the province to live in the so-called “re-concentration” camps to prevent them from lending support to Malvar and his army1.

Although Batangueños were allowed to leave the re-concentration camps in April 1902 and return to their homes, the official end to the war was not until July of the same year with the passing by the United States Congress of the Philippine Organic Act. Essentially, this act stipulated the creation of an elected Philippine Assembly, a legislative body, but based among others on the condition of the “cessation of the existing insurrection in the Philippine Islands2.”

The end of the war, however, did not immediately bring relief to Batangas’ civilian population, which was already weary of fighting not just during the Philippine-American War but even way back to the Philippine Revolution. Conditions were, in fact, to get worse before they would get better.

In fact, conditions got so bad in the town of San Juan on the eastern edge of the province that the officers of the town committee felt impelled to write to the Civil Commission of the United States in the Philippine Islands to bring to the commission’s attention the plight of the town’s inhabitants.

They wrote:
“The situation in our town of San Juan de Bokbok, province of Batangas, is a matter of deep concern to those who, like ourselves, are charged with responsibility for the prosperity and tranquility of the inhabitants.

“When peace was declared in 1902 all of the inhabitants, spurred by the desire to avoid the impending distress and famine, gave themselves over with an energy such as never before to the work of cultivation; and, although their means of doing this were of the scantiest, indeed were almost absolutely wanting, nevertheless, with great sacrifices they were able to sow a part of their lands, without other implements than the hoe and the bolo under the method called “caiñgin," a hard method, but one to which circumstances compelled them to resort. But when the time came when they could expect to use the product to mitigate the rigors of their condition, immense clouds of locusts came to devastate their fields and the castle of the hopes of the zealous agriculturist fell like a house of cards. Finally, consternation came upon the neighborhood, when, as a climax to calamity, appeared the scourge of Asiatic cholera3.”
Locust infestations are rare but not altogether unknown in Batangas. A document published in the 1950s about Ibaan noted that the town, relatively close to San Juan, faced such a plague a century earlier in 18054. As recently as 1995, then-President Fidel V. Ramos had to declare a state of emergency in the towns of Lian and Nasugbu because of the same phenomenon.

For the infestation to occur just when the citizens of San Juan – and the rest of Batangas – were trying to pick themselves up after a decade of war was just a stroke of unbelievably bad luck. However, according to the scholar Glenn A. May, the outbreak of Asiatic cholera not only in San Juan but elsewhere in Batangas could have been due to the “unhealthy conditions in the zones1.” May was referring to the re-concentration camps.

And as though a locust infestation and a cholera epidemic were not enough, along came a drought to compound the town’s sufferings. The town’s officers further wrote: “With the total loss of these crops and with the rice entirely exhausted in the few granaries that had escaped the rigors of war, there was nothing to do to avoid the horrors of inevitable famine except to plant corn. But the drought came and destroyed these hopes as well3.”

Consequently, those who could left Batangas for other provinces. This mass emigration was not dissimilar to the after-effects of the great Irish potato famine5 of the nineteenth century, which forced emigration to England and even across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States.

The moneyed among the town’s inhabitants had no recourse but to use their savings to purchase what rice they could. Women had to sell or pawn their jewelries just to avoid starvation. Needless to say, the poor bore the brunt of the town’s misfortunes.

The officers continued with their letter: “...They tramped through the forests, even those hardest to reach, and fed themselves with all kinds of tubers, from the trunk of that variety of banana tree called “sacua" down to the poisonous “nami." In this manner, leading a life full of privations, and feeding themselves on tubers, roots and leaves, they managed to keep alive through the year and reach the present season of sowing.”

These pitiable conditions were mirrored in a town at the opposite end of the province: Balayan. The latter’s officials, writing to the Taft Expedition or the Taft Commission6, described the conditions:
“The only resource of these Islands and the only resource particularly of the town of Balayan is agriculture, which at the present date finds itself in a most deplorable condition, as can be seen from the accompanying statistical tables, consequent upon incessant calamities such as the wars that have been fought, the plague of locusts, the drought, the rinderpest7, which still prevails, the lack of laborers, part of whom have succumbed to Asiatic cholera, hunger and malaria, while others have emigrated, and consequent finally on many other drawbacks which it would take too much room to enumerate here8.”
[Footnote: Hindsight tells us that conditions under the American regime would subsequently improve as the new colonial master implemented what they called “benevolent assimilation,” which was just euphemism for Americanization of the country. The Americans did set about building infrastructures not just in Batangas but elsewhere in the country and made education available to the masses by way of a public school system. What the letters from the San Juan and Balayan officers give us, however, are a window to a life of deprivation and suffering that our forebears in Batangas had to go through at the dawn of the twentieth century, partially due to the ravages brought on by war and partially due to quirks of nature that are really beyond our control. Note that the conditions in San Juan and Balayan were likely mirrored in nearby towns of the province as well.]

Notes and references:
1 Along with other information in this article, from “The Zones in Batangas,” published 1981 in the journal Philippine Studies Volume 29 of Ateneo de Manila University.
2Philippine Organic Act (1902),” Wikipedia.
3 “Letter of the San Juan Town Committee to the Civil Commission of the United States in the Philippine Islands,” as quoted by Clemenia Lopez in “A Farewell Luncheon in honor of Señorita Clemencia López, October 5, 1903 in the rooms of the Twentieth Century Club,” published 1904.
4Historical Data of Ibaan,” submitted by the Department of Education District of Ibaan to the Division of Batangas, 1952 or 1953.
5 “Great Famine (Ireland),” Wikipedia.
6 William Howard Taft was sent the Philippines by United States President William McKinley to head a commission that would set up American governance of the Philippines. “William Howard Taft,” Wikipedia.
7 Rinderpest is otherwise known as the cattle plague, a serious viral disease. “Rinderpest,” Wikipedia.
8 “Petition from Balayan,” by Felix Unson, Vivencio Ramos, Vicente Paz Rillo and Vicente Almanzor, as contained in “The Calamities of Balayan, P.I., Reply to a Criticism of a Petition Made to the Taft Expedition of 1905 by the Petitioners,” published in Boston, USA in 1907.

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