Takeover Manila: Five strategies in taking the city

At least four foreign powers succeeded in occupying Manila, the city that will emerge as the capital of the Philippines: Spain (1571), Britain (1762), the United States of America (1898), and Japan (1942). However, foreigners would not be the only ones to have the monopoly of taking over Manila by military means. This article shall feature five strategies in taking over the "noble  and ever loyal" city, at least during the 19th century.

Spanish Army during the Napoleonic Wars
On the night of June 1, 1823, Captain Andres Novales (a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars) escaped deportation to Misamis. With his officers in the King's Regiment, Lieutenant Ruiz and Sergeant Mateo, he gathered around 800 troops to storm Manila and declare independence. At around midnight or 1 AM of June 2, Manila was awakened by the cries of Novales and his men marching through the Camino Real: Viva la independencia (Long live independence) and Viva el Emperador Novales (Long live the Emperor Novales). Surprisingly, the people of the city and its suburbs, rather than to despise the soldiers interrupting their sleep late at night, waved flags and shouted in support of the Emperor Novales. At 2 AM, they managed to seize key government and religious buildings, including the Manila Cathedral and the City Hall (ayuntamiento). They arrested or assassinated all Spanish officers they found, including former Governor General Mariano Fernandez de Folgueras and the commandant of the Palacio del Gobernador (then the residence of the Governor General). At 6 AM, they reached the gates of Fort Santiago, which guard was headed by Lieutenant Mariano Novales, brother of Andres.

This is my moment dear brother, to liberate our country from the hands of oppressors. I am already master of the city and of the palace, and all of the constituted authorities. I therefore exhort you to join me in proclaiming independence in the fort you command, and to prepare to defend the sacred cause like a true citizen.
This is what he exhorted to his brother. Mariano, perhaps expecting rewards from the Spanish government, did not let Novales enter Fort Santiago, to the extent of threatening to use the cannons of the fortress against the Emperor's forces. He did, however, express his desire to provide supplies for the Emperor and his forces given that they do not attempt to enter the fort. To make the long story short, Governor General Juan Antonio Martinez (hastily coming to Manila from Pampanga) and the Spanish forces regained the areas in Intramuros that Novales had captured. The government was quick to execute Emperor Novales, Ruiz, and the 21 sergeants of the regiment. It was done at 5 PM of the same day, June 2. The rest of the surviving mutineers were deported. This was a most usual event in the Spanish empire at the time, although one might still be baffled to this day. For instance, how did Novales, a man about to be deported to Mindanao, gather such a large number of people to participate in the mutiny? At the time, the Spanish Army in Manila numbered around 1,000 (a permanent garrison would not be present until after the attack of Novales), reinforced only by a larger native contingent (first organized as a professional force in 1796). Even the membership of Katipunan numbered only 300 in 1895, despite being three years in operation at the time. Apparently, Novales may have been organizing the revolt earlier. This was noted both by Martinez and Sir Stamford Raffles, who mentioned a "very formidable conspiracy" as early as January of 1823. Besides, the King's Regiment is an elite force, composed of fusiliers (riflemen) and grenadiers (introduced in the Philippines also in 1796). It was also known as the First (1st) Regiment, and is the oldest existing professional armed force in Spain. He must have been among the best in the archipelago to be part of the royal guard. Of course, one might notice that Novales was only a captain in this regiment. Surely he cannot command such a large force? However, it has to be noted that Novales and his comrades were deprived of promotion in favor of the Peninsulars (Spanish born in Spain). Thus, the assumption is that Novales must have been of higher rank, either as major or lieutenant colonel (which may qualify to head a regiment).

Jose Rizal writing
Decades later, Jose Rizal also came up with a strategy to launch a revolution in the capital. It was not much featured in his first novel, Noli Me Tangere (1887). It was a mock revolt launched by some 20 people in the suburbs (arrabales) of Manila aimed to implicate the reformer Crisostomo Ibarra. In this story, Rizal derived more from the Cavite Mutiny (1872), reliving the terror and presenting his own idea of how the mutiny transpired. It would be in his second novel, El Filibusterismo (1891), where a revolution in Manila would be featured. Read an excerpt of the novel from the chapter La Ultima Razon (The Ultimate Reason):
Simoun, meanwhile, screwed on solidly a curious and complicated mechanism, put in place a glass chimney, then the bomb, and crowned the whole with an elegant shade. Then he moved away some distance to contemplate the effect, inclining his head now to one side, now to the other, thus better to appreciate its magnificent appearance. 
Noticing that Basilio was watching him with questioning and suspicious eyes, he said, "Tonight there will be a fiesta and this lamp will be placed in a little dining-kiosk that I've had constructed for the purpose. The lamp will give a brilliant light, bright enough to suffice for the illumination of the whole place by itself, but at the end of twenty minutes the light will fade, and then when some one tries to turn up the wick a cap of fulminate of mercury will explode, the pomegranate will blow up and with it the dining-room, in the roof and floor of which I have concealed sacks of powder, so that no one shall escape." 
There was a moment's silence, while Simoun stared at his mechanism and Basilio scarcely breathed. 
"So my assistance is not needed," observed the young man. 
"No, you have another mission to fulfill," replied Simoun thoughtfully. "At nine the mechanism will have exploded and the report will have been heard in the country round, in the mountains, in the caves. The uprising that I had arranged with the artillerymen was a failure from lack of plan and timeliness, but this time it won't be so. Upon hearing the explosion, the wretched and the oppressed, those who wander about pursued by force, will sally forth armed to join Cabesang Tales in Santa Mesa, whence they will fall upon the city, while the soldiers, whom I have made to believe that the General is shamming an insurrection in order to remain, will issue from their barracks ready to fire upon whomsoever I may designate. Meanwhile, the cowed populace, thinking that the hour of massacre has come, will rush out prepared to kill or be killed, and as they have neither arms nor organization, you with some others will put yourself at their head and direct them to the warehouses of Quiroga, where I keep my rifles. Cabesang Tales and I will join one another in the city and take possession of it, while you in the suburbs will seize the bridges and throw up barricades, and then be ready to come to our aid to butcher not only those opposing the revolution but also every man who refuses to take up arms and join us." 
"All?" stammered Basilio in a choking voice. 
"All!" repeated Simoun in a sinister tone. "All -- Indians, mestizos, Chinese, Spaniards, all who are found to be without courage, without energy. The race must be renewed! Cowardly fathers will only breed slavish sons, and it wouldn't be worth while to destroy and then try to rebuild with rotten materials. What, do you shudder? Do you tremble, do you fear to scatter death? What is death? What does a hecatomb of twenty thousand wretches signify? Twenty thousand miseries less, and millions of wretches saved from birth! The most timid ruler does not hesitate to dictate a law that produces misery and lingering death for thousands and thousands of prosperous and industrious subjects, happy perchance, merely to satisfy a caprice, a whim, his pride, and yet you shudder because in one night are to be ended forever the mental tortures of many helots, because a vitiated and paralytic people has to die to give place to another, young, active, full of energy! 
"What is death? Nothingness, or a dream? Can its specters be compared to the reality of the agonies of a whole miserable generation? The needful thing is to destroy the evil, to kill the dragon and bathe the new people in the blood, in order to make it strong and invulnerable. What else is the inexorable law of Nature, the law of strife in which the weak has to succumb so that the vitiated species be not perpetuated and creation thus travel backwards? Away then with effeminate scruples! Fulfill the eternal laws, foster them, and then the earth will be so much the more fecund the more it is fertilized with blood, and the thrones the more solid the more they rest upon crimes and corpses. Let there be no hesitation, no doubtings! What is the pain of death? A momentary sensation, perhaps confused, perhaps agreeable, like the transition from waking to sleep. What is it that is being destroyed? Evil, suffering--feeble weeds, in order to set in their place luxuriant plants. Do you call that destruction? I should call it creating, producing, nourishing, vivifying!"
In this version of the revolution featured in the novel, the shadow of Novales is more eminent than that of the Cavite Mutiny. Rizal utilized the security lax at night, which apparently remained despite the experience with Novales. There was only an hour's difference between the Novales Revolt and Rizal's conception of revolution. Rizal also incorporated the use of "insiders", or soldiers within the colonial forces who would fight against the government. However, Rizal took a step further and refined the strategy employed by Novales. Despite evident support from the people, Novales failed to mobilize them into a fighting force supplementing his main force of 800. This lack of outside support was resolved by Rizal with his use of bandits (tulisanes) under Cabesang Tales (Matanglawin) to conduct a pincer movement against the Spanish forces. While the battle is going on, rebels in the neighboring provinces would take action against the local government forces in their respective areas, keeping multiple fronts busy. He also employed an expected panic that would cause people to take sides early on and kill each other. This kind of panic was apparently absent in 1823 or in 1872. In addition, Rizal also secured a reliable source for the attacking forces with the Chinese Quiroga handling affairs. The Chinese, just like the Dutch and the Germans in Mindanao, were conducting clandestine operations. That is, keeping relations with the colonial power, Spain, while bolstering opposing forces such as the sultans in the south with weapons and other resources. Nevertheless, what led to the failure of the revolution, at least according to the story, was the act of a young man unaware of the plan taking place. Perhaps Simoun needed more time to consolidate his forces? Or probably more time to plan? As said in a Chinese proverb, "A cunning rabbit has three holes for safety's sake." In the novel as a whole, Simoun only had two plans for revolution.

Andres Bonifacio
More than 70 years after Novales, Andres Bonifacio (Supremo of the Katipunan) took the initiative to attack Manila with almost the same number of troops (800). Although Bonifacio may have not known Novales (which he shares the same first name), he did read Rizal's works. It must have been inspiration for his plans to take the city. Of course, he also has ideas to add. Rizal's experience of Manila is different from Bonifacio's, and since Bonifacio grew an urban life, he knew the city well. Refining Rizal's pincer strategy, Bonifacio's plan involved a three-pronged assault that would be launched and coordinated with uprisings in the neighboring provinces (where rebels numbered by the thousands). Instead of a cannon (as in Simoun's first plan) or a bomb (as in Simoun's second plan), the signal would be the closing of lights at Luneta (now Rizal Park). The forces under General Aguedo del Rosario would rush into Tondo from the north. The forces under General Vincente Fernandez would attack from San Marcelino, south of Tondo, and shut down the lights. The forces under General Ramon Bernardo would rush from Sampaloc, east of Tondo. Bonifacio's main force, meanwhile, would attack the polvorin (gunpowder depository) in San Juan, and threaten to cut off the water supply from the Balara filter station, which gets water from the Marikina River. Bonifacio also had "insiders", composed of discontented elements of the 70th Regiment (Regimiento de Magallanes), the only regiment assigned in Luzon. The rest of the Spanish forces were then assigned to Visayas (1) and Mindanao (2). The plan again involved the government forces fighting in multiple fronts.

While Bonifacio's sense of timing was impeccable, and indeed comparable to the execution undertaken by Novales, coordination became a major problem. As in Rizal's novels, the rebels did not get to launch a simultaneous attack because the supposed signal was not received. Fernandez failed to shut the lights of Luneta, and the full strength of the Spanish forces were launched against Bonifacio. Therefore, while Bonifacio was able to capture the polvorin in San Juan, he was forced to give it up and retreat to the provinces. Bonifacio would later have Fernandez arrested for this blunder.

Emilio Aguinaldo
Even though Bonifacio failed to take Manila, the neighboring provinces did not fail to take the initiative and registered a number of successes. Among them would be Emilio Aguinaldo, who would later be President of the First Republic. On a side note, he would intercede for Fernandez so that the latter would not be arrested.

By 1898, Aguinaldo and his forces surrounded Manila. By June of this year (when Philippine independence was declared in Cavite), more or less 30,000 Filipino soldiers have occupied all neighboring areas, with the Walled City of Intramuros holding out. Colonel Luciano San Miguel occupied Mandaluyong, General Pío del Pilar occupied Makati, General Mariano Noriel occupied Parañaque, and Colonel Enrique Pacheco occupied Navotas, Tambobong (Malabon), and Caloocan. General Gregorio del Pilar, meanwhile, marched through Sampaloc to take Tondo and Divisoria. They also succeeded in cutting off Manila's water supply. With an overwhelming force (Filipinos outnumbered the Spanish 2-1), Aguinaldo might have taken the city with less difficulty than Bonifacio or Novales might have faced. However, due to America's plea to hold the final blow until American ground forces arrive, Aguinaldo's forces remained outside the city. Two months later, on August 13, 1898, Manila fell to American forces, with the Filipino forces kept outside the city. However, Aguinaldo may have taken the plea of the Americans in accordance to his plans. While the Americans were still allies of the Filipinos at the time, Aguinaldo had two or more months to beat the Americans in taking Manila. Either Aguinaldo was planning to starve the city of resources before striking the final attack from all sides, or he has yet to come up with a plan of taking the city. For instance, if he did take Manila, and it becomes inevitable that he had to face the American squadron, would the Filipinos be able to defend the city? That is, if we are to take into consideration the lack of firepower from both the Spanish squadron and Intramuros itself during the Battle of Manila Bay in May 1898. With American ground forces on the way, the American naval forces would only have to assure their safe landing, and this can be done with their superior firepower (which would put Filipinos at great disadvantage in the coming war next year). At any rate, Aguinaldo was a military commander who prefers light casualties (as seen in the Battle of Marilao River). He would not want to risk fighting an unwinnable battle, if only the intent was to cripple the enemy.

Aguinaldo and his Assistant Secretary of War, Antonio Luna, apparently have differing views in the conduct of the war. For Luna, territory is of greater importance. His influences, of course, were European military studies. He was taught no less by the defensive strategist, Gerard Leman of Belgium. Of all the people discussed in this article, Luna and Novales were the only people educated about the military. However, it was evident that Luna lacked experience in the field, which Novales possessed. Therefore, he intended to conduct a defensive war, intending to make the American pay dearly for every inch of Filipino soil that they occupy. Of course, in the process, it is inevitable that Filipino casualties would mount as well. Take for example his counterattack to regain lost ground in the suburbs and eventually take Manila. The counterattack began on February 22, 1899, with 5,000 Filipino troops divided into three divisions. Again, it is seen here the three-pronged attack, emphasizing the assaults north and south of the city. It is to be recalled that Bonifacio tried to employ this strategy, but he did not have the benefit of a southern attack that was as close as Luna had. Bonifacio's southern force would have to fight all the way from Cavite. The West Brigade was under General Pantaleon Garcia, the Center Brigade was under General Mariano Llanera, and the East Brigade was under Colonel Maximino Hizon. His "insiders", meanwhile, were the sandatahanes (bolomen disguised in civilian clothes). Evidently, Aguinaldo did not fully support Luna's plan to take Manila. For instance, he did not approve Luna's request for more men, especially from the brigade of General Manuel Tinio (numbered 1,900).

Luna also employed a tactic that was intended to sow panic in the city - the use of fire. Indeed, he set the city ablaze, which served as the signal for the counterattack. Two days later, the outcome was clear. The Filipino forces lost the battle, and this was largely blamed on the failure of the reserves to aid the main force. In particular, the 800-strong Kawit Battalion was disarmed by Luna due to insubordination. Of course, it was not only the reserves. As experienced in the past battles, coordination remained a key problem. In addition, as with the experience of Bonifacio and Aguinaldo, the lack of firepower deprived the Filipino forces to remain in their new positions. Indeed, the American squadron proved troublesome with their artillery firing at the Filipino forces. Meanwhile, the casualty rate would display the difference betwen Aguinaldo and Luna. For instance, in the Battle of Binakayan, which Aguinaldo won, the casualty rate was around 3,000 casualties from a force of some 95,000 troops (3%). In the Battle of Marilao River, meanwhile, the casualty rate was 2%. As for Luna, in this counterattack alone, the casualty rate was 10%. In the last two battles, the Filipino forces failed to claim victory.

The City of Manila was, and is, a prize to be won in military terms mainly because it is the capital of the archipelago. The Spanish, in particular, transformed it into an impregnable fortress that is the symbol of their colonial power over the Philippines. However, it is not easy to take hold in triumph. Many have tried to take over the city, but not all have succeeded.

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Takeover Manila: Five strategies in taking the city Takeover Manila: Five strategies in taking the city Reviewed by Al Raposas on Friday, February 03, 2017 Rating: 5

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