Lessons on the Peace Process from the Pact of Biak-na-Bato

Filipino revolutionaries
Photo courtesy of Covert Geopolitics
Launched in August of 1896, the Philippine Revolution raged on until the following year, 1897. With this growing threat in Spain's only major colony in Asia, the Spanish government sent the able yet brutal Camilo de Polavieja (1838-1914) as the new governor general. His previous career of eight years in Cuba earned him the title of "Butcher," a moniker he shares with the new governor general in Cuba, Valeriano Weyler (1838-1930). Like Weyler, Polavieja had to face a revolution. Unlike Weyler, he did not have the full support of the Spanish government. While more than 240,000 troops were sent to Cuba by 1897, only 25,000 were sent to the Philippines in the same period, even though the latter is much larger in terms of area and population. Nevertheless, this did not stop Polavieja in taking the offensive, which was in contrast to his predecessor Ramon Blanco. The offensive begins with Cavite in February, and within two months, more or less half of Cavite was regained by the Spanish. Still, Polavieja requests for more troops to defend regained areas, but his requests were largely ignored. The Spanish government fears that news of military victories in the Philippines must be false if it sends more soldiers. In addition, public opinion is decreasing with the continuing military draft. Meanwhile, political struggles troubled the Filipino cause. In March, an election which represented a relatively small number of the revolutionaries created a new government to replace the Katipunan structure, and this resulted to the ascension of Emilio Aguinaldo (1869-1964) as president. In April, the Katipunan's Supremo (supreme leader) himself, Andres Bonifacio, was put behind bars by fellow Filipinos. By May, Bonifacio was executed, and the revolution itself lost steam in Cavite. As observed by Apolinario Mabini and Santiago Alvarez, among others, many of the revolutionaries were shocked by the death of Bonifacio, and they were not ready to fall behind and fight with Aguinaldo. Thus, Cavite fought without much help from the neighboring provinces, which also had to carry on with their own part of the Revolution.

Fernando Primo de Rivera
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The Peace Alternative
Also by May 1897, a new governor general assumes office, the veteran and relatively moderate Fernando Primo de Rivera (1831-1921). He has served in the same position before, from 1880 to 1883. Apparently, the Spanish government must have been exhausted to keep up with the tough stance taken by both Polavieja and Weyler. With revolution raging on Spain's two sides of the world, their resources simply cannot permit such conditions to continue. Of course, the Spanish did not have to recall Polavieja. He himself resigned due to "bad health." In fact, Polavieja resigned from all his gubernatorial posts (Puerto Rico in 1889, Cuba in 1892, and the Philippines in 1897). While Polavieja really had an illness to consider (he died of hepatitis), was he actually sickened by the lack of support from Spain? Meanwhile, Primo de Rivera took advantage of the favorable position left by Polavieja. In mere weeks after the execution of Bonifacio, the Spanish virtually regained all of Cavite, and Aguinaldo had to flee with 500 of his troops to Bulacan. His new headquarters was Biak-na-Bato (literally broken rock), a barrio (village) in San Miguel, Bulacan. However, Primo de Rivera also faced the same problems Polavieja did. With the way the Revolution was going, it will take a long time to capture Aguinaldo, especially if he intends to keep escaping to the north (a situation which actually happened during the Philippine-American War). Besides, Spain does not seem willing to send more troops. The amnesty he issued on May 17 did not yield much results, which was quite similar to Polavieja, who issued amnesty in February and received the surrender of some 20,000 revolutionaries. It seems that the revolutionaries tend to take the money first and then return to the fold of the Revolution. It only sapped away from the colony's limited credit. As Primo de Rivera was often quoted saying, "I can take Biak-na-Bato. Any man can take it, but I cannot say that I can crush the rebellion."

Aguinaldo's headquarters in San Miguel, Bulacan
Photo courtesy of Philippine Center for Masonic Studies
A stalemate resulted, with neither gaining significant ground. While Aguinaldo remained entrenched in Biak-na-Bato, Primo de Rivera began to look for an alternative, and that is to take the diplomatic channel. However, ever since the Revolution began, no diplomatic mission has succeeded to persuade the Filipinos. By July of 1897, the Filipinos presented their demands to Primo de Rivera. By this time as well, the Filipino lawyer Pedro Paterno (1857-1911) presented himself as the proper mediator for the Spanish plans to make peace. The government had always used Spanish mediators to negotiate, who were usually friars or nuns. They must have thought that it could be opportune to use a willing Filipino to negotiate, and since Primo de Rivera personally knew Paterno (they met in Spain), he agreed to the proposition. Of course, he had to explain this cessation of fighting to the government at home. Paterno also had personal reasons. He thought he could acquire nobility if he can successfully negotiate the deal for Spain. Paterno as Duke of Luzon? From August to December, Paterno traveled from Manila to Bulacan, as well as to neighboring provinces in Southern Luzon still fighting the Revolution, for the negotiations. On November 1, 1897, the Republic of Biak-na-Bato was established, with Aguinaldo as president. This was a bid to negotiate with the Spanish as "equals," and have a treaty made. Finally, on December 14, 1897, the Pact of Biak-na-Bato was signed between Aguinaldo and Primo de Rivera.

Truce or Treaty?
Even with a republic established in Biak-na-Bato, the bid to pose as an "equal" to Spain may not be effective. For one, the republic was recognized nowhere else, not even Spain. At least in international law, it would appear only as an internal conflict which was resolved internally. This reminds of the Pact of Zanjon (1878) in Cuba, which effectively ended the Ten Years' War, granting representation in the Spanish Cortes and autonomy. In addition, as provided for the the Biak-na-Bato Constitution (which was supposedly copied from the Jimaguayu Constitution of Cuba), ratified on November 15, in its final article:
This Constitution shall be in force here in the Philippines for the period of two years from the date of its promulgation, in case that the Revolution shall not have terminated within that time. Upon the expiration of said period, a session of the Assembly of Representatives shall be called for a new Constitution and the election of a new Council of Government and Representatives of the people.
This means the Pact of Biak-na-Bato effectively nullifies the Biak-na-Bato Constitution, and the republic it represents. Meanwhile, to the question whether the pact was a truce or a treaty, it would appear to be more of a truce. A treaty in international law would mean an agreement between states, or "equals," as exhibited by a peace treaty for instance, and may have another state as arbiter. For instance, in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), the United States proved instrumental as mediator in the negotiations between Russia and Japan. It also meant cessation of hostilities for an indefinite period of time. Meanwhile, a truce would be an agreement between parties, which may not be regarded as "equals" in international law, and may not mean lasting peace. Since the Revolution was yet to succeed, the republic may be nothing more than a claim to statehood, but not actual statehood.

Filipino negotiators at the Pact of Biak-na-Bato
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Lessons on the Peace Process
While Primo de Rivera cannot break through Bulacan, Aguinaldo cannot break out of the province as well. It was actually a stalemate ongoing. However, it was quite a masterful stroke for the Spanish to sue for peace. They were not exactly at an enormous advantage, especially considering their reinforcements and resources woes, but with the victory at Cavite, they may well have presented a position of strength. It was like saying, "Look here. If I can take Cavite in a couple of months, I can do the same to Bulacan." Observing the course of negotiations, the exhaustion may well be received in the Filipino side as well. While on one hand, they can feel glad for the Spanish initiating the peace process and they may be starting to treat them as their "equal," on the other hand it gives Aguinaldo a legal excuse to actually take a relief from the conflict. From the standpoint of the government, it seemed like they used the right card at the right time. This is an essential strong point for the Spanish side of negotiations. They also exploited a traditional Filipino practice when it comes to war, the perception of strength is more potent than actual strength. This was seen as early as Ferdinand Magellan's experience in the Philippines.

Take a look at the main provisions of the pact, as Aguinaldo had noted in his memoirs:

  •  That I would, and any of my associates who desired to go with me, be free to live in any foreign country. Having fixed upon Hongkong as my place of residence, it was agreed that payment of the indemnity of $800,000 (Mexican) should be made in three installments, namely, $400,000 when all the arms in Biak-na-bató were delivered to the Spanish authorities; $200,000 when the arms surrendered amounted to eight hundred stand; the final payment to be made when one thousand stand of arms shall have been handed over to the authorities and the Te Deum sung in the Cathedral in Manila as thanksgiving for the restoration of peace. The latter part of February was fixed as the limit of time wherein the surrender of arms should be completed.
  • The whole of the money was to be paid to me personally, leaving the disposal of the money to my discretion and knowledge of the understanding with my associates and other insurgents.
  • Prior to evacuating Biak-na-bató the remainder of the insurgent forces under Captain-General Primo de Rivera should send to Biak-na-bató two General of the Spanish Army to be held as hostages by my associates who remained there until I and a few of my compatriots arrived in Hongkong and the first installment of the money payment (namely, four hundred thousand dollars) was paid to me.
  • It was also agreed that the religious corporations in the Philippines be expelled and an autonomous system of government, political and administrative, be established, though by special request of General Primo de Rivera these conditions were not insisted on in the drawing up of the Treaty, the General contending that such concessions would subject the Spanish Government to severe criticism and even ridicule.
Historians also add that Primo de Rivera would pay an additional $900,000 to the families of civilian (non-combatant) Filipinos who were affected by the Revolution. The total compensation would have been 1,700,000 Mexican dollars, which was around 850,000 US dollars at the time (equivalent to 1.2 billion pesos as of 2017). At first glance, it would be observed that the Spanish, despite their limited credit, was more than willing to spend so much just to end the Revolution as soon as possible. In order to measure how much the Spanish was supposed to pay for the peace offered by the pact, here is a brief illustration. Two American gunboats (out of a fleet of six ships) which attacked Manila Bay on May 1, 1898 were the USS Concord and the USS Petrel, which possessed a total of 10 six-inch guns. The combined cost of these two gunboats were 737,000 US dollars. If the Filipinos did not notice this desperation, then they must have been desperate to take a break as well.

The Hong Kong Junta: Filipino revolutionary leaders abroad
as an aftermath of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
What can be noticed is that in this early stage, the peacekeeping process known today as DDR can be observed. DDR stands for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (or expanded to repatriation, reintegration, and resettlement). The first provision clearly shows the regard for the disarmament stage, 800,000 Mexican dollars in exchange of surrendering 1,000 arms, many of which proved to be makeshift or even antiquated weapons (shattering the initial Spanish belief of the "natives' high powered weapons"). Of course, this is hardly an equivalent exchange. For only 50,000 pesos (the Philippine pesos and the Mexican dollars were equal in terms of value at the time), Aguinaldo was able to acquire a shipment of 2,000 rifles later on. While it can be argued that a less than hefty sum could have not convinced the Filipinos, this failure in disarmament have premised a second phase for the Revolution. The first provisions also shows the regard for the demobilization stage. The leaders of the Revolution would be allowed to go free anywhere but the Philippines. While a noble gesture in line with the offer of amnesty, the Spanish missed a good opportunity. Filipinos may be regional, provincial, and tend to pledge loyalty to clans or families, but it does not mean the organization of the Revolution relied solely on its leaders. As written by John Naisbitt, "Leadership involves finding a parade and getting in front of it." It does mean that if the leaders are gone, the organization falls apart. This is well observed when another set of leaders emerged after Aguinaldo left the Philippines, such as the case of Francisco Macabulos. Evidently, not all of the leaders of the Revolution supported the pact and continued the cause. If the Spanish intended to demobilize the revolutionaries, they must have gone further by having the organization disband as a whole. Had they not learned at the aftermath of the Pact of Zanjon, when the rebel leaders who did not sign continued fighting? Lastly, there is no clear provision for reintegration. They could have reintegrated the more able revolutionaries in the Spanish armed forces, though some of them joined after the pact took effect anyway. They could have provided social and economic conditions which would discourage the revolutionaries from fighting. Were the Filipinos not exhausted enough in continuing the Revolution? If so, perhaps a more determined push (perhaps by taking Bulacan as an example) before going to the negotiation tables would have proved beneficial for the Spanish.

In sum, trust would be the vital element in any negotiation. Bad faith reigned on both sides. The Spanish did not give their full payment. The families affected by the conflict were not given compensation. The reforms demanded were not implemented, which is different from what happened after the Pact of Zanjon. The Filipinos who remained continued fighting anyway. The money they got were used to procure more arms. The arms surrendered did not even reach the pact's quota (around 700 arms were surrendered). As history goes, the peace provided by the pact was short-lived, perhaps because the name of the pact itself meant broken, and so the pact itself was crushed. Its chief negotiator, Primo de Rivera, was well back in Spain when Aguinaldo returned six months later. Meanwhile, Paterno, who seemed unable to enjoy nobility status, goes to the fold of the Revolution, and later becomes Aguinaldo's Prime Minister. The second phase of the Revolution has begun, and even though the Revolution may have lost steam with the reverse caused by the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, it ultimately led to the Declaration of Independence on June 12, 1898.

Looking back at the peace process at Biak-na-Bato, which enters its 120th anniversary in 2017, it may well be seen that the conditions past still mirror the situation today. The 1976 Tripoli Agreement. The 1996 Final Peace Agreement. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms. The Philippines have long suffered from internal struggle, and it has hampered our path of progress. We can indeed learn much from the colonial government's experience in dealing with no less than the Philippine Revolution.

See the references here.

Lessons on the Peace Process from the Pact of Biak-na-Bato Lessons on the Peace Process from the Pact of Biak-na-Bato Reviewed by Al Raposas on Wednesday, May 17, 2017 Rating: 5

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