President Aguinaldo's Only Battle

Emilio Aguinaldo on field (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
   On January 23, 1899, the Malolos Republic, also known as the First Philippine Republic, was established with Emilio Aguinaldo as President. The fledgling republic was to meet its match on February 4, when the Philippine-American War erupted in the suburbs of Manila. The republic was only 12 days old. After failing to take advantage of the strained supply lines of the Americans in the Filipino counterattack in Caloocan on February 22-24, Aguinaldo's Chief of War Operations Antonio Luna resigned his position. This forced Aguinaldo to assume direct command of the armies of the Philippine Republic. The only battle that Aguinaldo would lead as President of the Malolos Republic was the Battle of Marilao River, one of the most celebrated river crossings in our modern history.


   The Americans, aiming to capture the Filipino capital Malolos as soon as possible in hopes to wreck Filipino morale, campaigned northward. After securing Caloocan, the Americans marched to Marilao, which was only some 20 kilometers north of Caloocan. Meanwhile, Malolos is another 20 kilometers north of Marilao.

   With the departure of Antonio Luna from the army, Aguinaldo was to face the Americans at Marilao on March 27, 1899. The American force was composed of the 1st South Dakota Infantry and the 3rd U.S. Artillery, a force amounting to somewhere around 1,000 men. The Filipino force was around 5,000. The battle was rather quick, with the Americans gaining only the upper hand after bombarding the Filipinos with their gunboats menacing the river. The Americans had 14 dead and 65 wounded, while the Filipinos had 90 dead. Meanwhile, Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo claims that the Americans incurred 15 dead and 70 wounded.

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Antonio Luna (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
   At first glance, the battle seemed evenly matched. The American casualty rate is almost equal the Filipino rate (85-90). However, another look would reveal that the Americans lost 9% of the forces they deployed to gain Marilao, while the Filipinos lost only 2%. Also, it is apparent that the American artillery was basically neutralized as it had no significant effect in tilting the battle to the Americans. It took the firepower of their gunboats to finally win the battle. It is therefore of no wonder why the American official account was to admit Aguinaldo's good military strategy and his unrelenting tactic of dealing losses on the enemy while avoiding his own forces to be routed. It is apparent that Aguinaldo, though absent in the battlefield for more than a year by this time, had retained the military brilliance he had showed in the early days of the Philippine Revolution. Although, it is also to be noted why the Americans deployed only such a small force to deal with a Filipino army led by Aguinaldo. Is it because they had underestimated Aguinaldo's military skill, or is Marilao an insignificant pocket to earn? The latter is not that plausible if we are to track the American advance to Malolos. They simply have to capture Marilao first, and then march on to Guiguinto (some 12 kilometers from Marilao) on March 28-29, before finally putting Malolos to heel.

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Location of Marilao in Bulacan
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
   The first consideration, the underestimation of Aguinaldo, is perhaps more plausible than the significance of Marilao in the Malolos campaign. If we are to trace the forces gathered by the Americans against the Filipinos when Luna was in charge - at least 15,000 in Caloocan (February 22-24); at least 10,000 in Malolos (March 31); around 3,000 in Calumpit (April 25-27); and around 4,000 in Santo Tomas (May 4) - the American allocation of forces in battles facing Filipinos led by Luna was considerably larger than that allocated in the only battle Aguinaldo led as President of the Philippine Republic. It is not to be said, however, that Luna was more efficient in inflicting casualties on the Americans. At the Battle of Malolos, the Americans only had 8 dead and 105 wounded. While the defense of Malolos was not top priority in the Filipino agenda at this time, the American casualty rate was a little under 1%. At the Battle of Calumpit, the Americans had 22 dead and 127 wounded. Meanwhile, the Filipinos claimed they had 200 dead and they have killed 700 Americans. Still, if we are to believe the American claim, their casualty rate was only 5%. The Filipino claim of 200 dead on their side would result to a casualty rate of 7%. It may perhaps be the discipline of the Filipino army that had been declining, as we are to see at the Battle of Santo Tomas that only 2 Americans were killed, but it may also be partly attributed to the leadership of Luna. Does this prove that, despite his military education at Belgium, his leadership does not suit the ragtag Filipino army? Or, had Aguinaldo only performed better due to the small force deployed against him? This may not be the case if we are to consider that in all Luzon battles after Malolos, the Americans can no longer utilize their tactic of using gunboat firepower. This is the tactic that forced Aguinaldo to withdraw from Marilao. There were also more factors contributing to these contrasting results from the field that will required further investigation.

   In the main, President Aguinaldo's only battle during the course of the Philippine-American War turned out to be a tactical victory, but a strategic loss. It is also to be learned that when there is vacancy in the chain of command, the President is to assume command, whatever the conditions are. In fact, Aguinaldo said in his work True Version of the Philippine Revolution that he, though unworthy, is the designated guardian of the Republic. Hopefully, this sense of taking responsibility (and blame, when things go awry) carries on to Filipino presidents of the future.


March 22, 2015 is the 146th birth anniversary of Emilio Aguinaldo, while March 27, 2015 is the 116th anniversary of the Battle of Marilao River.


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President Aguinaldo's Only Battle President Aguinaldo's Only Battle Reviewed by Al Raposas on Friday, March 27, 2015 Rating: 5

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